Chris Pine was well aware of his action-hero options.
Accepting the lead role in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit — the $60-million thriller that hit theaters Friday — the actor became the fourth man to portray novelist Tom Clancy’s iconic CIA super-spy character over the course of a five-film franchise that has spanned nearly a quarter of a century and generated more than $787 million at the box office. (The other actors: Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck.)
But in Shadow Recruit, the first film in the franchise not to be directly adapted from one of Clancy’s pot-boiler novels, Pine seized on the character’s academic pedigree and Wall Street earning potential – which he shelves to serve his country, enlisting in the Marine Corps after the 9/11 attacks – to conjure an altogether different kind of patriot-hero.
“He’s an American capitalist who was getting his PhD at the London School of Economics and was probably going to make a fortune in the private sector,” Pine noted. “In a moment, he chose to do away with all that and do something entirely different. That spoke to me.”
And it reminded Pine of another American hero: “Look at Pat Tillman, who gave up a huge football contract — what many people would characterize as the American dream — to fight in Afghanistan after 9/11. I talked about him all the time.”
Not just any Hollywood hunk would have done that kind of moral calculus in pursuit of portraying an international man of intrigue in a splashy action movie. Or would have bothered trying to update the psychological profile of American spy fiction’s foremost Cold Warrior for a new generation raised on WikiLeaks and NSA spying revelations. But then, Pine is not just any Hollywood hunk.
Now, after inhabiting the iconic role of Captain Kirk in two blockbuster installments of J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” reboot, Pine, 33, is balancing two studio franchises. With furrowed brow, and exuding a kind of unbearable heaviness of being fundamentally at odds with his lot as a marquee movie star, he acknowledged the push-pull of his enviable status.
“I get tired of myself talking about how reluctant I am to take on roles like this,” Pine said, seated in a roof-top pool cabana at a Beverly Hills hotel. “It must sound like, ‘Boo-hoo, poor actor.’ That being said, I never had any clarity about this path. By which I mean, I never wanted this, never strove for it consciously. So to be here sometimes feels like some kind of bizarre cosmic accident. Like, where? Why? How?”
Shadow Recruit provides a kind of creation myth for the character, detailing Ryan’s conscription as a CIA analyst-turned-operative (under the tutelage of a veteran agency handler, played by Kevin Costner). After uncovering evidence of an impending terrorist attack, the agent travels to Moscow to face off against a mysterious Russian oligarch (Kenneth Branagh) with plans to cripple the American economy.
Branagh, the Irish-born filmmaker-actor whose resume is littered with adaptations of Shakespeare plays in which he has both performed and directed, also directed Shadow Recruit. And the multiple-Oscar nominee says refocusing the franchise around his leading man was a priority.
“In the classical world, I never do Hamlet unless I have the Hamlet. The personality of the actor is so key,” Branagh said. “I did this because I wanted to build Jack Ryan around Chris Pine. To reinvigorate the whole thing, you needed somebody who was going to feel ownership of the role.”
Pine had “argument upon argument upon discussion upon conversation upon debate” with Branagh, trying to find the “center point” of his character, who is dismissively described in Clear and Present Danger as a “boy scout.” He got hung up on a plot point where Ryan withholds the fact that he’s a CIA agent from his fiancee, played by Keira Knightley.
“'I couldn’t tell you I was in the CIA because I gave a man my word' — I told Ken so many times, ‘Doesn’t that sound dumb?' ” recalled Pine. “If you were in the CIA, you’d be like, ‘Listen babe, I’m not coming home because I’m an analyst.’ And he said, ‘That’s the great thing about Jack Ryan.’ This old-fashioned Norman Rockwell quality, this integrity. He’s just such a good guy!”
Los Angeles Times