By Cara Nash

One question that journalists have been continually asking Elizabeth Debicki since being cast in The Night Manager is whether the actress plays a Bond girl? “At first, I recoiled from that,” the actress reveals at a Sydney Q&A following a screening of the first episode-and-a-half of the new BBC series. “But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that Jed sort of wishes she could be. In a way, she wishes life could be that simple, but it’s not because it’s reality. We’re trying to grasp at a Le Carre reality, but a reality nonetheless.”

Adapted from master spy novelist John le Carre’s 1993 novel, the new series for BBC First sees Debicki play Jed Marshall, the alluring mistress of arms dealer Roger Roper (played by Hugh Laurie, who originally optioned the rights to the novel soon after it was published). Tom Hiddleston takes on the eponymous hero of the series, Jonathan Pine, who goes undercover to become Roper’s confidant, while looking for an opportunity to expose him.

The 25-year-old actress, who catapulted onto the world stage via a scene-stealing role in Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby and has since starred in such high-profile features as The Man From UNCLE, Macbeth and Everest and the Tasmanian shot drama The Kettering Incident, says the role of Jed marks her most complex character yet. Debicki actually entered the project at an interesting time and was involved in constructing her character with screenwriter David Farr (Spooks) and director Susanne Bier, the acclaimed Danish filmmaker behind In A Better World and Serena.

“I came on board and immediately found myself in email conversation with David and Susanne about where they were headed with Jed. They wanted to add more complexity. The Jed in the novel is very different. She’s British, comes from a wealthy upbringing, and rides horses. The Jed here is slightly rootless. They had decided that she needed to have a past that was murky but relatable, and have a sense of internal struggle, so they wrote this backstory about Jed leaving her child behind. I immediately loved it because I found it very intriguing – I know a lot of women who watch it will question, how did she do it and how is she okay? How is she leading her life in seeming bliss? That was an interesting thing to grapple with.”

Cast of The Night Manager.
Cast of The Night Manager.

With the Jed in the series representing a real departure from le Carre’s version, Debicki was nervous about what its famous creator would think. “I was terrified,” Debicki laughs of meeting John le Carre at an early table read. “I avoided speaking to him post read-through for 45 minutes. I squirmed around and had twelve cups of tea and eventually Susanne said, ‘Come over and meet le Carre’. He immediately shook my hand and said, ‘You’ve made her much more interesting’. I immediately felt this sense of lightness and I felt we had his blessing. “

Conversation also turned to the way the series was shot, and whether its female director made a difference. Within minutes of first being introduced to the seemingly free-spirited Jed, she jumps into a bathtub in full view of Roper’s entourage and Jonathan Pine. The second episode opens with the actress stepping out of the shower and slowly dressing and redressing. “I remember having an argument with Susanne about that scene. I remember her saying, ‘Go slower! Why are you pulling your underpants up so fast? Why are you rushing?!’ She was really specific about the gaze and the type of feeling we wanted to give, and the thing about working with Susanne is you learn she’s always right. It’s soft and it’s voyeuristic and there’s something undeniably fragile about the way we’re watching her – we feel like we shouldn’t be watching her. Susanne was very specific about placing cameras in different places so you’re watching most of the series likes Jonathan Pine, through a crack or around a corner and you’re hearing conversations that you shouldn’t be hearing or you’re watching people get dressed who you shouldn’t be watching.”

With the actress back at home after shooting Guardians and the Galaxy 2, an obligatory question is asked about what she can divulge, but she remains tight-lipped. “I can’t say anything,” Debicki smiles. “When I was in early days of shooting, I was living with a friend in LA. I was camera testing and even my friend was examining my skin trying to figure out what colour I was!”

The Night Manager premieres on BBC First on Sunday, March 20 at 8.30pm.


Leave a Reply