Will Poulter and Lucy Boynton, in wardrobe for Evans, on location with Hugh Laurie
Will Poulter and Lucy Boynton
Hugh Laurie is explaining how he came to adapt and direct Agatha Christie's Why Didn't They Ask Evans? when the call abruptly ends. By the time he comes back, he's changed course.
As I was telling you how it came about, it struck me how incredibly tedious it was." In short, the Christie estate asked him to do it and he said yes. "So I've invented another story, with guns and helicopters and wild dogs chasing me down an alleyway."
Laurie loves improvisation, jazz, jokes, thrillers and detective novels. Put those together and you end up with Why Didn't They Ask Evans?
Based on Christie's 1934 novel of the same name, the BritBox three-parter opens with a classic conundrum. Bobby Jones (played by Will Poulter) finds a man dying at the foot of a cliff, apparently the victim of an accidental fall. With his final breath, the man utters the question of the title, then dies.
Jones and his childhood friend, Lady Frances "Frankie" Derwent (Lucy Boynton), resolve to honor the dead man by deciphering his final question. In so doing, they stumble upon a dark conspiracy of deceit, betrayal and murder. Laurie — who earned six Emmy nominations as lead actor on Fox's House, among ten total noms — plays a doctor who runs a sanitarium.
"It's just a beautiful blend of an exquisitely worked-out mystery," he says, "in the form of the cryptic question of the title, the way that unfolds and the way it's eventually revealed."
The story reminds him of The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett, which was published a year earlier than Evans. "I've got no evidence for it, but I like to think that [Christie] read The Thin Man and thought to herself, 'I'd like to try something that has that kind of comic spirit to it.' So it's part adventure and it's part screwball. It has a slightly American rhythm to it, a sort of jazz feel. As opposed to the string-quartet feel of the Hercule Poirot stuff," he adds, referring to Christie's starchy Belgian detective.
As you'd expect from Laurie, Evans is one of the funniest Christies you will ever see. It bucks the drift toward ever-darker crime stories.
"I didn't have any desire to follow the general trend of the macabre," he says. "You know, just endless scenes of genital torture and all the rest of it that people seem to love so much in entertainment these days."
That's because Laurie believes people are essentially like him: "I think people are funny. If I see a story in which there is no joke — well, I don't believe that. I don't believe people are like that."
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine issue #7, 2022, under the title, "Asking for It."