Jack’s Back: Chris Pine steps into big shoes to play ‘Jack Ryan’

First there was Jack Ryan the literary character, as imagined in Tom Clancy’s uber-popular series of spy novels. Then Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, and Ben Affleck all took turns bringing the CIA super analyst to the big screen. Now, eleven years later, Chris Pine steps into awfully big shoes to bring Jack back.

Late in 2012, Yahoo! Movies was invited to London to visit Kenneth Branagh’s set of “Jack Ryan” for day 30 of a scheduled 46 day shoot. The film will tell the origin story of Ryan, as a reluctant member of the Agency, and as husband to Dr. Cathy Ryan (Keira Knightley). Of course, as you might suspect, a world-threatening thriller also unfolds, pitting Ryan, as well as veteran field agent William Harper (Kevin Costner) against the dastardly Viktor Cherevin (Branagh).

[Related: Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan in 'Patriot Games']

Pine, Branagh, Costner and three of the film’s producers sat down with us (and a handful of other journalists), to discuss the past, present, and future of the much-loved franchise. This is a preview of many insightful and entertaining interviews to come, which we’ll publish as the film inches ever closer to its Christmas release.

For Branagh, this is his first directing gig since “Thor” (2011) and the first film he’s directed himself in since “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (2000). Branagh explained what initially drew him to the project: “The world of the film has the antecedents of seventies movies of a great sort of style that I very much admired: ‘All The President’s Men,’ ‘Parallax View,’ things like this, quite extreme espionage thrillers with slightly distorted worlds. No Dutch camera angles; don’t worry.”

For both Pine and Costner, the opportunity to work with Branagh was one of the huge selling points. And apparently, the five-time Oscar nominee didn’t disappoint. “[Kenneth] knows what he wants, how he wants it. And that’s not to say that he’s not open to collaboration, but he’s not shy… if we get it in one, he’ll move on,” said Pine.

“He’s really thoughtful. He makes a point, like a coach sometimes, even if you’re not very good he says, ‘You were really good,’” said Costner. “Kenneth makes a real point to say ‘It was good.’ He writes you a little note. It’s nice actually. It’s kind of thoughtful.”

[Related: Alec Baldwin as Jack Ryan in 'The Hunt for Red October']

Interestingly enough, Costner was originally offered the part of Jack Ryan in the everyman hero’s first big screen iteration, “The Hunt for Red October.” “I might have been offered ‘Superman’ 25 years ago, not that I was. But you can tell 25 years has passed because then they offer you Superman’s dad,” joked Costner. “I was offered the Jack Ryan series, back in the very beginning, and I couldn’t do it.”

Alas, Costner declined in order to make a “silly, little Indian movie” called “Dances with Wolves” (1990), even though he says he was offered more money than he had ever seen before. Two Oscars later, Costner is thrilled to be getting the chance to step aside and let Pine carry the film (though Costner is quick to point out that he can still get the girl).

As Captain Kirk in J.J. Abrams newly rebooted “StarTrek “ franchise, Pine has already proven he’s got what it takes, but he’s not so seasoned as to turn down advice from Costner. “Kevin and I, I think, really hit it off,” said Pine, “Here’s a guy that was the top movie star in the world for a long time. He’s got great advice… I love watching him in a close-up. For someone who’s done it for so long, there’s just such a comfort and a knowledge in what he’s able to do and how to do it, and how to sell a moment.”

Producer Lorenzo di Boneventura (“Transformers,” “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra”) has been similarly impressed with Pine. “He’s an amazing actor. It’s great to have that ability in it. As a person in real life, he’s a very thoughtful guy. Which is really great for Jack Ryan because you can actually feel the wheels turning, and there’s really something in the wheels that’s intelligent, and thoughtful, and not willing to go along easily.”

Boneventura enthusiastically describes the film as “half thriller, half action,” and “incredibly contemporary.” Though the movie isn’t based on any particular book, it truly is an origin story, pilfering Jack Ryan’s everyman back-story from many of Clancy’s novels.

[Related: Ben Affleck as Jack Ryan in 'The Sum of All Fears']

Though they shot mostly in London and Liverpool, the story unfolds in present day Moscow and New York, with scenes of modern financial buildings symbolically juxtaposed with imperial architecture. The central premise to the story involves a global financial catastrophe. While no plot points were forthcoming, producer David Barron (“Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”) did hint that, “there’s been something in the news quite recently where two international superpowers contemplated the very thing that’s happening in our story.”

Ryan is uniquely situated to thwart the financial threat, because he’s a cerebral guy who was a financial whiz kid at Merrill Lynch. “We had, and have, much more action than we ever thought we’d have. But we have the other dimension, the thinking man part of it -- and the thinking woman part of it, because Keira Knightley’s role is extremely central to how the story plays out,” said Branagh.

One man who has always known that thinking man Jack Ryan was ripe for a reboot is producer Mace Nuefeld. He’s had a hand in every Ryan film to date: “The Hunt for Red October,” (1990), “Patriot Games,” (1992), “Clear and Present Danger” (1994), and “The Sum of All Fears,” (2002). Nuefeld, who optioned “The Hunt for Red October” back when Tom Clancy still worked in insurance, never gave up on the franchise. "I've been trying to restart it for nine years,” said Nuefeld, but he ran into unforeseen roadblocks along the way.

Fortunately, the path is now clear, and we shouldn't have to wait much longer for the next Jack Ryan thrill ride. “Jack Ryan” opens wide on Christmas Day, 2013.

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