Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie are the dream duo who star in “The Night Manager,” adapted from the John le Carré novel that weaves together the world of spies, espionage and subterfuge and how they relate to identity and the masks people wear. Part one of the six-part miniseries based on the 1993 novel premiered last week at the Tribeca Film Festival and is currently airing on AMC.
Directed by Academy Award winning director Susanne Bier, the story has been updated a few decades by the screenwriter David Farr, who was allowed to take liberties with the story by the novelist according to the director.
Laurie plays Richard Roper, an outwardly admirable man who secretly sells arms and chemical weapons to terrorist groups and their leaders. Tom Hiddleston plays former British soldier Jonathan recruited by a head of English intelligence, Angela Burr (Olivia Colman) to infiltrate Roper’s inner circle and unveil his evil machinations.
Le Carré in the past has shied away from television productions of his books, but this production has received his blessing and he even appears as an acting partner opposite Tom Hiddleston in a brief scene. During a moderated discussion after the screening, Hiddleston admitted the scene gave him some trepidation and required of the novelist only that “he should be charmed by me,” said the actor, adding, “and he refused to be.” Between takes, the director entreated Hiddleston to step up his game, “so I did,” he said.
This was not a problem for Hiddleston on the red carpet, who answered journalists’ questions thoughtfully and intelligently and would not be rushed.
On how politics and British identity was woven into the story of subterfuge and how it applied to his character, Hiddleston said, “There’s interesting complexity at the heart of le Carré’s writing which is an investigation into the cultural identity of Englishness. I think le Carré was furious with a man like Richard Roper because he was born with many blessings. He’s been given the most beautiful life and is an inheritor of incredible privileges of being a British citizen – education, clean water, democracy – and he’s used those privileges to do the worst things imaginable, which is deeply cynical. I think le Carré feels that’s a betrayal of an Englishman’s sense of duty. It’s actually very old school, and it’s a point of honor – it’s a very unfashionable word these days – and what Roper does is dishonorable in le Carré eyes. That’s why Pine has to take him down.”
I mentioned the wide range of roles Hiddleston has taken on recently, from portraying Hank Williams in “I See the Light” to the diabolical but charming Dr. Robert Laing in the sci-fi thriller “High-Rise.”
“I always like doing different things. I never like repeating myself. It may not be possible as time goes by,” he said. “There’s only so many things you can try, I guess. I love this book. I love the material. I loved the character, Jonathan Pine. I found his cause noble and his honor was true. Le Carré is a master of the spy thriller. I’ve always wanted to do a spy story. I knew Hugh Laurie was a great actor and wanted to be able to loathe him, which was a mouth watering prospect and I said yes within seconds.”