Stephen Garrett, executive producer of The Night Manager, discusses the challenges of adapting John le Carré’s beloved novel and why Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie are perfectly cast in their roles.
Q: John le Carré has written many famous and celebrated novels about espionage and intrigue. What was it about The Night Manager that struck you?
A: This was his first big post-Cold War novel. I think a lot of people thought when the Cold War ended that somehow his career would grind to a halt and he’d have nothing else to write about. So, he came in with this astonishingly powerful novel that had nothing to do with Russians, but was very contemporary, very much a statement about the world and about how it worked. And as we’ve seen with the Panama Papers, it’s still as relevant and contemporary as it ever was. The other distinctive thing about it is… it’s set in the world of the super rich, so it’s got the veneer of glamour and sophistication. A lot of people have compared it to Bond, but saying this is a super intelligent version of Bond. It’s got the glamour of the world, but [also] psychological and emotional sophistication. That’s what’s so compelling about it and so seductive.
Q: What was the hardest part of adapting and modernizing this beloved novel?
A: Credit has to go to our adapter David Farr, who came up with the idea of kicking off the story like the novel in Cairo, but making it much more contemporary by starting with the Arab Spring. Through that, [we relocated] the story away from selling arms to Central and Southern American drugs and arms traffickers and put it all in the Middle East. That was a huge challenge to recalibrate the novel and make the story work in a completely different geographical region. The other thing [was] the ending of the novel worked well from a novel point of view, but didn’t work so well from a screen point of view. Again, David Farr did a brilliant job of completely reimagining how the novel might end. The last two episodes are very distant from the book, actually. So, that becomes almost an original piece of storytelling, and that has its own difficulties.
A: I came on board when Hugh and Tom were already there. Hugh is, by his own admission, a le Carré obsessive. When the novel originally came out, he actually tried to option it. That was 25 years ago, and he wanted to play the character that Tom Hiddleston plays, that of Jonathan Pine. Stephen and Simon Cornwell, my fellow executive producers, knew of Hugh’s interest and had the rather brilliant idea of him now being old enough to play Roper. It’s one of those things where you’re glad it took so long to get made because you can’t imagine anyone else in that role.
Roper is described as the worst man in the world. That sets a very high bar. What we didn’t want was to have some cat-stroking Bond villain. The idea was to have someone who was really believable as a human being, and better still, because he had this fabulous entourage of acolytes, someone who was intelligent, charming, witty. Hugh is incredibly charismatic, incredibly charming, and there’s this twinkle in his eye. He emanates a passion for life, wit, charm, and that combination of charm and a strengthening sense of darkness within him is really potent.
Q: What made Tom the perfect fit for Pine?
A: The problem with spy stories in general, and le Carré’s in particular, is that their heroes tend to be the strong, silent type. They don’t really emote, and if you’re a spy, you can’t confide in anyone because you’re leading a double life. You’re pretending to be someone you’re not, so you tend to be a man or woman of few words. What Tom Hiddleston has delivered is just the most extraordinary nuanced performance of someone who communicates so much in the spaces between words. It’s what he doesn’t say and what’s going on in his face when he’s not saying it. That’s a real talent. He brings so many different dimensions to the role. You’re always on your toes as a viewer, and it’s thrilling to watch.
Q: What do you think draws Pine and Roper toward each other?
A: There’s definitely a homoerotic connection between the two. [Le Carré] doesn’t shy away from it in the book, and we don’t shy away from it in our version of the story. Le Carré’s also talked very interestingly about how good-looking men are drawn to one another. I think they’re fascinated by one another. Having said that, there’s a decency in Pine that Burr recognizes. There’s also a darkness in Pine the Roper recognizes. So the triangle between the three of them is that they’re all, to some extent, different versions of each other, and it could go either way. Those stories in which good people are corrupted by the beauty of the evil around them are very intoxicating because there’s a truth to them. I think however good we feel ourselves to be as human beings, sometimes you come across bad people and bad things, and it looks attractive.
A: Jed’s become a more complex, richer character than she was in the book. Roper’s a collector of beautiful objects because he’s a man of taste. He lives in this beautiful place, and he makes a joke about buying Jed in New York. That’s partly a joke and partly true, and you almost sense with him and Jed that their relationship was based on a transaction. For different reasons, they needed each other. For Roper, she was both eye candy and arm candy, but not just a pretty face. I think Roper maybe thought he might be getting a lemon tart, but actually is delighted by the fact she is so much more than that. She is clearly interesting, complex, intelligent, and I think you genuinely believe that there has been love between them.
I think Burr recognizes in Pine [that] there’s a purity of moral purpose that they share. They’re angered by injustice and seek a just retribution for the bad that Roper has done and the bad in the system globally that allows people like Roper to thrive. They have a moral righteousness that, in lesser creatures, would be annoying, but there is a decency at the heart of both of them that they recognize in one another. So, the cause they take on is a really noble one, to bring Roper down.
Q: The show is shot in various beautiful locations. How do those various places become characters in the story?
A: It’s a bit like the conversation about how Jed’s not just a pretty face. I think a lot of movies and TV shows where the locations are just beautiful, and I think it’s a tribute to Susanne Bier’s skills as a director that, as you rightly say, the places become characters too. If you take Roper and that extraordinary villa or fort that he lives in on the island of Majorca, he’s like a crab with this shell. It’s almost like the costume they wear. You have through the show this incredibly textural variety of the cold, white, snowy landscape of Switzerland, the lush, rich, Mediterranean pastures of Majorca, and the arid desert of Morocco. [They] are all absolutely organic to the story, and in a way, infect the characters in their lives.
Q: What’s been your favorite part of this experience and the reaction to the show?
A: What I hope travels from the U.K. to the states is the fact that it seems to work for all areas of humanity: young and old, rich and poor, well-educated, less well-educated. It’s just a great story. It has delivered huge pleasure to people, and they’re almost mourning its passing. I obviously hope that happens [in America].
Read an interview with The Night Manager director Susanne Bier.
The Night Manager premieres Tuesday, April 19 at 10/9c on AMC. Receive show exclusives by signing up for the Insiders Club.Read More