How do you take a 1974 spy novel, already famous as a 1979 miniseries, and make it new without changing the setting? The key to Tomas Alfredson’s fresh take on Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is Gary Oldman’s powerfully solid yet edgy performance as George Smiley, the British intelligence agent forced into retirement, only to be brought back to hunt down a mole in his own service.
John le Carre’s novels are always more than spy stories, full of realistic — if unusually secretive — people , and Smiley may be his most complex character, played in the miniseries’ iconic version by Alec Guinness. Oldman, at the top of a career that has taken him from wild man Sid Vicious in Sid and Nancy to the reliable Commissioner Gordan in the Batman movies, conveys the layers of longing, sadness and toughness beneath the ironically-named Smiley’s very calm presence.
In our video chat, he displays a quite Smiley-like thoughtfulness as he talks about the streak of meanness that sets his unsentimental version of the character apart – as he put it, his Smiley is less “huggable” than Guinness’ — and what he learned about the inner lives of spies from his conversations with le Carre.
Video edited by TAYLOR LEVY.