Gary Oldman on The Dark Knight Rises and Tinker, Tailor's Master Spy Smiley: He's 'Like Jazz'


Speaking of Tom Hardy, you've worked quite a bit with him of late - or at least have been on the same projects.

Yes -- not physically worked with him, but obviously in Tinker... and then on The Wettest County in the World, and of course Batman. Yeah. It's been the year of Oldman-Hardy. He's a nice guy. He's a talent, Tom.

On the subject of older generations mingling with younger ones, and since one of the themes of Tinker is aging, in a sense, do you feel you've had an unusual perspective with the concept of age, given your surname?

I was always teased! [Pauses] Once, I spent some time in Jamaica as a kid and we were with this guy who was driving us around, he was a friend of my mother's. I only knew him as Uncle Harold, that was his name. It was the first time I'd been abroad, and it was such an exotic place to be. Of course it was very influenced by America, and there were a lot of cars - there were Buicks, and Cadillacs, and he had this rather beautiful powder blue mid-60s Cadillac. There was a boy thumbing a lift on the roadside, and we stopped to pick him up. His name was Gary Newman. It's a true story! [Laughs]

Was it the Gary Numan?

It was not the Gary Numan, but it was Gary Newman, that kid. I'll never forget that. But now I'm growing into my name.

Do you feel that, after playing so many extroverted characters in the past, you at some point began seeking out a change of pace? Smiley is so understated, so contained.

He is that, and you're somewhat guided by and restricted by the material that you're working on. He is written like that, so that was a given. But it's nice to play... I've been asked to do my fair share of crazy characters that sort of come in and have to just emotionally burn - it's what I call 'burning from the first bar.' It's like rock 'n' roll. Smiley is jazz. You find your way. You find your solo. And I'm happy to play it, now. You get older and you mellow. Not that you can't play those kinds of characters, but I've done enough of them. There's talk of doing Smiley's People, which is the third book in the trilogy, so they're considering making it, with Tomas.

Interesting -- I thought of Tinker as How Smiley Got His Groove Back, since we see him come full circle by the end, back in the saddle.

Yeah, it is. It's temporary; he's only really there to tidy things up, put things back in order. And then he slips back into retirement again.

What appeals to you about returning to Smiley again?

I love his observations. He's like an owl, like a wise old owl. He listens. He can see everything. He's the smartest guy in the room. He's good for my blood pressure.

Like doing yoga?

Yeah! It's like coming into work and you're in a scene and you don't have to rush it. [Sits back serenely, a la Smiley] You know, Tom Hardy's getting all emotional and doing all the work for me and I just quietly sit there in the chair and sit back and say, 'Tell me what happened.' [Laughs]

And you've already done your high blood pressure roles.

Yeah, I've done those. So I look at some of these younger guys and think, I was there. Rather you than me. Not to sound old!

Not at all. Tom Hardy once compared the Dark Knight franchise to a Starbucks, which I suppose is to acknowledge that it's a mainstream attraction that is everywhere and ubiquitous. How would you describe the franchise?

Well really, they are all individual films. They're all linked and connected, and there's an arc there over the trilogy. But there are such spaces in between. I never saw it quite like... I don't quite know what he meant by that. I guess you are in a movie that, even lovely Matthew Modine said to me, 'It's such a relief that you're in a movie that people are going to go see.' You know that millions of people are going to go see it, and there's an expectation, anticipation for it. But they were all their own movie. So you'd do the first one and you had two or three years off, then you did the second one and had three years off, over eight years or however long it's taken. So I saw them as their own experience. And they're like any other movie, really. They have a little more money than other movies, but Chris [Nolan] doesn't work any differently on the Batman, I think, than he would on Memento. But it promises to be very... I'm intrigued to see it. I'm intrigued to see this one.

Do you have less of a sense of what the end product will be than you did with Tinker?

Less with Tinker, because you never really know. We all went in thinking we had something special, we had great material, but the component that was missing was the audience. We didn't know if people would go see it. Then it became very successful in the U.K., and there was an audience for it. But Batman, Dark Knight Rises, is a little different. The audience is there, and in numbers. But I don't think it'll disappoint.

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  • Claudell says:

    Hannibal may be bloated and altogether unnecessary but Oldman owned every scence he was in as Mason Verger.
    The man is a master.

  • Maya says:

    Great interview. I really hope he gets an Oscar nomination for this movie; he totally deserves one!