Susanne Bier gives ‘Night Manager’ all the action of a spy movie — along with sex and secrets

Director Susanne Bier tackled her first spy-thriller with AMC's limited series "The Night Manager" to much critical acclaim.
(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

A director of heartfelt melodramas wouldn’t necessarily be the first person you’d think of to direct an updated adaptation of a globetrotting John le Carré thriller. In a way, though, Oscar-winning Susanne Bier’s trademark filmic touches – meticulously framed wide landscape shots, exotic locations and a rich-hued color palette – seem perfectly suited to AMC’s glossy, suspense-filled limited series “The Night Manager.”

But likely all those double-crosses, false identities and detonating convoy trucks, less familiar territory for Bier, served as a six-hour argument that she should direct a Bond film. “Directing spy stuff and making explosions is so much fun,” says Bier, who is rumored to be shortlisted for the next 007 outing.

Recently, a mildly jet-lagged Bier visited with The Envelope to chat about how she landed the job, why an actor’s hair should be taken seriously, and about Le Carré’s cameo as an elegantly tuxedoed gentleman at a Majorca restaurant who becomes embroiled in a dust-up over a lobster salad. “It was amazing,” says Bier of the scene in which Le Carré holds his own – reportedly ad-libbing lines – with the likes of Hugh Laurie and Tom Hiddleston.


John le Carré’s world is white, male and upper class. How did you convince the producers you were right for the job?

I said, “I know I’m none of these things and I think it’s going to be a big advantage. I love John le Carré and I love that world, so I will preserve the diamond of it, but it will be in a new, contemporary shape.” Making it contemporary meant having a strong female element and also portraying the diversity of the current society. I also said, “I will make it sexual.” This novel is one of his sexiest novels. Everyone in the series is hiding something, has secrets, are never completely honest. They don’t know if they can really trust each other. But I think there’s an element of something erotic within all the characters and all of their relationships.

For me, it’s a character. Yes, you can talk a lot about psychology and other things. But if the look and detail isn’t right, then the character isn’t defined.

— Susanne Bier

Talk about turning the novel’s male ex-SIS chief into a very pregnant woman.

When I came on, that character was still a man. Then the producers said, “We’ve been discussing whether Burr could be a woman,” and I went, “Yes!” I’d been looking for a chance to work with Olivia Colman. She’s amazing. So we met at this hotel in London. And she comes in and says, “I have to tell you: I’m pregnant.” And I was, like, [cautiously] “Okaaaay.” Then I thought, “It’s going to be fantastic for the character.” I think at that time, even the producers, who were quite worried about the risk, had recognized that should [Colman] not work out, Burr would have to be pregnant in the series. It was kind of a gift.

Can I just say that Hiddleston’s and Elizabeth Debicki’s hair was perfect in every single scene? How much of that was you?


I pay lots of attention to an actor’s look. For me, it’s a character. Yes, you can talk a lot about psychology and other things. But if the look and detail isn’t right, then the character isn’t defined.

You’re famous for incorporating unexpected moments in a scene. Give an example of something unscripted that ended up in “Night Manager.”

In the army camp in Episode 5, Roper comes down the stairs and speaks to all the [mercenaries]. It was written as a quiet scene. But because all the extras were Moroccan and didn’t understand English, it became this noisy, vibrant scene. Had those extras been picked more carefully, the scene wouldn’t have been as great. I think that because things don’t work the way you planned them, you get something better.


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