Gary Oldman is a serious man. You could tell by his dark clothing, thick glasses, dark blue cravat and the quiet demeanor with which he spoke when he and director Tomas Alfredson sat down with The Eagle and four D.C. media outlets to talk about their new film “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.”
A spy thriller set within the walls of MI-6 during the Cold War, “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” is a slow burn of a film based on the 1974 novel of the same name by John le Carré. The film stars Gary Oldman (“The Dark Knight”) as George Smiley, a retired MI-6 agent who is called back into service to find a mole in the “Circus,” the code name for the MI-6 agency. Previously, the book was adapted as a TV miniseries in 1979 starring Alec Guinness, whose performance, Oldman stated, loomed large.
“It’s the paranoia, the insecurity,” Oldman said. “Doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing it, you still have those doubts that you can pull something off. That’s what exciting about the work as well. You hope that what I call ‘the cloak of inspiration’ will fall and that you will be able to pull it off.”
However, Oldman and Alfredson didn’t have to worry too much about being faithful to previous adaptations. Before the start of production, le Carré approached them himself to tell them he would rather they put their own spin to the story.
“We didn’t do this film to please John le Carré,” Alfredson said. “We did it to please you or to interest an audience. So it’s not a crucial thing, but when he said that it was very liberating, and it made me jump and made me dare to do it at all.”
One liberty the film took with the story was adding some homosexual implications that had only been implied in the original novel.
“It was considered a very subversive thing to be gay then,” Oldman said. “And you had to take on another persona. It was another lie, anyway, that you were living. Outside of the service or outside of the workplace, you were still living a double life because you couldn’t publicly come out.”
The film doesn’t shy away from being extremely cryptic in its use of code words and the slow unfolding of the underlying mystery. Alfredson said he wasn’t worried about alienating audiences and wanted to make a film that considered the audience to be grown-up and allowed for audience participation.
“We don’t have all the answers,” Oldman said. “So you’re discovering this as George is on this journey, on this investigation. It’s difficult with this genre, with this type of movie, it’s sort of a tightrope that you walk because you don’t want the audience to be ahead of you.”
While Alfredson and Oldman weren’t afraid to deviate from the norm, they acknowledged that the story told in “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” was timeless.
“For me, this story is very much about loyalty and friendship and betrayal,” Alfredson said. “And those subjects are eternal.”
“I mean there’s so many things happening in the world today,” Oldman said. “It’s just the faces have changed, the enemy has changed. We’re continually dealing with it, but the enemy changes. The world’s a mess. And it’s perfect. It always has been.”