In the first season of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, Jack is an analyst who spends his days sitting behind a desk … until he’s not. His life changes the moment he flags some questionable financial transactions that lead directly to a man who could very well be the next Osama bin Laden. “Imagine if you were in your desk job and you got called to come outside the building, and then were picked up in a black car and flown to all these crazy places in the world that you didn’t think you were going,” says leading man John Krasinski. “That’s basically what Jack experiences in this show.”
On the journey with Jack is his boss, Jim Greer (Wendell Pierce), and together, they work to track Suleiman, the aforementioned terrorist. Played by Palestinian actor Ali Suliman, Suleiman is as dangerous as they come. But he also appears to deeply love his family, and in contrast to many Hollywood portrayals of Middle Eastern terrorists, this one’s a bit more complicated. “A lot of terrorist stories are really one-dimensional,” showrunner Carlton Cuse says. “We wanted to make sure our story was about a bad guy, not a bad culture.” And even that bad guy will have his reasons. In fact, in the entire season, there’s only one character whose story includes flashbacks, and that’s Suleiman.
“This is something I haven’t seen in any other projects when Middle Eastern characters are involved,” actor Ali Suliman says. “You see the many sides [of this character].” One of those sides features the introduction of Suleiman’s wife, Hanin, played by Dina Shihabi. In the first couple of episodes, Hanin is seen playing soccer with her children, loving her husband, but also struggling with the man he has become. “I’m from Saudi Arabia, so I audition for a lot of Arab characters,” Shihabi says. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, the women are victims and the men are terrorists, and it’s very black-and-white. But you get to see Hanin as a human being, as a mother. She’s smart and strong and complex.”
For showrunner Graham Roland, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 2000 to 2006 and was deployed to Iraq for one tour, it was of paramount importance that they show the many different types of individuals who can find themselves entangled in these kinds of situations. “In my experience being in Iraq, the majority of the Arab people that I interacted with were good people who just wanted to provide for their families and live a safe, happy life,” Roland says.
Shihabi adds, “We can’t just keep putting villains that twirl their mustaches out on screen anymore. We have to see each other as human beings or else nothing’s going to change. We’re not going to be able to empathize with different cultures and actually affect change until we see each other as humans. The way they’ve done that in the show is so beautiful.”
Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan hits Amazon on August 31.