Director Tomas Alfredson on Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

The director of Let the Right One In talks about his latest film, the slow-burn espionage thriller starring Gary Oldman as John le Carré's iconic spy.

by | December 8, 2011 | Comments

Though he’s been directing films in his home country since the early ’90s, Sweden’s Tomas Alfredson came to the attention of mainstream genre audiences with 2008’s Let the Right One In, an exquisitely pitched coming-of-age horror piece that also happened to be one of the finest films of the decade. For his follow-up, Alfredson has — somewhat curiously — directed an adaptation of John le Carré’s classic espionage novel Tinker Tailor Solder Spy, about a retired British operative (Gary Oldman) called back into the clandestine world of MI6 to flush out a Soviet double-agent. Like his previous film, Alfredson’s latest is another chilling evocation of period — this time an oppressively drab London in 1973 — and features a performance by Oldman so meticulously insular it’s quite unlike anything the actor’s done before. We spoke to Alfredson recently about the film.


How did you arrive at Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy? I’m guessing you would have been offered a lot of horror films after the success of Let the Right One In.

Tomas Alfredson: Yes — and I can’t blame people for that, because they don’t know about my previous work. It was a little strange, the situation, because I’ve been directing films and stage plays and television for 20 years before that, and suddenly to experience this change quite late in my career was confusing — and I wasn’t sure if that was a dream come true. I didn’t know, really, in what direction to turn. So I decided to work with theater for a while, and do something else. The making of Let the Right One In was very demanding, and in many ways very unhappy, because back home it was a film that nobody would touch when it was finalized. The distributor wasn’t interested; the theater owners didn’t believe in it; the financiers disappeared. It was sort of put away in a cupboard for 10 months, so it was like… I thought I did a flop. And I loved it; I had invested so much time and love into it, so I was so disappointed about that. And then it started — before it actually opened in Sweden — it was shown in festivals here and there, and the success story of it started.

So I was very confused by that. I read hundreds of scripts [afterwards], but they didn’t really interest me. Then one day, this. I think it was my manager that heard that Working Title, the production company, had retrieved the rights to Tinker Tailor and, oh, I remember those gray men [laughs] from the TV series from the ’70s — I thought, “Yeah, that sounds interesting.” And I met with them, and Mr. le Carré himself, and I think that those meetings made me want to do it — and the material, of course.

Is it true that John le Carré saw Let the Right One In and said “Hire this guy”?

Maybe! I have to ask. John le Carré is a very open-minded person, and he’s very updated. I don’t know any 80-year-old guy who is so updated with everything. He reads everything. He’s informed. He has the telephone number to anyone. And he sees everything that’s presented in theaters and on television. But I haven’t asked him.

There’s a similarity to the secretive, almost suffocating worlds of the main characters in Let the Right One In and Tinker Tailor — is that a dimension of stories that appeals to you?

I think it’s people who look differently on the outside to how they look on the inside — that’s what interests me; and I think, maybe, that is a description of myself in many ways. It’s quite hard to describe why you want to do something. It’s just something that happens. The less you know about those things the better, I think; you can peek into that too much, your inner mechanisms. I think filmmaking is 95 per cent exactly the same for any filmmaker — it’s that last five per cent that you shouldn’t investigate too much.

What’s your personal relationship to this British espionage world? You were growing up in Sweden at the time the movie is set. What are your memories of the Cold War?

Well the espionage world I don’t know anything about, except the things you’ve seen on TV, but we were very close to the Cold War and we lived even closer to the Iron Curtain. Sweden was a very strange mixture of this social democratic rule and old feudal monarchy, so there are a lot of cultural connections to the British in many ways, in what kind of history we had in the feudal system — which is very unmodern, but still, it’s there. On television there were two state-controlled channels and sometimes there was some import from England or the US. From America it was something tinsel, in color and very glittery, promising a lot; and then there would be something gray, and brown, from the BBC. [Laughs]

You seem to have a gift for capturing the essence of time periods without drawing attention to them. What’s the trick? Not emphasizing very obvious period details?

Yes. It’s like, it’s too easy to put sideburns on everyone and play hit records, you know — all those cheap ways into the hearts of people. I think the period was so much about, not ’73, as this is set in, it’s about the ’60s and ’50s and ’40s — all the periods before that. Because if you would visit someone in a home in 1973 there would be one chair that was bought last year and the rest would be stuff from the ’40s or the ’50s. Too often people always sort of push the volume to 10 when they’re doing period stuff. But, it’s of course a lot of fun to do it, and revisit — especially if you have experienced it yourself. I have very clear memories myself. I visited London for the first time when I was seven or eight, in exactly those years.

And it looked that dreary, huh?

Yeah. [Laughs] I think so.

There’s quite a distinctive shot in the film with graffiti on a wall reading “The Future is Female,” which stood out for me in the context of the movie. Was it a reference to anything?

Yeah, it was Maria [Djurkovic], the production designer, who’s a fantastic person and a fantastic designer. We had this big wall down there and we wanted to do something with it, and she made some graffiti. [Laughs] I thought the line was beautiful; a very nice statement. I know that the art department people were quarreling about it.

Really? It was great because the film is so entrenched in this hermetic, masculine world and then all of the sudden there’s this weird flash of lighting from the future.

Yes! I love it. I thought it was brilliant. [Laughs]


Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy opens in limited release this week, and expands wider next week. Look for our interview with Gary Oldman next week.


Tag Cloud

fast and furious PBS police drama Pirates SundanceTV 2020 The Arrangement GIFs hispanic game of thrones ratings Kids & Family psychological thriller NBC HBO nature Musicals Cannes USA documentaries HBO Max italian crime drama crossover FX Amazon Prime Video strong female leads Music Walt Disney Pictures spider-man TCA 2017 Teen PlayStation Spike hist Comedy Central dogs X-Men zombies Animation politics Stephen King screen actors guild Chernobyl twilight finale romantic comedy latino TV renewals Binge Guide Film thriller quibi Black Mirror ABC stoner werewolf french Dark Horse Comics Endgame blaxploitation Spectrum Originals Comics on TV Chilling Adventures of Sabrina kids Drama Disney streaming service satire Summer Election Pop Cartoon Network Rom-Com Warner Bros. sequels Starz Elton John crime unscripted Epix boxoffice children's TV VOD space binge Shudder PaleyFest fresh Super Bowl Schedule LGBT MTV The Walking Dead superhero award winner mutant science fiction christmas movies singing competition Trivia spanish slashers renewed TV shows worst Oscars TNT Opinion crime thriller Rock sports Sony Pictures directors diversity OneApp adventure GLAAD Turner Classic Movies Apple Amazon Studios Classic Film 2018 Star Trek Travel Channel Netflix Christmas movies Polls and Games Mudbound dramedy Women's History Month 2017 teaser Song of Ice and Fire Discovery Channel black Pride Month sequel Pet Sematary 2016 movies Nominations A&E Certified Fresh Amazon concert BBC One Television Critics Association Podcast 24 frames social media medical drama TCA Black History Month independent romance 45 Nat Geo 99% Heroines Countdown breaking bad Comedy 72 Emmy Awards natural history Showtime Red Carpet harry potter VICE australia casting versus Disney Channel Mary poppins anime what to watch MCU Superheroe robots die hard Mystery Acorn TV discovery Writers Guild of America Reality Competition composers Video Games Bravo ID Rocky nfl Peacock elevated horror Tumblr A24 all-time Comic Book cars spy thriller BBC America 2019 documentary CMT theme song period drama spanish language 21st Century Fox Grammys canceled Netflix Anna Paquin BET 20th Century Fox festivals Brie Larson IFC Films Thanksgiving Avengers Apple TV+ Fox Searchlight See It Skip It cancelled biography 4/20 Toys ghosts cults reboot RT21 Calendar Family Crunchyroll Hear Us Out ESPN Winter TV stop motion reviews indie DC Comics FOX Year in Review sitcom Emmys japanese Ovation Lifetime Christmas movies rotten movies we love festival Sci-Fi game show DirecTV cinemax Pixar TBS The CW CNN vampires cancelled television Emmy Nominations ITV zombie best WGN movie TCA Awards worst movies boxing Ghostbusters TLC Reality blockbuster deadpool Interview Valentine's Day sag awards obituary comics Vudu AMC technology FX on Hulu animated jamie lee curtis Disney+ Disney Plus Universal TCM true crime cancelled TV series adaptation IFC witnail criterion a nightmare on elm street indiana jones Academy Awards Lucasfilm Adult Swim Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt cancelled TV shows Extras History E! National Geographic YouTube Premium cartoon Trophy Talk football Western Crackle book BBC Hulu Arrowverse Sneak Peek 71st Emmy Awards talk show American Society of Cinematographers supernatural Star Wars franchise Columbia Pictures comic books golden globes Lionsgate DC streaming service spinoff comiccon james bond SXSW E3 south america Funimation Martial Arts Paramount nbcuniversal Fantasy Cosplay laika venice doctor who Creative Arts Emmys Set visit USA Network MSNBC Amazon Prime Christmas RT History Marathons Fox News Mary Tyler Moore TruTV Logo Winners Nickelodeon batman cops Premiere Dates Turner Infographic child's play Baby Yoda dceu Country revenge CW Seed streaming Marvel Television historical drama Quiz facebook TV Rocketman CBS All Access Ellie Kemper Box Office Marvel Mindy Kaling Tarantino Paramount Network zero dark thirty toy story Disney Plus Film Festival 007 Alien OWN CBS chucky BAFTA classics television mission: impossible Sundance Britbox Biopics archives tv talk films Marvel Studios rt archives Photos Horror comic Trailer remakes Shondaland transformers emmy awards Best and Worst based on movie Sundance Now Awards Tour parents YA Action miniseries President foreign joker dc dragons Musical anthology New York Comic Con critics canceled TV shows El Rey news The Academy halloween The Witch Food Network YouTube Red 2015 Hallmark psycho WarnerMedia Freeform asian-american dark Pop TV TIFF Superheroes SDCC HBO Go NYCC The Purge TV Land Watching Series GoT First Look Sundance TV serial killer disaster LGBTQ FXX Esquire video on demand justice league Fall TV free movies Holidays Apple TV Plus cooking Mary Poppins Returns cats Awards name the review stand-up comedy universal monsters screenings green book rotten San Diego Comic-Con video docudrama First Reviews Holiday Syfy BET Awards political drama ABC Family war scary movies Disney TCA Winter 2020 VH1 Captain marvel YouTube Tomatazos toronto Spring TV series APB comedies Lifetime aliens Masterpiece Television Academy scorecard halloween tv travel Character Guide DGA mockumentary richard e. Grant Tubi spain hollywood Hallmark Christmas movies DC Universe