LONDON – Over the past 25 years, some of the biggest names in Hollywood have played novelist Tom Clancy’s CIA superhero Jack Ryan.
From 1990’s “The Hunt for Red October” through 2014’s “Shadow Recruit,” Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck and Chris Pine all portrayed the office analyst-turned kick-ass anti-terrorist.
That leaves big boots to fill for John Krasinski. The Boston native steps into the ordinary hero role in the internationally produced TV adaptation, “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan.” The eight-episode series starts streaming Aug. 31 on Amazon Prime Video.
If Krasinski feels any heat living up to his predecessor’s efforts he doesn’t show it. Greeting reporters in a posh hotel in London’s Soho district, he’s at ease in a stylish leather jacket and floral print shirt. A hipster beard gives him a softer look than the chiselled, flak-jacket-wearing CIA operative with his back turned to fiery explosions on the “Jack Ryan” poster.
Krasinski saw the “Jack Ryan” movies before he read the books. “I think I was about 10 when I saw ‘The Hunt for Red October.’ I was probably scared back then of a book that was longer than 100 pages.”
He’s thrilled to play a character who lives by his wits “rather than wears a cape or flies around shooting things out of your hands. There was something really cool about feeling like, maybe one day, you too could be Jack Ryan.”
Krasinski, who grew up pretending to be CIA agents with his brothers, comes by his patriotic zeal naturally. He has 11 aunts, uncles and cousins serving in the U.S. military. “The idea of people putting their lives on the line for us was ingrained early.”
Jump ahead several years, to 2005, and Krasinski lands an office job — the role of mild-mannered sales rep Jim Halpert in “The Office.” The eight-season run on the NBC comedy made him famous, but did not exactly set him up as a future action hero.
Krasinski went on to hold his own opposite George Clooney in the 2008 feature “Leatherheads” and collaborated with fellow actor and co-writer Matt Damon on the Oscar-nominated “Manchester by the Sea.”
His biggest physical transformation, however, came in 2016 when he packed on nearly 12 kilograms of muscle to play a former U.S. navy SEAL in the Michael Bay feature “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi.” Krasinski then managed to stay in fighting shape.
“I would have felt pretty stupid if I had just let it go,” says the 38-year-old, who is married to English actress Emily Blunt. “I find usage for it all the time in my private life. I now no longer throw my back out when I pick up my kids.”
The buff, leading-man look caught the attention of various executive producers, including “Tom Clancy’s Tom Ryan” co-creators Carlton Cuse (“Lost”) and Graham Roland. The timing seemed perfect, says Cuse, also in the U.K. promoting the series.
“He’s already re-made himself and was in the process of re-defining who he’d wanted to be as an actor and we had a character who was on a parallel journey.”
The producers decided early on to update the late novelist’s original Cold War settings and bring Ryan’s adventures into the present day. They also wanted to set a more idealistic tone for the spy genre.
“We’re coming out of this era where there have been a lot of anti-hero spy stories,” says Cuse, pointing to “24,” “Homeland” and the “Bourne Identity” movies. “Jack Ryan was just the opposite. He is a very morally-centered, boy scout type of character.” Cuse sees Krasinski as carrying on in the “classic hero tradition of Gary Cooper or a lot of the heroes Tom Hanks has played.”
They also wanted the series to look as action-packed as any Jack Ryan movie. That quality shines through right from an early scene where Ryan is attending an outdoor beach party and suddenly is whisked away into a waiting SEAL chopper.
“It was such an important scene,” says Krasinski, “because it very clearly distinguishes what we’re trying to do with the show, which is make it as live and real as Clancy used to make those books.”
While Morocco provided backgrounds for dessert war scenes, much of the first season was shot in and around Montreal. When Cuse learned that the Quebec-based crew that shot the recent “X-Men” movies was available, he jumped at the chance to work with them on “Jack Ryan.”
“That crew was phenomenal,” says Krasinski. “I don’t know if we would have gotten through it without them. We were so lucky to have the most unbelievable men and women in every department.”
—Bill Brioux is a freelance columnist based in Brampton, Ont. While in London, he was a guest of Amazon Prime Video.