SPOILER ALERT: This article contains details of the Slow Horses season finale.
EXCLUSIVE: “You know, to be able to sort of wrap it all up playing Jackson Lamb, I would consider myself very honored and very lucky to be able to do that,” says Gary Oldman of his disheveled Slow Horses role and the potential end of his long and acclaimed acting career. “I would never say never,” the Oscar winner added of making AppleTV+’s adaption of Mick Herron’s MI5 novels his swan song.
Having already filmed a second Dead Lions season, based on Herron’s 2013 book, the six-episode Will Smith (not that one) adapted Slow Horses came to a somewhat triumphant end today with the James Hawes helmed “Follies.” Kristin Scott Thomas’s MI5 Deputy Director Diana Taverner escaped the mess and horrors of her false flag operation kidnapping the British nephew of a top Pakistan intelligence official thanks to Oldman’s Lamb, his gaggle of self-described “losers,” and a well thrown rock from the nearly beheaded Hassan Ahmed (Antonio Aakeel).
Still with much unfinished business and exiled to the hinterlands of Slough House, the very well-connected River Cartwright (Jack Lowden) received some seasoned advice from his Jonathan Pryce portrayed grandfather of the intricacies of spy craft office politics.
Along with a glimpse at Oldman and Pryce’s characters past, that advise that plays out in the Dead Lions teaser that played at the end of the Slow Horses finale. A glimpse at the next installment, expected to debut later this year, that finds that Cold War past coming barreling into the present.
With all that, Oldman chatted with me about the end of Slow Horses, the reunion with his Darkest Hour co-star, the coming Dead Lions and his new(ish) found love of the small screen. The Tinker Tailor Solider Spy alum also dropped some significant hints of his own future and the inspiration he drew from the late, great Peter Falk.
DEADLINE: Right up until the very end, so much of Slow Horses was the dynamic literally and figuratively between yourself as Jackson and your Darkest Hour co-star Kristin Scott Thomas as the MI5 Deputy Director. Clearly that relationship is going to be a big part of Dead Lions, but what was it like for you this time round?
OLDMAN: We had a terrific time working together, Dominic It was lovely when I was on board with this and they said we got Kristin Scott Thomas to play Taverner, so that was good news because we’d had such a great time together last time.
DEADLINE: Besides the obvious, how was it different than Darkest Hour?
OLDMAN: Our scenes in Darkest Hour were very brief really. We often just wish we had other scenes, so we could do more. So, it’s not only nice to reconnect, but we had some real juicy scenes in Slow Horses. If we’re lucky enough to kind of continue this journey and shoot some of the other books, because the relationship between them is a wonderful one.
I’m thinking for example of the scene in Episode 3 where we have that one scene on the park bench. It’s just wonderful to have really good writing in your mouth and to be able to play tennis with someone like that.
DEADLINE: What is the appeal of the relationship between Jackson and Tavernor to you, because there is some respect there, but a lot of derision…
OLDMAN: They’re like a bickering married couple that stayed married because of the kids. Now, the kids have grown up and gone and they sort of…you know, it’s like they should have ended the marriage years ago but they’re still there. They just sort of have to put up with one another, and they know each other very well and that continuous ping pong of a little dig here or a little remark or a snide remark.
DEADLINE: Without being snide, this shift to the small screen is quite the change for you at this point in your career. You are one of the last A-leaguers to finally make a deal with the TV devil after decades on the big screen …
OLDMAN: (LAUGHS) Yes
DEADLINE: So, how was this experience for you doing two seasons back-to-back as Jackson Lamb?
OLDMAN: Here’s the biggest thing, you do a play, let’s say, and you play a character, you play those scenes, and you get to play them every night, and every night with a different audience. The chemistry is slightly different, but you play a character, and you sometimes think I wish I could play this character in other situations and other scenes. Then, with movie acting, you get one go around of the character, unless it’s a franchise, and then, I guess you come back and you revisit, but more oftentimes, you get a chance to do it once. Then, it opens on screens and you get an opening night or an opening weekend and you move on.
What I loved about this experience is that you kind of get an opening night every Friday. You get to play a character in multiple dynamics and multiple situations. I love that. II love long form and I love TV and I watch everything, and I wish I’d discovered it years ago.
DEADLINE: Why didn’t you?
OLDMAN: Oh, I don’t know, I mean, I always thought that Peter Falk was having fun, you know, when I used to watch Columbo. I thought he’s having a good time. I’m very grateful and lucky, I think, for the opportunity to be able to be in something and I think be in something with this much pedigree, so it seemed right.
DEADLINE: I got to tell you, that raincoat in the teaser for Season 2, for Dead Lions, looked like a tip of the hat to the great Peter when I saw it…
OLDMAN: Well, yeah. I think it’s interesting that Dead Lions plays over the summer. So, it’s a very different feel, very different look to Slow Horses. We talked about not wearing a winter coat and then Guy the costume designer had a rack of clothes and I saw that mac, and I think somewhere back in my subconscious I thought Columbo. So, yeah. To answer your question, it’s not accidental.
DEADLINE: Gary, one of the things about Jackson as a character, like Columbo, and in this from the Herron’s books, there’s this tremendous feeling that for all his oafishness and all his deliberate creepiness to some degree, a lot of it is Spy Craft affectation because clearly, there’s a very, very sharp and very troubled, as we learn at the very end with that flashback scene with Jonathon Price’s character, a very troubled man.
OLDMAN: Yeah. I think for me as I played him now as you know at the end of this finale, we get a teaser.
DEADLINE: Very timely Russians. Blast from the Cold War past…
OLDMAN: Yes. Absolutely. As I played Jackson, what I think I discovered is he…and you’re correct. Part of it, I think, is spy craft but he gives the impression and it’s kind of his secret weapon in a way, it gives the impression that he basically sits on his ass all day and does nothing and doesn’t really care. I think the secret to him is that he probably cares more than most, and what I get from this first book, from the first six episodes and certainly again you’ll see it in Dead Lions, he has a great moral compass and a sense of loyalty. He’s not such a foul-mouthed flatulent oaf that he presents to the world. He’s more often than not the smartest man in the room. He shares, I think, that with Smiley.
DEADLINE: How so?
OLDMAN: Smiley gives you the benefit of the doubt. Lamb is deeply cynical, and you know, in the field they’ve both had completely sort of different experiences, but he’s a distant cousin of Smiley. He’s Smiley just everything has gone wrong. Funny enough, because of Mick Herron, the writer of the Jackson Lamb books is such a fan of le Carré
I tell you this, and you might catch it. You know when Lamb starts putting together the flight fund and he takes the passport and the money – well the name on my passport is David Cornwell.
DEADLINE: Le Carrés real name? Really? Nice one.
OLDMAN: Yeah. So, there’s all these tiny little sort of Easter eggs in there if you like where we tip our hat very subtly to arguably the grandmaster of the genre. In terms of the characters, George and Jackson, there are similarities.
DEADLINE: Was it similar getting into the characters?
OLDMAN: A bit, but I’ll tell you what is really been also refreshing, I spent almost an entire career of dressing up. I’ve worn more makeup, more wigs, I think, I’ve done more accents than just about anyone in a career of now over 40 years that I’ve been an actor, and it’s very refreshing to come in and basically use one’s own accent.
DEADLINE: Well, it’s not exactly your voice…
OLDMAN: True, I give it a slight timbre, a sound to Jackson in his cadence and his delivery but it’s really essentially very much my own accent. But there’s no fat suits. There’s no wigs. I found that actually liberating that I don’t have to sit with headphones and have accent lessons. You know, I’m not studying a Missouri accent or something. I found it completely liberating. I mean, I just really come in, they grease me up as it were, and make you look suitably debauched, and I don’t have costume changes. I was ready.
DEADLINE: In that, and I know it is a bit like asking which one of your children you love the most, but did you prefer Jackson to Smiley?
OLDMAN: I loved George and I must say the sort of quiet of George and the stillness of George, I sort of missed when it all folded and ended. I could come to the set and it lowered my blood pressure. I really missed him when it finished. But they’re all different experiences.
You know, when you’re young and you’ve got that fire in your belly, you know, as a young actor I’m up for anything.
So, when you do something like Hannibal and it’s going to be six hours in makeup, and you’re going to walk around with prosthetics and glue, I mean, will have you scratching your face at 3 AM. You’re up for it. When I worked on Darkest Hour, I had that makeup on 63 times and pretty much worked 54 days straight. And so, it does feel somewhat like a sense of release coming in and getting ready and being ready in a half an hour and you’re ready to roll rather than come in and know that you’ve got three or four hours sitting in a makeup chair before your day even begins.
I just turned 64 and I think perhaps my days of sitting in a makeup chair for hours and hours I think have come to an end.
DEADLINE: Having said that, and you talked about doing television, and clearly there’s Season 2 coming. There’s a lot of Herron books. In fact, a new one just came out. So, are you up for becoming a TV franchise actor?
OLDMAN: Listen, if they want us, sure.
It’s up to all the big people upstairs and the audience and the obviously the viewership and what Apple what they say. But, yeah, I could see myself playing Jackson for the next how many years, yeah. Absolutely. I mean, for those that love the books and that were Mick Herron devotees as it were, he is already an iconic character. So, if it were to go out with a bang, I mean, retirement is on the horizon. Yeah. I can see it.
DEADLINE: Retirement? No. You’re too young. You’re too young.
OLDMAN: You know, to be able to sort of wrap it all up playing Jackson Lamb, I would consider myself very honored and very lucky to be able to do that. I would never say never.
There’s always something that may come in, and you know, get the taste buds going but I’d be thrilled and honored to play him for the foreseeable future. And not only that, you often see actors who are in a series and they talk about a sort of sense of family and you do get that in a movie or a play. The actors and the crew on the both Slow Horses and Dead Lions have been wonderful, and should we come back, it really is reconnecting with your family.
I really understand that now, that sense. The sense of camaraderie.
As an experience, we all hope the end product is going to be well received. You know, you put your baby out into the world and you hope everyone thinks it’s cute. Apple treated us like kings and the experience of actually doing it has been one of the best experiences I’ve had as an actor.
DEADLINE: Speaking of that long career, you mentioned Tinker Tailor, but I saw a bit of State of Grace too in your Slow Horses performance …
OLDMAN: (LAUGHS) Yeah. The swagger and the look.
DEADLINE: And the smoking.
OLDMAN: Oh, yeah, the smoking and the drinking. Yeah. Back to the cigarettes and booze. Yes. I mean, now this time, it’s herbal cigarettes and apple juice, of course.