“Jack is back” used to refer to the star of ’24’, but not this time. This time, the Jack in question is Jack Ryan, the iconic character created by Tom Clancy. Now played by John Krasinski, Jack Ryan is coming to the small screen for the first time, in a series – appropriately titled ‘Jack Ryan’ – developed for Amazon Video, the retail giant’s streaming video service. At New York Comic Con, we had a chance to speak with the series’ producers Carlton Cuse and Graham Roland, as well as Abbie Cornish, who plays Ryan’s love interest (and, in Clancy’s novels at least, eventual wife) Cathy Mueller. During the conversation, the three offered some insight into what we can expect from the show, their history with the Jack Ryan character, and more.
Can you introduce us to the show? What about Jack Ryan appealed to you?
Carlton Cuse: I think what excited me was that I was a fan of the Jack Ryan novels. I had read eight of them, probably, just as a fan. I love the world and the idea of being able to make a limited series and tell that Jack Ryan’s story across eight hours felt like a really great opportunity. You know, they’re these huge books – most of the Jack Ryan books are eight hundred pages, they’re like weapons or doorstops – and you can’t tell that story in a two-hour movie. So the movies are great, but they’re really condensed. In an eight hour story, we were able to really, I think, achieve what Tom Clancy did in his books. Although Graham and I created an original story, it very much has all of the hallmarks of what I think makes Tom Clancy special. And we basically made an eight-hour movie. We had the money and the resources from Amazon to make a big, sprawling international action thriller.
We’ve seen several versions of Cathy Mueller in previous films. What makes this version of Cathy different than what we’ve seen before?
Abbie Cornish: Well, that it’s now, that it’s present, that it’s today’s world. I think it’s a very contemporary sort of series. It feels like it’s happening right now. And so in terms of that, it’s going to be a very contemporary version of Cathy Mueller. I’m not sure that there’s anything else outside of that that defines her storywise. In series one we come in at the very beginning of their relationship, so they meet in series one, and they date, and towards the end, they decide… Well, actually I shouldn’t give away the ending! But you get the point, right?
CC: Meeting and dating leads to…?
Graham Roland: Unknown. [laughs]
AC: And also because in the first series they’re dealing at some point with infectious diseases, obviously her intellect and her expertise will come into play.
CC: Meeting and dating lead to infectious diseases. [laughter] They’re not married in our story. So for instance, starting right out from ‘The Hunt for Red October’, the first Clancy book, Cathy Mueller and Jack Ryan are a married couple and we’re picking them up when they’re meeting and they start their relationship, which felt much more dynamic.
AC: It also fits into the timeline of where Jack Ryan is, what age he is.
Can you guys talk a bit about what it’s been like to work with Amazon on this?
AC: Amazon’s been incredible to work with, actually. What I enjoyed from the beginning was a sense of freedom and creative freedom. I think they’re really on the edge of bringing so much entertainment that is contemporary, to use that word again, but also has a real sense of creativity and edginess. They’re fearless, and I feel like they are wonderful collaborators. They’re accessible and easy, you know? I had many direct emails and discussions [with higher ups]. And also they’re fun to work with as well.
Do you find that having it on Amazon gives you more flexibility as creators to tell this story, especially in an episodic format?
GR: Absolutely. I think as Carlton said, you can do a lot more in eight hours than you can do in a two-hour movie. So we can expand the world, we can spend time with other characters that aren’t Jack Ryan. Also, the streaming format is very novelistic, and so it feels very much like a book you can’t put down. Hopefully. When you read one chapter, you have to go on to the next chapter. So that was very exciting about doing it with Amazon rather than a traditional network.
What makes John Krasinski the perfect Jack Ryan?
CC: He’s smart. You know, it’s tough to find a guy who’s both smart and also believable as an action hero, and this character has to evolve from a guy who you believe is actually sitting at a desk in the terrorist finance and arms division of the CIA writing reports and doing analysis, and then can end up out in the field be believable in action sequences. And I think John pulls that off.
What was he like to work with?
AC: It was so much fun to work with John. He’s incredibly well prepared and very professional, and at the same time, he’s really fun on set. And you know, he loves to improvise before a scene and even towards the end, until someone calls cut. And he has a really wonderful range, from the serious scenes through the lighter scenes. I feel like, for me, since I was playing the girl who was interested in him a lot of our scenes were lighter in comparison to the rest of the series. The rest of the time he’s at work and there’s a lot of serious stuff going on, a lot of action sequences. So with Cathy, it gave him an opportunity with his character to lighten up, to kind of gush and be charming, and all of these things, which I think is a lovely aspect of him to see.
Can you give us a little more insight into this version of Cathy? Is she involved in any of the action?
AC: Well, there’s a little bit towards the end that I don’t want to give away, where things get very violent, there’s a very strong threat that enters American soil. And so my character, by nature of the fact that she is an infectious diseases doctor and that there is something to do with this going on in our world, she becomes a part of it. I definitely don’t kick any butt. Not physically. Just through a microscope.
Given the climate of international and domestic terrorism, is any of the series’ storyline pulled from the headlines?
CC: Yeah, very much so. That’s a hallmark, I think, of what Tom Clancy did. His books were all geopolitical thrillers of the moment, so Graham and I chose to tell a story about an Islamic fundamentalist terrorist. But in the eight hours, we were also able to depict other positive portrayals of Muslim characters. We have kind of a range of storytelling in sort of a mosaic across those eight hours that I think will hopefully not only entertain you but you’ll leave with a deeper understanding of what some of the causal roots are of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism.
‘Jack Ryan’ stars John Krasinski, Abbie Cornish, Wendell Pierce, Peter Fonda, Mena Massoud, Timothy Hutton, Al Sapienza, Ali Suliman, and Dina Shihabi. The series is set to premiere on Amazon Video in 2018, though a specific date has yet to be confirmed.