Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Thursday, January 5, 2012
Following his breakthrough movie, 2008’s Let the Right One In, Swedish director Tomas Alfredson returns with his first film in English, the sprawling spy thriller Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, which opens this Friday at Century Cinemas Del Monte. A far cry from Let the Right One In (a unique take on vampires starring unknown child actors that was set in his snowy native country), Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy boasts a stellar cast including Gary Oldman, John Hurt, Colin Firth and Toby Jones and was shot all over Europe – including London, Paris, Budapest and Istanbul.
Based on the popular John le Carré espionage novel of the same name, the film follows retired spy George Smiley’s attempt to ferret out a “rotten apple” in the British Secret Intelligence Service. As Smiley, Oldman is subtle and refined, a departure from his memorably manic performances as dreadlocked drug dealer Drexl Spivey in 1993’s True Romance and his portrayal of punk rocker Sid Vicious in 1986’s Sid & Nancy.
On a November afternoon, Alfredson and Oldman traveled to San Francisco to answer questions about the new film in separate rooms of the Ritz Carlton. The elegant setting provided a perfect place for the director and actor to talk about their sophisticated and thoughtful take on Cold War espionage.
Alfredson, who looked the part of a European intellectual in a plaid jacket and glasses, was engaging despite having arrived from Europe just hours before. The director noted that even though they seem like wildly different films on the surface, both Let the Right One In and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy have a similar undercurrent.
“They are different, and they are not different,” he said. “I think I am interested in telling stories about human relations, and this film is very much about friendship and betrayal and loyalty and not so much about the Cold War.”
The director struggled to decide what project he would take on after the success of Let the Right One In. Alfredson said he wanted to make sure Tinker was a good fit for his sensibilities before he went too deep. “When you choose to do a project, you ask your body if your body reacts, if something happens here [pointing to his heart], or here [pointing to his chest], or even here [pointing to his crotch] when you read something. It’s not an intellectual thing. It’s totally emotional.”
Alfredson said he was initially scared to work on a film with such a great cast of actors. “You forget about it after a couple of minutes,” he said. “You start working. It’s easy to be talented with great talent around.”
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy slowly boils in a rich stew populated with unique characters, all expertly portrayed. But one of the most impressive performances comes from Oldman.
Wearing an ascot adorned with dogs and with a handkerchief blooming from his jacket breast pocket, a dapper Oldman spoke thoughtfully about being able to work with one of his heroes, the Oscar-nominated actor John Hurt, on Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. “I had been a fan of John’s for many years before I was even thinking of acting,” he says in a theatrical British accent. “Really so much so that I was quite nervous to meet him.”
For Oldman, getting to portray an introverted character like Smiley was a relief. “I’d been waiting a long time to play something like this,” he says. “I jokingly refer to it as a sitting down part, because I’m normally the one bouncing off the walls and driving the scene, physically and emotionally. It was interesting to still be doing that, but doing it from a very passive place.”
He continued to compare playing Smiley to the other characters he has portrayed. “It’s nice to reveal, to slowly peel it back,” he said. “Most roles I’ve played you kind of burn from the first bar. It’s rock and roll. This is jazz.”
Oldman said he immediately identified with the devoted aspect of Smiley’s spy persona. “I’m very loyal,” he said. “I’m a good friend. I don’t have many, but the few close friends I have I’ve known for 30 years. That side of George I recognize. Disloyalty, it’s like a mortal sin.”
As a publicist came in to end the interview, the impeccably tailored actor began to talk about finishing work on The Dark Knight Rises, the follow-up to the 2008 blockbuster The Dark Knight, a few days earlier. Oldman returns as Gotham City police commissioner Jim Gordon. “It’s epic, this one,” he said with a smile. “I think it’s going to be a wonderful completion to the trilogy.”
TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY • Starring Gary Oldman, John Hurt • Directed by Tomas Alfredson • 127 min., Rated R. •At Century Cinemas Del Monte.