Few roles in Hollywood are as sought after as Jack Ryan. Alec Baldwin was the first to play Tom Clancy’s spy hero onscreen, in 1990's The Hunt for Red October, before Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck brought leading-man bravado to the Wall Street trader-turned-CIA operative across three more films. The most recent – starring a suave Chris Pine – was released in 2014.
And now you can add John Krasinski to that list. Best known for playing the equivalent of Martin Freeman’s character in the US remake of The Office, the 38-year-old proves a surprising choice to front a Jack Ryan TV show; his is a career built on playing someone more at home behind a desk than on enemy terrain.
When I meet Krasinski in central London, however, the casting suddenly makes sense. Although he's chatty and ebullient – hardly Ryan traits – he’s also smart and courteous, standing up to greet me in a navy blue blazer that struggles to contain his broad shoulders. It’s this mix of gentle politeness and imposing physicality that makes you think Clancy would approve.
“I think that there’s an everyman quality to Jack that certainly my character in The Office [Jim Halpert] had, and I think that’s what I connected to,” he says. “There was a nerdy part of me as a kid that went, ‘Oh, I could be Jack Ryan’ whereas I couldn’t be Superman. There is such an appeal to playing a guy who is a real person, that you might see in a bar – he’s an actual superhero that could exist.”
Krasinski’s return to TV comes at a significant time for the actor. Earlier this year, he co-wrote, directed and starred in the (mostly) silent horror A Quiet Place, his first attempt at a studio film. Its success – unanimous critical acclaim; a box office haul of more than $330m – saw him named one of 2018’s most influential people in the world by Time. He says the film, let alone his career, would not have been such a triumph without its leading actress: his wife, Emily Blunt.
“I was originally just going to star and Emily told me I had to direct it,” he says. “She knew it was a huge opportunity for me, and in the madness she just let me be myself. I honestly feel I wouldn’t have this career if I hadn’t met her, because she’s taught me so much about how to go about the business. She’s been my secret ingredient.”
Blunt almost didn’t star in the film; Krasinski was “too scared” to ask her. After reading the script on a flight, however, Blunt ordered her husband to cast her despite there already being a famous name attached (“I can't say who,” he says with a smile, “but essentially, yes – Emily had someone fired”).
Krasinski laughs when recalling the time he was told by friends he would “probably get divorced” should they collaborate on his passion project. Ultimately, though, the couple had the last laugh.
“It without a doubt made our marriage stronger," he says. “I think we were both surprised by that. Not that I thought it would get worse but we were much more in love after the movie. We leaned on each other in a way we never had.” He pauses. “I also certainly wouldn’t have felt as comfortable watching someone else pretend to give birth in a bathtub.”
Access unlimited streaming of movies and TV shows with Amazon Prime Video Sign up now for a 30-day free trialSign up
Despite directing perhaps the most original horror of the year, Krasinski didn't like the genre growing up. In fact, it wasn’t until he studied theatre arts at Brown University that he became a proper cinephile, every Sunday watching a film recommended to him by his peers. “I actually named my production company Sunday Night because the one thing you don’t get to do when you’re trying to be an actor is act – you’re waiting tables and trying to do all these other things – so that’s when we’d meet. It was the only time of the week we could talk about books and movies.”
Krasinski later enrolled at the Connecticut-based National Theatre School where he briefly studied with the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-Upon-Avon, during which the self-confessed Anglophile (“marrying a Brit seems obvious, huh?”) momentarily plotted a move to the UK.
“I guess I am technically trained by them, but would I be a good Shakespearean actor? Probably not.”
Years later, he won a part in The Office. While playing Jack Ryan might suggest Krasinski is moving away from his comic roots, he doesn't see it that way. He’s even up for reprising the role should a revival happen.
“I would totally do it,” he says. “I can genuinely say I’ve never been in anything like it. I remember bumping into people who’d been on other television shows and were like, ‘So which year did you get sick of each other?’ We never did. It kind of felt like we were in a repertory theatre together. We all look forward to the day we can do it again. Hopefully we can find a way.”
Before then, he’ll be called back to duty as Jack Ryan – season two was confirmed months before the first had even begun. He believes its return is justified.
“The books have literally thousands of rich, dense pages with specifics about the character and the world around him,” he says. “We get to play with how he feels about all this stuff, whereas in the movies, he gets a call and then he’s suddenly on a plane or a submarine.”
By 2020, Krasinski will have played Ryan across 20 episodes of television. Not that he thinks he’s in danger of being typecast as an action hero anytime soon.
“I’m pretty sure, at the end of my career, I’ll be most known for Jim," he says. "And that would be an honour for me.”
'Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan' will be available on Prime Video from 31 August
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies