Writer David Hare says politicians who don’t want to be held accountable for their deeds like to say things like, “It’s time to move on.”
“That’s popular with psychopaths,” he says. “Every now and then, a degree of reflection and self-examination is called for. It’s a dimension of a moral life to look backward.”
To force the issue, Hare wrote “Roadkill,” a four-part “Masterpiece” series about a politician who doesn’t consider the fate of others. He has plenty of baggage and uses it as a way to draw support.
“There used to be something called disgrace,” Hare says during a Zoom conference. “When a politician did something wrong and was called out…something was meant to follow. Now, nothing follows. In the 21st century, doing bad things doesn’t have the effect that it used to have.”
“Roadkill,” he says, details the shift in politics. According to his premise, “you have a fair chance of getting away with them on the likelihood that you resemble the people who vote for you. ‘We all make mistakes’ has become the 21st century way of approach politics.”
To play Hare’s populist candidate, producers looked to “House” star, Hugh Laurie. Familiar with the seedier side of politics (thanks to “Veep”), Laurie saw it as a way to play comedy and drama in one piece.
“If I see a story in which a character appears to have absolutely no semblance of a sense of humor, I am much less inclined to believe that character is real or three-dimensional,” Laurie says.
“Roadkill” gave him an opportunity to look into behavior and why people do the things they do. “I feel some sympathy for American politicians who are sort of going through a television meat grinder on a daily basis and appearing in front of vast rallies where a more operatic style is called for,” he says. “I think the fun for an actor is to allow the audience an opportunity to decipher things rather than simply present it to them in bold captions.”
Hare says Laurie’s character, Peter Laurence, is a self-made man who used to sell furniture. “He’s charismatic. He’s highly intelligent and I took it on the basis of, ‘Hey, what if somebody came along who really was formidable and brilliant and embodied conservatism?’” he says. “It is not based on anyone we know.
“If you really do believe that freedom is the most important thing for human beings, what are the conclusions of that? Where does it lead to in your private life?”
In the series, Laurence wins a victory over a newspaper that accused him of corruption when he was health minister. That propels him to another level of the Conservative party. But just as he is beginning to enjoy his new-found power, rumors begin to surface.
To avoid claims that “Roadkill” is a veiled look at Great Britain – or even the United States – Hare purposely eliminated references to Brexit or COVID-19. “Fiction is being taken to be a kind of code – that it’s really a dramatized documentary – and that’s to its detriment,” Hare says. “I am fighting for the right to write.”
He’s also holding out hope for satire. “Satire is having a very difficult time these days because, clearly, the outrageous populism of the leaders in Brazil or in your country or in my country,” he says. “They are beyond satire. Clearly, anyone who does outrageous things is now welcomed by society and is elevated by a society to the very top of being a convention breaker, an outsider, a revolutionary.
“‘Radical’ is now taken to mean ‘not giving a damn about anyone in society.’ The very word has moved to the other end of the spectrum.”
Laurie says playing that shift is fascinating, particularly since politicians have found it essential to be aware of the theatrical element of politics. “There are certain skills they have to acquire,” he says.
“Roadkill” airs Sundays on PBS.