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Gary Oldman goes minimalist with ‘Tinker Tailor’ role

December 8, 2011 |  5:09 pm


When people think of movie spies these days, they generally picture Daniel Craig's rough-and-tumble James Bond or Matt Damon's kinetic action man Jason Bourne. But British author John le Carré’s George Smiley is cut from a much more understated, tweed and elbow-patches sort of cloth, even as rendered by Gary Oldman in the new update of the novelist's espionage saga “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” which comes to U.S. theaters on Friday.

Oldman delivers a minimalist performance, with Smiley not even speaking for the first 16 minutes of the film. In a role in which even the smallest half-smile can seem a grand gesture, Oldman turned to director Tomas Alfredson to gauge how expressive to be.

“If you’re going to rein something in and be that minimal, then you gotta have a barometer outside yourself saying, ‘Oh, that’s too small’ or ‘adjust it here or there,’” Oldman told 24 Frames at the party following the film’s L.A. premiere on Tuesday.

Alfredson and Oldman had several discussions about the character before production, but once shooting began, their communication was “almost telepathic,” Alfredson said. The non-verbal direction proved helpful as it was the Swedish director’s first English-language film.

“We very early decided to trust each other and that he should trust the silence,” Alfredson said. “I’ve said to him, ‘Trust me and trust the camera. You will communicate even from your neck. I will see to that.’ … He has been so brave to carry this almost all-silent part.”

Oldman said he drew a lot from Le Carré’s book to craft his approach to the character, and he also took inspiration from meeting Le Carré and from a photo Alfredson gave him of British writer Graham Greene “posing in a mackintosh a little like Smiley’s.” But he was careful to not be influenced by other portrayals of Smiley by actors such as Sir Alec Guinness, who played the role in the 1979 British TV miniseries of "Tinker Tailor."

“I didn’t worry about past performances. To have revisited it, you would feel that you were doing an impersonation,” Oldman said.


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— Emily Rome

Photo: Gary Oldman in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy." Credit: Focus Features

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