Interview: Jack Ryan's Regular Producer Mace Neufeld – Making A Jack Ryan Film Today, For And About Today

mace neufeld chris pineMace Neufeld is the producer who stuck determinedly with CIA smartypants Jack Ryan, seeing him through four different cinematic incarnations: Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck and now Chris Pine.

Tomorrow, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit goes on release across the UK, having opened last weekend in the US. It was before this, however, that I spoke to Neufeld, and so some of our conversation concerns his anticipation for the release.

We also talk about the changing face of Hollywood, with the requirements on a Jack Ryan film apparently proving rather different today than when Neufeld first started with the character.

So here's what Neufeld had to tell me about Ryan, Kenneth Branagh, about the non-Ryan script that they turned into a Ryan movie, and about making action thrillers with the marketing department's collaboration.

I'll know whether or not this take on Jack Ryan is the right one after our opening weekend. The public decides, although we're very happy with the film. It's attracted a wonderful, very accomplished director and actor in Kenneth Branagh.

We also have Kevin Costner, who I originally offered the part of Jack Ryan, but who turned it down because he was trying to do a western, which turned out to be Dances With Wolves. We have Chris Pine, who was the first actor attached and who I think is much more than the average young leading man, a wonderful actor.

We did a lot of passes at the script. We'd run out of Tom Clancy books so I went through several different stories and scripts. When Branagh came aboard and David Koepp turned in a new version of the screenplay we got our green light.

The differences are because marketing, and Paramount, and I guess myself, were looking for more action. This Jack Ryan has three major action sequences in it, more action than the previous films. We wanted to keep the "thinking's man thriller" essence to the film but turn it into a "thinking man's action thriller." Audiences seem to want that. We wanted to stay true to the Ryan character. We went back and invented a story of how Jack Ryan became Jack Ryan.

We'd received a script called Dubai which had been written by Adam Cozad which had a very intriguing central concept, about Russians trying collapse the US economy by collapsing the dollar. I hadn't seen that before. We decided to turn that into a Jack Ryan film.

The character is wonderful. He's not Bond, he's not Bourne, he's what they refer to at the CIA as a "water walker," somebody who can process information quickly and jump to a conclusion before other people but be ordinarily correct. He's also something of an everyman. I think of him as somebody I'd like to have living next door to me because if my house was on fire I know he'd be over to try and help save my family.

The Hunt for Red October was based by Clancy on an actual incident; Patriot Games was more of a look at Jack Ryan and his family; Clear and Present Danger dealt with Pablo Escobar and the drug cartels – Escobar was actually killed at the time we were shooting that film; Sum of All Fears dealt with everybody's fear of a nuclear face off between Russia and the United States; and this one deals with a problem that I think isn't about to go away, the global economic crisis. The trick is in finding an idea that you think will age well.

I'm always nervous when my movies are close to coming out but there's nothing much I can do but cross my fingers and wait. We knew when Paramount slated us for Christmas Day that they were waiting to see if Marty Scorsese could bring Wolf of Wall Street down to a manageable length – I think his original cut was close to four hours – but they thought that they would like to get Wall Street in for Academy consideration and so they moved us out. I had a sigh of relief because even though Christmas Day is a big movie going day, there was a lot of competition in there. We quietly moved to Martin Luther King weekend and hopefully we will have less competition there. Hopefully I'll get to come back to Jack Ryan again. The response so far is very, very positive. Tom Clancy didn't see this film, he passed away before he had a chance, but he would have liked the film.

My first conversation with Ken Branagh was at lunch when he came over from London after he'd been hired to do the film. He'd done an enormous amount of homework. He'd done a Jack Ryan marathon and seen the four previous films and then he read some of the Clancy books. He had an absolute fox on the character. He had an idea of who he might want to cast as Kathy Ryan [Keira Kinghtley]. And he told me that he thought this film could be shot in England to take advantage of the tax rebate. More than that, he came over several weeks later with a booklet that he'd prepared with locations that were all in London, in Liverpool and around England, doubling for Moscow. But what cinched it was when we asked him if he'd like to play Viktor Cherevin and he said he would be delighted to – and the price was right. We got ourselves a director and a great villain.

Vic Armstrong was our second unit director. He's one of the deans of action film. I had met him before but never worked with Vic before. He and Branagh discussed the action in great detail, and Vic carried the ball through those sequences. There's a lot of action for a Jack Ryan movie.

I haven't been an action film maker. The last film that I did was Invictus with Morgan Freeman. No Way Out, which I did with Kevin Costner some 20-odd years ago, The General's Daughter… I've done a lot of television and films in my chequered past but I didn't think of myself as an action producer but the market place has changed and the marketing people, the marketing departments, are heavily involved with decision making on which films to make. You have to trust them. Years ago you would make a film and then hand it over to the marketing people and they'd have to figure out how to sell it to the public. Now, the marketing people read the scripts and work hand in hand with the production.

I think the greatest contribution I made to this film was to keep persisting with Paramount and working, every day, in pre-production, being on the set in England for three and a half months then coming back here and doing what I'm doing right now: talking to people about the films. I think the producer's job is to find the material, get it financed and then help to sell it.

Thanks again to Mace for taking the time to talk to me.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit opens across the UK tomorrow, Friday 24th January, and it's already on release across the US.