Originally, Hugh Laurie didn't originally want to play Richard Roper, the villain of John le Carre's spy thriller The Night Manager in the new eight-part BBC mini-series. He wanted to be the title character, Jonathan Pine, an ex-soldier who, post-service, has opted for a quiet life in the international hotel trade.

Laurie was, after all, a devoted le Carre reader from way back. He even thought about trying to option the book, published in 1993.

"In fact when I first read the novel 23 years ago, I fancied myself as Jonathan Pine and then my hair fell out. So I've got to watch Tom Hiddleston being all virile and strapping, which is annoying, but there you go. That's the passage of time for you."

Still, Laurie's passionate interest paid off. His House-earned profile has helped win attention for the series, which is reportedly the most expensive production in BBC history, its £20 million budget covering location shoots in Mallorca, Morocco and London.


Directed by Danish Oscar winner Susanne Bier, The Night Manager's story has been updated with Le Carre's approval. Instead of selling to Colombian drug cartels, Roper is now as an arms dealer to opponents of the Arab Spring.

We first meet Pine when he is a night manager at a luxury Cairo Hotel as he discovers incriminating evidence against Roper.

"The essence of the piece is that you have the worst man in the world," says Bier. "He is also the most charming man in the world and he has the most lavish lifestyle - a beautiful girlfriend [Australian actress Elizabeth Debicki], a fantastic house and he lives in a very attractive and sexy world." Hiddleston eventually gets a London-based handler in Angela Burr, a role that was male in the book and is here played by Broadchurch star Olivia Colman: "I always thought of her as a zebra among the lions, but a zebra that wasn't scared or intimidated by that - and that's what freaks the lions out."

King of this particular jungle is Roper, a man Laurie disliked as a character in the book but enjoyed portraying.

"When I read The Night Manager all those years ago, I was charmed by Roeper. I loathed him, he plainly is a very wicked creature but there is something seductive about him. There is something intoxicating about someone who has put themselves beyond the bounds of normal behaviour, beyond the bounds of laws and who just has the confidence and daring. The devil must be charming otherwise we'd never go near him.

"The character on the page is so vivid and powerful that I felt from the moment I read it that I know this guy. I can just see him and hear him and I know how he moves."

Whereas Hiddleston, best known for playing the villain Loki in the Marvel movies, gets to play a reluctant hero.

"I found his nobility, courage and morality very appealing - he is actually a very moral character and is filled with le Carre's own moral authority about the world. There is a certain line that you can feel underneath all of le Carre's work, which is a very robust moral foundation: a belief in right and wrong; in decency and its opposite."

Where: TV3
When: Sunday, 8.30pm
Also: Episode one is on 3Now
What: Spymaster le Carre's grand new telly treatment