In a TV world full of antiheroes, Tom Clancy’s famous novel character, Jack Ryan, is a throwback to an era when protagonists didn’t spend so much time living in a morally grey area.
“I don’t think people would want to see him be a Jason Bourne antihero,” Carlton Cuse, co-showrunner of “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan,” tells TheWrap, adding that there’s “an expectation” for what kind of character he can be. “That kind of re-imagining was just not on the table for us.”
On Friday, Amazon premieres the first season of its eight-episode drama based on the famed character from Clancy’s novels. The pseudo-adaptation will see John Krasinski step into the role that’s been inhabited previously in films by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck and Chris Pine (no pressure, John!). But unlike most of those films, which were straight adaptations of specific Clancy novels, Amazon’s “Jack Ryan” is a wholly original story by Cuse and his co-showrunner Graham Roland, imbibed with the Tom Clancy DNA.
“When you read a Clancy novel you felt like you were really going inside the military and inside the intelligence community,” Cuse continued. “In our version, he’s more of a modern millennial, and the way John Kraskinski plays him kind of embodies a lot of contemporary masculine qualities.”
Ever since James Gandolfini made viewers root for mob boss Tony Soprano, television has been chock full of leads of questionable morality. Roland argued that’s what made Jack Ryan so enticing. “Coming out of this era of TV antiheroes, we thought it was an interesting opportunity to bring back a classic hero whose moralism is often tested by the world he exists in.”
Krasinski is best known for his role as the camera smirking, prank-pulling paper salesman Jim Halpert from NBC’s “The Office.” Though he’s taken more harder-edge roles recently, most notably in Michael Bay’s “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi,” where he played a former Navy SEAL. He also starred in and directed horror-thriller hit “The Quiet Place.”
While Cuse said they tried to craft their own version of Jack Ryan, they used Ford’s portrayal in “Patriot Games” and “Clear and Present Danger” as inspiration.
“We loved the Harrison Ford version. We just tried to tailor it to who John is,” he said. “I think of some of the other incarnations are more stoic, a little more reserved. John brings kind of an elemental humanism. We tried to lean into those things.”
In fact, Cuse said they initially were going to do a more straight adaptaion of “Clear and Present Danger,” which focuses on a covert war being conducted behind Ryan’s back against a Colombian drug cartel. “It just felt like it was falling flat. Because really we felt like this story was dated,” said Cuse.
“It had to feel like something that was current to the world that we live in,” added Roland.
The first season of the show sees Krasinski’s Ryan, still in the early days of his career as a CIA analyst, get thrust into the field after he uncovers a string of dubious bank transfers. In typical Tom Clancy-esque fashion, it leads him on a globe-trotting adventure through Europe and the Middle East, as he uncovers a growing terrorist threat bent on carrying out an attack on the U.S.
Amazon has already renewed the series for a second season, which is currently in production in South America. It will be a completely new storyline, with Ryan dealing with a dangerous, and declining, democratic regime in South America. Roland said that the ability to tell their own self-contained Clancy-esque stories was among the things that threw them to the project.
“We liked the films a great deal but really what intrigued us about doing it for Amazon, and doing it over an eight-hour period, was doing something more novelistic.”
The entire eight-episode first season of “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” drops on Amazon Friday.