Jack Ryan, isn’t exactly new — it’s a 35-year-old franchise, based on Tom Clancy’s novels about a former Marine-turned-CIA analyst. And according to franchise executive producer Mace Neufeld, the latest chapter was almost a remake of the Harrison Ford thriller Clear and Present Danger.
But once creators Carlton Cuse and Graham Roland got hold of the story, a television series — which could devote hours to character development and creating new adventures for the action hero — seemed like the most obvious choice.
The first season of the reinvented espionage thriller stars John Krasinski (The Office) as the titular character, and focuses on Ryan’s transition from desk job to field work when he discovers a suspicious series of bank transfers, leading him on a journey throughout Europe and the Middle East as a terrorist plans a massive attack on the United States. It’s a natural fit for the former Office cubicle dweller, Cuse and Roland told Rotten Tomatoes in an exclusive interview at Comic-Con International: San Diego.
Here’s what else you should know about the latest reinvention of the franchise, which is now available to stream on Amazon Prime.
“I don’t think that anybody thinks of Bond or Jason Bourne as being authentic, or 24, and we really felt like that was what Clancy did. If you read a Clancy book, you walked away not only having had an exciting ride, but you also had learned something about how anti-submarine warfare was conducted or how South American drug cartels worked,” he said.
“So Graham and I created an original story, but we did a ton of research. We spent a bunch of time with former officers in the CIA, current officers in the CIA, other members of the intelligence and military communities. We had Islamic consultants. We had a wide variety of writers and experts who worked with us on staff who were really deeply versed in the entire sort of military intelligence world. We really wanted to make the show feel very authentic and really give you a sense of what it would really be like to be an analyst in the CIA when out on his first field assignment,” Cuse said.
While Cuse and Roland have been working on the series since Barack Obama was president, the drama feels as current as ever even in more turbulent political times.
“One of the things that Clancy did and one of the things that Carlton and I did that was fortuitous was our representation of the CIA, the intelligence service, the U.S. military,” Roland said. “Having been in the military myself and drawing on my own experience that these are professional people. These are competent people by and large with really good intentions, who are making tremendous sacrifices to stand between us and the chaos in the world. That was really important to us. I think it’s good right now to see these institutions held up in a very positive light and to celebrate these people that do this work.”
Cuse agreed: “It seems somewhat subversive to be doing a show that celebrates the professionalism and competence of the intelligence community. That’s nothing we ever expected. We approached it not from any political standpoint. Our experience, really in spending a lot of time with members of the intelligence community: They’re very apolitical. No one ever shared their political view with us, and I think it’s something that everyone can and should rally behind. These people are working really hard to keep us safe.”
Krasinski’s role took on special importance after working with Navy SEALs on his Benghazi movie 13 Hours, the actor told Rotten Tomatoes at the series’ star-studded premiere aboard the U.S.S. Iowa on Friday.
“I don’t think people even give half enough due to the men and women who are putting their lives on the line,” he said. “That’s really important to me, and I think being able to play a character who doesn’t have a cape, or who doesn’t shoot things out of their hands — in this day and age, it might be nice to have a hero you can look up to and maybe one day become. For me, that’s one of the reasons that I took the role.
“I don’t know about politics,” he continued, “but it’s nice to see a guy who uses his instincts and his brain and tries to do good in the world. In the pilot, they use the term ‘Boy Scout’ a couple of times — it was in the books — and there’s something nice about having a Boy Scout on the front lines every now and again.”
Speaking of Boy Scouts, Krasinski himself is a former Scout and Cuse and Roland said that his relatability is one of the reasons they cast him in the role.
“A lot of the shows with the spy genre had been about anti-heroes. If you think about Jack Bauer or Carrie Mathison or Jason Bourne, even Bond has moved to a really dark place. The thing about Clancy was he was a guy who wrote the central character Jack Ryan, who was a classic authentic hero, and that was one of the elements of the DNA of Clancy that we extracted for our story,” Cuse said.
“Our show is about a guy who goes from being in a cubicle to being in the field. What a perfect transition to use John Krasinski as an actor who wanted to transition from a guy known for working in a cubicle in an office to being an action hero. His journey as an actor really mirrored the journey of our character,” he said. “Jack Ryan’s superpower is intelligence, and we felt like Krasinski had that in spades.”
But Roland wouldn’t necessarily use the term “Boy Scout” to describe his leading man, just “relatable.”
“He comes across in this way that Tom Hanks comes across. You just like him. He’s very likable. He’s very relatable,” he said. “You could see yourself in him, and I think he’s got that vulnerability and that charm.”
Krasinski said he is honored that he’s been continually described as a likable guy.
“It’s one of those things that certainly I was hearing with the character Jim on The Office,” he said. “Obviously this character is extremely different. I’m a huge Tom Hanks fan. I think likability is certainly something that allowed you to connect to the character and be taken into the story, so it’s a huge compliment.”
“The story that Graham and I created is really a kind of a prequel. In the first book, Jim Greer is already an admiral whose now got a big job in a corner office in the CIA. Our story, he’s just one level above Jack, so it allows the two of them to go work on a case together,” Cuse said.
Pierce told Rotten Tomatoes at the premiere that the eight-episode series devotes much more time to his character’s back story than the films ever did.
“In the show he’s a lot more expansive. He’s a CIA officer. You learn more about his family. You know that he has a long career, but is at a point in his life where he’s having challenges in his career,” Pierce said. “You learn something about his faith, and then we also get to see a character who is seldom seen in the media: a career African-American CIA officer. We rarely see that, if at all. We’ve never explored that. And then to meet those men and women — I’ve become close to several — and to be able to try to depict their story in popular culture has really been an honor and goes a lot farther than the books.”
Cuse explained that Greer’s story in the first season is a rehabilitation story — how a hot-shot former Karachi, Pakistan, station chief ended up in a backwater CIA posting. That answer comes in episode six, as Greer figures out how to get back into the field.
“It’s very apparent that Greer is a fantastic operative, and as a fantastic operative, he’s the perfect guy to train Jack Ryan, who’s an analyst, into how to become an operative,” Cuse said.
As Pierce summed it up, “In the first season, you see how a man who wonders if his best days are behind him sees in a younger Jack Ryan something that he lost in himself and is rejuvenated by it.”
It might be a TV series, but the show has a cinematic look and was filmed on three continents with a major budget.
“The adventure of making the show was like making a giant eight-hour movie,” Cuse said. “We shot in five cities on three continents: We shot for months and months in Montreal; we went to Washington, D.C.; we went to four different cities in Morocco; we went to Paris, France. Amazon gave us the resources to make this in a way that you would make a giant feature film.”
The production spent four months of 2017 filming in Morocco and during Ramadan, when much of the crew couldn’t eat or drink from sunrise to sundown during 110-degree shooting days.
“[It was] over 100 degrees and they’re spraying themselves because water can’t touch their lips,” Roland said. “It was amazing. Of course they’re used to it because they’ve done it, but it was an amazing feat of stamina and there were never any complaints. There was never any bad morale. It was just they were extremely professional.”
The cast and crew have already spent several months filming season 2 in Bogota, Columbia.
“It takes place primarily in South America, where the season 1 story took place in the Middle East and on the East Coast of the United States and in France. It’s more of a political thriller. Thematically, it’s kind of about the fragility of democracy, so it’s a lot different,” Roland told Rotten Tomatoes at the premiere.
Added Cuse, “Each season of the show is like a different book in the series. Same two main characters — Jack Ryan, Jim Greer — but a completely different story. First season is a Middle East terrorist story, second season is a South American political thriller. That’s really fun, to change it up with a different geopolitical issue.”
While the show is not political — “we didn’t want to be the show that took a stand,” Roland said, other than supporting the men and women serving the U.S. — season 2 will definitely cover the current political climate.
“Our show is very connected to what’s going on in places like Venezuela right now, which has kind of descended into despotism and anarchy, and that’s something we wanted to explore,” Cuse said. “Democracy is not a given, and its fragility is something that’s an issue around the world.”
Jack Ryan season 1 is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.