AMC’s The Night Manager was the single most-awarded television show at the 2017 Golden Globes, also winning two Emmys. The network is now bringing another John La Carre novel to the screen, The Little Drummer Girl.
In the six-part limited series, a brilliant young actress named Charlie (Florence Pugh) meets an intriguing man while vacationing in Greece. The mysterious man (played by Alexander Skarsgard) is in fact an Israeli intelligence officer who entangles her in a high-stakes plot to bring down a terrorist.
Stephen and Simon Cornwell serve as Executive Producers, and the series was directed by Park Chan-wook.
Simon Cornwell, Florence Pugh and Alexander Skarsgard came to the TV Critics tour to speak about their tale of espionage, love and betrayal.
The Little Drummer Girl premieres on AMC on November 19th 2018. AMC are showing two episodes each night over three consecutive days. In the UK the six episodes are being show each week. Episode 2 will air this Sunday, November 4th 2018.
What inspired you to do another adaptation of the story?
Simon Cornwell: I think it’s one of Le Carré’s great books. And it’s also the only one of his books that has a very powerful, very proactive female protagonist. That was something that my brother Steve and I have always loved (about) the book.
If truth be told, (I was) rather disappointed with the movie adaptation and the opportunity to revisit it, explore it again through a contemporary lens, and with a quite extraordinary director, was something very special indeed.
Does modern technology help or make more difficult your storytelling?
Simon: This story is told in period and actually one of the rather delicious things that you’ll see in the series is the use of a lot of analog tech; the tech that I grew up with because I’m quite old.
It’s very beautiful and quite fun to see (what) people in the old days used to achieve a lot of the same things that we do today, but using very basic technical tricks.
Florence, this looks like a wonderful role. How did it come to you?
Florence Pugh: When this was being spoken about roughly this time last year, my film Lady Macbeth had just come out here. It was one of those films where some people had seen it and some people hadn’t. I was still very much under the radar. And I still think I am because lots of the things that I’ve done haven’t come out yet.
So when this project came up, there was this big whisper around town of who was gonna be in it. The Night Manager was so big. And the news of Little Drummer Girl happening was already so big.
Automatically I knew that I probably didn’t have a chance, and that was absolutely fine. Then Director Park came onboard. And within a weekend, I got an offer which was totally barmy and completely surreal. That’s my little story.
Did you happen to see the Diane Keaton version? And if so, did it influence your portrayal?
Florence: I did watch it. No. I think I’d heard so much about the film before I even read the script, and I read the script and I read the book and I watched the film.
I don’t think anyone was trying to recreate that again. Director Park (has) got such a fresh mind. He’s completely original. I don’t think it’s any actor’s dream to copy anyone’s performance. You can take it in and grow from it. But I didn’t want to copy, no.
There’s such an international feel to this. How important was it to be at these locations and not be on a sound stage?
Simon: I think it’s fundamental to the fabric of the show. For Director Park, it was almost the first time that he’d shot predominantly on-location. In fact, we didn’t have a single day of shooting on a stage the whole way through the shoot.
There’s no doubt that it gives a sense of reality and texture moving through very different landscapes, geographies, cityscapes throughout Europe. It was very hard work, very demanding…
Florence: It was magical, though, no?
Simon: It was magical.
Florence: Yeah. I will say that the first thing I do whenever I read through a script is realize how many of the places you probably won’t film in, because when it’s written down it’s probably just an amazing idea. And then when you come to filming it, it’s probably not gonna happen.
I remember three weeks before we filmed the Acropolis scene I asked someone, ‘Are we actually filming in the Acropolis?’ They were like, ‘Yeah, we are actually doing it.’ I couldn’t believe it.
Come the night we were probably only 40 people up on the Acropolis filming for a whole evening. Alex and I had a camera in our face as we just reacted to walking around the Acropolis at night. That was utterly incredible.
Both of your characters take on different personas. They don’t just grow and change. They are actually roleplaying a bit throughout the story. Is that more challenging to play?
Alexander Skarsgard: That dichotomy is quite juicy and fun to play. For Becker, his job is to recruit this talented young actress and then create a fiction within the fiction and recreate a love story. That was quite exciting to explore because they’re very much in love in the fiction of it from Day 1 and when they started this adventure and they go through Greece.
The first date is at the Acropolis in the most beautiful, romantic setting ever. And as they get to know each other, you blur that line between what’s fiction and what’s reality.
How professional is Becker? When do you see cracks in his veneer? When does he show who he really is or how he really feels? I really enjoyed exploring that.
Does Becker fall in love with Charlie?
Alexander: There were moments where Charlie might think that she sees a crack and the audience might think that, oh, this is Becker coming out. He’s not playing the character anymore. He can’t hold back. These are real feelings. But that might necessarily not be the case.
That could also be him manipulating her because that could potentially be a way of drawing her even closer in; because if she feels or senses his humanity, she would follow him even more closely. And that’s what he wants. So that mind game was quite fun to play.
Florence: I think you had a harder job than I did to do that because you were actually also embodying an actual character on the show, which was tricky, right? I didn’t have to pretend to be anyone. I was just acting as Charlie.
Alexander: Right, exactly. In the beginning the motivation was for Charlie. Becker keeps saying, ‘Be yourself, be yourself,’ and as he’s coaching her and telling her about Michel, this character that he’s pretending to be, she learns a lot and grows more confident.
At a certain point, you have to set off and really believe in what you’re doing. And then it gets complicated because then the question is, do you actually believe in the cause that you’re pretending to fight for? Which side are you on? Which side are you on?