Interview – Gary Oldman – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Jason Roestel: Gary, you seem to disappear in every role you’re in. I had to try to tell my mom who you were, and she knew you, from the movies, but you disappear. Do you not get recognized that much, when you’re walking around? Do people know who you are?
GO: Not really, no.
JR: I mean that as a compliment. Because you’re an amazing actor.
GO: Well I wear glasses, and I had a mustache. I finished Batman; about four weeks ago we finished shooting. And I had a mustache, for Batman. And my hair was a little shorter, but kind of like this, and I have glasses, so I tend to get recognized as Jim Gordon, because I sort of look like Jim Gordon. You know, in the supermarket. But once I shaved it off, it’s funny how I seem to—I can’t imagine; I mean I live a very normal life, a very regular life. I don’t have publicists and I don’t have minders, and all that. And I’m not saying that people don’t need it. I can see that people do. And for good reason they have an entourage of people. But I go everywhere. I got to Gelson’s, and Walgreen’s, and CVS, and you name it. I just move around like a normal—I just go everywhere. I can’t imagine. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be Brad Pitt or Leonardo [DiCaprio] where you just can’t even really walk down the street. Like Tom Cruise, who’s so recognizable. It must be—that’s why they get paid the money, I guess.
AH: Gary, you’ve played a wide range of characters. Good guys, like Gordon and Smiley, and then just crazy bad guys. And when you look at your whole career, which do you prefer, and why?
GO: I don’t know. I mean, I don’t re-watch old work. I don’t own—my kids sometimes say “can we watch one of your movies?” And I go, “I don’t have the DVD, darling.” I just don’t have them, or watch them. So I see it as old work.
AH: And then you move on?
GO: And then I kind of move on. There’s a few that I’m a little embarrassed about. Some of it I would just burn. Some of it I would just stomp into the ground. Some of it’s very good.
AH: But isn’t that just how it goes, when you’re daring, and you want to try new things? You’re gonna have hits, and sometimes not.
GO: Yeah, yeah. You’re gonna have and you’re gonna have misses. I think I’ve enjoyed playing—funny enough, the good guys can be more of a challenge. Technically, the Potters, and the Batmans, are in a way harder than Smiley [an ambiguous character]. Because you are carrying exposition. And you have to make plot [into] character. Otherwise, you’re just going to sound like a lump of wood standing there sort of giving the plot away. It’s very challenging, to make that live as a person. Obviously, you forsake a great deal of character for story—all of that behavior, that you have in a novel.
AH: But you’re so good at adding all these little things to it.
GO: What, little touches, you mean?
GO: Um, well you’ve got to like the villain. You have to find something in him that’s sort of, some redeeming thing. That you like. Otherwise the audience won’t like them. I mean, I’ll give you an example. In a movie like Air Force One, when I first read that script, it was really fucking smart. You know, it felt like a real guy. And we knew it was a Harrison Ford vehicle; you know it’s a summer movie. You know it’s a popcorn summer movie. And my argument was always, when they would start standing around talking about it like Chekov, I would say “he would have never got on the plane. Don’t go there with it. He would have never got on the plane.” But now we’re on the plane. But the movie I wanted to make, in the way it was not the movie that was made. Along the way, it went through a re-write. And it was sort of “Ooohhh, here’s the villain.” You know what I mean? It was dumbed down a little, sadly.
But they [villains] are more fun for that reason. I mean, even Christopher Plummer, who I recently met, was saying that the hardest thing that he ever had to play was the Baron in The Sound of Music; he said, “because he’s such a drip.” And he’s kind of one-dimensional. And he said it was murderously hard. I think he’s adorable.
AH: Smiley isn’t, though. Smiley isn’t one-dimensional. For a good guy. He’s deep.
GO: No. And you’re supported by this great novel. And so even though we had to reduce a great deal of it, and you don’t have the seven hours like the series, and you only have two hours to tell it in—there were scenes that were reduced to a frame, where Tomas said “I want to tell the story here, I want to tell it in a frame, with two lines and a look.” You always felt that you had a life; the subtext was the book, that you had absorbed and that you carried around with you. It helps when you’ve got some smart material, I tell you. You didn’t have to work hard, in that sense. Building a character and doing the homework is one thing. And finding it. But once you were sort of at work, this text supported you. You know, if you break a sweat, you’re working too hard. That’s when you tend to get—that’s when I start finding things. I remember once I saw a performance of Jessica Lange, and she had some awful dialogue. It was one of those things where it goes “oh, I’ve got to say this word” or “oh, I’ve got to say this sentence; it’s coming up, it’s coming up, I’ve got to say this awful fucking sentence.” And she was sort of in the light, and then she turned her dead into the dark and said it and then came back again.
AH: Are you watching her on American Horror Story?
GO: I’m not.
AH: She’s gonna get an Emmy. She’s fantastic.
GO: I saw the first one, and I love her. I think she’s so interesting. And I think—I know this might sound…I think television is really giving the movies a run for its money.
JR: It is. The writing came back.
GO: I think it’s giving it a run for the money. With the exception of something like Melancholia, which is so from [Lars von Trier’s] head. And a whole thing of its own.
JR: Did you like it?
GO: Yeah, I did. I really got into it. It felt so very unique and interesting. But you watch some of these movies, and there’s nothing—the acting, the writing, and the directing, I think is better on television.
JR: Have you seen anything [else] this year that you really liked, in theaters?
GO: I liked Beginners. I liked the voice of it. It reminded me a little of great, early, early Woody Allen. Like Allen on form, at the top of his game. And it had an original voice about it. It was fresh and surprising. I liked that very, very much.