*”Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” is not just a spy story, say its filmmakers. And to adequately tell its tale, director Thomas Alfredson had one person in mind to fill the shoes of its top spy, George Smiley.
“We needed some kind of chameleon and we almost gave up and I said, ‘I don’t want to do any casting before we have George.’” Gary Oldman was not only the first choice, but Alfredson only choice. “If you look at Gary’s work, what he’s done, it’s very different personalities,” he points out. “Gary’s almost never telecasted and he has portrayed so many characters.”
To wit, Oldman has played a white Jamaican pimp, Sid Vicious, Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg in “The Fifth Element,” Count Dracula, the horrific Norman Stansfield in “The Professional” Carnegie in “The Book of Eli,” Sinus Black in “Harry Potter” and of course James Gordon in “The Dark Knight,” just to name a few.
After Alfredson left the room where the interviews were being held at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City, Oldman entered the room. The Film Strip asked him how it felt being a chameleon? A modest Oldman chalked it up to being an actor.
“It’s part of the job for me to play different people. That’s the joy of it and I think.” Also reflecting on what the filmmakers said about the movie being more than just a spy story, Oldman cast light on his own personal relationships when scrutinizing George’s relationship with his wife. “I think George is a bit of a masochist. His wife has left many times before and has slept with everyone in the Circus.
“I mean I’ve certainly had my share of inappropriate relationships like that,” Oldman admits, “where one is willingly a victim. You find yourself in situations like that where you accept people until you get to a point where you go, ‘I feel I deserve more than this,’ you know? It’s more about how you feel about yourself. So I feel I know those situations and those feelings. I applied a lot of my own melancholy to it.”
The last time The Film Strip spoke to Colin Firth, he was told to prepare for an extraordinary ride since I felt he was headed to the Academy Awards and would receive an Oscar for his performance in “The King’s Speech.” Still down to earth, he was just as excited about his role in “Tinker…” as the book has been around for about 40 years and it was a lesson in tolerance. “All the characters are wearing a mask for one reason or another and I think the beauty of the film is that we get that revealed in little hints.
“I think in ways it’s much more of a personal and emotional story about the kind of things people hope for and then are disappointed in. It’s about loneliness and the failure to find trust or intimacy than it is about who did it. You know, Smiley has a wife who will betray him constantly and he will constantly forgive her and constantly take her back and I think he feels that way about his institution and about his country. He has this endless faith in what the values should be and in the romance that he bestows on it and will stay committed to that no matter how often he’s disappointed.”
What the film has done instead of trying to capture every prosaic detail of whodunit and all the strands basically it focuses in on what the experience would be like to have put your trust in an institution like that and to be in the worl where it’s all you got because you can’t possibly have a personal life if youre a spy, you can’t share it.
Diablo Cody (“Juno,” “Jennifer’s Body”), author of “Young Adult,” strayed somewhat from her familiar high school scenario and visited the conscience of a thirty-something adult (Mavis Gary), who writes young-adult novels. Not only does she sometimes think like adolescence but she has this diabolical plan to steal her high school boyfriend (Patrick Wilson) away from his wife and newborn. Cody explained that she explored this subject matter because some adults are still stuck in the past.
“I’ve been an avid consumer of young adult literature since I was one,” Cody comments. “And I think some people leave that stuff behind when they become old adults, but I never did. And I was always interested in the fantasy world created in those novels, and that I think is the kind of thing we see reflected in pop culture more now than ever, with reality shows and these weird, fully made-up people living these fake fairytale lives on camera. And I think the idea of somebody whose priorities were completely screwed up, who wanted to live in that world, even though it’s completely unattainable, that was intriguing to me.”
Director Jason Reitman (“Up in the Air”) says the film would’ve never come about if he didn’t have two of the main characters. “I was only going to make this movie if I could make it with Charlize,” he acknowledges. “And really after that I just needed Patton Oswald. I needed someone who was going to be the accessibility point to this movie and I think this movie works because of Patton Oswald. I think the audience strangely sees the movie through Patton Oswald. He says the things that everyone in the audience wants to say and his rare combination of brilliant comedy, his pathos, and his ability to go to these really sad places makes the whole thing work. I knew Charlize would never judge the character. Charlize has this great talent that only a few actors have and I’ve been able to work with have, where they can change their nature without dialogue.”
Theron does nail the out of control character and at one point in the film, it is suggested she get some help-apparently when it’s almost too late. The Film Strip asked Theron if this is a situation that happens too often, especially in Hollywood, where people are out of control and no one seems to want to confront them? “I mean, I’ve never been a fan of labels, you know. I just think it’s very easy to kind of look at somebody and just kind of throw a label on them, they’re crazy or they’re-you know. And I’m not a big fan of overly justifying bad behavior, or why people are the way they are. I think that it’s a cop-out. And I don’t have a lot of empathy for that.
“So I thought the things that she did were pretty despicable; but then again, not to the point where I was disgusted by her. I never had a hard time not liking her. I would love to go and have a beer with her. I mean, I would never let her hang out with my boyfriend. But I would love to hang out with her. I think she’s entertaining about all of her stuff. And you know, people can have all of the things that she kind of have, and just be really annoying and suck the air out of a room. And in a way, she does suck the air, but it’s a funny way of sucking the air out of the room. And I found her fascinating. She’s just a beautiful car wreck.”
“Yeah,” Oswalt jumped in. “And I was glad because the person who read for your part Gandolfini, and he was not a good Mavis.[LAUGHTER]
I love him. He was so raw. And the studio wanted him so bad. But I was like, ‘People,’ and so thank god. You were great. Oh, it was so close.”