John Le Carre’s The Night Manager shines a light on a murky business

The Night Manager starts this weekend.
The Night Manager starts this weekend.
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A contemporary interpretation of John Le Carre’s espionage drama - The Night Manager - brings together love, loss and revenge in a complex story of modern criminality.

The series follows former British soldier Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston) who is recruited by intelligence operative Angela Burr (Olivia Colman) to infiltrate the inner circle of international businessman Richard Onslow Roper (Hugh Laurie) and detonate the unholy alliance he has ministered between the intelligence community and the secret arms trade.

To get to the heart of Roper’s vast empire, Pine must withstand the suspicious interrogations of his venal chief of staff Major Corkoran (Tom Hollander) and the allure of his beautiful girlfriend Jed (Elizabeth Debicki). In his quest to do the right thing, he must first become a criminal himself.

We caught up with Tom Hiddleston.

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.

The Night Manager starts this weekend.

The Night Manager starts this weekend.

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.

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.

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.

The Night Manager begins this Sunday at 9pm on BBC One.