Simon Cornwell, executive producer of AMC’s The Night Manager, discusses changing the end of his father’s book for the miniseries, the importance of Corky’s demise, and why no character gets a truly happy ending.
Q: You made updates to the time period and some of the settings from the John le Carré novel, but what went into the decision to alter the ending for the miniseries and have Roper be arrested?
A: I don’t think it was necessary to change the ending so much as it was an organic process. One thing that worked quite well in the book is that, at the end of the story, Jonathan Pine really becomes almost a victim of everything that’s going on around him. At the end of the story, he is cast adrift. As we were approaching the climax of the story, we felt that a television audience who had followed Jonathan Pine all the way through the story would like to see a more closed ending and an ending in which he stayed quite proactive. He’s very much at the forefront of everything that’s going on all through the final moments of the story. I think the book ends very well with Pine and Jed as victims of circumstance, unable to do much about their fate, but we felt our audience might want a bit more of a resolution and a bit more closure than that. So, that’s what we were looking for.
Q: You also decided to kill Corky in the previous episode, another change from the book. Was the thinking similar there?
A: At the heart of Corky, he’s a man who’s on the right track all the way through and, as the audience, we know he is. He’s obviously a character that you empathize with hugely. When Pine kills him, I think it’s a very powerful moment for the audience because if you had any doubts – which you might have had – about whose side Pine was on, that’s essentially the point at which those doubts get laid to rest. You also realize that Pine is a man who will stop at nothing to protect himself and to achieve his objectives. You suddenly realize that in the presence of Pine, you’re also in the presence of something or someone quite dangerous. That sets us up for the final episode in which Pine plays his role to perfection and brings about Roper’s ultimate demise.
Q: It doesn’t seem like Roper is heading toward anything good in that vehicle. What are your thoughts on Roper’s ultimate fate?
A: I wanted to be deliberately vague about what Roper’s fate might be. [Laughs] Who knows? He might come back. He might have escaped from that terrible predicament! I think Roper’s end has echoes of that great film, The Long Good Friday, where Bob Hoskins goes off to meet his doom at the hand of the mafia, and certainly Bob Hoskins never made it back from the end of The Long Good Friday. There are a lot of very interesting things about the end. Roper suddenly finds himself in the hands of the one group of people that he should be pretty scared of. They are people who are as bad as himself. We’ve seen him manipulating intelligence agencies, politicians and the establishment simply for his convenience. The one group of people that he needs to seriously be frightened of are operates entirely outside of the law, like him, and they’re $300 million dollars down.
Q: We really see Roper’s charming mask come off in the final episodes. Why was it important to slowly reveal his true nature?
A: I think it’s quite a delicious journey for the audience. There’s no doubt that in the early episodes, you know Roper is bad because you’ve been told, but he actually gives the most fantastic parties and he’s the person you’d want to hang out with. He’s seductive and we get drawn into that sense of the pleasure we can get from Roper and his court. In Episode 5 and 6, Roper’s true colors are revealed and I hope that makes it that much more powerful. As we often do in real life with dictators or criminals, we conveniently ignore the reality that was underneath Roper. He’s still very charming and poised, and keeps his jaunty exterior until the very end, but by then, we really have come to realize that he’s a profoundly evil man. He’s a very sophisticated and highly entertaining psychopath at the end of the day.
Q: Pine shows a bit of his dark side when he kills Freddie. Is he still a “hero” or has Roper rubbed off on him in a negative way?
A: There is a lot of darkness in Pine. We understood why he had no choice but to kill Corky, but he would have been much better off not to kill Freddie Hamid. He risked the mission by doing that. That was purely an act of revenge in the moment. I think field agents, in real life, are dangerous people. Their motivations are murky and the reason why they’re valuable is because they’re prepared to take huge risks and do very dangerous things. As we see with Jonathan Pine, that danger has two sides to it. This is not a story of simple villains or simple good guys. It’s clear that Roper sees a lot of himself in Pine. Pine, I think, consciously and subconsciously ends up mirroring Roper in more ways than any of us are comfortable with.
Q: Similarly, Burr seems rather cold when she allows Roper to be taken away in the van, saying he “deserves it.”
A: A smile plays across her lips as the bad guys take Roper. Here’s a woman who’s really stood for the rules of law and society and has been our moral heart. At the end, she had to cross a line in order to see Roper get what we all feel is his just desserts. The things that she stands for, Roper has learned not to fear or not to care about. She has no choice, but maybe she should have simply arrested him and brought him back to England. None of our characters quite end the way you might dream they would. By the same token, Pine and Jed don’t head off into the sunset together. I guess maybe you have a sense from both of them that it was Roper who held them together and maybe they belong to each other, but maybe they don’t. We’re not sure. The ending of the story asks pretty difficult questions about the characters and their relationships.
Q: For Jed and Pine, is just surviving this ordeal a happy ending in its own way?
A: They certainly survived to fight another day or live another life for a moment, but I don’t think it’s a fulfilling ending for anyone. I think for Burr, it’s close to fulfilling, but she had to compromise everything she stood for to achieve what she set out to achieve. There are questions about the end and the fact that the means were pretty drastic. Maybe that means the end is not as satisfying or clean as it might be.
Q: What has it meant to you to see the reaction to this show around the world? Do you feel you’ve introduced your father’s work to a new generation?
A: It’s been a fabulous experience within the family. It’s been a very happy experience. This is the first long-form adaptation of a [John] le Carré novel for several decades and I think what we’ve certainly learned and seen is the amazing potential for exploration of layered storytelling and rich characterization over the six hours. I very much hope that we can build on this and do more long-form adaptations in the future. We reached the end of the book in this series. The future is yet to be written.
Read an interview with The Night Manager co-star Elizabeth Debicki.Read More