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Gary Oldman is an actor known for disappearing into his roles, and playing George Smiley, a spymaster known for being able to disappear into the background is a tour de force for him. When I spoke to him on November 16, 2011, I was most interested in asking him about a small but telling moment in his performance, when Smiley uncharacteristically lets his guard down, if only for a split-second. Oldman, a soft-spoken man with elegant manners, demonstrated with his answer to that, and to other questions, why his performances are such carefully constructed and deeply considered works of both imagination and emotion.
Based on the novel by John LeCarre, TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY is a cold-war tale of high-stakes espionage set in 1973-74 that explores trust, loyalty, and motivations, both overt and covert, personal and professional among the highest echelons of Britain‘s spy bureaucracy. Oldman plays George Smiley, the brilliant spy and cuckolded husband who finds himself unofficially solving the mystery of which of his former colleagues is, in fact, a double agent. Oldman’s previous work includes writing and directing the award-winning NIL BY MOUTH (1997), tearing up the screen as Sid Vicious in SID AND NANCY, crossing oceans of time in Francis Ford Coppola’s DRACULA, keeping a lid on crime as Commissioner Gordon in the Christopher Nolan Batman series, offering hope and heartbreak as Sirius Black in the Harry Potter series, and for me, most strikingly, master of Lee Harvey Oswald’s idiosyncratic accent in Oliver Stone’s JFK. TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY was co-stars Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Mark Strong, Toby Jones, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Ciaran Hinds. It was directed by Tomas Alfredson from a script by Peter Straughan and Bridget O’Connor.
A word of warning for listeners who haven’t seen the movie or read the books, the interview contains spoilers.