The Night Agent by Matthew Quirk was published in 2021. It has been made into a Netflix TV series, http://www.netflix.com/thenightagent, and was released on March 23rd.
The plot has FBI Agent Peter Sutherland tapped to work in the White House Situation Room. When Peter was a boy, his father was suspected of being a traitor, a breach that cost him his career, his reputation, and eventually his life. Now Peter’s job is monitoring an emergency telephone line from US diplomats or assets in trouble. The phone never rings until one night a terrified young woman named Rose tells Peter that her aunt and uncle are being threatened and the perpetrator is after her. Peter believes her and decides to help, thrusting him and Rose into danger as they try to find out if there is a traitor in the White House.
People can watch the Netflix episodes first and then read the book or vice versa. In both cases there is a riveting story that has some different aspects between the book and the series. Below is an interview with the stars of the show, Gabriel Basso (Peter Sutherland), Luciane Buchanan (Rose Larkin), the creator/showrunner/executive producer, Shawn Ryan, and the author, Matthew Quirk.
Elise Cooper: After watching the Netflix episodes people could still go back and read the book because of the differences. Do you agree?
Matthew Quirk: People are not watching a rendition of the book. The show and the book are on their own terms. It is wild to see a scene I have written on screen, but there were also things that happened I did not write. I really loved the series. My wife and I were able to watch all ten episodes. I forgot it was my book. We were completely hooked. I am grateful to everyone involved in the production. The fun of it was seeing some of my scenes filmed and bringing in new stuff to give it a second life. It was fascinating to see how they did it and bring all the pieces together. Yet, both the book and the series have a man/woman on the run. They have the same spirit.
Shawn Ryan: I encourage people to read the book and watch the series. Matthew was great telling me to change what I wanted to change. For instance, the Metro bombing in the book is almost like a memory, whereas in the show I elevated it to a crucial event. There is a lot in the spine of the book that provides the spine of the show, a lot we filled in, and some things we felt we changed for the better. The book and the show are very much related, but they are also different artistic endeavors. I think you can enjoy both independently.
EC: What was your idea for the story?
Matthew: The world of the Night Agent does come from real life although I did take some liberties. It is something that is put on diplomatic cables to indicate the importance. Someone like Peter must wake-up an important official including the President. A relatively junior person on the Situation Room desk, if it happens in the middle of the night, that person could be briefing the President, the first point of contact of a global disaster.
Shawn: The story of a young man who wishes he knew more about his deceased father. I had an experience where my father died suddenly. As I cleaned up his house, I found some stuff that had me wanting to ask him questions about his past, but I knew I would not have that chance. I think I worked out my personal stuff through this story.
Matthew: I also wanted to have the accusations against Peter’s father as a cloud over him. His loyalty is being questioned for the sins of his father. I had friends whose stories are not dissimilar. The evil states try to entrap Americans and their tactics are very brutal. I tried to show how the Cold War was played out between the generations of Peter and his father.
EC: How did you come by the story?
Shawn: I read thrillers and have a couple of friends who are authors, Gregg Hurwitz, and Robert Crais. In this case I had a meeting with Jamie Vanderbilt, the writer and producer whose company optioned the book. He asked if I would be interested. After reading this book I fell in love with the characters and saw an opportunity for the Secret Service arc I had been working on. I did not feel there was enough in the book for ten episodes.
Matthew: I had a friend who worked for the FBI in DC and would disappear every night around ten pm. People would whisper what was his job. This idea stuck with me even though I did not know what his actual job was. After speaking with my agent and friends, we all thought this is a good premise for a book. I came up with the story including the phone that never rings. The whole story is based on my imagination of what my friend did. I wanted to write something like classic 70s thrillers, written by Robert Ludlum.
EC: What about the Secret Service arc that was not in the book?
Shawn: I had been working on a Secret Service story independently but did not have enough for one show. I did not want to do a Secret Service story about protecting the President considering we see that a lot. I thought what jobs would not be prestigious in the protection part of that organization. I always have been fascinated in children of Presidents going off to college. How would that work? I did speak to someone on Chelsea Clinton’s detail. I essentially said this is how I imagine it and he thought I was close to reality.
Matthew: This made it fun because now I am watching as a viewer, with all the surprises. Shawn and I did talk a little bit on where the story was going. But overall, my attitude was ‘go for it’ since ‘I love your stuff and trust you.’ I also was invited to the set to watch some of the filming. I did chat with the actors and actresses briefly on the set.
EC: What about this quote in the show, “The Secret Service’s job is to protect the institution.”
Shawn: Those in the Secret Service must be different political types. Someone is willing to give up their life for Barack Obama, then Donald Trump, and then Joe Biden. I have always been interested in the mentality of this. They believe they are standing up for the institution of the Presidency and Democracy. The above quote by the Secret Service character Eric Monks is what he believes, standing up for a set of values.
EC: What were your favorite scenes in the series versus the book?
Matthew: The Secret Service arcs. The actors, D. B. Woodside who played Erik Monks, and Fola Evans-Akingbola, who played Chelsea Arrington, absolutely did a great job with their portrayals. This was all Shawn Ryan’s part of the story.
EC: Is it a David versus Goliath story?
Matthew: I think the espionage stuff mingled with the mundane. They are spies where on the weekends they would go to their children’s soccer games. They have suburban lives. The international intrigue intruded on the normal, boring, suburban life. It was a David versus Goliath story with a lowly analyst up against many powerful state actors.
Shawn: Ultimately what I really liked that emulates from Matthew’s book is that it is an underdog story. Peter is the least important person in a very important place, until that phone rings. This is like an Alfred Hitchcock movie where a very ordinary person is put in a very extraordinary circumstance. He is not a Jason Bourne or John Wick who would take on ten people in a room and come out victorious. I liked that Peter gets bruised and battered and yet keeps going. This could be a lesson for us: we might be overwhelmed at times with circumstances bigger than we can imagine yet we plow forward to do the right thing.
Gabriel who plays Peter: A better analogy is Hercules versus the Hydra. One head is cut off and more heads grow. It never feels like it’s a singular enemy and you do not know who it is, always being betrayed. This is what I likened it too.
EC: How would you describe Peter?
Shawn: This is a case where the collaboration between Matthew and me is very important. There is something noble about Peter, not wanting a lot of attention. He must be super careful because of the backstory involving his father. I absolutely think he is a bit naïve, which he must overcome throughout these ten episodes. I took pieces from my own marriage without realizing it. I tend to be like Peter in my life, immediately trust people until proven otherwise. Where my wife tends to be like Rose, justifiably skeptical.
Matthew: A rule follower, calm, bright, ambitious, curious, meticulous, confident, and honest to a fault. What I wanted to do with Peter, is force him to face the most difficult challenges. He was on the Metro train that was bombed, which lit a fire under him. He felt there was a conspiracy that drew him into the high stakes plot. Readers will question if he changed in the book, or did he have things bottled up most of his life?
Gabriel: Relentless, not caring about his own personal risk. He goes for it. He has become a rule follower because it was told to him by his dad that it matters. When you uphold the system, you uphold the principles behind the system. It does not make sense to him how those who took an oath are lying and manipulative. He feels betrayed by the whole process.
EC: How would you describe Rose?
Matthew: A survivor, sharp, tough, fearless, determined, and adaptable. She is a foil to Peter, because she is resourceful and does what it takes to get things done.
Shawn: I was having trouble with her characterization. I contacted Matthew and asked him what he was thinking with Rose. He told me something that really unlocked her for me, ‘I always thought of Peter as a rule follower and Rose is a rule breaker. The two of them must become a little more like each other to survive together.’ She had to live by her wits from a young age with no father and an absentee mother.
Luciane who played Rose: Very driven and ambitious. She is at a very, very low point in her life. I think she is like Peter; both are loners.
EC: Why did you choose the role?
Gabriel: I talked to Shawn, and he told me Peter will be real, grounded, and his hits will be grimy, with Peter out of his depth. Peter will not have to be Superman. I liked that a lot. I think it is more layered and nuanced than ‘I am the protagonist, get out of my way.’ It is more fun and serious. I was able to invest in the story. I think what helped is that I have been hit in real life, so I know what it is like. The tattoos are real; the scars are real. I am real. I did all the fighting and most of the other stuff. Except where insurance thought it too risky so the stunt coordinator would do it.
EC: Will there be a season two with the same actors?
Shawn: We would love to make a season two. I hope there are enough people to watch season one and like it. It is important to me that each season tells its own story with a new location. Peter will probably be one of those characters.
Luciane: We do not make the decisions, but Gabriel and I hope there will be a season two.
Matthew: Right now, I have no plans to write a sequel to The Night Agent.