Le Carré: Oldman brings “sexuality” to George Smiley

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy author says Gary Oldman “is a Smiley waiting to explode”

Expect Gary Oldman to play a sexier version of George Smiley in the new Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy film – that’s according to the man who created Smiley in the first place, author John Le Carré.


Oldman, said Le Carré, successfully updated a role played to near-perfection by Alec Guinness in the BBC’s 1979 dramatisation. “The TV series with AG had become iconic,” Le Carré told Radio 4’s Today programme. “He was superb. In the public perception Alec was Smiley, period. So I went into this with serious trepidation. But Gary Oldman brought something to the part from the beginning, which was never going to be possible with Alec Guinness.

“You couldn’t really imagine Alec having a sex life. You couldn’t imagine a kiss on the screen with Alec, not one that you believed in. Whereas Oldman has quite obviously a male sexuality that he represses, like all his other feelings, in this story. Oldman is a Smiley waiting patiently to explode. I think the air of frustration, of solitude that he is able to convey is something that really does take me back to a novel I wrote 37 years ago.”

Oldman himself was unruffled by the challenge of bringing Smiley to a modern audience. “The comparisons, you can’t escape,” he told BBC News at the film’s London premiere last night. “I remember watching the series when it first came out – it was the days before VCRs and TiVo, so you would arrange your social calendar around Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

“But I didn’t go back to it and re-look at it. With a famous role like this that was much beloved, you have to approach it like a classical role. There are other people who have played Hamlet, but this is my interpretation. That was Alec and it was 30-something years ago. But the ghost is there.”

Oldman added that there had been a “very good atmosphere” on set, and that he had got on particularly well with co-star Benedict Cumberbatch: “I’ve forged a great friendship out of this experience. We’re all fans of each other’s work.”

Meanwhile, Le Carré also paid tribute to the “extremely sensitive and creative” director Tomas Alfredson, who made his name with the visually striking vampire movie Let the Right One In and brings a similar mastery of imagery to this new film. “Tomas saw a metaphor for isolating characters by putting them literally in cubes, in boxes inside the Circus, the secret service headquarters,” said Le Carré.

“We get there to the painterly part of the film. I said to Tomas: I gave you the palette and the brush, but you produced the masterpiece. There are conceits in the film which I think are in themselves iconic, and will be worth studying for a long time.”

Listen to John Le Carré here and watch Gary Oldman here.

Photo: Jack English