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'Meghan has shown how to deal with the ugliness of human nature in a beautiful way'

Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan is back for a second season, and Wendell Pierce is reprising his role as Ryan's mentor, CIA operative Jack Greer. Georgia Humphreys chats to the actor about his research for the show and former Suits co-star, Meghan Markle, now the Duchess of Sussex

Meghan Markle
Meghan Markle

By Georgia Humphreys

There's one role Wendell Pierce has become particularly famous for: The TV father of the actress then known as Meghan Markle.

The Duchess of Sussex starred as lawyer Rachel Zane in Suits from 2011 to 2018, while Pierce, who has also left the show following last year's season eight finale, played her father and fellow lawyer, Robert Zane.

Many of the cast of the US legal series, including Gina Torres, Sarah Rafferty, and Patrick J Adams, were guests at Meghan's wedding to Prince Harry at Windsor Castle in May 2018 (Pierce was unable to attend).

Earlier this year, the Louisiana-born actor (55) moved to London to star in a production of Death Of A Salesman at the Young Vic theatre.

He has not managed to catch up with Meghan yet, "she's been doing something like having a baby this year" he quips, but he's hopeful she will come and see the play at the West End (it's transferring to the Piccadilly Theatre for 10 weeks from today).

Meghan, who gave birth to son Archie in May, has been the subject of extensive trolling on social media since becoming a member of the royal family.

How frustrating has it been for Pierce to witness this reaction to his former co-star?

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"It's the same themes we're dealing with in Jack Ryan, which is, you are that buffer between, 'Are we going to speak to the better angels in ourselves, or those who do not have our best interest at heart?'" the star, who plays Jack Greer in Amazon Prime Video series Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan, responds deftly.

"You try to speak to that better part of who we are and the better part of our humanity, and I think she's done the same thing, which is, by example, she's shown us how to deal with that. And she's taken the high road, and actually has lived up to the title of being a royal, and being a duchess, more than anything."

On the trolling, he adds: "We know that's the ugly part of human nature. She has shown us how to deal with it, in a beautiful, respectful way. She includes people, she speaks to improving people's lives, she's given purpose to protocol - that really encapsulates exactly what she's done.

"It's a perfect name for it - they are trolls. And she, as a woman of colour... It's not new for us, so you move forward with dignity and class and distinction."

Social media can be a terrible place sometimes, I suggest.

"I'm sure she's changing some of the ugliness," he reasons calmly. "You understand that comes from an ugly place, an insecure place - they feel bad about themselves, and ultimately, the way she handles them might change their hearts and minds."

Embracing diversity: Michael Kelly and Wendell Pierce in the new series of Jack Ryan
Embracing diversity: Michael Kelly and Wendell Pierce in the new series of Jack Ryan

Friendly Pierce, who has also starred in HBO shows The Wire and Treme, confides he was "pleasantly surprised" by the positive reaction to the first series of Jack Ryan, which is back for a second run.

The political thriller sees John Krasinski in the famed titular role (the CIA officer has previously been portrayed in film by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck, and Chris Pine) while Pierce plays his mentor.

"I love the fact people responded to the uniqueness of the character - officers you never get to see in the CIA - African-American, a Muslim, a career-man," he elaborates.

"I was very excited about the response, and at the same time, I loved the fact that it was worldwide, that it was a truly world premiere. 140 countries all on the same day, the same hour, got the show, so it was great."

What lessons has he learnt from the experience of playing Greer?

"First of all, I loved the locations," he notes enthusiastically.

"I love concurrently working with actors from different parts of the world, learning about different parts of the world by living there, not just going for a holiday... learning something about a new place and, at the same time, working with actors that you never get to work with, from Europe and Africa and America.

"That has become a trademark of the show, so from season to season, it will be a travelogue, and an exciting travelogue as we also deal with issues that can illuminate that part of the word, and illuminate the work that agency, the CIA officers, does."

He agrees it's important to show diverse characters such as Greer on screen.

"The diversity within the CIA is there - that we rarely see shown in film and television. So, I was surprised by that when I was doing the research, and want to be respectful and authentic when it comes to that.

"I work with a career African-American CIA officer, an African-American woman also, that I know, and so those are the people that I want to be reflected in the role."

At the start of the second series, which sees Noomi Rapace join the cast (Pierce describes her character as an "enigma") we find Greer is now a rising star because of the work he did in the first season. He has landed the role of deputy chief of staff in Moscow, a high-profile station, and he offers Jack an invitation to join him there.

"But our mission brings us together, and not the invitation. And then everything does not appear as it seems," he teases.

The first season of this latest incarnation of Jack Ryan explored "the things that lead to the making of a terrorist".

"This season, you see how a vulnerable community is in even more danger when someone, through political conspiracy, weaponises the power of government against a vulnerable community, and how you can still have an impact to stop that, as a single officer, using the powers that you have," Pierce continues.

"Do you use the power that you have to protect a community like that? And do you have that power, just even as a single person? And you do. We can see that reflected today, with the single officer being a whistle-blower in America.

"But it really is showing you there's a duality in humanity, and I learnt that from the officer that I did the research with. I challenged him about the CIA: 'How could you be a part of the CIA knowing some of its history?' And he says, 'I'd rather be inside changing it, then outside of it just protesting'.

"And so, with that in mind, it shows you the diversity in who James Greer is, and what I'm trying to bring to the role."

  • Jack Ryan season 2 will be available on Amazon Prime Video on Friday, November 1

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