Susanne Bier, who directed all six episodes of The Night Manager, discusses shooting in beautiful, lavish locations and why it was important to change the character of Burr into a woman.
Q: What was your exposure to John le Carré’s work before working on The Night Manager?
A: I read the book when it came out and I loved it, and when I saw the first [script] of the first episode, I jumped at it, because I was always quietly envious of anyone who got to touch John le Carré’s material. I was just very excited about doing it, and I spoke to Stephen Garrett and Ink Factory and BBC and we seemed to all share the same kind of vision of which way this needed to go. It’s one of those projects where you know it has so much potential, and you want to honor the book in the best possible way.
Q: You have commented on your deep capacity for empathy. How do you empathize with Richard Roper, whom many describe as The Worst Man in the World?
A: Evil can be quite seductive. When you read a novel, you’re not necessarily seduced by the good and wholesome, but you’re quite often seduced by the villain, and Richard Roper is a very charming and seductive villain. And I think as a director and a creative producer, you have to allow yourself to be seduced by that in order to be able to tell the story.
Q: What would you say is the most exciting thing about Jonathan Pine‘s journey through the miniseries?
A: I think the most exciting thing is the question, “Will Jonathan Pine be seduced by this lifestyle? Will he fall onto the other side of the fence? Is he slowly becoming a villain, or is he staying true to his mission?”
Q: How do you bring a female perspective to a story that at its core is a tenuous bromance?
A: In the book, Burr, played here by Olivia Colman, is written as a man. When the producers and I first sat down to discuss the show, we talked about the possibility of making Burr a female, and I jumped at that. I said, “Yes, absolutely.” Burr is the heart of the story and she should be a female. I feel that if you want to do something contemporary, you need to move away from having everyone be in a white, male, educated field. I had also been wanting to work with Olivia Colman. In our first meeting, she said she wanted to do the project, but she was very pregnant, and we decided to work with that. It makes the stakes higher and her character’s objectives much clearer.
Q: When Burr recruits Pine in her very personal mission to take down Richard Roper, what keeps her going despite setback after setback for over 10 years?
A: He’s so evil that she can’t conceive of him being allowed to do what he’s doing. It’s such a fundamental attack on her feeling of righteousness that she needs to take him down. She doesn’t want to bring a life into the world while he’s still out there.
Q: There are a lot of things going on in the story with identity — different aliases, cover-ups, fake allegiances and betrayals. How do you approach directing actors who are all playing some kind of duplicity?
A: Well, that’s sort of the nature of spies, and in a funny way, it’s also in the nature of actors. I think actors really love playing spies because there’s something immediately recognizable about it: There’s a duality, they’re recognizing themselves, and it’s more intricate, exciting, detailed and layered. I think it’s about getting all of those small beats at a time when you’re being that character, and then switching.
Q: The production values of this show are amazing. What was it like jet-setting across the world for each location? How much do the locations of the series play into the soul of the story?
A: Because the story is about Jonathan Pine being seduced into this lavish and sexy world of Richard Roper, the world itself had to look lavish and sexy. But the truth about filmmaking or television making — it’s about making it look like jet-setting. Shooting is never really jet-setting. There’s like 150 people and a million trucks. But it was a fantastic experience.
Q: Were there any unexpected challenges or things that surprised you about shooting in these beautiful locations?
A: I was adamant that we needed to have those locations — like the beautiful restaurant in Majorca. It’s in a very remote place, and the trucks couldn’t come down to the locations. The location manager was looking around with anxiety in his eyes when I said, “We want this location.” He said, “Really? 150 people and no trucks?”
Q: Now that this story has been modernized, what do you think it has to say about the world we live in today?
A: I think it has to say a lot about being attracted to the dark side. I think it says a lot about the ease with which we deal with weapons. We did a lot of research about dealing with weapons, and it’s frighteningly easy to deal with horrific weapons and it’s slightly out of control.
The Night Manager premieres Tuesday, April 19 at 10/9c. Receive show exclusives by signing up for the Insiders Club.Read More