By Nadine Matthews, Special to the AFRO
Harriet Tubman was the first woman in the U.S. to lead a military expedition. As extraordinary a feat as it was for her to have freed numerous enslaved African-Americans, Tubman was also part of the Union’s intelligence establishment. As second in command (at her request) of the Combahee River military operation in 1863, she destroyed Confederate supply routes, located disabled mines placed by Rebels in the river and freed seven hundred slaves.
From Tubman in the nineteenth century, to the first African American Secretary of the Army Clifford Alexander, to intelligence analyst Malcolm Nance in the present day, Black Americans have always been involved in the military and intelligence services of the United States.
It was an issue close to home for actor Wendell Pierce as he took on the role of James Greer, CIA analyst Jack Ryan’s boss in the new Amazon show of the same name. A graduate of Juilliard, Pierce is known for a string of standout performances including that of Bunk in renowned HBO series “The Wire.” He also currently plays top flight lawyer (and father of Meghan Markle’s character) Robert Zane in the television show “Suits.”
In Pierce’s research for the role, “choosing to fight racism from within” was a constant refrain from African-Americans in the profession. “That sort of dual consciousness of being an African American where love of country is challenged by how the country treats us is not lost on these officers. The commitment that they’ve made to be the tip of the spear, the center of Intelligence is a commitment that is so great, they challenge anyone who does not live up to those values,” Pierce tells the AFRO.
Pierce went on to reveal his wish to bring to life in his role as James Greer, the tradition of patriotism and service to country in the African-American community. To him, “James Greer exemplifies the African-American men and women of today’s CIA when it comes to patriotism and love of country. It was in the Double V campaign during World War II, the Underground Railroad, to the African-American I met, who worked with the CIA to secure kidnapped the girls of Boko Haram.”
Judging from the series pilot, Greer is a man of incredible talent and intellect emerging from a deep personal as well as professional nadir. Respectable career intelligence officer though Greer may be, he is also a man unafraid to speak his mind, to say no, or to hurl profanities s at colleagues and strangers alike. He’s a man Pierce describes as, “Wonderful to play because of his complexity. He’s a man of family, he has a strong faith, and love of country. He loves the challenge of making sure that the country lives up to the values of which it’s always in constant pursuit. He is also a flawed man who’s learning about himself.”
The veteran vs. upstart dynamic strongly colors the relationship between Jack and Jim. Says Pierce, “Greer’s a man who, when we first see him, thinks his best days are behind him. He sees a younger version of himself in Jack Ryan and it is rejuvenating. It’s a symbiotic relationship. Greer is his mentor and guides him, making him the officer that he wants to be. Jack makes Jim tap into a something he thought he lost.”
“Jack Ryan” unfolds across continents, delivering rich visual authenticity. Pierce reveals, “We filmed in Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, Montreal, London, just all around the world.” In keeping with the international theme of the show, Amazon will simultaneously premiere it on August 31 in one hundred and forty countries.
“Jack Ryan” also boasts plenty of action; hand to hand combat, foot and car chases, shootouts, bombings, etc. are par for the course. However showrunners, Graham Roland (“Prison Break,” “Lost”) and Carlton Cuse (“Bates Motel,” “Colony”) stay away from using action gratuitously. Explains Pierce,”The action is not arbitrary. It has purpose and gives meaning. It moves the story along even within the scene.”
Pierce gives us a sneak peek into the experience for an actor working on a project that’s heavy on action sequences. “You think, I’m just going to run this block, but when you do 10 takes on one side, you’re like, okay, I just ran 10 blocks. Then we switch the camera and you’re like, I just ran 20 blocks. Now we have to do a wide shot etc.” Pierce looks on the bright side. “At the end of the day,” he laughs, “you get your workout!”.