Krasinski tackles terror, career shift
IF YOU WATCH
What: “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan”
Where: Amazon Prime Video
When: Available for streaming today, 8 episodes
By Lynn Elber
AP Television Writer
John Krasinski comes across in conversation as a disarming match to his screen image, the sort of easy-going, decent guy he played on TV’s “The Office” and in the romantic comedy “Away We Go.”
Make that his former image. In a burst of creative versatility, he’s fashioned himself into an acclaimed film director with “A Quiet Place” (in which he plays opposite wife, Emily Blunt) and muscular heroes in the movie “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” and the new Amazon Prime Video series “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan,” debuting Friday.
In low-key style, Krasinski is proving that expectations are to be ignored. Who could have predicted that gangly, deskbound Jim of “The Office” would be hunting Middle Eastern terrorists as fledgling CIA analyst Ryan, or that the latest iteration of Clancy’s big-canvas work would arrive – cinematically intact – on the small screen?
Such boundary-busting can be traced back to Krasinski’s 2005-13 “Office” days, in the sitcom that he considered “the best thing out there, movie or television.”
“I felt so proud to be a part of it, and so my definition of television and film was always blended. I never saw it as film or television, but rather just the best project going, the best character I can play,” he said, something that’s easier than ever to find on TV with the explosion of “really great shows.”
The specific attraction of “Jack Ryan,” his first series since “The Office,” was both its form and content.
With the debut season’s eight episodes (filming on season two is already underway), it’s possible to reimagine and delve into the title role in ways not possible in a time-constrained movie, Krasinski said. And then there’s the character himself, something of a childhood obsession for the actor.
“It may sound hokey, but I think that Jack Ryan was always one of those characters that you actually thought you could be one day. You can’t grow up to be Superman or Spider-Man,” he said. It was plausible to imagine becoming Ryan, a man who “used his brain and his instincts and was able to do extraordinary things.”
Casting the part was critical, said series creators and executive producers Carlton Cuse (“Lost”) and Graham Roland (”Mile 22”).
“Carlton told me, ‘We could write the best show either of us have ever written, but if don’t have the right guy playing Jack Ryan the show is just not going to work,”’ Roland recalled. A winning “everyman quality” needed for Ryan came across in Krasinski’s work in “The Office,” they said, but it was “13 Hours” that cinched the deal.
“We felt, wow, this is the guy who not only has (Ryan’s) charm and intelligence ... but he also had the physicality to be an action hero,” Roland said.
The Amazon series rolls the videotape back to Ryan’s early days with the CIA in an original story by Cuse and Roland. Viewers meet him butting heads with new boss James Greer (Wendell Pierce), a vice admiral and top-ranking CIA official in the late Clancy’s works but in career-rebuilding mode here.
“Jack Ryan” also stars Abbie Cornish as Cathy Mueller, Ryan’s future wife but for now an epidemiologist who catches his eye at a party; Ali Suliman as Suleiman, a terrorist with a tragic family history, and Dina Shihabi as his wife, Hanin.
Whatever changes have been introduced don’t clash with Ryan’s steadfastness, said Roland, describing it at odds with the “age of the anti-hero” such as Claire Danes’ troubled character in “Homeland.”
“It felt really novel in a weird way to come back to a classic hero, a hero whose morality is his strength,” he said. It’s not just Ryan who’s the good guy: The CIA also wears a white hat, unlike other dramas depicting the agency as what Roland called a “cabal” filled with back-stabbers.
“We did an extensive amount of research, spent a lot of time with military people, with former and current members of the intelligence community, and we witnessed such a high level of professionalism,” Cuse said. “We had a great appreciation for the role that these people play in keeping us safe and keeping the world safe and the importance of the United States as a beacon of democracy.”
That said, the producers reject the possibility that the show might be seen as a rebuke to President Donald Trump’s criticism of U.S. intelligence agencies and his public war of words with some former chiefs.
“Our intention was to entertain people and to give Clancy fans the portrayal of the military and the CIA that they remember from the books and from the early movies,” Roland said.
Krasinski, a Massachusetts native whose extended family has a deep record of military service, salutes the approach. His said his research for the series gave him a newfound respect for the CIA and those in it.
“I remember somebody there saying, ‘You know, politics come and go, but it’s the soul of America that we’re on the front line for,”’ he said. “I’m certainly one of those people that grew up with incredible parents who reminded us to be very, very proud of the country that we’re from.”