Acclaimed playwright and screenwriter David Hare recalls working with Hugh Laurie once before, on the 1989 romantic drama Strapless, where he told the Blackadder star: “You know, really should take this acting business seriously”.
More than three decades later, the pair are reunited on BBC One’s political thriller Roadkill, in which Laurie plays a rising Conservative MP Peter Laurence. Rising to begin with, but he would do well to keep himself grounded.
The four-part drama opens with Laurence winning a court action against a newspaper that had accused him of inappropriate conduct after its investigative reporter Charmian Pepper (Sarah Greene) withdraws her story. More skeletons soon emerge from his closet, however, when the married father of two is contacted by a female prisoner who informs him of the existence of a third daughter from a dalliance many years before.
Radio Times magazine reports that House and The Night Manager star Laurie is so convincing in the role it’s as if it was it was his dream part, which prompted Sir David’s recollection about Strapless.
Laurie was primarily known for sketch comedy in the 1980s, but Sir David said: “At the end of the scene, I took him aside and said, ‘Hugh, you know you really should take this acting business seriously.’ Well, he certainly doesn’t need to prove himself as an actor now.”
Hare gave up directing some years ago, but he still listens to what the actors have to say, believing that they are often the best judges of weaknesses and strengths in a script.
He doesn’t appreciate ad libbing, however: “Actors mostly say the script and don’t improvise ever because they know that it drives me absolutely nuts! But Hugh’s improvisations in this were so good, and so totally in my voice, that I was constantly saying in the editing room, ‘Oh for goodness sake, keep that in.’”
The mystery that makes Roadkill so compelling lies in Laurence’s affable character – there are several hints that behind the mildness lies a chilling operator. The privatisation of the NHS is a key theme in the series and and the big question-mark (or one of them) is whether it can be proven that Laurence was in Washington meeting a dodgy British-American think tank to make a secret deal.
This duality, along with Laurie’s extreme watchability, makes Roadkill an intriguing and engrossing thriller.
Roadkill premieres on BBC One on Sunday 18th October.