The Tribeca Film Festival is breaking new ground, not only offering a slew of narrative and documentary features and shorts but also slates for alternate forms of media like virtual reality and TV. It was as part of the Tribeca Talks series that SPINOFF got a first look at the new AMC miniseries "The Night Manager," and took part in a Q&A with star Tom Hiddleston and director Susanne Bier.
Based on the John le Carre novel, "The Night Manager" sees Hiddleston in the role of Jonathan Pine, the titular concierge turned spy dedicated to taking down Richard Roper, a dangerous arms dealer played by Hugh Laurie.
We share the highlights of Hiddleston and Bier's post-screening panel, where they divulged some of the secrets of "The Night Manager."
Bier directed the entire miniseries
In television, it's common for a small fleet of directors to helm a television series. But just as Cary Fukunaga directed the entire first season of HBO's lauded crime drama "True Detective," Bier steered "The Night Manager" from start to finish. "If I was doing it, I was doing all six," she told the audience. "It was pretty much conceived as one long film."
Laurie originally wanted to play Pine, not Roper
However, that was back in the '90s, when he first pursued "The Night Manager" rights for a film adaptation. "I think he would have been great," Hiddleston said.
When this version rolled around, Laurie was gravely concerned he wasn’t right for the role of Roper. Bier recounted how, a few weeks before the miniseries began its ambitious shoot, Laurie called her in for a meeting where he surrendered the role and offered her a list of other actors he believed would be better suited to play Roper. Bier heard him out, but convinced him to stay, saying, "You are right for it."
The 360-page script was shot largely out of sequence
That's typical for a film. But remember, this is a lengthier story than most movies. Hiddleston chuckled, recalling how most days meant shooting scenes from multiple episodes at once. He credited Bier for helping him "be precise in the moment while keeping an eye on the whole."
Pine won't be an outright hero
Bier warned that as the miniseries unfolds, Pine's dedication to his nation and Roper's victims will be tempted by the wealth, power and privilege the arms dealer can bestow.
Hiddleston concurred, saying, "Throughout the course of the show, people keep asking about his motives." But "The Night Manager's" leading man sidestepped questions about his thoughts on Pine's inner workings, saying he'd prefer to leave it to the audience to determine.
A major role was gender-swapped
In the 1993 novel, Pine's MI6 handler was an older man named Leonard Burr. But Bier explained changing the character from Leonard to Angela wasn't just a better reflection of the kind of representation demanded by contemporary audiences, but also said, "Our world -- even the world of spies -- is more than white men."
The producers picked heralded British actress Olivia Colman for the part, and got a surprise. Colman was pregnant, but willing to work. So, pregnancy became folded into Burr's character. And per Le Carre's input, this better informed the bond between Burr and Pine anyhow, as theirs is an almost parent-child connection.
Hiddleston believes the series is about the moral duty of privilege
Speaking to "The Night Manager's" enigmatic hero Pine, Hiddleston said, "In Le Carre's writing there is an extraordinary sense of moral principle and anger. Through Pine there is an expression of Le Carre's own anger about what I think is a betrayal of honor by Roper. Roper is a man who was given so, so much. He's deeply blessed. He's been given all the freedom and the privilege of British citizenship, the education and democracy. And he's used those privileges to do the worst things imaginable, which in Le Carre's mind is deeply cynical. I think that is the substance of the material. It's that there is a conversation about moral duty within the breadth of 'The Night Manager' to tell."
Le Carre has a cameo
The celebrated espionage novelist was happy to appear on "The Night Manager," but that didn't mean he made it easy for anyone. Bier and Hiddleston chuckled at the memory of Le Carre's time on set. Bier said he was "very involved" in the production, and didn't cede power when it came to his shared scene with Hiddleston. "He's not the easiest actor we worked with," Bier said with a smile. "He wants to completely agree with what's going on, and he gave Tom quite a hard time!"
Asked what Le Carre was like as a scene partner, Hiddleston chuckled nervously and then shared, "In order for the scene to work, it was a very simple requirement, which is he should be charmed by me. And he refused to be. He knew that's what the requirement was. But he's a very truthful man, and he simply didn't believe me. I kept saying to Susanne between takes, 'I think this is going on a bit long. I'm trying to curtail this, because this is not what the scenes about.' And Susanne would say, 'It's John le Carre. I'm not telling him what to do. You have to work harder!'"
As the audience laughed, Hiddleston shrugged warmly and concluded, "And so I did!"
"The Night Manager" premieres tonight at 10 ET/PT on AMC.