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Oldman Hopes to Overcome Typecasting with 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy'

  • Alan Silverman

Gary Oldman poses in front of a poster featuring his character of the film "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" at the Los Angeles premiere of the movie in Hollywood December 6, 2011.

Gary Oldman poses in front of a poster featuring his character of the film "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" at the Los Angeles premiere of the movie in Hollywood December 6, 2011.

In 30 years of making films, British-born Gary Oldman has won acclaim from critics and audiences, but he has never been nominated for Hollywood's top awards. That could change with his latest role.

In Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy Oldman stars as spymaster George Smiley. He's determined to uncover a double agent "mole" in the top ranks of British intelligence.

SMILEY: "I'm going to have to send you off into the lion's den. If you're caught, you can't mention me. I'm sorry. You're alone."

Adapted from the 1974 novel by John LeCarré, the Cold War thriller was made into a five-hour television mini-series in 1979 starring Alec Guinness. Oldman is braced for comparisons.

Gary Oldman in a scene from "Tinker,Tailor,Soldier,Spy"

Gary Oldman in a scene from "Tinker,Tailor,Soldier,Spy"

"Guiness was the face of Smiley for many. Other people have played Smiley, but he was considered the definitive performance of it," Oldman notes. "It was a dragon to slay in my head. They are big shoes to walk in."

The fit seems to be just right in the judgment of usually harsh British critics. The Guardian's Phillip French writes: "Oldman gives us a Smiley equal to Alec Guiness in a triumphant adaptation." The actor says he is pleased that it does not try to oversimplify the novel's intricate plot or turn it into a breathless, mindless action flick.

"I would like to think that people are ready for it," Oldman says. "I am tired of being assaulted at the cinema with images and sound where I want a nap afterwards. I find movies too loud and too dumb."

Gary Oldman was born and raised in London. He leaned toward music as a teenager, but studied acting at university and had a successful stage career for almost a decade. Film roles followed and his standout portrayal of rocker Sid Vicious in the 1986 drama "Sid and Nancy" got Hollywood's attention.

He has played presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald in "JFK," the iconic vampire in Bram Stoker's Dracula and police commissioner Gordon in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.

Scene from "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"

Scene from "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"

Oldman says he likes complicated characters like Smiley, but often he's cast in more flamboyant roles.

"You are at the mercy of the imagination of the people that are casting you," he explains. "So you can get into the situation that I think all actors have suffered from at one point or another where you feel that you are typecast. I've played a lot of characters, but I did a couple of films with Luc Besson that are cartoonish and much bigger than life, and that's what you get known for."

Fortunately, Oldman has been able to overcome that typecasting, and he is often cited as a major influence by rising young stars like Daniel Radcliffe, who worked with him in the Harry Potter films.

Oldman appreciates the compliments. He says his own career was influenced by those who came before.

"There's Gielgud, Olivier, Richard Burton and Albert Finney and all those people, and it's a chain. You are links in a chain and now you see Tom Hardy and Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Fassbender and Ryan Gosling, a new breed of talent that I think are the 'real deal.' You get a feeling that it's not about celebrity or vanity. They're real actors that are coming through," Oldman says.

With Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy now in theaters, Gary Oldman is already talking about playing Smiley again if more of LeCarré novels are filmed. Meanwhile, he's finishing up one more turn as Commissioner Gordon in The Dark Knight Rises coming out next year. After that, he promises to retire the character.