In a dream pairing, Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie co-star in and executive produce AMC's newest prestige drama, The Night Manager. Produced by the BBC and already garnering acclaim abroad, the series had its North American premiere yesterday at the Tribeca Film Festival, as part of the Tribeca Tune In program. The Night Manager, which screened inside the School of Visual Arts (SVA), is directed and executive produced by the Oscar-winning Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier (A Better World), written by David Farr, and based on the novel by British espionage master John Le Carré. Hiddleston plays a former British soldier turned spy who dangerously maneuvers his way into the secret arms trade.
Bier and Hiddleston joined Tribeca audiences for a post-screening conversation moderated by film critic Caryn James. The event kicked off with the first episode and an enticing preview of the second of what promises to be an engaging, beautifully shot spy thriller. Loud cheers accompanied Hiddleston and Bier as they walked on stage post-screening. They compared The Night Manager's production to shooting a long film, with a 360-page script, and said the only way it could be made was with Bier directing the entire series. The two worked closely together, even calling each other up every Sunday, their one day off, to discuss the show's progress.
Hiddleston and Bier displayed a real comfort with each other; he praised her as a fantastic director, and she repeatedly called attention to his rare ability to emit mystery while also exuding a great deal of personality. "He is utterly fascinating," Bier said. She isn't wrong—it's easy to believe her when she claims to never have grown tired of watching 300+ hours of his footage.
Surprisingly, Carré, who was often on set, was initially unimpressed by Hiddleston while filming a scene with the British actor. Bier claimed he "gave Hiddleston a hard time," and, too intimidated to question the Nobel laureate, she pressed Hiddleston to step up his game. "In order for the scene to work, he had to be charmed by me," explained Hiddleston. "And he wasn't." James and Bier, and likely the entirety of the infatuated audience, found that baffling.
Hiddleston's charisma is well known and commonly celebrated, but he also proved to be quite the philosopher and poet on the stage, perhaps channeling Adam, his character from Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive. Nodding to Walt Whitman, he spoke of the “construction of identity” and the ability, of spy and actor alike, to be fluid and flexible with the "signifiers" that tell us who we are: "A spy surrenders that [stability of identity] and embraces the potential to be other things, to be multiple." An actor does much of the same, he added.
Adapting a loved text can easily draw criticism from the book's admirers, but the footage shown was widely embraced by the Tribeca crowd. One audience member commended Bier and Hiddleston for effectively evoking the same feeling on the screen that she had while reading the book. One alteration, changing the handler from a man to a woman, played by the great Olivia Colman, worked to make the text reflect the larger diversity in contemporary intelligence agents. Of this choice, Hiddleston said that he "loved it," and added that he and Colman were "absolutely connected" from their very first scene.
Hiddleston's other co-star, Hugh Laurie, was a big fan of the book and had at first envisioned playing Jonathan Pine, the part eventually taken by Hiddleston. Laurie even attempted to buy the book rights to produce a film, but they went elsewhere and the film was never made. Bier told the audience that leading up to the shoot, Laurie doubted himself in the role of the "worst man alive," Richard Roper, so much so that he brought in a list of potential other actors to play him. It's a good thing he committed to the role, as he and Hiddleston have great chemistry, which is only shown with a brief glimpse in the opening episode. "Working with Hugh was extraordinary," said Hiddleston.
You can catch Hiddleston and Laurie in The Night Manager starting April 19, on AMC.
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