Hugh Laurie said he drew inspiration from “The Thin Man” movies for his three-part adaptation of Agatha Christie’s murder mystery “Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?”
“I’ve always loved the relationship between the two central characters [in ‘Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?’] — their sense of adventure, the pleasure they take in each other’s company. The companionship of it is so beautiful,” Laurie, 62, told The Post
“It reminded me of ‘The Thin Man,’ another couple I just adore spending time with,” he said, alluding to Nick and Nora Charles (William Powell and Myrna Loy in the six-movie franchise spanning the ’30s and ’40s). “They’re just so sublime, and I bet Agatha Christie read ‘The Thin Man,’ which was published the year before she wrote [‘Why Didn’t They Ask Evans’], and thought, ‘I wouldn’t mind trying something that’s got a bit of that spirit to it.’ “
The 10-time Emmy nominee (“House,” “The Night Manager,” “Veep”) wrote, directed and co-stars in “Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?,” now streaming on BritBox. It’s set in 1936 in a small town on the Welsh coastline where Bobby Jones (Will Poulter), the son of the local vicar, hears a scream while caddying — and, on the rocks below, discovers the broken body of a well-dressed man. His final words, “Why didn’t they ask Evans?,” sets the tone for the oft-whimsical series as Bobby and his childhood friend (and secret crush), Lady Francis “Frankie” Derwent (Lucy Boynton) endeavor to solve the labyrinthian mystery involving fake identities, multiple murders, drug addiction and more.
They’re aided by Bobby’s navy buddy, Knocker Beadon (Jonathan Jules); Laurie, in a small role, plays Dr. Nicholson, who runs a sanitarium for the mentally disturbed … and might have sinister intentions.
Hugh Laurie as Dr. Nicholson in “Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?”(BBC)“The central mystery is so beautifully revealed in the novel and I hope we’ve done it justice,” Laurie said. “I wanted to stay out of [acting in the series] — I just wanted to concentrate on the bit I’d given the last year-and-a-half to — but then it was pointed out to me, I don’t know if someone was blowing smoke or not, that it might look as if I want not committed to the whole project if I didn’t ‘show up.’ So at some point I had to put on a hat and get in front of the camera and be a part of it.
“What’s much more likely is that the producers just thought they could save themselves a few quid,” he said. “I’d be cheap and available.”
Laurie said he didn’t have Boynton (“Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Modern Love,” “The Ipcress File”) in mind for the role of Frankie, at least not initially. “I knew she had to be fairly nimble to be able to operate at a fairly high rate of knots … and Lucy came into my mind during the writing … and when I finally met her, on Zoom, she was wonderful. The more stuff of hers that I watched I was more convinced that she was Frankie. She has an intelligence and sense of of adventure.
“I reminded her that we had met before … and she had no memory of meeting me,” he said, tongue planted firmly in cheek. “So I was kind of crushed. You like to think you’ve left an impression.”
Laurie had not met Poulter (“Dopesick”) before the project, but certainly knew about him and his work. “It sounds a bit weird and incestuous but we have the same agent, and he was banging on to me about Will Poulter for years before this,” he said. “He was always a figure in my mind and I kept a lookout for him. He’s got that wonderful, sort of old decency that I used to think was represented by James Stewart and William Powell and so many actors of that period — stand-up guys you were able to count on in a tight spot.
Hugh Laurie directs Will Poulter and Lucy Boynton during the filming of “Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?”(BBC)“Once I got to know Will, I knew he was exactly that — very decent and funny and quick-witted and up for the adventure. I could absolutely believe that [Bobby], like me, would become absolutely besotted with Frankie. I mean, who wouldn’t?”
There have been several other TV adaptations of “Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?” but Laurie said he did not watch them before embarking on his own version.
“I thought it was better,” he said. “Theoretically you ought to be able to look at other people’s work and say, ‘Well, I can maybe avoid that mistake’ or ‘That was a good way of doing it’ and you can ‘borrow,’” he said. “But I think that’s risky. It has to take on its own life and momentum and can’t be dictated by other people’s versions of something. It sort of hobbles it, in a way.
“You don’t want there to be patches of territory you can’t visit or feel desperate you should visit. You want it to have its own life in your head.”