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The Handler
The man who brings Jack Ryan into the CIA and shepherds him into an assignment that will test Ryan to the core is himself a bit of a cipher - a veteran agent who knows how to play the game. This is Thomas Harper, who is portrayed by Academy Award -winning filmmaker and actor Kevin Costner, making a much-anticipated return to the big screen after the Emmy-winning success of television's "The Hatfields and McCoys."

Ironically, Costner had originally been offered the role of Jack Ryan in "The Hunt For Red October," but turned it down due in order to devote himself fully to his Oscar -winning epic "Dances With Wolves."

Branagh was gratified by Costner's interest in revisiting the story in this new incarnation and in the crucial role of Ryan's shrewd handler. "It's a part that seems tailor made for Kevin in a sense," says the director. "Harper is a senior figure in the CIA and Kevin plays him with an effortless grace. He brings the cumulative force of all the roles he's played with him - so there's also this sense of Americana to him that goes beyond the words on the page. And meanwhile, he's just a terrific actor."

Chris Pine, a long-time fan of Costner's work on both sides of the camera, was especially exhilarated by the choice. "There's a certain command that a big movie star and a great American director like Kevin has when he walks onto a set," he muses. "Working with him was like taking a mini Master Class. And Harper becomes such an important anchor for Jack -- constantly reminding Jack who he is and why he picked him for this mission in the first place."

For Costner, the fact that this Jack Ryan story starts at the very beginning of his evolution was part of the appeal. "The spy movie is a cinematic staple but often you just land in the movie and you don't see what the beginnings are," he notes. "So this was a chance to ask, 'how did that happen?' 'How did this CIA agent begin?'"

Harper plays a major part in Ryan's origins, but Costner perceives him as seeing his relationship with Jack as just one piece of the bigger picture of protecting the country. "You could reference him as a mentor to Jack, but I don't think Harper or Jack sees it that way," he observes. "To Harper, Jack is a guy under his supervision - he knows his skill set and it's vital to him that he does well. Jack starts out as more of a financial guy, a Ph.D. - I mean, he doesn't even have a gun when he gets to Moscow. But Harper also knows that Jack has this very resourceful quality inside him."

The push-and-pull between Costner and Pine as Harper and Ryan became palpable on set. Says producer David Barron: "With Chris you have a young movie star and with Kevin you have a well-established movie star and putting the two together just worked like gangbusters. We felt extraordinarily lucky to have them."

Adds Di Bonaventura, who has worked numerous times with Costner: "I got the chance to watch Kevin do a lot of the movies that were such great successes in the 90s and I think what you always see with him is this great sense of mission, this idea that his characters always know what they want to do and why they want do it. His sense of commitment is so utter that you will follow along on any ride with him. And what's great about this role is that Harper is an experienced CIA agent suddenly thrust together with two novices in Jack and Cathy who really are in way over their heads - and it's his job to make sure they are up to this task. Kevin has that sense of command that you believe he can guide these two people through this incredible situation." Enemies And Lovers

In Moscow, Jack Ryan confronts one of the diverse, modern faces of terrorism: a powerful, private Russian banker ready to put into motion a terrifying global plot to quench his personal thirst for vengeance. Taking the role of the ingeneious but nefarious Viktor Cherevin is the film's director, Kenneth Branagh, who has not acted in a film he directed for the last 13 years, but took on the fierce intellect of Cherevin with gusto.

"It sort of naturally evolved that I would take the role of Cherevin," Branagh recalls. "I was really fascinated by the character and it was not too big of a role that it would challenge me in the way of playing something, say, as big as Hamlet while also directing. I thought it could be wonderful fun to play this dark character who is something of a maverick and who is fueled by his own personal tragedy. He's one of those very contained fellows who you don't want to cross, which makes him quite interesting as an actor."

It is Cherevin's nationalist identity and personal vendetta against the United States that impel him to knit together a sleeper network of operatives, skilled in both finance and explosives, in a plot that might have gone undetected, were it not for Jack Ryan. But it is not only his dark genius that makes the character intriguing - it is also his sophisticated charm, which he uses on Jack and ultimately, his fiancEe.

"Viktor can be terrifyingly charming," Branagh admits, "but he is also ruthless. He can very coldly decide to unleash his demons and then he will do whatever he deems is necessary."

The director carefully balanced his acting work with guiding the film. "I was very particular about which days I would do my scenes," he explains. "I like to be pragmatic about where I can have the most energy and focus, without abandoning other people's needs. The last thing you want to do is let anyone down."

Preparation was key. "In order to get to the point with a role where it can catch fire, I've always felt intensive preparation is the best way," he says. In this case, that meant diving into Russian history, poetry and speech patterns. "It was hard work to find Viktor's particular Russian accent," he notes. "There are many kinds of Moscow accents, so it started with months and months of watching clips from Russian television and listening to Russian books-on-tape in the car to just get into the feeling of that landscape of sounds. Then I worked with a Russian language expert and a dialect person. In the end, it was all about trying to find the music that was right for the role - particularly in moments when Viktor is being, as my American friends like to say, bad-ass."

That relentless quality came across loud and clear on the set, as did the more lyrical and philosophical side of the character. "I think Ken really enjoyed playing Cherevin," muses producer Mark Vahradian. "He could have just played a stock villain but he hasn't done that at all. He's taken it entirely in the other direction, with a man who has a kind of poetic sensibility, who wants to convey to the world what it means to him to be Russian. Interestingly, when we were doing research, we found that a lot of people say that Russian spies talk like poets. They are a very unique, highly educated breed."

Cherevin also reflects back some of Jack Ryan's qualities, but in a twisted sense, notes Di Bonaventura. "They are not exactly two sides to the same coin, but there is an interesting link between them because Cherevin believes absolutely that what he is doing is right and Jack believes absolutely that what he is doing is right, so you have these two characters with strong but opposing convictions," the producer summarizes.

For Jack Ryan, Cherevin is only part of the problem he faces in Moscow. He has long kept his CIA status secret from the woman he loves - pediatric eye surgeon Cathy -- but when she decides to show up unannounced in Russia as a surprise, Jack must decide how much he can tell her . . . and just how far he can put her own life in danger.

Taking on Cathy's complexity is Keira Knightley, the Academy Award -nominated English actress known to audiences as Elizabeth Swann in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" series and Elizabeth Bennet in "Pride & Prejudice."

"Keira brings intelligence, beauty and a sense of Cathy being a real equal to Jack," comments Branagh. "Jack's assignment in Moscow is a crisis point in their relationship. There are confusions and misapprehensions between them, all of which needed to be played in a grown-up, intelligent way by two people who could also convey they are passionately attracted to one another. We found there was great chemistry between Chris and Keira. "

"Keira's got a really quick intelligence that makes her incredibly appealing," says Pine of Knightley.

Knightley enjoyed that Cathy might start out looking like a typical, peripheral love interest but soon comes into the very center of the story, becoming a vital part of Jack's strategy to infiltrate Cherevin's plans. "She is suddenly right in the middle of the whole operation," Knightley notes. "She's very much like Jack in that she unexpectedly finds herself in this whole new situation facing a man who wants to end the world as we know it."

She was especially excited to dive into this situation with Branagh at the helm. "Thrillers require really good storytellers and Ken is very, very good at storytelling, at building suspense through the performances and the scenes," she says. "He really understands cinema and how to create something visually extraordinary, but he is also meticulous about the details."

Once on the set she also found a rich vein to mine in her rapport with Chris Pine. "Chris brings a humanity to Jack as a man who is struggling with a dual identity," Knightley observes, "and also struggling with not being able to tell the person he loves most what he is doing or why. That makes the character, and our interactions, really interesting."

When Cathy agrees to help keep Cherevin distracted during a formal dinner, things get even more interesting. Knightley says part of the fun was watching Branagh as Cherevin attempts to seduce her character, then suddenly turns coldly vicious on her. "Ken is a wonderful actor," she says. "But he also makes for a very villainous villain and Cathy has to try to meet him on equal ground."

The filmmakers were all impressed with the realism Knightley brought to the role. "Cathy is a pretty challenging character, but she's perfect for someone of Keira's capabilities," says Vahradian. "She and Chris take you into that moment in a relationship when you start to wonder if you really know that person sitting across from you - only in their case it's so much more heightened because there's this whole other level of deceit going on."

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