Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan stars John Krasinski and Wendell Pierce, along with co-creators Carlton Cuse and Graham Roland, speak about bringing the beloved character to life on the small screen for Amazon.
Jack Ryan, the beloved character of Tom Clancy’s novels, is known to millions of fans around the world. He has also been brought to life in several films, including The Hunt for Red October with Alec Baldwin, Patriot Games with Harrison Ford and The Sum of All Fears with Ben Affleck.
An adaptation for the small screen, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan—the first episode of which had its world premiere at the Monte-Carlo TV Festival—will be available on Amazon Prime Video on August 31. Created by Carlton Cuse and Graham Roland, it stars John Krasinski in the leading role. It has already been renewed for a second season.
As Cuse explained at a press conference along with Roland and cast members, an eight-hour series made for the small screen allows for more storytelling and deeper character development. “We realized one of the things that define Tom Clancy was that he wrote geopolitical thrillers of the moment,” Cuse said. “While the books were great, they felt dated. So Graham and I decided we would come up with our own story about something that was going on right now. We chose to tell a story about Middle East terrorism and tried to do what Clancy had done in his novels, which was write a big tentpole story but one that was very topical and connected to the world today.”
Cuse and Roland envisioned their Jack Ryan story as a prequel to the stories told in the novels and films. “Our version of the Jack Ryan character is a little bit earlier than the one that we see in The Hunt for Red October,” explained Cuse. “He’s an analyst. He has only been working for the CIA for four years. He’s in the very early part of his career, and we watch his transformation from being a guy who works in a cubicle and writes reports to someone who is now having his first taste of what it’s like to be in the field.”
For Krasinski, who is known for his role as Jim Halpert in the comedy The Office and recently wrote, directed and starred in the film A Quiet Place, the appeal of the Jack Ryan series was the eight-hour format.
“The idea of doing long-form storytelling was the pitch that really got me,” he said. “A movie isn’t the best medium for Jack Ryan because the books are so rich and detail-oriented that there is so much more to mine in the long-form storytelling way. I also loved the idea that we could start at the beginning of Jack Ryan’s career at the CIA and see him in his earliest days in his smallest post and see him grow.”
The writers made some other adjustments to the characters from Clancy’s novels. In the books, James Greer is a high-level CIA officer. As Cuse explained, he and Roland wanted to see Greer, played by Wendell Pierce, earlier in the story. “We made him Jack Ryan’s immediate boss so that the two of them could interact and be partners in the story, and we could see the arc of James Greer’s story over time. The one other character we took directly from Tom Clancy was Cathy, played by Abbie Cornish, who in the books is already married to Jack Ryan. In our story, they just meet and start dating in the pilot episode; we backed things up a little bit so that we could really explore the origins of these characters.” A new character to the Jack Ryan world is Hanin, played by Dina Shihabi.
Cuse pointed out that Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is much more like a movie than a TV show. It was shot in Montreal, Morocco, Paris, Chamonix and Washington, D.C. “We were given the kind of money from Amazon that you would have to make a feature film,” he said.
Authenticity was of the utmost importance to Cuse and Roland, who made use of CIA and Muslim consultants. Pierce said he was impressed and inspired by the real-life CIA agents he met. “When you are playing a character, you are trying to look into the humanity of whoever you are playing,” he said. “Characters are not an idea or a plot point in the story. You are trying to build someone who is three-dimensional. I was able to do that with the help of this one particular retired officer. We have become friends. I run things by him; I check in with him all the time. That is the thing that has really helped me bring my version of James Greer to life.”
“As Wendell said, when you go to the CIA, you are first awestruck by the power of it, but then you meet the people,” added Krasinski. “My opinion is that they are the most apolitical people I have ever met. They are doing a job. They have dedicated their lives [to protecting] us. It was really important for us to get that across in this show. These people are incredibly heroic and have dedicated their lives in a completely different way.”
And depicting Jack Ryan as a hero, an inherently good guy, is central to the story.
“As John said, one of the things that appealed to us was having eight hours to tell our story instead of two, which allowed us to get a lot deeper into the political side of the geopolitical thriller and further break down some of the reasons why we have Middle East terrorism,” explained Cuse. “We’ve had a lot of shows in the spy genre that are about antiheroes. The difference with Jack Ryan is that he is a classic hero. He is that person that we all hope stands between us and the terrorists of the world. That is something that is very relatable all around the world today.”
Terrorism is just one of the topics of the series. “We felt we had an opportunity with this show to not just do a summer tentpole action show but also to provide commentary on some of the issues of our time,” said Cuse. Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan provides a different view of terrorism with the story of Hanin, the wife of a terrorist, who escapes and winds up in a group of refugees from Syria. This storyline sheds light on the plight of refugees, and, as Cuse explained, “perhaps makes people think about refugees in a different way or see a more complete picture of what that experience is like.”
For Shihabi, the role of Hanin offered an exciting opportunity. “Most of the time when women from the Middle East are portrayed in the media, they are portrayed as victims,” she said. “They have no names. They are in terrible distress. But what Carlton and Graham created is a smart, powerful woman. She is a mother who will do anything she can to take care of her kids. She is so badass; she fights and figures out ways intellectually and emotionally to protect the people she loves the most. It was an incredibly wonderful, satisfying and challenging experience.”
Fans of Krasinski fondly recall his portrayal of Jim on The Office. Krasinski sees some similarities between Jim and Jack Ryan, although they exist in entirely different worlds. “The character of Jim is an everyman and Jack Ryan has to feel like a guy you can have a drink with, too,” he said. “I loved the idea of playing a superhero whose only real superpower was using his brain and his instincts, and those are things that we all have.”
Krasinski also sees similarities between acting in a comedy versus a drama. “I’ve always felt that comedy and drama are actually the same,” he said. “I remember that Greg Daniels, [executive producer] on The Office, said that your job is not to play these scenes funny, your job is just to play the scenes truthfully. If people believe you, then they’ll laugh, and if they believe you, then they’ll cry. I think that’s an unbelievable point. To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have made A Quiet Place if it weren’t for that advice from Greg because I just went with what I knew. Certainly on The Office, Jenna [Fischer, who played Pam Beesly] and I we were trying to play the honesty, of our characters and the situation and, of course, there was a lot of funny stuff. I feel that drama is the same; as long as you play the honesty it’s actually up to the audience how they feel about it rather than trying to manipulate them into laughing or crying.”