Actor Gary Oldman

Oldman shares his thoughts on the Oscar buzz surrounding his performance in the new film Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

Using physical transformation and a command of accents, British actor Gary Oldman is known for disappearing into a broad range of characters. He got his first big break playing the role of Sid Vicious in an ’86 biopic and has gone on to portray such historical figures as Beethoven and Lee Harvey Oswald. Oldman has also worked behind the camera, serving as a producer on several films, as well as directing and writing. He’s currently receiving much award season buzz for his turn in the feature version of John le Carré’s best-selling novel, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.


Tavis: I have yet to read a single person in this town or beyond who writes about the Academy Awards who does not have you on the short list for a nomination. So I don’t want to jinx you, but I do want to ask when you’re hanging out with Colin Firth, making this, you got any good advice from him about how to navigate what’s about to happen for you in this film?

Gary Oldman: Well, he’s had a lot of practice at it.

Tavis: He has, yeah.

Oldman: Colin, I think he’s pretty much won everything there is to win for “The King’s Speech.” He gave me a little bit of advice the other night. He said, “If you are nominated and you should win,” he said, “Just be brief.” (Laughter)

Tavis: It’s always funny how people give that advice after they’ve been on the stage.

Oldman: Yes. Before the clock starts counting down and you see this thing flashing, wrap up. Please wrap up, yes.

Tavis: All right, so we’ll see if that moment should happen, we will grade you and see how well you did on the advice Mr. Firth gave you.

Oldman: Right. But it’s nice to be in the orbit. Nice to be on the list.

Tavis: Yeah. This is the kind of project, as the title might suggest to some, “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” that you really have to pay attention to this. You sit in this movie and you blink, and you’re lost. You really have to concentrate.

I raise that to ask whether or not you think the attention span, never mind the critical acclaim you’re getting as an actor, is our attention span – can we handle this? Because you’ve really got to focus on this thing to figure it out, to follow it.

Oldman: Well, I’d like to think we can. It’s a refreshing movie in many respects, but it hasn’t sort of – I’m happy that it hasn’t sort of pandered to the sort of current – certainly this genre where you have “The Bourne Identity” and the James Bond series, which are wonderful and which I love watching, and they are masterfully done.

But it’s a very slow-paced, quiet thriller and it demands something of you. But it doesn’t undermine the audience and how smart they are. Originally in the ’70s, when they did a TV series from the book, which was pretty much line for line, word for word of the book, and it was over seven hours.

It was the very beginnings of long-form television. The audiences had to follow the story with a week in between, which in many respects, if you think about it, would be much harder to retain characters and to retain the storyline with a break in between.

Tavis: But to your point now, Gary, I think the point I’m trying to make is that – and I think we agree on this, on some level, at least – that with all due respect to Hollywood, they have so dumbed down the framework or the formulation, a better word, they’ve so dumbed down the formulation –

Oldman: Yeah, yeah.

Tavis: – and I like the way that you phrase it, that this really does demand something of the audience.

Oldman: Yeah.

Tavis: It’s a great project, but you’ve got to pay – it demands something of you.

Oldman: It reveals itself to you as –

Tavis: Yeah, right. That’s nicely put, it does.

Oldman: – as Smiley finds out, we, the audience, find Smiley.

Tavis: Now you’d better explain that, given the name of this show. For those who don’t (laughter) know this storyline, you’re just confusing – everybody’s like, “Tavis said this was hard to follow. It really is, because now he’s talking about some guy named Smiley in the movie.” You want to explain this?

Oldman: Of course, I play the main character in this story, who is – well, in fact in the beginning when we first meet him he’s outed from MI, MI5, MI6. He’s sort of forced into retirement and he is an iconic character in literary circles, for those who love the books of le Carre, and his name is Mr. George Smiley.

Tavis: Yes.

Oldman: You are probably on this journey one of two Smileys that I will meet. There’s another man called Frank Smiley who is the show runner for O’Brien (unintelligible).

Tavis: Oh, I didn’t know that.

Oldman: But yes, but I’m, yes, my fictional character in the movie is George Smiley.

Tavis: Yeah. They treat me like a show runner around here anyway, so what’s the difference?

Oldman: But we’ve changed the way we receive information. You even see that with my kids. I would have never have dreamed – I mean, I’m from that school that is – I’m a little bit of a snob. I like celluloid, I like film, I like the way that when a movie is projected it sort of breathes a little in the gate. That’s the magic of it to me.

Now we can watch, or at least younger generations can watch movies now and focus on a screen that’s the size of a cell phone, and they get it quicker.

Tavis: You mentioned your sons. I want to go back to your sons in just a second, but for those who don’t know John le Carre’s work, have not followed this particular storyline or characters, top-line for me what the movie is about.

Oldman: Well, as I said, we meet George Smiley, who is a sort of a chief deputy to the main guy in the British secret intelligence service, Control, and they are both outed by a sort of new school of – a new regime coming in.

Then they discover that there is a mole, an informer, who is giving secrets from within the secret service to the Soviets – the Cold War sort of as a backdrop. And Master Spy Smiley is sort of recruited back in but really working covertly outside of the circle, outside of the circus, the service, to – he mounts an investigation to root out the –

Tavis: The mole.

Oldman: – the mole.

Tavis: You mentioned your sons a moment ago, and I want to get back to that because it’s not often that I get a chance to talk to single fathers. I talk to a lot of single mothers, but not often single fathers. You are a single father. You’re raising –

Oldman: Well, yeah, I’m remarried nearly three years, coming up on, in fact, New Year’s Eve –

Tavis: Right.

Oldman: – is our wedding anniversary. But for 10 years, the last 10 years I’ve been bringing up two boys, and –

Tavis: Two young boys.

Oldman: Two young boys, yeah. They’re now 12 and 14. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, and my greatest accomplishment, I think. I’m very proud of them.

Of course as an actor who’s always sort of pretty much living out of a suitcase and traveling, there’ve been sacrifices along the way. It really – to some extent it’s shaped my career and the choices that I’ve made, because of them.

You have to make a decision, and I found myself, I woke up one morning, 40, whatever it was I was, 42 years old, living in California, a single dad, and am I going to be a father who’s around or a father who isn’t?

So I decided to be at home, and at that time in the – really from 2001, 2002, there was a sort of shift in the industry and a great many films were being exported and Romania became the place that they were making films, and you had Budapest and Prague and Zagreb and Australia or South Africa.

So a lot of those were off-limits for me, because I just couldn’t –

Tavis: Didn’t want to leave, yeah.

Oldman: I didn’t want to school them on the road, because I think they need their peers and they need a certain consistency and a continuity.

Tavis: I suspect the answer may not be different, but let me ask it anyway – when you are a single father as opposed to a single mother, when you’re a single father and to your point now you’re remarried, having been a single father for a decade, when you remarry and it’s then a houseful of boys, basically –

Oldman: Yeah.

Tavis: – a frathouse, maybe, in some ways, you tell me.

Oldman: Yeah, yeah.

Tavis: How do the boys take that?

Oldman: Well, I’m very blessed. I’m very lucky that they’ve accepted Alex and it’s been, I think, in my – it’s been relatively easy in that respect, and I know that I hear stories and how fraught and complex that can be, but they have welcomed her and she loves them as if they were her own.

It really is a house of boys. I’ve got two male dogs as well. (Laughter) It’s all boys.

Tavis: Poor Alex. (Laughter) So in addition to “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” next summer, “The Dark Knight?” Is that next year?

Oldman: “The Dark Knight Rises” comes out.

Tavis: Yeah?

Oldman: I’ve finished –

Tavis: You’re done with your stuff, yeah.

Oldman: Yeah, I finished about three weeks ago.

Tavis: Right.

Oldman: I shaved off my mustache and I’m (unintelligible) retired the commissioner.

Tavis: Yeah.

Oldman: Yeah. When you revisit, you’re in a – well, in this case it’s a trilogy, but certainly a franchise. I was involved with also “Harry Potter.”

Tavis: I was going to say, you’ve been very fortunate – “Harry Potter” and “Batman” franchises.

Oldman: Yeah, “Potter” would be considered lucky. To get “Batman” as well, it’s just plain greedy, really. (Laughter) I’ve been very fortunate. It’s a whole unique experience in itself, because it’s like a family. It’s always – it’s like revisiting – when it comes around it’s like Thanksgiving or Christmas, you know what I mean?

It’s the time when you all gather and all get together, and many of the technicians and the crew and the actors are repeating their roles, and it’s a nice atmosphere. So it’s a tinge, it’s got a – it’s bittersweet, but it’s over, because it’s been seven years, I think, since we did “Batman Begins,” and we’re a team. You become a team, you become a family.

Tavis: Right. You can call it luck; I think it has a great deal to do with your being an awfully good actor. “Batman,” “Harry Potter,” and this one is called “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.” It’s a thriller, and if you’re into thrillers, as I am, you’ll want to check this out, starring Gary Oldman. Good to have you on the program, sir.

Oldman: Yeah, a pleasure.

Tavis: Thanks for coming through.

Oldman: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Tavis: My honor.

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Last modified: December 16, 2011 at 10:45 am