The always fabulous Tom Hiddleston has one of the main roles in the BBC’s highly anticipated John le Carré adaptation The Night Manager which premieres 21 February on BBC One. It the first TV le Carré production for over twenty years and here Tom explains why he jumped at the chance to appear in it and how amazing the locations were.
Jonathan Pine is an ex-soldier who fought in Iraq and now lives in retreat from life, and himself, as a hotel night porter. A self-exiled creature of the night, and perpetual escapee from emotional entanglement, Pine’s conscience is pricked when his act of disclosing documents confidentially entrusted to him by a hotel guest results in her death. What begins as a quest for atonement becomes a quest for his own soul, as he enters the inner sanctum of Richard Roper and navigates the shadowy recesses of his world.
Could you start by telling us about your character in The Night Manager?
I play Jonathan Pine who, at the beginning of the story, is a lost soul. He is the night manger of a 5-Star hotel in the ski resort of Zermatt in the Swiss Alps, living an almost monastic life, literally and figuratively buried in snow, silence and darkness. I think he is a mystery to all men and to himself – the uniform and the face he prepares to meet others is a mask that protects him from having to know who he is. Behind an immaculate three-piece suit, immaculate tie, polished black shoes and impeccable manners, he almost has no character because he is filled with guilt and shame because of what has happened in his past. He is a former soldier who has served two tours in Iraq, so though he has disbanded from the military, he is still a serviceman – he is just serving in the hotel now as opposed to in the army.
What drew you to this exciting project?
I was sent the first episode by my London agent, telling me that Simon and Stephen Cornwell – John le Carré’s sons – were seeing who might be interested in a television adaptation of The Night Manager. I read the first episode, and from the very beginning, I was completely hooked into the story and the character. I fell in love with it immediately.
Were you familiar with the novel before getting involved in the drama?
I hadn’t read the novel before, but as soon as I’d read the script, I sought the novel out. I think John le Carré occupies a unique position in British literature and storytelling. I think he has a singular authority on the subject matter, having been in the circus himself, as they say. He is a deeply gifted narrative storyteller and a master of his art, the espionage thriller. I think the reason any actor would be drawn to an adaptation of his material is the characters, which are incredibly complex, incredibly rich and as surprising and contradictory as real people are.
What attracted you to the character of Jonathan Pine?
The character appealed to me because I knew, as an actor, I was going to have to operate at the highest level of my intellectual and physical ability, because he is a field agent, but also has to be smart enough to go undercover. I found his nobility, courage and morality very appealing – he is actually a very moral character and is filled with le Carré’s own moral authority about the world. There is a certain line that you can feel underneath all of le Carré’s work which is a very robust moral foundation: a belief in right and wrong; in decency and its opposite.This is an epic production with an incredible amount of locations.
Can you talk about some the locations you have visited during this production?
The locations have been amazing, truly. This story has enormous scale and ambition and the locations we have been to have added so much texture to that. The Night Manager, as a narrative, has this incredible international breadth, jumping from Cairo in the Arab Spring to the Swiss Alps, London and Devon. In the book, there are scenes in the Bahamas and Cyprus but in our story we have made it Mallorca and the Turkish-Syrian border, Istanbul and Monaco. Often I turned up on set and had a very reassuring feeling as my imagination didn’t have to supply anything else because I had been placed immediately in a completely believable context for where the character is. Each location has been so immaculately designed and so correctly chosen it often took our breath away.
What has Academy Award-winning director Susanne Bier brought to the project?
Susanne is a crusader for the truth and has an extraordinarily rigorous compass for what seems natural and plausible as sequential storytelling. I don’t think I have ever worked with a director who has such an incredibly instinctive authority over what she will allow in terms of what she believes, which is so important in a story like this. It is very easy in a spy drama – or in anything that requires a procedural cohesion – for people to make compromises because it looks good or it’s easier for the schedule. The excuse is that the audience won’t see it, but the audience will see it and so does she. With Susanne, the stitching is so fine and intricately woven that there are no loop holes and no fuzzy plot points – she doesn’t let anything go and is unbelievably rigorous about story and piecing together the puzzle in an appropriate way so that it really holds as a narrative.
Why does Pine feel compelled to help Burr and risk his life by going undercover to expose Roper?
I think Jonathan is looking for a reason to live. Of course, he is physically alive and he has a job, but is hidden away on a mountain in Switzerland and working nights in a hotel. I don’t think it is a vocation, I think it’s a comfort because the discipline and the patience and the manner required is something that is familiar to him from the army. When Burr comes to find Pine, she reawakens something at the heart of him which has been lying dormant for some time and which is, I think, his moral fibre and anger. It is moral anger that is shared, as far as I can tell, by John le Carré, which is that there are people doing things in this world who should be stopped. And that somehow he feels brave enough to take on.
What can you tell us about Richard Roper?
Richard Roper lives a very luxurious and appealing life which is funded by proceeds from arms deals to the highest bidder. He is living this extraordinary life with private jets, private yachts and houses in the Mediterranean. I think Roper is drawn to Pine because they are quite similar in lots of ways. I think there is something that often runs through le Carré’s work which is a particular strain of Englishness perhaps – a shared frame of reference, sense of humour and understanding of the world – that often comes through the cracks.
Roper is a very charming, very charismatic, affable, funny, warm, intelligent, sophisticated Englishman. Someone whose stories you want to listen to, who’s a fantastic dinner party guest, fluent and charming public speaker, and has an enormous power for good. The reason he chooses to use that power for ill is why le Carré – and, in turn, Pine – is so angry with him.
The Night Manager premieres 21 February on BBC-1
The Miniaturist Interviews: Romola Garai
Romola Garai plays Marin Brandt in The Miniaturist, premiering soon on BBC-1, here she talks about what drew her to the drama and being in a costume drama where she pretty much only gets to wear one costume.
What attracted you to the role of Marin?
I’d read the book shortly after it came out and I thought it was a really surprising novel, really interesting and with very strong feminist themes in it, so I was very excited about it. Time passed and then an email popped into my inbox with the subject, The Miniaturist. I thought it was fantastic they were making it and I was really excited to read the script.
It’s a very genre-bending novel; it appears to be like a costume drama we have seen before, but very quickly we realise that it’s not that. It’s about a woman coming into her own in a society that’s very patriarchal, it’s about a love affair, it’s about discrimination, and it’s about people trying to survive in an incredibly controlled state. It’s a thriller and it’s also a story about political and emotional awakening.
Marin is a particularly interesting character, I think she has one of the best arcs. When I first read the book, she was the character that stayed with me, and when I read the scripts I immediately remembered everything about her. She’s told in beautiful detail in the novel, which John has retained in the script. Marin is just a great character to play, it was a real treat.
Tell us about Marin.
When you first meet her, because the story is told through Nella’s perspective, you meet a woman who seems very cold and intimidating. Then gradually you get this drip-feed of information about her; you see she’s been helping Johannes run the business and you learn that they were orphaned at a young age. She’s very intellectual, she’s very well read, and she’s not married, which is very unusual at the time.
One of the reasons I found her such a fascinating character is that she’s full of secrets and she’s layered; very conflicted and has great faith, but also passions. The house they live in is essentially a tinder box of secrets that Marin has been sitting on to try and stop the secrets exploding out. However although it seems she is trying to keep a lid on it I think she believes that they could subtly break all the rules and be free within the house at least, if only her brother stopped acting so recklessly.
Hopefully audiences will question what is driving her hostility towards Nella. Marin needs Nella a lot to maintain the appearance of being a normal household but it’s also very important that Nella is afraid of her so that she doesn’t try digging and discovering the secrets that they are all trying to keep – because if anyone finds out then their futures are ruined.
What was it like doing the scenes between Marin and Nella?
I loved working with Anya, she’s an incredibly accomplished actress. She’s got a difficult job in this, because Nella has to be very innocent at the beginning of the story, which is always difficult for an actor to play, and also more innocent that a woman of that age would be now. She’s constantly making discoveries, she doesn’t have the information that the rest of us do so she’s always learning new things, and she’s done that with real beauty and subtlety. I really enjoyed doing all our scenes together.
Tell us about Marin’s costume.
Marin only had one costume until a very late stage of the story. Her costume is typical of the puritan values of the period which rejected anything that smacked of luxury or louche values. They also didn’t wear make-up in this period at all, certainly not women of this class and station, and the hair was very simple and scraped back. Her head would have been covered at all times, so I had a black cap that I wore, but to be honest when I wore it I couldn’t really hear what anyone was saying and also talked incredibly loudly because I couldn’t hear myself, so essentially I was shouting at the other actors!
What makes The Miniaturist stand out from other period dramas?
I’ve done lots of historical pieces but there’s something very unusual about this. When you do contemporary novels set in the past the writers are able to do a lot more, and tackle complex themes which writers writing at the time weren’t able to do. More than that, it’s interesting in that it explores a number of different genres. It has elements of a thriller and then it becomes a family drama and then it becomes a polemic about what happens in societies that are so controlling.
I hope people will sit down to watch the show because it’s a pretty costume drama and will be surprised that it is actually rebellious and constantly bringing up important issues – and that they’ll be so engaged they won’t be able to look away.
Trust Me Interviews: Sharon Small
Interview with Sharon Small, who plays Dr. Brigitte McAdams in new three part psychological thriller Trust Me which airs this August on BBC One.
What attracted you to this project?
I liked the character and the premise of the piece – I don’t think we’ve seen this before. And everyone is like an armchair detective, everyone is an armchair actor or doctor, so I thought that people would get off on that and think, gosh what would I do in that circumstance? The audience are the people who are privy to the truth and not us. With my character, Brigitte, I like her neediness, her sassiness – she’s fun and quick-fire talking – and quite honestly I rather fancied myself as a doctor [laughs].
How would you describe your character?
Brigitte is a good person; she’s sassy and is a really good doctor. She has got some issues, but she is trying her best to run this ward and with great intentions, which I think a lot of NHS doctors are.
How did you prepare for the role?
I grew my hair so that I could tie it up – normally I have short hair. We had a fantastic medical training day with Dan and got to do airways and cannulas and stitching and things like that, I loved that. The most important thing for me was to go around the actual A&E department (or ED department as I now know it’s called) in Edinburgh. We met this fantastic doctor – just watching him and really getting to observe what goes on in a ward, the dynamic, what people do and noticing that people are always looking at folders, everyone’s always collaborating and talking to each other. Everyone is always moving around, a lot more than you think and not that quickly. It’s less dramatic than you think.
Is your character challenging to play?
She was. Similarly in something that Jodie mentioned, I had quite a lot of medical jargon to say quite quickly, but I had less of the procedural stuff to do in terms of operational things. As the character is more and more revealed I had to make sure that I took care of how that happened, and that it was subtly done.
What makes a hospital a good arena for a drama?
It’s an ever-changing landscape, a hospital. Every new sort of event that you’re presented with means that you’re having to make life-saving decisions. People’s lives really are at stake, and honestly, my little taste of pretending that I was an ED doctor made me feel quite powerful. If I could fix people so that they survived, that would be an amazing ability.
What are the biggest challenges that you have faced so far during filming?
Saying the medical words Metronidazole – Met-ron-ida-zole, Metron-i-dazole – and trying to make scrubs look even remotely interesting, I don’t rock scrubs like Jodie does, I’m way too curvy for that!
What do you hope audiences will take away from this drama?
I hope that they’ll find themselves in that dilemma of wanting Cath/Ally to succeed, because she’s a good person and she ironically is brilliant at the job. I’m hoping that they’ll see the dilemma that she has, and as you want her to keep succeeding, it means she’s going to keep compromising people as she goes, as well as herself.
Trust Me Interviews: Jodie Whittaker
Jodie Whittaker plays Cath in three part psychological thriller Trust Me which airs on BBC One this August.
What appealed to you about this project?
I was sent the script for the first episode and it fascinated me because it went in a completely different direction to how I thought it was going to. Particularly at the beginning when she’s suspended for whistleblowing and loses her job. It could have gone so many ways, and the fact that she takes on this new identity isn’t the way that I thought it would go. I love the fact that her choices are quite morally dubious – they certainly aren’t black and white. She makes decisions that are quite challenging to justify, even though we know her reasons. I’ve never acted in anything medical before, so it felt completely new.
How does Cath’s lie come about?
Cath starts off by having a conversation with her best friend, Ally, who is a middle grade doctor in A&E and is giving it all up to emigrate to New Zealand. Ally is packing up the life that Cath would have loved to have had, leaving it all behind to go and do something completely different. Suddenly there is an opportunity for her to take on the identity of her friend and in that panic, not necessarily the clearest thinking moment in her life, she does it. Once you set off on a path of lies it’s very difficult to undo it without bringing everything crashing down.
Did you receive any training on medical procedures?
Yes! The writer, Dan, who is also medical consultant and a doctor outside of TV production, showed us a load of stuff that he used when he was training people. He brought in the CPR dummy and showed us how to do a cannula and he, very bravely, let me put a cannula in his vein. I did it right, thank God! Also, YouTube is amazing. The genius of the internet is that you can basically sit at home and Google medical procedures, and TV shows such as 24 hours in A&E, which I watched hours of.
How else did you prepare for the role?
With regards to the technical stuff, we had an on-set consultant so that there was always someone to help when we had to do the procedures. The best thing for me was that my character was also out of her depth and didn’t always know what she was doing, so it kind of covered my own personal fumbles. I’m not someone who likes to over prepare for dialogue scenes, because I think that makes me not listen to what the other person is saying as I’ve already decided how I’m going to do it. It immediately makes it interesting and new and you can’t plan for that, which is great. You can’t ‘wing’ the medical stuff so I had to do my research for that. One of my friends is a Sister in A&E and I sent her a lot of messages asking ‘how do you pronounce this?’ and ‘what does that mean?’, so basically she was my personal medical coach even though she works full time!
Is it challenging playing someone who leads a double life?
Yes, but no more challenging that playing someone who has had something happen to them that I haven’t personally experienced. What’s hard is trying to gauge how good a liar she is, or how in a panic she is. You’ve got to be careful, because you can’t make the other actors seem stupid. These are intelligent, fully formed characters that you’re working with, so it was a fine line of being able to deceive and it not being something that comes easily to her. However, it can’t be that it makes everyone around her feel a bit like an idiot for not working it out. That was tricky, but the director is there to help guide you through it.
Did the uniform help to get you into character?
Yes. It feels odd when you put it on. I did five weeks of studio filming, back to back – all the medical stuff was contained so everything started to become a bit like second nature. The first few times I had to put on an apron, the ‘take’ ended up being about 15 minutes long. Then I worked out that you shouldn’t put the gloves on before the apron! There was lots of daft stuff like that, but you then get into a rhythm. It’s good because it makes you immediately feel like you look the part and then all I had to do was make sure that I knew the lines!
What were some of the challenges that you faced during filming?
I’m not very good with learning dialogue when there are lots of medical terms! I enjoy the adrenaline of being on set because I’m quite good at choreography, I respond well to being taught something physically. That’s why I was terrible at school, because they talk you through things rather than physically show you. I enjoyed doing the different types of surgery as it was fascinating, it’s nerve-wracking but you realise that you can do it. Also, the team who created the props put in so much hard work to make sure we didn’t mess up our bits. I struggled with having massive speeches that involved these medical words. I don’t have a brain for that!
Did you enjoy working in Scotland?
I absolutely loved Glasgow! The crew were phenomenal and the city is wonderful. I could move my family up there and we had a great time as there were loads of brilliant restaurants and everyone was lovely. It was brilliant and I would snap up another job there very quickly, although it does get very dark and cold over winter!
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