A first love can have a powerful grip on someone – even on a well-bred British lad.
So Hugh Laurie says he’ll always remember “my first-ever crush.” Frankie Derwent was “quick and bold and ready to take a chance.”
And fictional. She’s a character in a novel – “Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?” (shown here) – that he’s adapted and directed; it reaches the Britbox streaming service on Tuesday (April 12).
Frankie Isn’t the product of some overwrought romance novelist. She was created by Agatha Christie, whose characters (Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, Parker Pyne, Thomas Beresford) rarely inspire romantic fervor.
But Christie wrote “Evans” in 1934, shortly after Dashiell Hammett’s “The Thin Man” … which Laurie feels must have been an influence. Her tale has “a sort of American bounce to it and a comic spirit,’” he said in a Television Critics Association virtual press conference.
It starts with Bobby Jones, a caddy, hearing a murder victim’s final words: “Why didn’t they ask Evans?” Soon, Bobby links with Frankie, a brash heiress, to chase the mystery.
Frankie stayed somewhere in Laurie’s mind for decades, he said, until he met with the people handling Christie’s work. They asked him to do a different film, which he rejected, but he happened to quote from the “Evans” novel. “They said, ‘Oh, we were hoping to make that some day.’”
That became his project. Laurie – who hadn’t had a directing credit in 10 years or a writing one in 20 – adapted the novel into a clever, three-part film, then directed it. “It’s really hard when under Covid,” said producer Claire Jones.
Well, difficulty is subjective, Laurie said. “I’d imagine brain surgery is pretty easy, if you don’t mind the patient dying. But if you care a lot about something, things could be almost infinitely difficult.”
In particular, he cared about casting Frankie. He chose Lucy Boynton (shown here, next to Laurie), who has co-starred in Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express” (as Countess Elena) and in “Bohemian Rhapsody,” with upcoming roles as Marie Antoinette, Marianne Faithfull and in the “Ipcress File” series.
“Lucy is playing the character I had a crush on,” Laurie said, “so she’d better be sublime. And she is so, so quick-witted, so bright. She just sort of glitters with this intelligence and this sort of pluck.”
She and Will Poulter (as Bobby) meet intriguing characters, including (briefly) one played by Laurie.
This is a period piece, done with visual flair. “I imagined Frankie just sort of reinventing herself for almost ever scene – as if she had this fast, dressing-up box of costumes.,” Laurie said.
For that, he needed lots of help from the costume department. “My vocabular of, let’s say, women’s hats from the 1930s, is pretty narrow.”
His own expertise involves inserting droll bits of humor into unexpected places – including an Agatha Christie murder mystery.