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Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Gary Oldman, Tinkering And Tailoring His Career
The actor Gary Oldman.
Douglas Kirkland 2012
Omar P.L. Moore/PopcornReel.com
"YOU'VE JUST MADE MY MORNING," SAYS GARY OLDMAN, having been told over the phone
last December that his work as George Smiley in Tomas Alfredson's
Soldier Spy" is the best of his 30-year-career.
"A lot of journalists say to me, 'you were so good in this, and Sid Vicious was
excellent, and you were great in that,' but no one has talked about this
performance the way you have and I'm touched, so thank you," Mr. Oldman says
sincerely and quietly in a mellow, relaxed voice.
It's astonishing that "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy", Mr. Oldman's 71st acting
credit in a prolific career, marks his first and only Oscar nomination.
Last month the 53-year-old Londoner woke up in his Los Angeles home to the happy
news of Best Actor finalist. Before that moment he looked at the potential
honor of an Academy Award nomination in his typically calm and philosophical
way: "I would feel very flattered by it. I mean, things like that are not
in one's mind when doing [the work], you know? And I just do what I do to
the best of my ability. That's all you can do as an actor."
All Gary Oldman can do between now and the early evening of February 26, the
date of the 84th Annual Academy Awards, is wait. Never one to be enamored
with the glare of celebrity spotlight, Mr. Oldman has nonetheless been doing the
increasingly obligatory rounds of awards campaigning expected of actors at this
time of year. And in this home stretch of the 2011 film awards season
marathon he's passed some of his time by attending lavish awards ceremonies,
including most recently the Screen Actors Guild Awards and BAFTAs. Last
week Mr. Oldman was glad-handing and acquainting himself with some of his peers
at the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences Nominees Luncheon in Beverly
Soon however, the pleasantries associated with official and informal award
candidacies generated this past film year will evaporate, and what audiences
will be left with is the indelible work Mr. Oldman does in "Tinker Tailor
Soldier Spy", wonderfully written by the late Bridget O'Connor and her husband
Peter Straughan. The married couple's screenplay, adapted from John le
Carré's international best-selling classic spy book, is also Oscar-nominated
this year as is Alberto Iglesias' original music score, which gives the film,
set in 1970s London and shot in Budapest and England, its cool, soothing and
Mr. Oldman, a very humble and somewhat reserved figure 180 degrees from many of
his volatile and villainous screen types, talked about meeting the challenge of
inhabiting George Smiley, the British intelligence spy called in from the cold
of exile by the government's chief intelligence minister to investigate the
existence of a mole within the British spy outfit affectionately known as "The
"I was aware of John's book, which is so detailed. If you Googled George
Smiley it's as if he was an actual person," the actor says of his big screen
character. "There was so much information on him."
George Smiley's emotions in Mr. Alfredson's drama are otherwise invisible but
for a palpable and poignant longing etched on his face and burned into his eyes.
Mr. Oldman's restrained Smiley portrayal is certainly more muted and buttoned
down than Sir Alec Guinness's was in the 1979 BBC television series of the same
"Alec's fantastic work on the series, which I also knew of -- I was living in
London at the time -- was somewhat in the back of my mind as I prepared but I
had to make George my own. I constructed him, layered him -- the
silhouette you see of Smiley in the film was of Graham Greene in the late 1930s.
He looks like Graham Greene, the trench coat, everything."
"Tinker" costume designer Jacqueline Durran, one of several women behind the
scenes who shape Mr. Alfredson's film -- production designer Maria Djorkovic and
set decorator Tatiana MacDonald were among others besides Ms. O'Connor -- had
Mr. Oldman look for what he called "wise-old owl" glasses for Smiley. The
actor was fitted for them and they gave the character "the psychological"
profile from Mr. le Carré's novel. "Smiley was always looking into and
through things, but observing them all silently," Mr. Oldman noted.
Mr. Oldman as George Smiley in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy".
Jack English/Focus Features
George Smiley is like the ant, rather than elephant, in the room. He moves
stealthily and elusively. Smiley's glasses, with those large wide lenses
and thick black rims, look like binoculars. Smiley has to focus on his
investigation of the rogue agent in The Circus while discovering in one subdued
but devastating moment that his wife is having an extramarital affair. The
look Mr. Oldman delivers during the scene in question is one that is immediately
felt as it is given, and it reverberates through the heart and bowels of what is
supposed to be a joyful, merry occasion.
The emotional component of Smiley was described by Mr. Oldman this way: "You
connect with the similarities. We've all experienced love lost or
betrayal. I've had the odd woman cheated on me. You know, my
approach is that of one-stop shopping acting. There's the book, the script
and the acting. And you try to anchor that you can emotionally connect
In "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy", initially released in December and expanded to
more U.S. theaters last month, Mr. Oldman presides over a British lover's
dream ensemble cast: Mark Strong, Colin Firth, John Hurt, Tom Hardy, Toby Jones,
Ciaran Hinds, Benedict Cumberbatch, Simon McBurney and Christian McKay.
Mr. Oldman is the silent moderator of an unpredictable and cantankerous group of
film characters who in some respects are jackals, swooping in after the
commotion caused by their leader Control's (Mr. Hurt) ouster and the subsequent
investigation of The Circus.
Gary Oldman has been part of some highly successful film franchises that have
created circuses of their own. He appeared as Sirius Black in the
immensely popular "Harry Potter" films, the final installment of which was
released last summer, and will once again star as Gotham City Police
Commissioner Jim Gordon in Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight Rises", which
arrives in July in theaters worldwide. Several other films are in the
pipeline for Mr. Oldman, who also directed the powerful drama "Nil By Mouth"
(1997), a film based in part on the actor's own upbringing in South London.
Kathy Burke starred in Mr. Oldman's drama, and both are on screen together in
Sports-wise Mr. Oldman is a loyal Millwall Football Club supporter. The
southeast London football team isn't doing well at the moment in the English
Football League Championship, currently lying fifth from the bottom of the table
as of this writing. (Millwall's miserable season has been cemented by a
6-0 home defeat to Birmingham City, although
they managed to win on the road at high-flying Southampton recently.)
Despite his fealty to Millwall if you ask Mr. Oldman where his true heart and
love lies, aside from his wife he'll tell you that it's with his Terrier dogs.
"I love them. They're so lovely. We had a Pincher who died," Mr.
Oldman says ruefully, if offhandedly.
Condolences are quickly offered to the actor, who bristles at those whom he says
would prolong the suffering of a dog or another animal companion in its last
days just so its human owner isn't alone. "I find it a little selfish."
"Out there nature just takes care of itself, you know?"
Despite his busy film career when he can Mr. Oldman spends a lot of time with
his dogs. His voice warms as he talks affectionately about them.
"I'm a real dog man," he declares tenderly.
This is one in a series of interviews for The Popcorn Reel Awards Season
2012. Recent interviews include
Ben Kingsley for "Hugo" and
McQueen for "Shame".
contest - Win with Viola Davis - and win "Shame", "Help", "Drive" and
2012 Best Picture nominee Blu-Rays
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