Thursday 23 November 2017

Night of surprises is on the books for The Night Manager

The drama has gripped us all, so it was a dream come true to interview Elizabeth Debicki

Elegant and sexy: Elizabeth Debicki in a scene from The Night Manager Photo: Des Willie
Elegant and sexy: Elizabeth Debicki in a scene from The Night Manager Photo: Des Willie

Judith Woods

How to convey to someone who hasn't seen it, the impact The Night Manager has had on our Sunday-night viewing habits?

Visually stunning, thrillingly tense and with a coruscating cast of British stars, the BBC adaptation of the 1993 John Le Carre thriller cost £3m (€3.8m) per episode to make. And as the finale of this breathless six-parter is screened tonight, who could dispute that every penny lavished on its high production values was money well spent?

Taking in luxury locations in Marakesh, Zermatt and Mallorca, the seductive portrayal of untrammelled wealth shot through with menace and resting on a rotten core of corruption has proved irresistible.

It's ravishing to look at and utterly gripping, but the real genius lies in the casting. Hugh Laurie is the swaggering pukka bully Richard Roper; Tom Hollander plays against type as Corky, his viciously funny, hyper-vigilant sidekick; and the devastatingly handsome Tom Hiddleston takes the role of Pine, a former soldier recruited by British intelligence to infiltrate Roper's illegal arms-dealing business.

Add Olivia Colman as Hiddleston's tenacious handler and willowy beauty Elizabeth Debicki as the aloof, complex love interest and it's little wonder we've been well and truly ensnared.

But weirdly, Debicki has no idea how big the show is until I tell her.

"Is it really that big a hit? I had no idea," she says. Having been in LA on the set of the big budget sci-fi romp Guardians of the Galaxy 2 for several intense weeks, she hasn't yet watched an episode or realised how the latest nail-biting instalment is the main topic of conversation come Monday morning.

"Wow. How wonderful and gratifying to think that it's watercooler conversation!" she says. "While we were filming, we all knew we were doing something very special and I'm glad it shows."

Debicki, 25, whose previous credits include The Great Gatsby, The Man from U.N.C.L.E, Everest and Macbeth, plays the trophy girlfriend of illegal arms dealer Roper.

Her scrubbed face and pale, expensively draped clothes lend her an air of vulnerability. We are all rooting for her escape from Richard Roper's malign clutches and hoping she is made of stern enough stuff to jump the wire.

Born in Paris but brought up in Australia, Debicki has family in Manchester and Sheffield, whom she visited while growing up. She also spent time in Britain while working on films including Guy Ritchie's The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

"I have to say that filming The Night Manager was not just amazing but also very daunting at first," she says.

"I used to describe myself as the token plebeian surrounded by all your national treasures. All that glittering talent in one place. I knew Hugh from Fry and Laurie videos that my grandpa used to watch and Tom Hollander's Rev is hilarious.

"I'm just glad I hadn't seen Broadchurch beforehand or I might have been too starstruck to even meet Olivia."

In this age of CGI effects, filming 'old style' in far-flung clifftop restaurants or speeding boats, with flesh and blood actors - instead of "standing in front of a blue screen in a car park somewhere" - was an out-and-out joy. She also enjoyed the terribly British repartee, singling Tom Hollander out for his razor-sharp deadpan banter.

"Tom has a wicked sense of humour, so ascerbic," she says. "You'd drag yourself into the make-up truck at 7am and he'd be wisecracking away. Believe me, if you weren't on top form, he'd bring you to your knees with his cutting wit and you wouldn't get up again all day."

In the most recent episodes, it became clear that Debicki's character, Jed, has fallen very deeply for our hero Tom Hiddleston.

"He is just so darn handsome and such a courteous gentleman that it was almost impossible not to fall completely in love with him," laughs Debicki. "He also works at a very swift pace and you have to keep up with him or you'd be left behind."

Their passionate onscreen congress - urgent but anguished - caused social media uproar, much of it centred on Hiddleston's bare buttocks. But there's more to Jed's role than token eye candy and a knee-trembling plot twist.

"She's a very interesting character and it was really great working on all the various layers," says Debicki.

"Her dress sense was really important too - not just because it had to reflect her status but hint at her character."

Accordingly, her wardrobe doesn't comprise the obvious array of Gucci labels and Dolce and Gabbana bling typically worn by the Euro-set.

Instead, her clothes, although obviously expensive, are unusual and individual.

"Jed has a 'secret' child and a past, she wasn't born into money," says Debicki.

"She tries to fit in but doesn't quite succeed, partly because deep down she does really want to conform."

Debicki herself assumed that she would conform to the family tradition of becoming a dancer. But as she grew taller - at 6ft 2ins she's a match for the famously towering Laurie - it became clear that acting rather than dance was what really appealed.

After drama school, she began what she assumed would be the inevitable round of auditions and rejections. But on just her third outing, she did a remote screen test for the Australian director Baz Luhrmann who was casting The Great Gatsby. He was so impressed that he immediately flew her out to LA.

"It was all so surreal that I remember telling myself to enjoy the moment and stamp it in my memory," says Debicki.

"I was brought to the Chateau Marmont, where a suite had been fitted out to look like a room of Gatsby's house. I put on the most gorgeous Prada dress and ran through a scene with Toby Maguire, with Baz following us around peering through a handheld camera."

Debicki landed the role of golf pro Jordan Baker and further film roles followed. She also appeared in the Sydney Theatre Company's production of the Jean Genet play The Maids, alongside Cate Blanchett and Isabelle Hupert.

"I feed off variety. I don't want to repeat myself if I can help it, but once they've seen you doing one thing, directors often just want you to do it again."

The Night Manager - in which Le Carre himself appeared in a cameo as a disgruntled diner in a chichi fish restaurant - offered a very different sort of part.

"The breadth of roles out there for women aren't as complex as the roles for men," says Debicki. "But if you look hard enough, you will find them."

Last week, the slow-burn on-screen chemistry between Debicki and Hiddleston blazed as hot as the Turkish desert where Roper sold armaments and chemical weapons to his shadowy Middle Eastern buyer.

"Often, female characters are quite one-dimensional, especially in a two-hour film; television gives characters room to breathe and develop."

Debicki, who is currently taking time off Down Under, hopes eventually to perform in the West End.

"When I'm in London, I spend all my spare time going to the theatre," she says.

"Britain's theatre scene is so vibrant and challenging and innovative. I would 100 per cent love to appear on stage. Britain is a place where I feel comfortable and very at home."

But long before then, she has some catching up to do.

"I think there's something beautifully old-fashioned about waiting all week, then sitting down and watching something on television together," she muses.

"I'm generation box set, accustomed to binging on multiple episodes at a time, which is fun but quite a solitary pursuit because you do it alone."

Let's hope that when she finally does get round to watching The Night Manager she gathers a few friends to do so with her - otherwise she will miss the most delicious aspect: discussing it, afterwards.

Promoted Links

Entertainment Newsletter

Going out? Staying in? From great gigs to film reviews and listings, entertainment has you covered.

Promoted Links

Editors Choice

Also in Entertainment