Kenneth Branagh Jack Ryan Picture

We walk in through an innocuous doorway and we are, suddenly, in another world; there is something about Pinewood’s 007 stage which takes your breath away. We are here to watch Kenneth Branagh at work on the new Jack Ryan film, out this week and now subtitled Shadow Recruit, but this stage is pungent with industry and memory. James Bond and Jack Ryan may share some DNA despite the Atlantic separation but today they collide and there is a tangible excitement in the air.

They are shooting a fight scene, it is an intense and brutal challenge for Chris Pine, the latest Ryan, and his fellow actors but this is a necessary evil in the post-Bourne action thriller landscape. The Pinewood stage has been built into an underground sewer system and, as you’d expect, the illusion is pitch perfect. Pine is wading through the torrential river of water which, with one wrong step, will carry you with it. It is sweltering, noisy and exhausting just watching the fight scene take place over and over. Then something unexpected happens.

A break in the filming occurs and up bounds a very excited Kenneth Branagh, wearing his directing trousers (and a very fitting rain mac) today and utterly energised by what we’ve just seen take place. He talks fast, honestly and a lot. He is the perfect interviewer’s subject as he gives without hesitation but never without thought. Having drawn a through line from the finest cinematic Shakespearean adaptations of his age to arguably Marvel’s breakthrough movie, along with Iron Man, in Thor Branagh is now taking on another franchise, and the pace and pressure barely register on the man.

Shooting on the 007 stage

It’s a big thrill. Before we came and looked at the set it was my first time on the 007 stage, let alone actually shoot on it. When you see a big sequence and piece like this there aren’t many stages in the UK where you can flood it like this where you have the size. The first time I walked in a couple of weeks ago, it was like the The Spy Who Loved Me, that’s Bond for me!

On Chris Pine and the new Jack Ryan

Chris Pine is extremely impressive as Jack Ryan for the layered nuanced quality that he brings to it. I think he’s a real natural action hero. The character in this version is especially thinking and questioning guy;. smart, best of the best, he’s an analyst. He’s brave fellow who joins the marines like he does in the books but this origin story explains why he considers the idea of being recruited to the CIA which includes more than just wanting to join an espionage life.

He has questions to ask and it’s a good relationship between him and the Kevin Costner character where they talk about why they do it as well as how they do it then we get caught up in the excitement of which way they do it. Keira Knightley’s also terrific in it; people who are very comfortable in front of film cameras, comfortable in genre pictures who know that there are certain things that must be delivered but the determination is to do two things at once, treat the characters intelligently, treat the audience with respect but we’re in a film that we really want people to see. We have big action sequences but character is at the heart of it. I’m happy because we’ve kept the everyday.

On the Spy Genre and the modern political landscape

This is not a film about a certain kind of nationalism, the lines are not drawn between black and white areas, there’s a lot of grey in this. It does ask in this the role of the CIA in today’s world but also asks what does it take to be a patriot in 2012. What do you do, how does the idea of ‘service’ (if there is idea of service), and what does love of country mean? We have for instance the character I play Viktor Cherevin a Russian who has a very particular notion of what ‘love of country is’. He’d say he loves his country very passionately and in a very particular way and is prepared to do things for his country which are very personal to him.

Audiences are very quick, very far ahead of you often, very up to speed in the world we live in with conversations, and reactive positions on current world events especially those concerning the CIA. People have quite a view already which means we can use a shorthand, doesn’t assume too much but definitely treats them intelligently.

There is no great sweeping allegiance to flags and anthems but definitely to people and ideas. The film is within a genre which has to tell a story and wishes to be fast moving and entertaining, and it does try and do so allowing as much space for that as possible. Not trying to preach to people to lecture people, you’re just trying to open it up in the way the world opens up these question in the context of a gripping yarn.

On joining the cast late in the day

I was working on it as Director for two to three months and immediately Paramount said ‘We would very much like you to play Cherevin’. My first thought was ‘Let me see how I get on with Chris’ and ‘Let me see what is the intuitive sense of chemistry playing-wise’. I knew we got on as people and I admire him very much as an actor but ‘What do you feel when you put the pair of us in the scene?’. So I based that on being on the room as it were, talking to him about it, thought about it and the rest of the cast came together.

Kevin seemed a fantastic piece of casting as the mentor figure for Chris who himself is a considerable action figure in films. He carries his own legendary status with him which does something for the character which was a free addition. That felt very right. Keira I admire hugely and when she came on board, when you just looked at them, you felt for our story chemically it feels like it’s coming together. Paramount kept saying ‘We want you!’ but in the meantime I’d been delving into story, finding out who Viktor Cherevin was and it started being very fascinating to me so at a certain point it seemed appropriate to happily say ‘Yes’.

The part was balanced in a way that i could feel I could fulfill my duties as Director and be there for the actors, sometimes when you’re in it it’s tough for them. I felt it was the right proportion for this kind of Directing challenge.

On the conflict between friends as well as enemies

It’s unusual I think. David Koepp who I’ve worked with on the screenplay and one of the reactions we’ve had to the screenplay is surprise at the degree or human or emotional recognition for the relationship stuff. I say ‘stuff’ because it just seems like the stuff of all our lives is to do with the many times in any given day where people who know or love each other very well still mis-comunicate. If you then build the idea in there that there is a big central deception in there, a big secret which is not being shared, it makes for interesting drama around the lives of people on their way through life recognise some of those bumps in the road.  It’s deceiving and feels like there are numerous strands in the film I think that complement each other but there’s still a ticking clock underneath that puts pressure on that relationship.

Directing all the way from the West End to Pinewood

I read an interesting quote the other day by Rufus Norris, a young theatre actor which said ‘What’s the biggest myth about directing’ and he said ‘The myth is thinking that you have to have a vision. I gather lots of talented people around me and I make decisions.’ So down here we have Vic Armstrong who I worked with as a Second Unit Director on my first picture Henry V 25 years ago I was saying ‘Vic how are we going to do the Battle of Agincourt? This is what I feel but how do we do it?!’ You don’t make all the right decisions, I am not afraid of doing that but I love watching talented people and there’s a stage full of them right now. It no longer intimidates me, it thrills me, i just try and react honestly and not panic. There’s nothing to be frightened of. I’m 51 years old, I’m on the 007 stage directing a motion picture, I’m fucking delighted, I’m thrilled! My job is to enjoy or otherwise I’m an idiot!

On the timing and nature of the Jack Ryan reboot

I try not to feel that pressure trying to reinvent something. The licence we get is that we don’t do any of the books, we bring the DNA of the character. I did enjoy very much with Thor doing the origin story because you have this odd reverse engineering as you’ve seen three very fine actors playing Jack Ryan, you learn from that and from the Directors, Phillip Noyce also did a fantastic job on the third one and there’s a lot to learn from.

It feels like we have to reflect the current climate politically and socially so that sets it off and this kind of character could be a dinosaur in there. Could also be pretty intimately engaged with what it takes to be in the world and political right now and it’s different in the 21st Century. I’ve been able to dip into many of the books, I used The Cardinal of the Kremlin which I looked at when researching my character, Executive Orders is very interesting for Chris. Mr Clancy himself has been very helpful in the way he’s allowed us to draw from the universe and the mass of books from THE universe of Tom Clancy so for me as it was first time in, the story of a what you might call ‘conscienced’ guy in the middle of a world where principle is always in danger and where doing the right thing is not as simple as it may appear to be. You put him in there with people who doing what they want a very simple thing to do then you’ve got great drama and tension.

I love going to see films like this. I was in the first in the queue the other for Skyfall. First weekend I love to see a great big movie on a great big screen. So the idea we could make something like this is a departure for me.

Jack Ryan is out on the 24th of January, our review can be read here and check back later in the week for the rest of our on-set interviews.