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In this origin story, he's recruited by CIA top dog Kevin Costner and goes on his first mission, quickly finding he's in over his head. Ryan goes up against a scheming Russian banker bent on ruining the U.S economy (Kenneth Branagh, who also directed), with the unlikely help of his fiancée, played by Keira Knightley, who's only just learned he's a spy.
Moviefone sat down with both Pine and Branagh in their last interview of the day. A ravenous Chris Pine was digging into some spaghetti and he generously put some aside on a plate for Kenneth Branagh. Branagh couldn't find a fork, but quickly improvised with a pair of chopsticks, proving that there's no standing on ceremony for the knighted, Oscar-nominated director.
The two chatted easily about the challenges of reinventing such a well-known character, the "un-masculine" way Pine broke his finger on-set and whether Pine is game for more Jack Ryan.
Moviefone: Had you seen the other Jack Ryan movies before this?
Chris Pine: Yeah, I'd seen all of them and loved them. I've always been a big fan of spy films.
Did you talk to any of the other actors who've played him before?
Pine: I know Alec and Ben -- not well, but I know them. They had no other advice than, "Good luck and have fun."
So they gave you their blessing?
Pine: [Smiles] They had so many more important things to do than worry about me.
This is kind of like Jack Ryan's "Casino Royale"; his first mission, his first kill.
Pine: For me, what I enjoyed about this version of it is, we use 9/11 as the kind of nexus or tipping point for the character. Before, we see a young man who could easily have gone into the private sector and made a fortune but chose that point to serve and serve selflessly, and got injured like many young men and women did. I thought that was very 21st century.
The stakes in this movie are really high. Higher than in the previous Jack Ryan films.
Kenneth Branagh: As Chris says, when you start with this pivotal moment of 9/11, you see an emotional reason for a man who might otherwise have gone into a different direction to serve, it lends a kind of seriousness to it that that is also embodied with the way that the character reacts to, for instance, the first death in the movie is a keynote moment because Jack is clearly very brave but he's also clearly very scared and very alone. And we're with him. I think it's an enormously important moment for the audience's personal investment in the character and in understanding how seriously he takes it. So is true of the way Kevin [Costner] carries the sort of weight of responsibility when he says, "This is a scenario in which we may not get out of it alive" or "a lot of innocent people back might get hurt back home," you feel it.
It starts with 9/11 and we carry on through. THe movie has a different attitude toward death, I suppose, both in the personal and the larger scale. So we took that seriously, although, hopefully, not ourselves too seriously. But we didn't want to cheat the audience.
Chris, you broke a finger during that fight in the hotel bathroom, right?
Pine: Yes, really not in any sort of powerful, masculine sort of way. I was fighting a lovely man who happens to be built like a steam engine. [Branagh laughs] It was a week of shooting, and it was the last day of it and we were nearing two more stunts to go and I, out of exhaustion or whatever, throw this big haymaker punch and my finger just kind of came undone out of the firm fist I was making and then brushed across his chest [Branagh laughs harder], really brushing the chest of his fabric and I just snapped my finger. Somewhere in Paramount lies the tape of me screaming.
Branagh: The noise was quite something.
The noise of the break or Chris screaming?
Pine: Probably both.
Branagh: It was a scary noise.
Pine: We took some time off and then came back and finished the thing.
Branagh: Yeah, not much time off.
So you just took two Percocets [like Jack, in the movie]?
Pine: Yeah, two Percocets -- and a bottle of wine and magic can happen.
Kenneth, what made you want to take the role of the villain this, as well as direct it?
Branagh: We spent a lot of time when I came on working with Chris and with the writer, David Koepp, to develop all elements of the story and as each character got more refined and Kevin and Keira came on board, were were also developing Cherevin to the point where it seemed like an amazing part to me, one I could play that was practically manageable. We felt as though we had the tone of the movie, and we had a way of working and it felt like it would be a great pleasure to do. I also was very happy to be in scenes with Chris and in scenes with Keira. I enjoyed that very much.
The dinner scene with those three characters is kind of the centerpiece of the film.
Branagh: It's an interesting scene, because [to Chris], I remember talking about this with you tons of times. I think you had reservations but I just always knew it would work. I remember thinking, "Are we going to get away with this?" Jack gets up because he appears to be drunk and they create a domestic [scene] that a smart man like Cherevin, who is skeptical and suspicious of them at this point, is taken in by. It's never, ever been an issue with the audience, partly because Jack does the drinking part of it so well, but then we began to love the fact that Cherevin's weakness is for a beautiful woman. And this insane idea that in this triumphalist moment, he might also try and best [Jack] with his would-be wife, and that while that's going on, and Jack's trying to gain entrance into this fortress, Cherevin's being rooted to the table by talk of poetry. I'm staring at you talking of Lermontov. Tomorrow, I defeat the world. And your husband's drunk.
This is an original story, inspired by, but not directly based on, a Tom Clancy novel. Did you meet with him before he died?
Branagh: I did not, but I felt as though we had his blessing to re-imagine, with respect for and fidelity to the spirit, as we understood it. We were invited to pick liberally from all of the character detail, which we had and I hope that we were able to put even more detail from across the Clancy universe than even the previous movies did. We respect the written word. We were not cavalier with it. We challenge it, but we're on the side of the writer, in my view.
Do you want to do more Jack Ryan films?
Pine: We'll see how does it and if there's an appetite for more, I certainly think that's it so interesting to have an American spy in 2014. There's so much to explore in terms of stories, it's endless. Yeah, I'd like to see where he ends up going.
"Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" opens nationwide Friday, January 17.