'The Night Manager' Director Susanne Bier Is Shattering Hollywood's Glass Ceiling One Project At A Time
When it was announced that Susanne Bier was going to be directing the six-part AMC miniseries, The Night Manager, starring Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie, it felt, to me, like a victory for women. Here was a female director getting a chance to take on the kind of story few women get to: a spy thriller, a miniseries, a John le Carré adaptation filled with stunts and explosions. But Bier — who won the Best Foreign Language Oscar in 2011 for her film, A Better World — never thought of it that way because she's never been one to conform to the kinds of films others think women should be making. "You know, it’s funny," Bier tells Bustle. "I didn’t think about it until afterwards.... I’d done traditional men’s stuff. Explosions on this scale, stunts of this scale, I hadn’t really properly done those. But I loved it. I was surprised by how much fun it was."
Fun is a good word to describe Bier's update of le Carré's 1993 novel about an evil arms dealer, which is more psychological thriller than big budget action film. Time has even said Bier's take on the spy novel is actually better than any Bond film. Not that surprising to hear since Bier grew up loving the iconic series and when recently asked said she'd be interested in directing a Bond film, perhaps even with Hiddleston in the starring role.
"I think for any film director who grew up on Bond it would be irresistible," Bier says. "Having said that, I would very much like to do more spy stuff. I very much want to do more stuff which is not necessarily a female sort of label or environment. I mean, I would happily go out and do more explosions."
Over the course of her 25-year career, Bier has been chipping away at the glass ceiling of Hollywood, but wishes Hollywood would just get with the times already. "Look, I think more than half of the world’s population is women and the media needs to represent that," she says. "We need to represent the world as it is and we need to represent the diversity of the world."
It's part of the reason why Bier recently said she'd be interested in working with the women-focused production company, We Do It Together, which looks to empower women by giving their work a home outside the male-driven studio system. Though, Bier does tell Bustle, "In a way I’m less concerned about whether it’s being done one way or the other and that it’s being done. You know, there’s something oddly out of tune with the world of movies representing a point of view on women that is probably more in tune with how the world viewed women 30 years ago."
In a column Bier wrote for The Guardian last month, she floated an idea about the Oscars having a female directing category, noting that the Academy already separates its acting categories by gender, so why not its directing category too? Bier would later say she was kidding, and tells Bustle she was surprised by how many people took her suggestion seriously. "It was said with quite a glint in the eye," Bier says. "I was a bit surprised by how many people took it serious because it’s the bad version of the same idea that in a kind of weird way would marginalize women even more so."
Being a female director definitely isn't easy, even when you have an Oscar under your belt. Bier says that her little gold man, which sits on her desk, has no doubt changed things for her, but "it doesn’t change how diligent and how dedicated you have to be with every single thing you do." It also doesn't make failure any easier. Her 2014 film, Serena starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, took years to get made and then released, and, when it finally was, it was deemed a critical and box office flop. Bier says now that the film suffered from "serendipity," and that, in the process of making the film, momentum was lost and never regained. But she also says the experience taught her why you can't get lost in the positives or drown in the negatives, you just have to go forward.
"Look, I like making movies, I like making TV, I like being a creative person and I have to move on," she says. "I have to keep being creative and not be sort of obsessing about what went right and what went wrong. That’s why it’s not always healthy looking back. If you look back for your future with success then you want to repeat yourself and you end up doing the same thing. And with failure, you don’t want to repeat yourself and that’s equally as destructive because then you don’t choose the right projects. You don’t choose the right creative solutions by looking back."
By looking forward, Bier says she chose The Night Manager, her first television series that had her consulting with stunt coordinators and took her to Egypt, Majorca, Switzerland and Italy over the course of just a couple of months. Bier also did it on her own terms, which is why she advises any young woman who wants to be a director to listen to herself and not someone else.
"I used to think when I was doing these panels with these extremely self-assured guys, you know, they’d be so assured and confident and I used to think, 'Oh, I need to be different than the way I am. I need to pretend to be someone else, to fall into a social pattern which is way more male than who I really am.' And I couldn’t figure out how to do that," Bier says. "So my advice is to trust yourself and go with that. Don’t feel you have to conform to anything else."
Considering not-conforming has produced such amazing work as The Night Manager, Brothers and In A Better World, I would say that Bier is absolutely right.
Image: Des Willie/The Ink Factory/AMC (2); Mitch Jenkins/The Ink Factory/AMC