Variety speaks to former Kudos founder Stephen Garrett, whose credits include “Spooks” (known as “MI-5” in the U.S.), “Hustle” and “Life on Mars,” about his partnerships involving novelist John le Carré and “Twilight” author Stephenie Meyer.
On Sunday, Le Carré adaptation “The Night Manager,” which stars “Thor” thesp Tom Hiddleston and “House’s” Hugh Laurie, starts its run on the BBC, following a screening of its first episode on Thursday at the Berlin Film Festival. The six-part miniseries, which airs on AMC in the U.S. from April 19, is the product of a creative collaboration between Garrett and Le Carré’s sons, Simon and Stephen Cornwell.
Garrett explains that when his departure from Kudos was announced in 2014, the Cornwells got in touch right away to ask him to assist with “The Night Manager,” which is produced by their company The Ink Factory. Hiddleston and Laurie were already on board, as were the BBC and AMC. David Farr adapted the novel and Garrett brought in Danish Oscar-winning director Susanne Bier to complete the team.
Le Carré novels have been perennial favorites for movie and TV adaptation, and “The Night Manager” was permanently under option by Hollywood — Paramount had it first, then Sydney Pollack nabbed it, and Brad Pitt wanted the role that Hiddleston is now playing — but they were always looking at it as a film, and most Le Carré stories don’t fit into a two-hour format, Garrett says.
“Great novels often need a bit of space, and television allows you to tell a story that has psychological and emotional depth, and allows it to breathe,” he says.
“You could have done a two-hour version of (the novel), but you would have stripped away everything that is interesting, and it’s not really about the story. It is compelling not because you are ticking off beats in the narrative; it’s because of what is going on in people’s heads.”
He adds: “One of the reasons why spy novels are so exciting to read is that their protagonists are complex, f-cked up loners who don’t talk to anybody, so you have got all this stuff going on inside their heads.”
This is one reason why Bier, whose movie “In a Better World” took the foreign-language film Oscar in 2011, was brought in to helm it.
“She is the most extraordinary director, and particularly a director of actors and massager of emotional and psychological complexity, and the combination of a Danish Oscar-winning director coming into a very British male Le Carré-esque world became this heady mix that worked really well,” Garrett says.
Garrett has great respect for novelists and writers, in general — “I think we producers are nothing without writers – so everything starts with great writing,” he says – and the name of his production company, Character Seven, is in part a kind of homage to writers. It is inspired by Luigi Pirandello’s play “Six Characters in Search of an Author,” the author — or writer– being the seventh character.
But while he is respectful of novelists, when it comes to handling literary adaptations, Garrett’s primary responsibility is to the TV drama or movie.
“It’s a bit like the gag in (comedy sketch show) ‘Not the Nine O’Clock News’ about Italian traffic lights – they (the novels) are advisory only. You can’t be a slave to a book. It is a jumping off point,” he says. “You have to take liberties.”
To illustrate the point, Garrett refers to the decision to change the sex of the intelligence operative who recruits Hiddleston’s character, Jonathan Pine. In the novel, Burr is a guy, in the series Burr is a woman, played by “Broadchurch’s” Olivia Colman, and a pregnant woman at that.
“In the early stages of the development process, we felt that in a 21st century story its maleness was out of step with the world, so we wanted to have more of a female presence at the heart of the story,” Garrett says. Le Carré has said that he approves of the change.
Among several other significant alterations, the location has shifted from Central America to the Middle East during the Arab Spring, and the ending is completely different too.
Having reached a satisfactory conclusion with “The Night Manager,” Garrett is now looking to continue his working relationship with the Cornwells. As with other partners, he takes these relationships one step at a time.
“I think with all these relationships it’s a bit like trialing marriage – if you love each other at the end, then why wouldn’t you work together again? And if you don’t, then thank you, and good night,” he says.
“We are talking of doing at least another two Le Carré pieces together and we’ll see how it goes, but we got on very well,” he says.
Having worked with one literary icon, Garrett is now engaged on a collaboration with another, “Twilight” author Stephenie Meyer. Garrett’s company Character Seven is developing London-set supernatural series “The Rook” with Meyer’s production company Fickle Fish and Lionsgate for Hulu.
Garrett was asked to find a writer for the project and that led him to playwright Samantha Holcroft and her partner Ali Muriel, neither of whom have any screenwriting experience.
“I’ve always loved nurturing new talent – there’s nothing more exciting than finding a new raw star and watching them grow and thrive and be brilliant,” Garrett says.
“I felt passionately that these were the people we wanted and to their great credit and my delight they (Fickle Fish and Lionsgate) were as excited as I was by these young new writers.”
Garrett – whose film credits include “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” and David Cronenberg’s “Eastern Promises” — has a couple of movie ideas on his slate, but feature films are not a priority. “They fall into the category of I wouldn’t rule them out,” he says. “I find high-end TV drama so much more satisfying.”
The reason for this is “partly because there is a kind of madness about the economics of film production and just the huge difficulty of getting certain kinds of stories made, and partly because we have seen such a resurgence of high-quality drama, and the sorts of stories that used to be the preserve of commercial arthouse are now the preserve of the HBOs, the Amazons, the Hulus and the Netflixes.”
“You now see a world with a Marvel-ization of storytelling on the big screen, where it is going to be harder and harder to tell the smaller, more interesting stories (in feature films),” he says. “I’m glad I’m in a world where ‘Carol’ gets made as a movie but I think it’s an endangered species.”
He subscribes to the view that this is a golden age of television drama. “You have got movie talent fighting to get into TV when four or five years ago their agents would have looked at you with contempt if you approached film directors, actors or writers, but now they are queuing up to play in this space,” he says.
This desire by the talent to make high-end TV drama is matched by the audiences desire to watch it, and the TV and streaming companies’ willingness to finance it. “There is a huge global appetite for complex, rich, ambitious stories,” Garrett says.
After founding Kudos in 1992, Garrett sold the company in 2006 to Elisabeth Murdoch’s Shine Group, but continued to run it alongside Jane Featherstone until his departure in 2014. Now, he is enjoying being an independent producer once again. “Going back to the time when I was starting Kudos many years ago, I discovered accidentally that I liked being entrepreneurial, and I liked not being owned by anybody or answerable to anybody,” he says. “That feeling of being nimble and being answerable to no one is something I value enormously.”