When we last saw David Hare’s idealistic spy character, Johnny Worricker, he was left looking at an airport departures board as he fled his paymasters at the end of the BBC2 drama Page Eight. But Worricker – played by a wonderfully careworn Bill Nighy – wasn’t the only one left in suspense.
Buoyed by the success of the award-winning playwright’s 2011 drama, the BBC asked Hare for more. Six whole hours more, to be precise – an impossible task for a man who produces his work slowly despite working a rigid 9am to 6pm regime in the study of his home in Hampstead, north London.
“They [the BBC] know how to handle six because they’re a bit bewildered by one [hour],” Hare chuckles. “And I said no because it would take me six years, because it takes me a year to write an hour and a half.”
The BBC did, though, manage to persuade Hare to write more. They commissioned this week’s sequel, Turks & Caicos, which finds Nighy’s character washed up in a Caribbean paradise before he is lured back to the espionage game. And a third film, Salting the Battlefield, follows next week.
“The only reason Johnny Worricker came back was because we all had a blast on the first film,” says Hare. “And I, who had never much cared for being a film director, really enjoyed directing Page Eight. I had a really good time. I also feel IgotmuchbetteratitthanIusedtobe20 years ago.”
So why did it take him so long to write? He says TV involves heavy plotting and it took a year to get the “complicated machinery” of Turks & Caicos right. After that the words flowed. “But writing lines of dialogue... I’ve done it for 40 years, so I don’t find that difficult.”
Hare, 66, who is married to the fashion designer Nicole Farhi, has directed a number of his plays for TV. But he remains best known for his stage work – plays like Plenty, Pravda, Skylight (which also starred Nighy) and more political works including Stuff Happens and Gethsemane.
His attitude to television remains cautious. Hare says that the working conditions were “very tough”: he had just 18 days to film the bulk of Page Eight, he says, meaning an exhausting schedule. But in many ways the writer, whose screenplay of the 2002 film The Hours won an Oscar for Nicole Kidman and who has been courted by Hollywood for many years, feels more at home with a tightly budgeted BBC drama.
“I have to say, having worked the other way, with $25 million, $30 million films, there are all sorts of advantages, among them that everyone is with you for the right reason. Chris Walken is not in Turks & Caicos for the money, nor is Winona Ryder.
“Actors always have three reasons to act. One is to make money for their family, the second is to do good work, the third is to blaze their name. Neither Chris nor Winona need to blaze their name. And I think their families are eating, too. What’s wonderful in the third film is getting back a whole lot of people: Ralph Fiennes would not be doing this had he not enjoyed it the first time around.”
Television is, he says, a writer’s form in a way films are generally not, and attracts the best writing. He watches TV avidly, loving Mad Men, The Bridge (although he thinks the body count is too high) and Breaking Bad – all of which he believes bear the stamp of a single voice despite their large creative teams.
Next up for Hare is a play at the National Theatre called Behind the Beautiful Forevers, based on Katherine Boo’s book about a slum in Mumbai. It will be the first all-Indian company at the theatre ever, he says.
And, he admits with a wry laugh, he is also – finally – writing his memoirs. He was inspired by his 2011 play South Downs, showing life at a school very like the one he attended in the 1960s, Lancing College. Talking to children about the period made him realise how little people know about it and he wanted “to get it down before it’s too late”.
Hare plans to end the book in 1978 when he was 31 and achieved success with one of his earliest plays, Plenty, a meditation on post- Second World War disillusionment in Britain.
“Life gets a lot less interesting after that,” he chuckles. “The interesting bit is when you’re struggling. I didn’t know I was going to be a writer, so I became a writer in the 1970s without intending to be. So it’s quite an interesting story, and it’s a story that I think young writers will find interesting.”
See Turks & Caicos tonight 9pm, BBC2