“There’s a class system in America, but it’s not like England. When I first started visiting Los Angeles, it was wonderful to not have people ask you about your accent or the kind of tie you wore.”
In Swedish director Tomas Alfredson's adaptation of John le Carré's 1974 Cold War espionage thriller Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Gary Oldman plays the iconic spy George Smiley, assigned to uncover the identity of a mole within British intelligence. The material was previously made as a celebrated seven-part 1979 BBC miniseries starring Alec Guinness. During a recent interview, the 53-year-old British-born, Los Angeles-based Oldman talked about the ghost of Guinness, doing period right, and the thrill of villainy.
>> REVIEW: Ticker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by Peter Keough <<
WHAT WERE THE DYNAMICS OF TAKING OWNERSHIP OF A PART THAT IS A "REVERED TEXT"? I had a hesitation. Sir Alec blazed quite a path, and made it an openly beloved part. I sort of approached the part, as though it [Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy] were a classical theater piece, and there's more than one Olivier doing Lear or Hamlet. Sir Alec navigated the path, but we're both using the same source. You make it different because you are different actors.
DID YOU MAKE A POINT OF REVISITING EITHER THE TRILOGY OF SMILEY BOOKS OR A LOOK AT THE MINISERIES? The books were okay, but I didn't revisit the series. Some of the best stuff in the [current] film is not in the novel, like the office party. That came out of an anecdote told to John le Carré [who has a cameo in the scene]. At one of these real office parties, they [the spies] got drunk, and they were throwing bottles out of the window and the police had to come up and calm them down. That's a very peculiar image, of the police having to come up and tell the spies to calm down.
YOUR SMILEY HAS A WISTFUL QUALITY ABOUT HIM, SOMETHING MOURNFUL THAT CONNECTS HIM TO YOUR INTERPRETATION OF JIM GORDON IN THE BATMAN FILMS. Of all the characters in the gallery of characters I play, they are the two characters who are both very contained and self-centered. They express themselves not emotionally though more physically in manner and behavior.
AS AN ENGLISHMAN, WHY DO YOU THINK SPIES LIKE GUY BURGESS AND KIM PHILBY REMAIN SO FIRMLY ENTRENCHED IN THE ENGLISH CONSCIOUSNESS? My guess is that it has something to do with holding onto the Empire, or the establishment. There's a class system in America, but it's not like England. When I first started visiting Los Angeles, it was wonderful to not have people ask you about your accent or the kind of tie you wore. The doorman in this hotel could one day own the building. That doesn't happen in England, or if it did, it would be an anomaly, a one-time fluke.
THIS IS THE 25TH ANNIVERSARY OFSID AND NANCY, THE FILM YOU MADE WITH ALEX COX THAT MADE YOUR REPUTATION. WHAT ARE YOUR MEMORIES OF THAT? It was sort of my breakout movie. I was very fortunate in that right after that film I made Prick Up Your Ears. I acknowledge it as something that was there in the beginning. Once something is done, I don't really go back to it. Today, I don't care about it. I don't revere it.