Preview: AMC’s ‘The Little Drummer Girl’

AMC’s Latest Le Carré Spy Thriller Beats With Pulse-Pounding Twists And Turns

The Little Drummer Girl Jonathan Olley/AMC/Ink Factory
Alexander Skarsgård and Florence Pugh star in AMC's The Little Drummer Girl.

John le Carré’s 1983 spy novel The Little Drummer Girl comes to AMC as a six-part miniseries event certain to satiate the action genre’s hungriest fans. The story unfolds over three consecutive nights and follows Charlie — a young British actress on vacation in Greece (played with mesmerizing perfection by Florence Pugh) — as she meets and is wooed by Becker, a beguiling man who turns out to be a cunning Israeli spy (Alexander Skarsgård). Becker recruits the firebrand to act as bait in an international espionage plot to ensnare a foreign terrorist. The deeper Charlie falls into the charade, the harder it becomes for her to discern reality from fantasy, leaving her to wonder: Is this the role of her life, or a role for her life?

Simon Cornwell, one of le Carré’s sons and a producer of the project, explains that The Little Drummer Girl is far more than a period spy tale. “I think it’s a very powerful book, it’s a very layered piece of storytelling, and I’d like to think it does transcend its genre. It’s also a very contemporary story in lots of ways in terms of the roles, particularly the role of Charlie.”

Pugh was drawn to Charlie because she wanted to offer her take on le Carré’s only female protagonist, and because the role allows her to embody a woman so adept at lying and performing that she’s able to out-spy the spies. “The main thing that attracted me was the fact that she wasn’t of that world,” she says. “You’ve taken this really strong, loud girl out of her comfort zone, and she’s kicking back just as hard as the spies are, and I just loved that. … Every time someone tries to manipulate her, she actually gains more power.”

Skarsgård reveals that his education into the world of le Carré started young. His father Stellan read The Spy Who Came in From the Cold as a teen and has been a lifelong fan of the writer. “Even to this day, when Dad talks about le Carré, his face lights up, and he gets super excited,” the younger Skarsgård shares. He also says that when Stellan starred in the 2016 adaptation of le Carré’s Our Kind of Traitor, he got to meet the legendary author. “It’s very sweet to see Dad talk about that experience. He’s like, ‘It was SO incredible!’”

When Skarsgård read the scripts for The Little Drummer Girl, he found them utterly irresistible. “Suddenly it was 3 in the morning!” he laughs. “So, I was very tired that day, but I just found it was such an incredible script and a very interesting story. I was fascinated by the characters, so I couldn’t put it down.”

Pugh shares that a highlight of the globe-trotting series was a nighttime shoot at the Acropolis. “That was really magical,” she sighs wistfully. “We were the first crew that’s been up there to film. [There were] around about 50 of us, just basically roaming the Acropolis alone at night with all the lights on. And Alex and I got to dance up there. It was totally stunning. That doesn’t happen in this world, in the filming world. Usually, you’re in a studio, and they’ll put it in digitally in post-production and you have to pretend. But I really got to have a camera in my face whilst I saw the Acropolis for the first time.”

Fourteen of le Carré’s novels have been translated onto the big and small screens. AMC’s 2016 adaptation of The Night Manager was wildly popular, critically lauded and highly awarded, so it’s no surprise that the network would want to follow up with another of his novels. The Little Drummer Girl has been adapted before; it was turned into a theatrical film in 1984, starring Diane Keaton and Klaus Kinski. But Cornwell admits, “If truth be told, [we were] rather disappointed with the movie adaptation. And the opportunity to revisit it, explore it again through a contemporary lens and with a quite extraordinary director [South Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook], was something very special indeed.”

Le Carré famously said, “Having your book turned into a movie is like seeing your oxen turned into bouillon cubes,” and Pugh appreciates that expanding The Little Drummer Girl for television allows the cast, the filmmakers and even the audience the luxury to fully explore the story. “Because of the six-parter, we have more time to understand,” the actress says. “I think what our version is being able to do is it gives the audience time to feel, to empathize, to follow the characters, and, because of that, I think you have a bigger and better understanding of maybe why the characters do what they do.”

The Little Drummer Girl > AMC > November 19-21 at 9pm