Learning to play the spy game.
GARY Oldman is an actor’s actor, with megastars such as Brad Pitt, Daniel Radcliffe and Ryan Gosling naming him as a formative influence.
Oscar- winner Colin Firth describes him as ‘‘ a candidate for the title of greatest living actor’’.
After learning his theatre craft in his native Britain, Oldman burst on to the international movie scene playing tragic Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious in the 1986 bio- pic Sid and Nancy.
During the ’ 90s, as he battled alcohol addiction, he built a reputation as Hollywood’s go- to villain, with over- the- top performances in Air Force One, True
Romance, Leon, and Lost in Space. The three- times married Oldman beat the bottle a decade ago and went on to play crucial parts in two of the biggest movie franchises ever, as Sirius Black in the Harry
Potter series and honest cop James Gordon in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy.
For his latest film, he steps into the shoes of one of his acting heroes, Sir Alec Guinness, to play the lead role of George Smiley in the new version of John Le Carre’s masterpiece Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Q: What a pleasure it is to watch a movie that doesn’t feel the need to spell everything out for the audience. Was it as
much of a joy to make Tinker Tailor
Soldier Spy as it was to watch?
A: Oh yes, we felt we had something special going in but it’s nice to have that confirmed. The response in the UK was amazing and it was the No. 1 film four weeks in a row. There is this unchallenged industry wisdom that adult drama is the third rail and you can’t touch it. I am happy to say that it’s alive and well and people want to see a movie that . . . isn’t dumbed down. Q: There is a lot of affection for Le Carre’s book and the Alec Guinness mini- series.
How did you feel when you were approached to play George Smiley?
A: I had a bit of trepidation because the ghost of Guinness looms so large. It was sort of a dragon I had to slay in my head. You find yourself projecting a bit and writing the reviews in your head saying: ‘‘ Who the f--- does he think he is?’’ I approached it like any actor playing a classic role – if you are going to play Hamlet, you are going to be measured against all the wonderful
Hamlets who have come before. It’s an occupational hazard. Q: The book’s author, John Le Carre, made himself available to the cast. What did you get from him and how much of him is in George Smiley?
A: There is a little bit of Le Carre in Smiley, or I should say there is since I met him. I stole a few little characteristics and the cadence of his voice and some of his mannerisms. In a way he is the DNA, the creator, so you can hear the writing in his character and his speech delivery. Everything you need to know about Smiley is in the book but he gave his blessing to this project. With the author still living, you just want to know the boss is happy. And he was, so that made me feel better.
Q: Did you see anything of yourself in Smiley?
A: You bring all sorts of things but, primarily, you use your imagination and you bring your intuition and your talent to it. You look for similarities as well in a character – that melancholy that he carries around with him and the themes of the movie about friendship and loss of friendship and betrayal and loyalty, those are things you can connect with emotionally. I have been in love and out of love and you bring your life thus far to it as well as 30 years as an actor. Then it becomes flesh and blood rather than just reciting lines.
Q: The benchmarks for spy movies these days are the Bond and the Bourne films. Were they taken into account when making this version of the book?
A: I think what makes the film so refreshing is the fact there was no temptation to pander to gadgets and gizmos. There was no feeling that we needed to update it or compete with those other movies. It’s probably the closest version of Spies. Le Carre really redefined the spy thriller and grounded it in reality rather than it being the male fantasy thing that Bond is. I have read a few of the Ian Fleming books and I would say that Daniel Craig is probably the closest to what Fleming saw. He is a rather dark bastard who would just kill you as easily as blink and is a very dark, complex character. I think Bond [ films] moved further and further away from what Fleming originally intended. Q: There are plenty of over- the- top villainous roles in your past that would seem to make you a natural as a Bond baddie. Have you ever been approached? A: I was approached about 10 years ago [ to be] a Bond villain. I can’t remember the circumstances of why I didn’t do it – it may have been on the tail of something I had just played and I didn’t want to do it again, or it was life circumstances, in that my kids were young and I didn’t want to travel. Things come in sometimes and there are very good reasons why you don’t do them. But they haven’t finished yet and I’d still be up for it.
Q: Some of those bad guys you have played are so manic and Smiley is so still and controlled. Was that a challenge to play?
A: It was a release, really. You are kind of at the mercy of the industry and the imagination of the people who are casting you. I have always had a Smiley in me in that respect. It’s just what you are asked to do. It was refreshing to be asked to play another chord. Q: I’m sure you are under pain of death not to reveal too much, but how is the
Dark Knight Rises coming together?
A: We finished it about a month ago and it feels like the final chapter in the trilogy. I can’t really say very much about it except to say that the story is really good. I don’t think Chris Nolan would have made a third just for the sake of it. I think this really delivers. It’s quite epic and I don’t think people will be disappointed.
TINKER TAILER SOLDIER SPY
Now showing Village and State cinemas