In one of the manliest press conferences in a very long time, we got a chance to talk to Chris Pine, Kevin Costner and Kenneth Branagh about the making of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Two of these men are directors, all are leading men, and all worked together on this spy thriller that hopes to resurrect a franchise. Check it out:
Chris, was this more or less intimidating to step into Jack Ryan’s fabled shoes than to do Star Trek?
Chris Pine: Well, I think the great thing about the Jack Ryan films is that the plot and the story always take center stage. If you’ve done your job as the actor portraying Jack Ryan, you are present enough to make an impact but you let the story shine. We had a great story that David Koepp came up with. With Kirk, obviously, Shatner made such a deep impression in the zeitgeist that it’s a different thing entirely.
For Kevin, you’ve been in Russian spy thrillers before. No Way Out was one of your great movies. How have things changed from the 20th century to the 21st century for Ryan?
Kevin Costner: I don’t know what’s changed really. Hopefully, when our movies are realer, they get realer when they happen to be the James Bond situation where a guy parachutes in and that kind of thing. That’s another kind of spy movie. Our job is to entertain and to find the rhythms that do that, the language of the day, and hopefully, we don’t try to reinvent the wheel because spies are trying not to get caught, trying to stop bad things. Hopefully, the level of sophistication always is going up.
This character and this milieu have its roots in a very different era, historically, culturally and geopolitically. I’m wondering what were the pleasures and challenges of bringing Mr. Ryan into this age and made it worth doing at the same time?
Kenneth Branagh: I loved the previous pictures and the books. I liked the Cold War era and the big, sort of elemental standoff between, in this case, Russia and America and East and West and all the old and new empires. One of the excitements about trying to reimagine it was finding a world so that there’d be the interconnectivity of the financial markets which was one that was interesting and a bit of a brain teaser for me. Chris was very good at understanding it, thank God. But to be able to put Jack Ryan there at a time when it was a different kind of elemental faceoff between Russia and America and where one tiny event in one part of the world can serve dramatically and catastrophically influence a larger event elsewhere with that same sort of good principled, moral man in a very much dirtier world, for me, that was pretty interesting. Although Chris has the right to say that the story and the plot in these pictures is very important, for me, it was a huge, huge pleasure to work with these two great actors and to be able to also follow what also I think is a big part of it is watching them think and deal with it in a layered way. The human dimension of the story as portrayed by these fellows was a huge pleasure for me in trying to make the movie.
Chris Pine: I did plenty of my own stunts. I enjoy doing them. I think most actors do it. You get to live out boyhood fantasies and people make sure that you’re doing it safely. I was on a very large motorcycle for a lot of the time which I’m not sure I would probably do again without a helmet on the streets of New York on the first day, but it sure was a lot of fun. The most fun I had I think and one of the best moments of the film from my point of view is the scene that I have with the security guy in the bathroom towards the beginning of the film when I first arrive in Russia.
I didn’t get to do too much of it in the last Star Trek and I like that kind of hand-to-hand combat stuff, and I like the fact that Jack, as much as he had training in the Marines, isn’t a trained killing professional. And so, it was kind of a MacGyver moment of trying to figure out how to defeat the large bad guy when you’re not quite as big and not quite as ferocious or talented with your fists. We had a great stunt team behind us. Vic Armstrong, who’s been around for a long time, is one of the best in the business. He was our second unit guy and our stunt coordinator. That was a lot of fun.
What do you think of this film’s franchise potential? Do you think this one has it?
Chris Pine: Obviously, we’re in a corporate world and we’ll see what Paramount thinks of it and if people like it and come to see it. I would love to do it again. I think what a really interesting time for a spy franchise in 2014. We’ve seen it obviously done in the Cold War in the late 80’s and 90’s with Harrison (Ford) and Alec (Baldwin), but right now, given the interconnectivity of the world, given kind of the gray morality of politics and spy-dom and all that, there’s great fertile ground to be mined for good stories.
Kevin, you were originally going to play Jack Ryan in The Hunt for Red October. I was wondering if you were already well versed by the time you came in to play the mentor role to Jack in this film?
Kevin Costner: The mentor role is always that ‘what can you offer a younger man, what can you offer a younger woman.’ That thing is in your level of experience, and so that by definition is the mentor if you have a level of experience. If you read it on paper, that’s the role that was meant for me. It was inhabited perfectly. Chris did his role, and what I liked about it was that I wasn’t just a person at a desk on a phone going, “Get the hell out of there. What the hell are you doing? Well, you need to do it faster.” Kenneth was able to say, “Wait a second. I want to incorporate some of your skill set into this where even though I’m a stupid-visor (laughs), if you would, a supervisor here, that I could take the gloves off so to speak and become involved and bring a physical presence and team up with him at the right moment. I thought that was unusual for the mentor role. Usually they’re back in Washington or they’re in a big, giant control room. In this instance, we were always fairly close together and trying to sort it out a little bit together. And, as the movie progresses, you see that he just possesses a lot of intuitive skills, whether it’s being out of set, how to survive or to process a lot of information in a very quick way, which I actually asked him a couple of times to slow down, remembering that I’m in another century. (Laughter)
Kenneth, I wanted to commend you on your Russian and wondered if you could talk about what you did to learn to speak Russian?
Kenneth Branagh: A long time in advance, I started to listen to Russian television, Russian radio, and a dialect coach who introduced me to the sound of the language. I wasn’t really familiar with all its varieties. It’s tonally a bit different with a little less range. Then I learned it phonetically while walking the dog. We have a dog in this movie. The next dog in the next Jack Ryan film, if there is one, will be my dog who can now speak Russian. (Laughter) I’m looking forward to seeing her in it.
Kevin Costner: I would say this and I think this might come as a surprise. I didn’t make my first check until I was about 27, 28 years old. So I didn’t burst on the scene at 19 or 20. If you think about the guys in my category, I probably have about half the movies that they have if you added them up. You’d have to look at that.
My wife and I had three little kids the last five years and I slowed down for about three to get them started. I’ve just had enough of that fucking minivan. I just had to get a minivan because my back was killing me with the SUV and three seats and shit. I thought I have to go back to killing somebody for real or action movies because this is too tough. So I did. The last year and a half, after I did Hatfields & McCoys and I got on a horse again, I started to feel my love of acting. About a year and a half ago, I amassed a series of movies that are going to come out. That’s unusual for me to go back to back. Longevity for me is not a check, it’s a love. I’ve loved making movies. I’ve loved living my life outside the lines of Hollywood. When I come to work, I like to work. And I like to work with people that are very specific, and all the gentlemen up here are really specific people. I have a history with some, and for some it was a first time that I’d like to replicate down the line. So I don’t know. I have been fortunate, blessed, loved, and it’s added up to 30 years.
Would you like to see William Harper, your character in Jack Ryan, spun off into his own franchise? Could he carry a movie on his own do you think?
Kevin Costner: I’d have to see the writing. I don’t know about that. God, I have so many other parts that probably could have been spun off. We’ll see about that. No one has even talked about that quite honestly. I’d have to see the writing. I always do.
Are you looking for something to direct right now?
Kevin Costner: I have something to direct. I just have to find somebody that’s willing to let me do it and do it my way. I just financed a movie that’s called Black and White that’s coming out. I did the whole thing myself. I think you might enjoy that.
Chris, what was your first Jack Ryan experience? Did you see a film or read a book?
Chris Pine: I’ve always loved the series. I’ve always loved the spy genre fiction and films, so I was well versed with the Clancy universe having watched the films growing up. Looking at the character and re-watching the films, I think what I most enjoyed for me was the difference that I saw in how Alec portrayed the character and how Harrison portrayed the character. With Alec in The Hunt for Red October, you have what Alec does really well which is this confident, intelligent, analytical man that knows what he knows and is not afraid to say it. With Harrison, with his tweed coat and his Volkswagon Jetta, he’s the humble intellect and he’s what Harrison does best which is the classic reluctant hero. I thought somewhere in that was a great way to begin looking at the character.
Mr. Costner, at the end of the film, you refer to Jack Ryan as something of a Boy Scout, which reminds me of a number of your most famous roles, perhaps specifically Elliot Ness. I was curious how does it feel to suddenly step into the Sean Connery role?
Kevin Costner: I think the smarter directors do this a lot of times. They’ll take a supporting role and they’ll put a leading man in it because they either know how to inhabit the screen or inhabit it and nowhere was it better than when Sean Connery came in and played the little Irish street cop and you realized how formidable he was. I remember telling Sean at the time, I said, “Sean, this has got enough meat on the bone that you could win the Academy Award.” And Brian (De Palma) could have easily cast any character actor to bring up that Irish brogue or whatever that you would do, but he said no. He went arguably to the biggest star, the biggest star I’ve ever worked with in my life as I think Sean Connery was, to play this. And I think what happens is then he just knows how to hold onto the screen. And so, I have a feeling that that might have been swirling around in this genius’ head over there with what he wanted to do with William Harper.
I love the way you talked about your character and that he was a mentor. Was it easier to mentor in 1984 than in 2014? Was 1984 an easier time for an old shoe to tell a new shoe what to do and what the pitfalls were?
Kenneth Branagh: I think if there’s openness of communication, then the timing doesn’t really matter. And sometimes the mentoring doesn’t really happen directly. It just happens intuitively. I certainly found that working with Kevin on this. There were a lot of things that went on. I was so grateful to have a master director on the set. There are just lots of moments where effortless…not advice…nothing so sort of obvious as advice, but just shared communication about things, a conversation about how a moment in a scene might go or how things might be approached which just came out of an honest collaboration.
If that honesty of communication exists, whether it’s 1984 or 2014, I think it’s quite marvelous actually. And watching these two together was great as well in terms of just when people trust each other and when they’re very good at what they do and when their egos are at the service of the better idea and what is right for the scene. When you see that kind of generosity at work, it really is a thrilling thing to be part of and actually that cuts across age. It doesn’t mean old or younger. I’ve learned a lot from people much younger than me as well as people much older than me. So I think it’s about honesty and generosity, and we were lucky to be in an atmosphere on this project across this table as it were where that was at work.
Who was your greatest mentor?
Kenneth Branagh: My greatest mentor was the guy who was the principal of the drama school I attended. For the first six or seven pictures I made, he was on the movie as the acting coach. To give you a quick example of what he did for me, he was a very sensitive English guy. We were making a film of Hamlet. I was doing the To Be or Not To Be soliloquy. I was very nervous. I said to him that day, “Look, this is the acting Olympics here. I’m doing the most famous speech in Western dramatic literature. If you have any notes for me, I’d like them very early on, please.” So we started doing it. I did Take 1. I said, “How was that?” and he said, “I don’t have anything to say.” I did Take 2 and Take 3 and he did not have anything to say. I said, “Look, I think I’m getting it. I’m going to call this a print very shortly.” He said, “I think you should do another one.” I said, “Do you have anything to say?” He said, “Not at the moment.” So we get to Take 6 and I said, “Hugh, I think we might have it. Do you have anything to say?” He said, “Well, yes, yes, yes. The rhythm of it, absolutely extraordinary. The understanding of the language, fantastic. The pacing of it, marvelous. The timing of it, really extraordinary.” I said, “What’s the problem?” He said, “I simply don’t believe a word you’re saying. I would have absolutely no sense of the man. It’s safe. It’s acting. It’s showing off. You really have to do another one.” So a guy with those balls that close to me, it was very helpful. He was my greatest mentor.
What about you, Kevin? Who was your greatest mentor?
Kevin Costner: I tell you, I think an honest exchange is never out of mode, and it will be just as practical in 1984 as in the year that we’re dealing with. This is a business that’s pretty interesting. Unlike a lot of businesses, you get up in the morning and you have breakfast with the people you work with all day. You have lunch with them and you have dinner with them. The nature of acting, if you think you put three minutes of film in the can a day, that means you’re spending an enormous amount of hours getting to talk about people’s lives and their families. There are a lot of things that go on, on a set.
In terms of mentorship, it was probably Sean. He was a leading man. He carries himself as a man. I remember a big scene with DeNiro and everybody, and we were all talking, and he finally told me, (mimicking Connery’s accent) “Mr. Ness.” I said, “What?” He said, “Sit down.” And I said, “Sit down right now?” And he said, “Yes. Just sit. It’s going to be a long day.” He just talked about not artsy fartsy stuff. He talked about sometimes just practical shit, like “It’s going to be a long day. Sit down. You and I are going to sit here and we’re going to watch, and when it’s our turn, we’re ready.” So, what better advice could one man give another on something so practical that I hate to use.
Chris Pine: I don’t know if I’ve ever had more fun with an actress. She could not have been any more professional. She’s younger than I am and she’s done probably three times more films than I have. She’d show up, super smart, friendly, charming, in it, in the moment, and then she’d wrap. There was zero drama with Keira Knightley. It was the most lovely, wonderful experience you could ask for. And she was just present. It was her job. She took her job really seriously. She would ask the right questions. I think what I respond to more often than anything is just intelligence, and she was just sharp as a tack. The scene that I remember most was the scene that we have with Kevin here when she gets on board with our plan to take down Viktor Cherevin. It was just a great joy to work with someone like Kevin who’s been doing it for so long and with Keira who’s been doing it much longer than I have. I just felt like I was an apprentice. She was lovely.
The Jack Ryan character was really down to earth. Was there any concern about presenting him with a sexier image in this film? Did that ever come up?
Chris Pine: Are you saying I’m not sexy? Because I will take you down. No, I remember that in the beginning there was a big discussion about the suits, or the wardrobe, so our wardrobe costume designer brought in all these beautiful Ralph Lauren suits and great banker suits that looked awesome. They were sharp as a tack, but the image I kept on going back to was Harrison Ford in his tweed jacket and his misshapen tie and his Volkswagon Rabbit. I just thought that, to me, was the character. He didn’t care about suits. He didn’t care about fancy watches. He had a ten dollar haircut. And that’s the kind of guy. That certainly gave him a kind of a Men’s Wearhouse look, but I thought, especially given that he was working on Wall Street, that he was that guy. He was the odd man out. He wasn’t the guy with the Lamborghini. He’s the guy who could notice a nice Ducati but didn’t have one himself. Ken and I talked about that a lot, how here’s a man who has a trajectory at such a young age, at 21, already getting his Ph.D. at LSE. We did the chronology and that doesn’t happen often at all. He’s a man who would have gone into the private sector before 2001 and made a fortune, I’m sure, but because of the man who he was, he is selfless in nature. He’s not the kind of classic American capitalist. He’s something different. So, for me, he wasn’t Jason Bourne with all of his sexy, kung fu tricks. He wasn’t James Bond with his great suits and his Aston Martin and a bevy of beautiful women. He’s a man whose virtues lay in a different ballpark and they were something much simpler.
I had this argument with Ken all the time about when I turn to Keira and I’d say, “But I made a promise. That’s why I couldn’t tell you that I was in the CIA.” And I was like, “Isn’t that the dumbest thing ever? If she was the woman that he loved, wouldn’t he just turn to her and be like, “Look, I’m in the CIA.” And I never agreed with him. But in watching it and in seeing that scene, I think that’s exactly what makes him so great because it feels so archaic awfully and ironically that someone would be a man of his word who said, “If I make a promise and I’m not going to say it, then I’m not going to do it.” That simple man, even though he’s complex and intelligent, I think related too to the aesthetic and to the feel of the guy. You could pass him in the street and really not think twice or look back. He just so happens to be the man that’s saving the world.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit opens January 17.