Powerhouse casting director Jina Jay cannot get enough of John le Carré, the prolific British author known for his tales of espionage and politically-motivated violence. Returning to cast spy thriller series The Night Manager, the first le Carré adaptation for television in twenty years, after casting several of the author’s critically lauded film adaptations (A Most Wanted Man, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) in recent years, Jay can see the common thread that keeps her coming back for more.
“Perhaps the common thread is that his lead characters demand the greatest leading character actors,” Jay says. “I have always been drawn to character actors; on screen, they often challenge and hurt me.”
With a hand in the upcoming Star Wars spin-off Rogue One and the Michael Fassbender video game adaptation Assassin’s Creed, the A-lister saw in the prose of le Carré and David Farr characters who demanded to appear on screen. In The Night Manager, you have “the worst man in the world”, Richard Roper (Laurie), an international arms dealer of terrifying prowess, and Jonathan Pine (Hiddleston), the former military man turned hotelier who strives to bring him down.
How does it feel to see the end result—to witness two of the industry’s leading British actors, Hugh Laurie and Tom Hiddleston, going toe to toe at the top of their game? “It’s bloody damn marvelous,” says Jay.
Even with the caliber of these two pedigreed actors, though, Jay admits in earnest, the success of this pairing was never guaranteed. “Its hard to pre-judge chemistry,” she says. But with massive viewership in its UK debut, the breaking of ratings records and critics’ adulation across the board, it’s clear as can be that something went right with The Night Manager.
Jay had previously cast Hiddleston in Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-nominated War Horse; and in Roper, Laurie found what is arguably his most exciting role since the time of Doctor Gregory House.
In looking at the show’s critical success, Jay can’t take all of the credit. “Hugh and Tom’s agent Christian Hodell needs to be applauded for his instinct here, and his dogged determination that they should appear together on screen,” she says. “Hugh felt like he was born to inhabit this role, and with Susanne [Bier] part of the equation, this felt like something potentially magical.”
When it came to casting the show’s leading ladies—among them, Elizabeth Debicki, in the role of Roper’s partner, Jed Marshall—prior relationships in casting proved beneficial. Jay recalls her initial encounter with Debicki, during the post-production phase of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby. “I liked her focus and energy; plus she has buckets of charm and wit, and beautiful physicality,” she recalls.
No stranger to high profile projects, Debicki nonetheless found in The Night Manager a breakthrough role. “One of her readings was substantial and unnerving,” the casting director adds. “She did an amazing reading which nailed the heart and essence of Jed, and Susanne was smitten.”