Lorenzo di Bonaventura is one of Hollywood’s biggest producers, having ushered such big-budget films like Transformers, G.I. Joe and Salt to the screen and his latest endeavour has him working alongside Mace Neufeld and David Barron and others to breathe new box office life into one of Tom Clancy’s most well-known characters in Jack Ryan.
I had the opportunity to speak with di Bonaventura in London on the set of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit about the challenges of rebooting the Jack Ryan franchise following a 12-year absence. He discussed the decision to cast Chris Pine in the role of Ryan, a move which sees the star follow Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck. The producer also talked about assembling an impressive cast including Kevin Costner and Keira Knightley, as well as what director Kenneth Branagh brings to the thriller’s production.
This is one of those projects you have been talking about for a while, to get this going. Talk a little about the challenge of bringing this back to the screen and what it’s been like filming in London?
The first challenge has been that [producer] Mace [Neufeld] put together this great series of films that really stand up: their intelligence; their entertainment value. So he set a pretty high bar. That, in and of itself, was the biggest challenge. We didn’t want to screw up, after all of those good films.
I think the big break for us really came when Ken [Branagh] came aboard. He has such a great vision. It’s very interesting to watch him work because he’s such an actor’s director. At the same time, with Thor, he had the chance to play in a big arena, so he has put those two things together here. It’s a lot about performance. There’s a lot of emotional context that’s going on between Jack and his fiancée. And Jack, as a character, is going through this decision-making process. This is really the origin story. The result of it is that you see a guy who doesn’t view the CIA with rose-colored glasses, that’s for sure, debating the merit of becoming part of a government organization. And it really becomes, “What can I do? What can’t I do?”
It was really important for us to have a director who could get that emotional context going. Jack’s also a guy, because of the line of work that he is in, he has not told everything to his fiancée, and that has been building in their relationship. There’s a great pressure cooker going on, which adds to … it’s hard enough having a relationship, you know? If you are hiding a part of it, it adds a real complication. We can make these great, roller-coaster action sequences, because [Branagh’s] had those experiences, but you can do… When I think of the Jack Ryan movies, there was always one kind of marquee moment where you are really like, “Whoa! That was fucking cool.” And that’s one of the things that e have to do in this one.
Jack Ryan really does have a long legacy. What do you think it is that makes him such an iconic character?
Probably everybody has a slightly different point of view on it. For me, the thing I see most of all is that he’s an everyman. “Everyman” is probably even the wrong word. He’s living in an extraordinary place, and his education certainly isn’t every-man. When you’re watching a Jack Ryan movie, though, you feel like you could be in the same place, and you’d hope that you do the same thing. He’s not Jason Bourne. He can’t take out 10 guys with one hand tied behind his back. Which is fun as hell. I think that’s what makes Jack approachable. He has a strong sense of right and wrong. Those are the two things I always related to with him. That’s what Clancy came up with.
I always believe, with any kind of hero, that you want to believe that their decision-making is right. That ultimately, I can trust what that guy’s sense of right and wrong will be. Even in a vigilante movie, where you are going against the law by definition, you still want to agree with the fact that your character is breaking the law. That’s the same thing with Jack. Here’s a guy with a clear sense of right and wrong, but because we are doing the young Jack Ryan, there is some sort of formation going on, of what the definition of that is.
There has only been one Jack Ryan movie since 9/11. Does this Jack Ryan get back into a pre-9/11 type world?
No, I think this is incredibly contemporary. The thing I always liked about [Clancy]… I was thinking about Clear and Present Danger the other day, and that movie felt like it existed in that moment. Pablo Escobar – that’s what it felt like our world was facing at that time, right?
Our world right now faces incredible economic uncertainty. The notion of what is a super power has evolved, and who actually can carry what muscle [has changed]. What is America’s role in the world? All of those things exist in this movie. It feels incredibly contemporary, particularly the economic aspect of it. A lot of the larger, earthquake moves that precipitate this movie have to do with the fact of what is the economic order, and who is trying to take control over it. It’s not a movie about economics, but the effect of what is going on in the world is very drive, and very clear in this movie.
Can you give us a better idea of the story, or tell us why we’re in London?
[Laughs] Our director’s from London. No, um, I think on every movie, you’re always in the wrong city. Unless your story is set in that city. We debated a number of cities, and interestingly enough, Liverpool and London can double for New York and Moscow. [Laughs] I never would have known it. That’s why we’re here.
Seriously, though, the villain of the piece is a man who has great wealth and great power, and would have a building just like this building. The financial district [in London] is very important to our decision to being here. We’re trying to communicate the idea of unrestrained wealth, and the power that comes along with it. That building also looks like the Death Star.
Without divulging too much about the plot, the story is about Jack’s decision-making process to become part of the world with which we are familiar with him. He gets caught up… actually, 9/11 is a direct motivator for him. I think in a way this might be the first post-9/11 spy movie, because it so directly motivates its hero. Jack is a character who reacts to 9/11 be going into the service. What’s fun about that is it allows you to go back into all the back story of what Clancy wrote, and put it into context.
Do you view this story as setting up reboots of The Hunt for Red October or Clear and Present Danger?
I never thought about that, but… it’s a good thought. [Laughs]
Well, do those stories exist in the universe that you are setting up, or is this a new Jack Ryan universe separated from the books?
Um, first, Hunt for Red October is one of my favorite films, so the idea of trying to redo that is, just, I don’t know. That’s an honest answer.
All of them have a very specific political moment in time. I suppose you could do a Clear and Present Danger associated with Mexico pretty easily right now, couldn’t you?
I haven’t really thought about it, honestly. We’ve just been so focused on making this movie work. A lot o them also play with the Soviet Union, and that… I don’t think you want to make a period version of this character. But I can’t rule it out.
Do you bristle at the term reboot, or is that an accurate description?
I understand why people are saying that’s what it is, but Chris Pine is so different than Harrison and Alec. It is Jack Ryan in the sense that he’s the every man, the sense of intelligence, the sense of physical capabilities without being Superman. I guess in that sense it’s a reboot in that we recognize all of those things. But Chris is so different and has a very different color as a result of that.
What made you choose Chris for the role?
It was actually Paramount’s idea. After Star Trek, they had the advantage of seeing all the dailies we had not seen. So they started calling Mace and I and saying, “What about Chris?”
He’s an amazing actor. And it’s great to have that ability. As a person in real life, he’s a very thoughtful guy. He’s great or Jack Ryan, because you can really feel the wheels turning, and there’s really something in the wheels.
I think that’s one of my favorite things about Jack Ryan. He’s always the guy in the room who’s not afraid to say the thing that everyone else is either thinking or is too afraid to say. He’s the one who’ll raise his hand and say, “You know, I’m not so sure.” I think Chris is that sort of person. He’s handsome, but as an individual, he’s got a big brain and it’s great for the character.
You mentioned the roller-coaster action. What can you tell us about that in this film?
Well, I always looked at these movies as half action, half thriller. We’ve stayed to that notion. Someone is directly in jeopardy. As you know, I have nothing against explosions, but [characters] are not running through fields of explosions.
The hardest thing to do about this type of action is that you have to feel like you’re utterly in the guy’s shoes, or it doesn’t work. It’s so much about the emotional state. It’s not about the whiz-bang of it. You want to do the whiz-bang, but you can’t do it without being solidly inside the character. That makes it personal and emotional, which is different from other action movies.
This isn’t adapted from a specific Clancy book. How have you been going about compiling information without a specific book to reference?
We have been going over every novel, gleaning every bit of back-story information that we could. And we put every bit in. In a funny way, more than any of the other movies, we were relying on… because they all had very good plots and specific character agendas. Because we didn’t have that, we were able to take all of the ideas and then design a movie around all of the backstory as opposed to a specific part of it. So if you’re a Clancy fan, you’re going to go, “Oh my God, that? Do you remember that?” We’re able to do all that because the movie has been designed around the origin as opposed to the character being part of the plot.
You mentioned Chris Pine’s role in Star Trek. Will it ever be viewed as a complication that he’s also Captain Kirk?
I think it could be a complication in certain circumstances, but again, they are so different. This is so “present day” and that is so “futuristic” that I don’t think we’ll have that problem. I think trying to be another spy might not be the best thing. He’s not the best choice to play Jason Bourne in a reboot. But I think the audience, in general, is relating to familiarity, so I think it serves somebody to have someone who the audience has invested a lot. We benefit because people have invested in him as Kirk.
Where does Kevin Costner’s character fit into all of this?
He’s not that traditional character of mentor. He’s a guy of action, too. He’s a field agent. He’s a little more senior. He carries more experience. But we’ve seen a lot of movies with the older mentor and the younger agent, and this movie doesn’t do that. He’s in the field with Jack. When things go wrong, he gets thrust into the middle. It creates a different relationship between the two men. It’s also the movie where they are meeting. He couldn’t be a mentor because they first meet. It’s the first movie where they get a sense that they are working together, and there’s a relationship tied to, “What are we going to do here?”
And Kevin, carrying all of the heroism that he has done in his career… often, the mentor character feels like the arm-chair guy. Kevin can’t feel that way. We put him out in the field so that he’s not sitting in the arm chair. He’s just not that guy. We also get two generations of stars, as a result. It gives the movie a nice sense of energy, as well.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit opens in the US on January 17 and in the UK on January 24.