Five Favorite Films

Five Favorite Films with Gary Oldman

Plus, the star of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy on his unusual performance -- and just why he feels a little smug about the movie's success.

by | December 13, 2011 | Comments

As the movie industry plunges into the annual self-congratulatory farce of awards season, pause to consider this: Gary Oldman has never been nominated for an Academy Award. No, really — we checked. Not even a lousy Golden Globe. That may be about to change for the great British actor, however, whose unusually quiet (and seemingly effortless) performance as John le Carré’s enigmatic George Smiley in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy has critics finally predicting a Best Actor nomination. Not that he needs it. Over a nearly-30-year career Oldman has delivered some of cinema’s most electrifying performances, in films like Sid and Nancy, Dracula, Prick Up Your Ears, True Romance, Léon and State of Grace, plus given invaluable supporting turns in blockbusters (Harry Potter, Nolan’s Batman) that would be all the poorer without him. We sat down with the surprisingly soft-spoken actor recently for a chat about playing the “jazzy” Smiley versus his “rock-n-roll” characters, why it’s conventional industry wisdom not to make adult dramas — and how the success of this particular one is so satisfying as a result. First up, here are Oldman’s five favorite films.

Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979; 99% Tomatometer)


Well, three Coppola movies. The list changes, but I always hold the three Coppola movies. Apocalypse Now — the sheer grandeur of it, and the originality of it.

The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974; 98% Tomatometer)



I love Gene Hackman in The Conversation. I love that internal man who’s just, you know, very closed down.

The Godfather: Part II (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974; 98% Tomatometer)



With these three [Coppola’s] a great storyteller. Godfather: Part II, I just think it’s a master class in acting, production design, directing, lighting, composition. I think that if you were a film student, you’ve got — the way he tells the story, it’s masterful storytelling. And it never ever seems to disappoint.

Badlands (Terrence Malick, 1973; 99% Tomatometer)



I love Badlands because, I think, I like the interior — I love the story told through Sissy Spacek’s character. I think the telling of it is delicate. It’s just exquisite, that sense of the relationship seen through her; as if she’s telling one story and we’re witnessing another.

Ratcatcher (Lynne Ramsay, 1998; 84% Tomatometer)



Switching from that to a small indie movie, a Lynne Ramsay movie called Ratcatcher — I just think it’s a masterful piece of filmmaking. I mean, there’s Taxi Driver, there’s Raging Bull… there’s even — I love King of Comedy. Then there’s Kubrick; the list goes on and on. So there’s many, many, many — but off the top of my head, that would be five.

Next, Oldman on “putting on” his character forTinker Tailor Soldier Spy and the satisfaction in being a part of a successful adult thriller.

 

It’s interesting you mention The Conversation, and the interior nature of Gene Hackman’s performance as Harry Caul. Was the insularity of George Smiley something that appealed to you, given you’re well known, at least in the US, for more brash, extroverted roles?

Gary Oldman: Yeah. Well, you’ve got such a great piece of writing — it nearly always comes down to that. I always think that if you break a sweat you’re working too hard, and you’re often trying to support the material — you’re holding it up with the pyrotechnics, or just technique. Here, you always felt that you were so supported by a great text — and the subtext, the book — that you felt that you could bring it with you. It lived with you, and you could bring it to a scene. So, where obviously they’ve had to throw out 300 pages of this book and reduce a scene to a composition and four lines and a look, you always felt that you were never out there like a cork on the water, you know. You had a base, a story, a life that you could always bring to a scene. In essence, it’s telling the story in a very shorthand way.

[Long pause] You know, you often, as an actor, with those sort of emotional, kinetic parts that you play, there’s a cloud that sort of comes over your day. You get to work in the morning and it’s almost as if you’re at the base of a mountain, and you’re looking at the peak and you think, “I’ve got to get there today.” And you’re digging and going to the well of whatever it is to find it, and it’s like rock-n-roll, you know — you gotta burn from the first bar, and just explode. With Smiley, it’s more like jazz: you kind of get to the solo — but you find it. [Other roles] would always haunt me. “Terrify” is not the right word; you’d just get in there and look at that peak and go, [deep breath] “I’ve gotta pull something out of the bag today — I’ve gotta go to a place.” I loved George because, in a way, all that work — whatever emotional terrain you had to navigate — it was all done before you get there. It was somewhat of a relief for me as an actor.

It’s a very different approach for you, then.

Yeah, to be able to just sort of put on that suit — to sort of “put him on,” and then just rest back in a chair.

Did you look at Alec Guinness’s performance as Smiley at all?

I only remember it from television in ’79.

 

How much of the performance is, as you say, “putting him on” — choosing the right glasses, getting the hair right?

Well the silhouette that you see, when you look in the mirror, is very important — because there’s a physicality to it, how you put a person together and find him. First of all you’ve got the book; you know, it was really one-stop shopping, because it was the book, the script and le Carré, who we had access to if we wanted. So I spoke to him. He had been in MI5, and anything that I wanted to know in and around the book, I could just ask him questions about what Smiley would have done and what he was like in the field. So we’re seeing, in a way, all these scenes sort of start in the middle; there’s life that you can actually bring to it before they say action. [Director] Tomas [Alfredson] sent me a photograph of Graham Green in the ’40s, looking rather suave with a cigarette and a Mackintosh, and he liked the image of him; and that was sort of the beginning of the shape, or the silhouette of Smiley. If the material is good, all the clues are there. It really does come down to how good it is. And it’s subtextual, because it’s grown-up stuff — it’s adult drama. I’m rather happy that we’ve had a success with this film [in the UK] and we’re riding in on that wave. We’re coming in on a wave of box-office success, and it’s the third rail, you know — adult drama is the live rail that you’re not supposed to touch. There’s this sort of unchallenged industry wisdom nowadays where they say, “Oh, you can’t do adult drama,” “People don’t like it,” and “There’s no audience for it.”

That’s pretty alarming. Do you hear it often?

Yeah, you hear this. It’s very hard to get money. “What’s it about? Hmmm, I don’t know. I don’t know whether you can get that financed.” And so much so that, I mean, [Tinker Tailor producers] Working Title, who have sort of a deal with Universal — they have a first-look deal — didn’t want to do this movie [at first], and for obvious reasons. It’s a bit of a gamble. It doesn’t pander to Bond and Bourne and those types of movies. There’s no gunfire, really, in it, or explosions. It’s a very sort of slow-paced thriller.

Which is why it’s so great that it has been a success at the box-office.

Well yeah… and I feel kind of a little smug about it.

I think you’re completely entitled to.

Yeah, and I have no horse in the race. It’s not like I’ve got a percentage or a back-end and things if it does well. I don’t see any money from that. It’s just satisfying.

[Executive producer Douglas Urbanski wanders into the room]

Don’t you think it’s satisfying that people in the UK went and saw this movie? All those f-ckers that said, “Don’t make adult drama.”

Douglas Urbanski: Oh, it’s the third rail! We’re not supposed to make adult films. We never knew if one person was gonna buy a ticket, or ten, or one hundred. And they tend to think — especially when it comes to America — that the press and the critics and the audience are gonna be stupid. We don’t know the answer to that ’til it opens. But if the adult drama is to survive, you know — they’re impossible to finance.

GO: Yeah, I was just saying; they’re impossible.


Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is in theaters now.

Tag Cloud

Ghostbusters Nickelodeon Winners slashers basketball Universal Pictures 2015 SundanceTV toronto cancelled Fall TV crime dark cops dramedy debate Cannes award winner Paramount Network comic hispanic heritage month Set visit FX on Hulu aliens spy thriller disaster police drama SXSW space Turner sag awards all-time VH1 Marvel Television black die hard spain E3 Red Carpet Apple TV+ versus Tubi dexter ABC Crackle The Walt Disney Company tv talk Oscars social media Disney Plus breaking bad dceu name the review ViacomCBS parents saw wonder woman Super Bowl dogs Superheroes unscripted Broadway Schedule Neflix festival 93rd Oscars romance Photos OneApp james bond anthology diversity Tokyo Olympics Shudder book Baby Yoda MTV 71st Emmy Awards black comedy series fresh Dark Horse Comics comedies Academy Awards comic book movie Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt casting Premiere Dates Pride Month Fox News japan rt archives chucky rt labs critics edition Pacific Islander book adaptation technology slasher Instagram Live PBS blockbusters Exclusive Video Heroines Stephen King venice reviews History TLC HBO Awards CBS concert Avengers italian international Valentine's Day mcc Character Guide Funimation Pirates YouTube Red Marvel TCA fast and furious Mary Tyler Moore dc 4/20 Lionsgate Esquire Sneak Peek best godzilla TruTV Creative Arts Emmys BBC DGA RT History CW Seed Lifetime Christmas movies rt labs AMC Plus hollywood new star wars movies children's TV foreign USA Mudbound dragons Binge Guide game of thrones crime drama marvel comics toy story Disney period drama Elton John football 2021 IMDb TV Adult Swim Turner Classic Movies scary indie TV movies binge feel good Discovery Channel BET 21st Century Fox Superheroe crossover Horror universal monsters OWN films romantic comedy spider-verse Logo australia X-Men worst A24 posters BBC America E! crime thriller adventure high school First Reviews HBO Go miniseries FX Hear Us Out blaxploitation action-comedy Comics on TV directors travel San Diego Comic-Con talk show game show Food Network LGBT Arrowverse Writers Guild of America renewed TV shows Amazon Studios canceled docuseries docudrama spinoff nfl Black Mirror Film Festival cancelled TV series Universal screen actors guild anime sequels based on movie Emmy Nominations hist historical drama singing competition Apple TV Plus CMT Trivia gangster 2020 obituary child's play documentary worst movies American Society of Cinematographers golden globes NBA archives classics BET Awards vs. franchise Cartoon Network finale sitcom Year in Review Amazon Marathons Best and Worst sopranos Sony Pictures BBC One comics Classic Film Sci-Fi TV Apple boxing japanese Lifetime Trophy Talk serial killer PaleyFest 2016 Marvel Studios war Starz DirecTV National Geographic canceled TV shows Amazon Prime Masterpiece 24 frames comic book movies a nightmare on elm street Television Critics Association Song of Ice and Fire TBS richard e. Grant olympics trailers biopic Box Office Pixar El Rey rom-coms nature Nat Geo nbcuniversal pirates of the caribbean aapi young adult 007 elevated horror superman sports Syfy art house mockumentary Sundance Now AMC kaiju Mary Poppins Returns cancelled television superhero asian-american genre mutant The Walking Dead target biography Paramount DC streaming service composers king kong NYCC justice league spanish language transformers cats TCA Winter 2020 Countdown jamie lee curtis Paramount Plus Reality free movies medical drama Holidays Black History Month Tomatazos festivals VOD cancelled TV shows 2019 sequel harry potter new york DC Comics 72 Emmy Awards Peacock Spike Podcast Acorn TV Britbox YA Endgame Hallmark Christmas movies stop motion lord of the rings halloween TV One Spectrum Originals video on demand Pop CNN Star Wars monster movies Grammys See It Skip It thriller know your critic Hallmark TV Land First Look golden globe awards documentaries Thanksgiving scary movies Television Academy Vudu comic books GLAAD ABC Signature television Ovation YouTube The Academy natural history GIFs Teen A&E kids TV renewals halloween tv 73rd Emmy Awards rotten Disney+ Disney Plus YouTube Premium dreamworks Fox Searchlight blockbuster Freeform Film Nominations Travel Channel Pop TV PlayStation Spring TV animated MCU Mary poppins rotten movies we love twilight BAFTA Image Comics new zealand Legendary Disney streaming service marvel cinematic universe Action deadpool TIFF 20th Century Fox Mindy Kaling Lucasfilm zombies suspense science fiction Trailer ghosts ID Sundance spider-man stoner strong female leads prank adenture Biopics Calendar stand-up comedy Watching Series criterion streaming emmy awards Opinion Netflix Video Games cults Infographic political drama Country critic resources ABC Family critics DC Universe cars TNT Fantasy live action Sundance TV Toys south america razzies NBC Quiz live event IFC Films Certified Fresh Christmas 99% king arthur Crunchyroll Awards Tour heist movie Polls and Games telelvision Rocketman GoT LGBTQ Mystery Winter TV indiana jones Star Trek Comedy Reality Competition FOX Rock Rom-Com legend 1990s The CW quibi Disney Channel ITV CBS All Access Western streaming movies Interview HBO Max video MSNBC VICE Bravo kong Rocky popular zero dark thirty Election Wes Anderson spanish Hulu jurassic park New York Comic Con Martial Arts Extras APB true crime 90s batman Music Warner Bros. Summer independent Shondaland Emmys Chernobyl Alien cinemax Kids & Family 2017 Drama The Witch Epix TCA 2017 TCM french women zombie green book movies Brie Larson The Arrangement Comic-Con@Home 2021 joker TCA Awards psychological thriller reboot supernatural Holiday movie royal family satire news Women's History Month mission: impossible hidden camera cartoon psycho Musicals screenings laika scene in color remakes cooking Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Cosplay FXX doctor who discovery Comic Book WGN Tumblr revenge vampires Columbia Pictures mob ratings The Purge christmas movies President Pet Sematary werewolf theme song IFC Anna Paquin hispanic Tarantino ESPN WarnerMedia scorecard Amazon Prime Video Ellie Kemper 2018 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards Showtime Comedy Central Musical Walt Disney Pictures boxoffice teaser Animation facebook adaptation SDCC Netflix Christmas movies USA Network comiccon witnail RT21 45 Family Captain marvel latino robots politics what to watch