AMC’s new six-part miniseries The Night Manager, is a contemporary interpretation of John Le Carré’s best-selling spy novel of the same name. It spotlights hotel manager, Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston, Thor, The Avengers) and his quest to bring down international arms dealer, Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie, House, Veep)
Hugh Laurie came to the TV Critics tour to talk about his new miniseries, which premieres on AMC on Tuesday, April 19th 2016.
Can you talk a little about your character? He’s not really psychotic, but maybe a little bit?
Yeah. In effect, he’s psychotic. I mean, if you’re on the wrong end of his misdeeds, the difference is just an academic one, because the violence that he does, the violence that he brings to the world and profits from, may as well (be) psychotic.
There’s a piratical element to him. He cut himself loose from the conventions of society and normal commerce, and he set up his own empire in an almost medieval fashion.
He has surrounded himself with people whose livelihoods depend on his good opinion. That’s always likely to drive somebody psychotic, as any studio head will attest.
It’s not good for one’s sanity, I think, to be able to operate unopposed, and this is a man who has created a world for himself where he can operate unchallenged. And he has given way to the dark side in a very, very big way.
He is described in the story as the worst man in the world, which is a pretty exciting challenge to take on as a character to play, but a thrilling one too. I love every word le Carré ever wrote, but this is a story that, in particular, I found incredibly compelling.
Did this project generate with you or did they come to you with this project already put together?
Right back when the book was first published, I was three chapters in, and I tried to option it. I never optioned anything in my life before or since. But that’s how compelling, how romantic and how powerful I found this story to be.
Simon (Cornwell, Executive Producer) and I had a very enjoyable breakfast and discussed (the project). I was pretty naked about my admiration, my worship, in fact, of le Carré and also this particular story, and I volunteered to basically contribute whatever I could, whether it was catering or anything else! I would be happy to be involved in any regard.
The story was already under way. For all I know, any actor, of course, assumes that they’ve been to eight other people who turned it down. We all do that, don’t we? I don’t know who those eight were. I have a pretty good idea.
You wrote a comedic espionage novel yourself, so as the author of The Gun Seller, what pleasure do you get out of playing iconic spy moments?
Wow. It’s considerable. I can’t deny it. It’s a genre I’ve loved since I was a small boy. To me it’s our generation’s equivalent to the western, which, of course, they’re still making today.
There are certain similarities in the assumptions that both the storyteller and the audience can make about such things as honor, challenge and betrayal. And it is an arena where certain things are we take as understood, that there are causes that must be fought for and risked and sacrificed for, and there’s something immensely appealing and immensely romantic to me.
I find this an incredibly romantic story, romantic without ever straying into the sentimental. That’s the miracle of the le Carré writing.
I think of him as one of the most romantic of writers and one of the least sentimental. He’s very tough, righteous and angry. The anger in this story about the class of person who engages in this evil trade, the pages are smoking on your fingertips. It’s powerful stuff.
You’re into another serious role, but I’m wondering if there’s ever the urge to go and hit that comedy routine again. You’ve been away from comedy for so long. Is it something that’s definitely in the past and not at all for the future?
No, with respect, don’t see it that way. I felt I was very, very lucky to play for as long as I did play the character of House, who I thought was extremely funny, and I thought in many ways the stories were funny.
I also find le Carré immensely funny in places. These are very witty characters in conflict with each other, and I think that’s not just for the sake of making them entertaining or attractive.
I think it’s truthful. I think funny is how the human brain deals with stress, anxiety and fear, and sometimes, less attractively, with power and triumph.
I think it’s things that aren’t funny to me usually aren’t believable. The drama is the less for it, and so I feel as if I’m continuing, I hope, to do things that at least try to be truthful. Inasmuch as they do that, they are from time to time funny. God, that’s the least funny answer anyone ever gave to anything!