Caffeinated Clint : Why Paramount needs to rehire Alec Baldwin as Jack Ryan

ryan

As much as I love Harrison Ford (and you guys know I do!), and as big a fan of I am of his two Jack Ryan efforts “Patriot Games” and “Clear and Present Danger” (I’ve gushed about them many-a-time on the site), I don’t think I’m alone (I know Tom Clancy’s one that agrees) in naming Alec Baldwin’s turn as the C.I.A multi-tasker my favourite – and the best.

Alec, at 30, just carried the role of the licorice-haired intelligence officer well – cool, calculated, convincing and, even acting opposite Sean Connery, he stole many, many moments in “The Hunt for Red October”.

I recall Gene Siskel saying something similar to that in regards to Baldwin’s turn.

While it was always likely that the sub-thriller was going to impress – after all, it was to be directed by John McTiernan (“Die Hard”), based on a screenplay by Larry Ferguson of “Highlander” fame, not to mention a very solid book by Clancy, and featured Sean Connery but also an amazing support cast that featured the likes of Fred Dalton Thompson, James Earl Jones, Sam Neill, Joss Ackland, Richard Jordan, Jeffrey Jones and Tim Curry – Baldwin was the wild card that could’ve tipped the good-to-bad scales either way.

Don’t get me wrong, Baldwin had proved himself to be quite an interesting actor up til then – “Miami Blues”, “Working Girl”, “Beetlejuice”, “Married to the Mob” and “She’s Having a Baby” among his pre-”Red” credits – but Paramount were taking a huge gamble by casting Baldwin in the lead role of Ryan (even with Sean Connery playing Ramirez, the studio would normally have cast a much bigger name in the Ryan role) and everyone knew it. Admittedly, he was still, for the most part, an unproven entity, and the only other film he’d worked with Paramount on was John Hughes’ “She’s Having a Baby”, in which he’d had a memorable but fleeting few minutes as the lead’s (Kevin Bacon) horndog best bud – not really a turn to convince anyone he’s ‘the guy’ for a multimillion dollar tentpole.

Further, Baldwin had never played a role even close to Ryan before – I mean, ‘sleazebag mobster’, ‘sleazebag fiancee’, ‘sleazebag best friend’ doesn’t exactly equate to ‘squeaky-clean intelligent naval man’.

But what a catch Baldwin was. It was a risk that paid off. Baldwin was, as fans of the Clancy novel can attest to, the perfect man to bring Ryan to the big screen. And I’ll keep saying that… (right up until Phil Alden Robinson calls to argue the point)

“The Hunt for Red October” went on to become one of the biggest films of 1990 (I believe it was released just before Easter in Australia; I remember going to see it the very day before going to hospital to have my tonsils out!) and gave Paramount a lucrative new film franchise. It’d also seen his Baldwin’s popularity and share-price rise considerably.

In a matter of twelve months the studio had decided to get cracking on the next Ryan adventure, “Patriot Games”. John McTiernan wouldn’t be directing, and Connery’s character (of course, he never appeared in the book) wouldn’t be back, but Baldwin would be returning and this would be the actor’s chance to prove he could not only headline a flick, but open one. It was all down to him now (and, potentially, Gates McFadden, who’d reprise her role as Cathy Ryan).

Then, and I remember it well, the trades announced that Baldwin had opted not to reprise the role of Ryan in “Patriot Games” and instead had chosen to participate in a new stage recital of “A Streetcar named Desire”. Baldwin’s replacement would be Paramount blockbuster-go-to-guy Harrison Ford (the “Indiana Jones” series), with Phillip Noyce (“Dead Calm”) directing.

While it’s true that Baldwin did want to do “Streetcar”, he never didn’t want to do “Patriot Games”.
Now the story we’ve been fed over the years is that Baldwin essentially rejected the offer to reprise Ryan right-off-the-bat. It was a mix of disinterest in the film and the enjoyment of pissing off a studio, they said. Hong-Kong Phooey!

All these years later, Baldwin – who, I’ll admit, does have his demons and isn’t maybe the all-round super sport I’ve built him up to be in the first few paragraphs of this article – has revealed what really want on behind-the-scenes in regards to his one-time involvement in “Patriot Games” – and it’s really interesting.

In a blog post at The Huffington Post, the actor talked about his no-show in the Noyce-directed sequel.

”On the phone, John told me that during the period of the previous few months, he had been negotiating to do a film with a very famous movie star who had dropped out of his film days before so that he could go star in the sequels to The Hunt For Red October. John further told me that Paramount owed the actor a large sum of money for a greenlit film that fell apart prior to this, and pushing me aside would help to alleviate that debt and put someone with much greater strength at the box office than mine in the role. I sat there mildly stunned because not only was I in an active negotiation with Paramount, but for them to negotiate simultaneously with another actor was against the law. My mother was about to have a double mastectomy. I asked John if he was sure about all of this and he said yes, he had talked with the famous actor directly who confirmed the story. All of this served to explain why the studio would not close my deal over what I thought were some relatively arbitrary issues surrounding the dates of production.

Continues Baldwin, “I got a call from Mace Neufeld, the film’s producer who I had worked with on Hunt. The call resembled that final scene in Sorry, Wrong Number (great film), where Burt Lancaster exhorts Barbara Stanwyck to get out of bed and scream for help lest she be killed by emissaries of Lancaster himself. Neufeld told me to sign whatever deal they were offering and “the rest would take care of itself.”

“I flew from Syracuse to Long Island to attend to some business. I drove to a friend’s home where I was to have dinner and was informed by my assistant that I should call David Kirkpatrick right away. Kirkpatrick was a beady-eyed, untalented tool who had seemed like he was up to something throughout my sequel negotiation. Now, he became vividly clear. I had to decide if I would agree to an open-ended clause relating to dates for the first sequel and thus completely give up the chance to do one of the greatest dramas in the American theatre, or he would rescind my offer. They had the other guy all lined up, and they were looking for a way to gut me. I thought he wasn’t serious at first. Then, when I realized he was, I chose A Streetcar Named Desire.

“A lot changed in my life with that decision. And I do not regret it. The movie and television business are filled with some of the most wonderful and talented people you could ever know. It is also the rock under which you find the biggest, lyingest, thievingest scumbags on Earth. (They tend to be the ones that are not in any craft or union related to actually making a movie.)”

Yes, they are. And yes, they can be.

Anyway, that’s likely – know way of really knowing – the truth. There’s the reason we never got to see Baldwin reprise his most popular role

As we speak, Paramount are gearing up to do a new Jack Ryan movie with Chris Pine – who’s roughly about the same age Baldwin was when he played the character – called “Moscow”. It’s been on the cards for a couple of years now, mainly because they can’t get the script right.
The film will be directed by Tyro filmmaker Jack Bender (TVs “Lost”) and produced, again, by vet Mace Neufeld. But unlike the other films in the Ryan series, “Moscow” won’t be based on one of Tom Clancy’s novels; Paramount owns the rights to the character of Jack Ryan so decided, in an effort to save money and all, they’d just come up with their own screen adventure for the character and leave Clancy and his book out of it.
Yep, strike one!

Considering how many fantastic books in Clancy’s Ryan series there are, and how few of them have been turned into films, that’s a real shame. How many millions of Clancy fans – especially those who love and revisit his books regularly – have the studio just snubbed!?

More so, despite what some wine-guzzling skirt or well-versed robot tells us, I really don’t believe the character of Ryan falls under the same category of a Batman or 007 in that ‘one can keep switching the actor around because audiences don’t mind seeing another’s interpretation of a character’. In the case of Ryan, I think we would’ve liked to have seen the same actor – in this case, Baldwin – stay on throughout the film series. Ryan, as I see it, is a character like Indiana Jones, Han Solo, Paul Kelsey, The Terminator, Axel Foley – you swap the lead actor and you end up with “The Stepfather III”.

I’d understand if “Red October” or Baldwin’s performance hadn’t worked, but it did. So… um… guys, you do know the actor’s still alive, right!?

If there’s one thing that’s been missing from the Ryan movies it’s the emotional connection and familiarity you feel with the lead character. You get it in the books, because they’ve obviously got infinite pages as opposed to a film’s limited running time, but not – to a great extent, anyway – in the films. Do you know what I mean? They’re very entertaining and very tense movies, and as I said I consider “Red October”, maybe even “Clear and Present Danger” exceptional movies, but one doesn’t ‘know’ Ryan as well as they should – considering they’ve been watching him in umpteen movies now. I think the casting changes are partly responsible for that; had we seen Baldwin play the part of Ryan right through the series – up until “The Sum of All Fears” – audiences would’ve gotten to know the guy better; in the very least, he’d be familiar – not unlike Indiana Jones or, in the very least, “Terminator”‘s Sarah Connor.
But here we are with the fourth ‘interpretation’ of Ryan coming up – with Chris Pine behind the access pass – when I truly believe Paramount could be a lot wiser and simply (go back over the figures for those earlier films) do a direct ‘follow-up’, ideally with Clancy providing the story, with one of the actors that we’ve become to know as Ryan.
Tell me, how great would it be to see Baldwin, especially given his current age, play the Ryan at the center of “Debt of Honor” or “Rainbow Six”, in which the character is now Vice president and then President, respectively!? (The character, after all, is supposed to age – for instance, the Ryan in Clancy’s “Sum of All Fears” novel is supposed to be approaching middle-age – he’s also reached his highest post at the CIA; Deputy Director of Central Intelligence, not starting out! – his early 30′s as Affleck played him in the movie ).

The way Paramount have mapped out the Ryan series we’re never going to see Ryan’s most interesting years – much like the film publicity game, when the person with the position turns 35 they’re booted and consequently, rebooted… a decade younger. Such a pity, I know a zillion Clancy/Ryan fans who’d give Jeffrey Jones middle leg to see ‘President’ Ryan.
It seems today’s studio’s have got such a revolving door when it comes to execs that, because of age and obviously different interests, they’re no loyalty or affection for the previous films in a series. Maybe in the late ’80s that was the case, but not now – not when most suits It’s easier for one of these new execs, particularly the younger ones, to simply just instruct people to ‘forget what came before’ and get him the coolest young star (someone he knows of, not ‘an old guy’ like Ford or Baldwin) to headline his movie. Less work. Same result…. or is it!?

Paramount, if you’re reading, just hear me out for a minute : I know “TRON Legacy” didn’t break the records Disney would’ve liked, but there was still a great lot of interest in the film; particularly in the twelve months leading up to it’s release. A lot of the interest didn’t so much stem from the “TRON” brand as it did original star Jeff Bridges’ involvement. As we know now, Bridges can open a movie (he can even help them win awards), but more so, despite his age, he has a huge following. “TRON Legacy” would never have made anywhere near the money it did if Bridges wasn’t involved in it and some young punk had decided to just ‘reboot’ the series (‘reboots’ rarely – besides the odd one or two – work; look at what dumping Robert Englund from 2010′s “A Nightmare on Elm Street” did? It scared audiences away; they wanted ‘the’ Freddy, not just ‘another interpretation’) and cast a teen heartthrob, say a Shia LaBeouf or Orlando Bloom, in the lead role. And look at how much bucks “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” made – despite how shit it was (yes, I still stand by that; I was asked to ‘amend’ my review to something more positive by a publicist, and refusing to do so cost me, but I stand by my claim that it was a terrible movie), the fact that Harrison Ford was back as Indiana Jones, and wasn’t replaced by some chisel-jawed FX channel fill-in (I’m sure someone suggested it), had ‘em clamoring for a seat!

Like “TRON”, which was released in 1982, I think you’ll find that most of the folks that are interested in these Jack Ryan movies are fans of the original flicks (“Red October”, especially). That’s your audience. If you consider them first – link the next Ryan to the previous installments, bring back cast members, include Clancy in the film’s conception and execution phases – you might have a better chance of garnering big buzz, and box-office, with the series. Remember the buzz and, particularly, the box-office returns on Sean Connery’s tardy reprisal of James Bond, with “Never Say Never Again”!? Amazing…

Get out on the street, take your clipboard, and start asking punters what they’d want to see more : “A sequel to the Hunt for Red October, with Alec Baldwin reprising his role as Ryan” or “Another Ryan movie, not based on a Clancy story, with the kid from Star Trek in it?” Yes, the odd twenty-four year old will enthusiastically pick the second option, but I think you’ll find much more eyes will light up, and jaws will drop, at the mere suggestion of the first.

Heck, do as “TRON Legacy” and “Crystal Skull” did and combine both – an old familiar face playing Ryan, a young, popular actor playing… well, a son, or a villain… or Ryan is flashbacks scenes (if you must). You’ve just ‘sold’ your film to two huge herds.
Be the audience. Get the Baldwin.