Opening this weekend in theaters and IMAX is director Kenneth Branagh’s Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Based on the Tom Clancy character, the original story follows Jack Ryan (played by Chris Pine) as he uncovers a financial terrorist plot. Starring alongside Pine is Kevin Costner and Keira Knightley with Branagh as the film’s antagonist.
A few days ago I landed an exclusive phone interview with Branagh. Since I recently did a video interview with him, I tried to ask all new questions. We talked about acting while being the director, whether there was anything cut for budgetary reasons, why he always works with composer Patrick Doyle, if he has seen Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing since he also directed a feature based on the material, whether he’s thinking about doing another Shakespeare movie, which Shakespeare work he would recommend someone to start with, his next film, Cinderella, and more. Hit the jump for what he had to say.
BRANAGH: I have sometimes said “never again,” and, with 13 years between this one and the previous one, but that was partly because I wanted to have the sheer enjoyment of the single focus. And, the particular pleasure with that time spent on Thor, just directing, just looking at the whole universe, and, I also really enjoyed acting in My Week with Marilyn. I’ve been enjoying both things separately a great deal over the last 6-7 years, and this was the first time where – with the size of the part, and the shooting in England – it felt like one where I could really enjoy it. I think it’s always going to be a case-by-case scenario.
With Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, like every movie, I’m sure something was cut out for budgetary reasons. Was there anything that was cut out for those reasons, that came close to being done?
BRANAGH: Being completely honest, there was an action scene in front of the movie that was challenged early on. It was one that we kept fighting about, saying that we needed to have it in, which involved Jack’s military career. That was in and out and in and out, and it eventually, production put it back in, so everybody realized that we needed it. It was expensive, but we needed to get it. It was doing story and character, and things that were vitally important for the movie. So, when you’re looking for budgetary reasons, they’re always looking for big-ticket items, something that brings the check out. But often, it’s the thing you need (laughs). Of course, you don’t want to kill any of your darlings, but sometimes, the picture just screams that it has to be back in, and in this case, that’s what happened.
Does composer Patrick Doyle have something over you, since you’re always working with him?
BRANAGH: (laughs) Way back, sometimes around ’96 – and I’d done maybe about 6 movies, and we were doing Hamlet – I said, “you know Pat, I’m going to use all the music written for Hamlet by famous composers.” There was a piece by Tchaikovsky about Hamlet, there was some Beethoven, and other numerous classical composers I was going to use. And he said, “Oh, okay.” I started working by laying up music that was concert pieces, and in the meantime, he’d gone away, and he came back with the most incredible audition tape for the soundtrack of Hamlet that you could imagine, and of course, he was doing it! Since then, the reason we keep working together is that every time I’ve worked with Pat, I feel as though it’s the first time. And, there’s nothing tired. He always gets excited. When we were doing Jack Ryan and we were on set, he was coming to the set, which was great. So, he always gets a feel for the movie, and gets a feel for the characterizations. He’s an actor, so he kind of gets it under his skin, so you know that what he comes up with is gonna have that extra relationship. I don’t send him a film in isolation. He’s part of it. He’s like part of the creative family, and I’m part of his, and so, while we still have that creative quality, we’ll keep doing it. He never assumed, and I never assumed that it’s gonna happen each time, but so far so good.
You directed Much Ado About Nothing in 1993, and Joss Whedon just directed a new version. Did you see his version?
BRANAGH: I have not seen Joss’s version yet, but I most certainly will.
BRANAGH: Yeah, I would love it to be. I would love it to be. I have acquired different experience that I think would potentially really have a beneficial effect on how I make a Shakespeare feature film, and I continue to have ongoing experiences. As you may know, I played Macbeth in the theater last year and I’m going to do that again this summer in New York, and so, my relationship to both Shakespeare and film continues to be a very intense one, and I’d hope that it leads me back to doing another Shakespeare feature film.
Shakespeare is widely known, and his work is beyond brilliant. But, for the people out there who still haven’t read any Shakespeare, is there one you’d recommend them starting with, or do you have a favorite?
BRANAGH: A play or film?
BRANAGH: Well, because they were never meant to be read, I suspect that if you’ve never read any before, then the thing to do is to see a live version, so maybe start off with a theater production. Try and look out for those that have been well reviewed. If you’re in New York this spring, I believe that the National Theater’s production of Othello with Adrian Lester and Rory Kinnear is coming to town. I would recommend seeing that. It’s a modern dress version of a great play. There’s one to start with. From a film point of view, I haven’t seen it lately, but I recall that Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet brought the vibrancy, danger, sex, violence and rock and roll of that play in an amazing way. Those are 2 recommendations: Othello in theater and Romeo and Juliet in the films.
As I told you the other day, I’m really looking forward to your take on Cinderella. I know that Mark Romanek was working on it for a little while. Is his take a lot different than your take? And, can you talk about how you got involved with the production?
BRANAGH: Well, Mark had left, so I was not really aware of what his take was. I was invited to come in, look at the script, and get a sense of what I would do with the story, so I operated from my own, individual orientation towards that myth, and to some extent, planning had already gone ahead, with Dante Ferretti the great production designer, and Sandy Powell the great costume designer. They were involved already, so there was a kind of shape to things, and so, I was coming out of what you could call a classical point of view. I wanted it to feel fresh. I wanted it to feel very contemporary. I wanted it to feel very direct, but I also wanted it to have its classical roots, in a world and period that’s some distance from us: enough distance to accept some magic. But, I think this is going to one where, the essential part of the story is not going to rely on the idea that personal happiness can only be achieved if a man comes along.
Where are you in production?
BRANAGH: We’ve finished shooting, and I’m editing at the moment, or at least, I will be returning to my editing desk next Monday, and we were editing before Christmas. It’s going very well.
Thank you so much for your time and have a great afternoon.
BRANAGH: Thanks so much. Good to talk to you.