So Hugh, you’ve been interested in The Night Manager since it was first published. What’s the appeal?
Hugh Laurie: “‘Interested’ doesn’t really cover it. I’ve been a devoted lover of John Le Carré since a very young age, and have since consumed all the George Smiley novels. Within five chapters of reading The Night Manager, I actually resolved to try and option the book in a role as producer. Back then, I rather arrogantly dreamed of playing the character of Jonathan Pine, and have had to sit back and watch Tom Hiddleston be virile and charming, which is a rather galling task.”
Naturally. Your character is described very early on in the first episode as “the worst man in the world”. How do you even go about playing such a character?
“Villainy is a much-represented characteristic in all good storytelling and a very well-trodden path in many films and TV series. The original character of Richard Roper had always been very vivid in both the book and the script, but to describe someone as ‘the worst man in the world’, what does that mean? Does it mean with intention? There are a lot of villainous people out there in the world who are capable of evil but incapable of executing it – they are incompetent villains. What is most scary about Roper is his competence, his intelligence and daring. These are the qualities that make him dangerous.”
How did you work on developing the character of Roper?
“From the first moment of reading about Roper I knew who he was, I could hear him and see him. I could sense his evilness and also his weird sentimentalities with things such as the way he is with children. I also imagined he would be the sort of man who would be very kind to animals, be brought to tears by a dog being hit by a car, yet could watch unspeakable cruelty being visited upon a human being. Playing Roper was a daunting prospect because the novel has meant so much to me for so long.”
Are we to believe that there are Ropers in the real world?
“I didn’t meet any Ropers in the lead-up to the show, as the show’s legal team told me it could result in them suing. If you’ve read the original novel, you will know that Roper was originally selling arms to the Mexican Cartels, and it felt like somewhat of a far-fetched idea. However, while we were filming, one of the Mexican Cartels downed a government helicopter filled with arms and the Mexican government admitted they were at war with the Cartel, who were receiving weapons from an undisclosed source. In this problem hung the future of Mexico, because somewhere in it all there was a Roper who was selling missiles to the Cartels. So, even though we relocated, it showed it could be happening anywhere in the world right now.”
Are you worried people will possibly like your character? He is quite charming…
“Not to the degree that they will say, ‘Mother, I want to be an arms dealer’. At the same time I don’t think there’s any harm in acknowledging that the devil has good tunes, and if the devil had ‘Devil’ tattooed across his head then everyone would run away. He has a sort of superficial charm, otherwise he’d be a pretty useless devil. But no, I don’t worry for the moral soul of the audience. I think people will see Roper’s true colours as the show goes on.”
You’ve been off the small screen for a few years now. Will you do more?
“Yes, definitely. One is drawn to a script for the chance to work with certain people as much as anything else. But yes, I love it here and I would love to work here more. Oh goodness, I’m sounding like someone who isn’t from here, aren’t I? Anyway, yes you go wherever a script or a story will take you."
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