Gary Oldman wrapped up his 3-day, 7-film retrospective at New York’s Landmark Sunshine Cinema with a fun, extended Q&A after Wednesday night’s screening of his Oscar-nominated performance in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
The first time Academy Award nominee fielded questions from a theater filled with hundreds of his fans with nearly an hour. Oldman also hung around for autographs, pictures and additional questions. Hit the jump for stories from the set of The Dark Knight Rises, his paralyzing doubt on Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and what he thought while watching Heath Ledger as The Joker.
The event, co-sponsored by Focus Features (Tinker Tailor‘s distributor) and WNYC (public radio) is one of several recent 3-day retrospectives of Oldman’s work in Los Angeles and San Francisco, held in conjunction with the film’s nationwide rollout. Sid & Nancy, JFK, The Contender, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Prick Up Your Ears and State Of Grace all screened in the days and hours before Wednesday night’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy showing.
The film is the latest adaptation of John Le Carre’s novel. Sir Alec Guinness (Star Wars, Lawrence Of Arabia) preceded Oldman in the role of spy George Smiley, to huge success in a 1979 miniseries based on the book and a follow-up miniseries Smiley’s People in 1982. The new version features several generations of elite UK actors, including John Hurt, Oldman, Ciaran Hinds, Colin Firth, Toby Jones, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy. The plot is a jigsaw puzzle of espionage, murder, and double agents. Any real explanation would involve far too many spoilers that would lead to a rather angry comments section below.
So, before you see the film, enjoy the highlights from Wednesday night’s event:
-Oldman told the crowd his Tinker Tailor character, George Smiley, is dangerous because he fades into the background easily and that director Tomas Alfredson told him “You’ve sort of got to play boring. You can’t BE boring.” He compared Smiley to a “leopard in the jungle” that you don’t see coming.
-On Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy petrifying him: “There’s always an element of doubt and fear when you take on a project.” He was, “for the first time (in his career), paralyzed with fear” due to the overwhelming success of Sir Alec Guinness’ portrayal in the 1979 mini-series adaptation. He said, given the source material, he would have to “arrive at the same destination as Alec Guinness. It’s not like Hamlet,” where there is room for interpretation on age and level of sanity, with the Shakespearean creation.
-Also for the first time in his career, Oldman “dithered” for about a month, until he was “pressured” into doing the film that he is now grateful to have made. His doubt was so pronounced that one week into the shoot, as the director, Tomas Alfredson, filmed the opening sequence in Budapest (that did not require the star onset), Oldman called to say, “Maybe I’m not your man.” He admitted that he was sure the producers would not have let him quit.
-Having lived in America for two decades, Oldman’s British accent had changed over time and was compromised by too much time away from England. “I’ll pronounce certain words (with an American accent) and I won’t hear them.” It presented a big issue when playing the Brit, Smiley. “Believe it or not, I (went) to a Jewish New Yorker voice coach (Elizabeth Himelstein) to get my English accent back.” (He was in good hands with Himelstein, who’s worked with dozens of stars challenged with dialect, including Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer on True Blood, Andrew Garfield on The Amazing Spider-Man and Drew Barrymore on Grey Gardens).
-On the Oscar nomination: “I’m having a terrific time… I think you can either be overwhelmed, stressed, cynical about the whole thing or you embrace it and enjoy it … I’ve been in the front cabin. I’ve always wondered what was beyond that curtain (in first class).”
-Funny Oscar luncheon story. Oldman deadpanned, “We had our picture taken. I met Meryl (Streep).” Then he relayed that in 1979, at his first acting job in theater, a teenage Janet McTeer was working the counter in the theater’s cafe. They discussed her future and after she revealed that she wanted to be an actress and had just applied to the Royal Academy of the Dramatic Arts, he wished her luck. 33 years later, with Oldman nominated for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and McTeer nominated for Albert Nobbs, the two stood side-by-side in the “class picture” at the Oscar luncheon. He marveled, “She was (the) girl in the coffee bar. Amazing, isn’t it?”
– Of the characters he’s played: “They’re all outsiders, in one way or another … you don’t get offered every script.” He said after the two films he did with Luc Besson, Leon: The Professional and The Fifth Element, he was typecast in villainous roles for years.
– On Dracula: He says, “I wanted to play that role just to say” the line, “I’ve crossed oceans of time to find you.” Interestingly, Oldman delivers the line off-camera as the camera is on a tight shot of Winona Ryder‘s face.
-On Francis Ford Coppola‘s direction of Dracula: “It’s a movie that ran away with Francis, a little. I think he had this idea that he wanted to do little corners of sets … and it just (became) an opera … a big grand thing for him.” Going along with the grandiosity of that shoot, he later spoke of the famous wig, which he referred to as “Mickey Mouse ears” and “butthead.” He added, “It was nice to see it parodied on The Simpsons.”
-Oldman considered his 34 year-old Tinker Tailor and The Dark Knight Rises co-star Tom Hardy “sort of a contemporary” but “I’ve got 20 years on him, almost.” He’s reminded of his age “when Tom says ‘(I) used to watch you when I was a kid.'” Oldman admits he was the same way around John Hurt, who plays Oldman’s superior in the film. “I was like a fanboy.”
-Fatherhood: Referencing each of his three divorces as a “domestic accident… I’ve had a few,” Oldman was a single father with two kids. He says as film production shifted to Eastern Europe, he turned down several films so he could stay closer to home. Oldman expressed gratitude for “the blessing” of his role as Sirius Black in the Harry Potter film series “falling from the sky,” because it allowed him the freedom to raise his children, without being away too much. As his children have gotten older and Oldman is settled into a happy marriage, he says he may begin to pursue some of those roles again.
-Fans recognize him most often in public for Leon: The Professional. If I have the mustache and I’m wearing glasses, then it’s Commissioner Gordon” from the Dark Knight films. However, he’s “most famous at (his kids’) school” for being the voice of Reznov in the Call of Duty video game series. “I drop my son off at the school and I’m leaving and (he) grabs a friend of his and runs to the gate and he goes ‘Dad! Dad! Do Reznov!'”
-Oldman joked that the moment he realized he was going to be an actor was “when I realized I wasn’t going to be a musician.” He explained that it was actually an early experience seeing Malcolm McDowell onscreen with a mix of menace, vulnerability and unpredictability that drew him to acting.
-Oldman revealed the origin of his character, Drexl Spivey, in True Romance. He was in a trailer on the set of Romeo is Bleeding during a night shoot in Brooklyn, when he heard a group of guys walk by and one had a voice that struck him. He recalls, “I ran out and I said to this kid… Can I borrow you?” The two reviewed the True Romance script in the trailer with Oldman asking him “How would you say this?” and “What words here don’t work?” The encounter led to the formation of Spivey.
– He gave up details on a key scene in The Dark Knight Rises: “There’s an emotional scene coming up in the next Batman, which I am obviously, absolutely sworn to secrecy about… They would kill me. Well, I’d do the press junket and then they’d kill me.” He said, “Watching Michael Caine work, as Alfred, was a great lesson for me. Just focus, concentration. He has this emotional scene. I’m kidding you not. It was tears and the whole thing. And it’s ‘Take 1.’ (Oldman snaps his fingers) He got it. ‘Take 2’ (snaps his fingers again), Got it. Take 3 (snaps his fingers) Got it. He’s just on the money. Every single time. It’s just extraordinary… You get inspired by it.” He added that Caine “loves cricket. He loves soccer. So, he comes to the set and (he) wants to get it done. He doesn’t fuck around because he wants to get back to cricket.” He even gave a little Caine impersonation, “I’ve got to get back.”
-After praising director Mike Leigh’s unconventional style of direction on their work together in the 1984 film Meantime, Oldman deadpanned “I would never work with Mike Leigh again. I’m too famous. I’m not too expensive. Too famous.”
-He called Sid & Nancy, “a thorn in my side.” Oldman didn’t entirely back away from his past criticism of the film, saying, “It IS an old work. It’s cold coffee for me… I’m hyper-critical of what I do and so I watch (it) and go, ‘Oh, get off Gary.'”
-On playing the contained character of George Smiley “was liberating” after decades of emotionally and physically demanding roles. He used Dracula to make the point. Although the sets, makeup and wardrobe help, “the tears are Gary’s tears. It’s not Dracula crying. It’s Gary crying. So, then you have to go somewhere to find it, and then that will contaminate you … there’s a headspace that you have to be in to conjure it up. With Smiley, that melancholy or sadness that he walks around with” did not require Oldman “to demonstrate it or physicalize.” He was “able to do that at home and then all I had to do was have it inside.”
-Saying that age may prevent him from the type of outsized roles he played earlier in his career, he continued, “I look at Heath Ledger. You know, that extraordinary performance as the Joker, and I would think, rather you than me, kid. You know, I look at Tom Hardy and those actors (in) Warrior. What a f—ing day that must have been… You gotta do THAT. It’s really asking something of someone and so (Tinker Tailor) was such a relief to keep it in.”