Every actor or actress, if they can at all help it, should try to play a villain at least once. There are lots of reasons for this. Sometimes villains have the best roles. Sometimes it’s nice to have a little change of pace. Sometimes it’s helpful to turn the audience’s perception of you on its head. All of that. But mostly because, when it’s done right, it just looks like an incredible amount of fun. This brings us to Hugh Laurie and AMC’s in-progress six-part miniseries, The Night Manager.
Most of the focus on The Night Manager — based on John le Carré’s 1993 novel of the same name — has centered around Tom Hiddleston. This is understandable. Hiddleston is playing the lead in the series, the eponymous night manager who goes undercover to do spy things. Throw that spy thing in with the fact that the role of James Bond is currently open, and the fact that Hiddleston is an attractive Bond-aged actor who has a British accent, and suddenly you have people talking. Which is fair. Hiddleston is very good in The Night Manager. If he ends up playing Bond because of it, I don’t think I’d have any major complaints, provided Idris Elba had been offered the role first and turned it down. There’s a process here.
But even with all that #HiddlestonHeat, the real star of the series has been Laurie as Richard “Dicky” Roper, a hyper-secretive businessman who has been hunted by intelligence agencies all over the globe for his role in selling weapons to, well, anyone who would like some weapons. Dicky Roper is great. First of all, because his name is “Dicky Roper,” which is just a delightful name for anyone, but especially for evil incarnate, and made even better by the fact that two of his henchmen are named Corky and Frisky. Dicky, Corky, and Frisky. They sound like the last three club champions at a golf course in the Hamptons, not the braintrust of a murderous arms dealing operation. And when Dicky Roper isn’t selling bombs to criminals, he’s spending the majority of his time smoking cigars and drinking champagne in his hilltop Mallorca mansion. Often while wearing very leisurely pastels.
The funny thing is — through this week’s episode, which brought us to the halfway point of the series — we still haven’t really seen Dicky Roper do very much actual evil. Mostly what we’ve seen is his name on some incriminating documents and about a dozen people swearing he’s a ruthless bastard. And in a way, that’s almost been better, because it’s allowed Laurie to do the whole “the words I’m saying would be rather pleasant devoid of context and printed out on a sheet of paper, but they come off extremely menacing with my tone and body language and general reputation” thing, which is one of my favorite villain moves and something I’m often tempted to just start doing in normal conversations. (“Yes, I will see you then, for my 6:30 dinner reservation.”)
It’s been interesting to see Laurie like this because it’s such a change from the role he’s most associated with, the acerbic, pill-popping genius Dr. House on House, M.D.. There are the obvious differences, sure. I imagine it’s nice to not have to fake a limp or American accent for 12 hours a day on set. But the differences go beyond that, almost to a foundational level. House was an acid-tongued creep that everyone hated but respected for his ability to do good. His flaws were superficial and his best attributes were layers deep. Dicky Roper — yes, I will use his full name every time — is the opposite, a smooth talker that people like but fear for his ability to do harm. He is also, and I think this is important, someone who really knows how to dress when showing up in a private helicopter for a stay at an exclusive hotel in the mountains. Get on Dicky Roper’s level, other villains. Start by buying red pants.
All of which, I suppose, is to say that you should check out The Night Manager. And to say that Evil-As-Hell Hugh Laurie is something I never knew I wanted, but now cannot live without. And to say that if any of you want to start dealing arms from a scenic estate in Mallorca and wear pastels and blue scarves, I will happily partner up with you. It seems like a pretty good time. Although maybe we should wait and see how all this ends before we make any firm commitments. You know, just to be safe.