Gary Oldman In The Hunt For First Oscar Nomination With 'Tinker Tailor'

From his first appearance on the world stage as the tragic Sid Vicious in Sid And Nancy, Gary Oldman has established himself as an elusive, hard-to-predict character actor. He’s been villainous — Lee Harvey Oswald in JFK, Carnegie in The Book Of Eli or Korshunov in Air Force One — and he’s been heroic, like Sirius Black in the Harry Potter series and Jim Gordon in Christopher Nolan’s Batman films. Often known for his showy acting, Oldman tones it way down for the more ambiguous George Smiley in this year’s awards contender Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

Although Tinker Tailor has yet to make much of an impact this awards season, it has turned into a hit in England and a sizable success so far in limited release in the U.S., where it has grossed over $4 million since opening December 16. It will expand to 800 screens on Friday. Oldman is receiving the International Star award at the Palm Springs International Film Festival on Saturday and will receive a three-day retrospective of his films beginning Monday at the Arclight in Hollywood. Surprisingly, he has never been nominated for an Oscar. Focus Features, which provided Deadline with an exclusive clip of Oldman (see below), is releasing Tinker Tailor in the U.S. and is obviously hoping to change that, backing Oldman with an extensive campaign that has included many Q&A appearances from the star himself. I spoke with him at one of those, and here are some highlights of that conversation that recently appeared in an issue of AwardsLine.

Playing Against Type:

You’re at the mercy of the imagination of the people out there who are casting you; they see you and you do get into a little bit of a groove and you get typecast. I applaud people like Christopher Nolan and Tomas Alfredson for seeing something else there. It was a great opportunity to play a character like this. I think it was [legendary acting teacher Sanford] Meisner who said, “An ounce of behavior is worth a pound of words.”

How He Created His Character:

Well, you’re working from a great piece of literature. So it’s like these giants of writing: Tony Kushner, Arthur Miller, John le Carré. The script to me is your map of the world and all the clues to playing Smiley were in the book. When in doubt it became the Holy Grail. Although it’s set in the Cold War period, the story remains timeless: I don’t think a great deal has changed. I never really looked at this as a period piece as such. The faces have changed; the enemy changes, but we seem to continually go through these moments of stability that are punctuated with the promise of annihilation. That’s what I remember when I was a teenager growing up I the ’70s, we thought World War III was going to happen.

Resonance With Today’s Corporate Culture:

I think that’s also why the book has enjoyed such longevity. It might be the closest thing to the corporate world.

Techniques He Used To Prepare For The Part:

Sometimes it starts with a silhouette. I mean specifically for Tinker the silhouette was a photograph of Graham Greene in sort of the late ’30s, looking very suave with a cigarette and a trench coat and a Macintosh, and that was the beginning of Smiley. Again, you had this great book and you look for the clues … I call this kitchen acting, like I’m in my kitchen, and I pace. And I put the script on the counter. And I do that bookwork there. But you can only work it to a point. I don’t know what Colin Firth has been doing in his kitchen. So you get together and you wait. How is he going to hit the ball back? It’s exhilarating and it’s terrifying and that’s what keeps you doing it.

Working With Alfredson:

Tomas has great faith in you. And he’s cast you; in his opinion, 85% of the work is accomplished right there. He’s decisive; he’s very sure of his talent. He sets a wonderful atmosphere to work in. It’s very open and creative. And it really does come from the top, an atmosphere on a set. … He expects you to do the work and come ready.

What He Looks For In A Role:

It’s been 10 years of fantasy. It’s been Harry Potter and it’s been Batman and I feel very grateful that I’ve been associated with them. Of course, Sirius Black and Jim Gordon are great parts. But I haven’t played a lead for … I can’t remember when. So you wait for something to come in. There are things you hear about and things you chase and say I’d like to be cast in this and yeah I can play that part.

There’s A Possibility That He’ll Play Smiley Again:

Well, there are whispers that they may do another. It was hugely successful in the UK, and much to our surprise there was an audience for it. … Most of the critics liked it. It was No. 1 for something like four weeks in a row. It all comes down to money. … If they want me to do it again, I’d love to. I miss George. I was excited to get in the car and get to work and sort of put him on.

Here’s the clip:

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  1. Truly great actor. Disappears into his roles. Should have been nominated for Sid and Nancy, JFK, The Contender, Dracula, etc. He was also excellent in True Romance, The Fifth Element, and Air Force One.

    1. Child, how you go up an leave out Drexel Spivey in TRUE ROMANCE?

      THE PROFESSIONAL was a piece of work too!

  2. Ive seen the film a few times now and Benedict Cumberbatch and Mark Strong are the stand outs in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. I dont think Oldman will win.

    1. He would not win in a line-up with Clooney and Pitt. But he deserves a nomination. I thought he was brilliant.

    2. I’d have to sadly disagree. Watch the original BBC series and it’ll be clear how Cumberbatch was fundamentally miscast for this role. Peter Guillam is supposed to be a rugged 40 year old ladies man recovering from a nervous breakdown after losing a dozen of his agents in a botched showdown with a superior Soviet spy. He’s a charming guy who’s also tough enough to strike fear in the dark heart of Ricky Tarr. I like Benedict as a performer (he’s great as Sherlock Holmes in the new BBC series), but he just had no prayer of living up to Michael Jayston’s definitive portrayal when this Guillam was written as a callow young dandy with bad hair: “Do you know how that makes me feel?!”, indeed.

        1. @Alex. Fair point, I misspoke somewhat. How’s this? The part was poorly conceived, badly written and Benedict was not able to redeem it with his performance.

  3. Nom, or not, clearly our man is one of the best actors ever. Is there someone, somewhere that disagrees? Acad is the one looking bad on this particular topic. Or is this just my opinion?

  4. Gary Oldman deserves a nomination, but while he’s a busy movie actor, he doesn’t appear to fit in with the rest of Hollywood. Oscar seems to be more about the “in crowd” patting each other on the back, & he doesn’t strike me as being part of that in crowd.

    1. Cos Daniel Day-Lewis is such an “in crowd” guy, always out partying and in the tabloids…Oh wait.

      Or Colin Firth.

      Come on, REALLY?

      1. I’m not saying that the Oscars never go to outsiders, but there appears to be a quota on the number of outsiders and a lot of internal Hollywood politics over the whole process.

        Outsider Daniel Day Lewis beat insider George Clooney because he was the obvious choice from Day 1 of the release of There Will Be Blood, which was far superior to Michael Clayton. To deny him the Oscar would have made them look like fools.

        Colin Firth fit the quota because the none of the others nominees were either too young (Jesse Eisenberg / James Franco), too foreign (Javier Bardem), or, while long admired, making them partially “inside,” had already recently won the prize (Jeff Bridges).

        Oldman will most likely be up against both Clooney, Pitt, and DiCaprio for films that are the obvious Oscar choices the Academy loves to have. That leaves the spots for the less “obvious” choices going to some combo of either Hollywood darling Ryan Gosling for Ides Of March, a film hardly anyone saw, but the Academy would love, Jean Dujardin as the token foreign language guy, and Michael Fassbender’s role in Shame, which the Academy’s mass-mind might pick as their token sign of supporting edgy material.

        Then there’s Oldman’s business partner/executive producer Douglas Urbanski being of a political stripe that Hollywood does not particularly care for. That can definitely be held against Oldman getting the nomination.

  5. Ranks with Scorsese not winning until 2006 on my list of ‘biggest injustices’ – but Oldman without a nomination? He elevated Jim Gordon, long a very secondary character in “Batman.” His body of work speaks for itself.

    I think if DiCaprio is in the conversation, despite very tepid reviews for his film, overlooking Oldman is unfathomable.

  6. He was, as always, excellent. I’ve read the book a couple of times, saw the original movie wiht Alec Guinness and, spy geek and Le Carre fan that I am, listened to the BBC radio version many times and still after all my Tinker, Tailoring, I was delighted by this one. And damn did he have George Smiley down.

    I’d certainly give him the statue over Pitt or Clooney – in any other year neither of those films or their stars would even be considered for an Oscar – just goes to show what a sucky year it’s been for movies.

  7. No doubt Gary Oldman is one of the finest actors working today. Certainly he’s worthy of a nomination. However, I don’t think he deserves an Oscar for his role in Tinker Taylor.

    1. Maybe not, but Scorsese won for The Departed, not Goodfellas or Taxi Driver. Giving Gary something would at least recognize his body of work, if nothing else – The Professional, JFK, Sid and Nancy, Rosencrantz, Batman etc.

  8. He’s definitely one of the finest and most underrated actors around, but it seems both astounding and totally reasonable as to why he has never gotten an Oscar nomination in either category.

    I think he’s suffered from a bad mix of lack of studio push, lack of politicking, acting in films that are too commercial, acting in films that aren’t commercial or visible enough, having his finest performances buried in ensemble films, etc.

    It’s not just that he’s not getting Oscar noms — he’s not getting many noms from anyone else. Since 2000 (and before TTSS), he’s had TWO nominations of any kind from any publication or industry circle: 2004 Saturn Award Nom for best supporting actor for portraying Sirius Black in Harry Potter 3 (Azkaban), and the Scream Award for best supporting actor for playing Jim Gordon in The Dark Knight. And before that (and basically in his whole career before TTSS), he’s had only ONE performance that garnered even 2 noms (The Contender – SAG and Independent Spirit; not counting Air Force One and his MTV and Blockbuster noms) That’s it.

    Of course, NONE of this really matters to him or anyone else, because he’s universally considered a fine actor. But it’s just strange to see how much he’s become a sort of victim of circumstance and timing.

  9. Academy show Gary some love. He should’ve been nominated for “The Professional”, “True Romance” and “Air Force One”

  10. Gary Oldman lifts anything he is in. If I see his name in a cast list I know his part of whatever it is will be interesting and excellent.

  11. This should be an indictment of Hollywood. HOW has this guy never been nominated for an Oscar? No wonder the show’s ratings are awful.

  12. Long after the awards are handed out and E tv goes hogwarts with their red carpet b.s., Oldman’s work will still be around. SID AND NANCY…see it in a theatre, where cinema is meant to really be seen. This is really the role of a lifetime for him because it’s all about the subtly and the behavior of a seemingly, mild mannered, thinking and emotionally vacant character. He is forced, due to the conflict of circumstances in the narrative of covert spy genres…to do much, much more with saying less. He’s not going to go BOURNE on any of us. Hope Oldman gets the Oscar…but it’s such a long shot this year. Pitt is just as good at his character’s subtleness in MONEYBALL.

  13. He was great in SID AND NANCY. And PRICK UP YOUR EARS. And IMMORTAL BELOVED. And…
    That he wasn’t at least nominated is something that needs to be corrected.
    And he turned down Geroge Lucas for a part in a Star Wars prequel.
    (Okay I’m not sure how that’s relevant)
    He’s no chance against Pitt or Clooney, this year. But his work in TTSS is brilliant. Joe Bob say check it out.

  14. Oldman is the best…period. The other actors in consideration all acknowledge that Oldman is someone they admire. Where Oldman is different from Day-Lewis is that Oldman is turely a rebel and an outsider, while Day-Lewis is enduring and humble. Both are excellent actors but in personality, very different. You’re punk rock Gary!

  15. If you truly understood Tinker Tailor Solider Spy without looking up the synopsis on wikipedia, you deserve a medal.

  16. I haven’t seen TINKER TAILOR yet, but everyone is saying it’s his best performance to date. Is this true? I mean, given his body of work, this must be one mind-blowing performance!

    I mean, here’s an actor who can make even the crappiest films at least watchable (excluding LOST IN SPACE. There’s just no hope for that one) I just recently saw him in SCARLET LETTER and I am appalled that he didn’t get any recognition for it! The man was breathtaking in it!! Every time he appeared on screen he either made me feel warm and tingly or had me reaching for the tissues (I can’t believe he was completely drunk the whole time). Stupid Academy. This better be his year.

  17. “What do you think spies are?” he asks. “They are a bunch of seedy squalid bastards like me, little drunkards, queers, henpecked husbands …”

    Although the quote is from a different movie is it easy to say that it would be just as much a shame to try to remake that movie also.

    How really can you try to remake greatness.
    Unless you have an in-depth knowledge of the book or watched the miniseries the movie doesn’t quite work.

  18. Leave Dujardin out. I like him, big fan of 0SS117 and Un gars, une fille but he has no dialogue, it just doesn’t seem fair to others. He did good but he didn’t have to concentrate on voice-acting, making it easier.

  19. I came on here to say, “hey, you forgot to mention True Romance.”. Oldman is a great actor who I hope wins an Oscar someday. He is the sole reason I will see Tinker.

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