- The Lunch with L.A. Weekly Chief Film Critic Amy Nicholson: Tom Cruise, ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ and ‘Snowpiercer’
- The Lunch with Director William Eubank of ‘The Signal’
- The Lunch with Gillian Robespierre, director, ‘Obvious Child’
- The Lunch with Alex Pappademas of Grantland.com on ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past …’
- The Lunch with AJ Bowen of ‘The Sacrament’
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Tag Archives: Gary Oldman
Playing retired spymaster George Smiley — hunting for a mole in Cold War British Intelligence and controlling agents like Tom Hardy’s Ricki Tarr and Benedict Cumberbatch’s Peter Guillam — Gary Oldman looks haggard, drawn, and old, like a coiled snake, lazy with the hope of one last killing strike. It’s a role made legendary by Alec Guiness from the earlier adaptation, and yet speaking with the actor by phone, Oldman’s unique enthusiasm for his performance — and the intelligence he brought to it — shone through in his answers.
The book and the BBC adaptation cast long shadows, but I’m curious — do you pick up anything outside of those? Was there something where you were walking through a world and you just thought, ‘Yup, that’s Smiley?’
Oldman: Oh, I used to do that all the time. I used to see people on the street and think, ‘This is Smiley.’ Obviously I used the book to the point where — when in doubt you always went back to the book, because it became the sort of Holy Grail, and all the emotional terrain and everything that one had to deal with is there. I did not revisit the series, which I saw originally in the late 70s, only because I think you could probably be so contaminated by it, that you would sort of end up doing an impersonation. One is working from the same material in a sense, even though the series was seven hours. You are working from the same material and saying many of the same words. There’s a very defined character there on the page, and there are things that Alec Guinness would’ve found there, but I find when we come to the same point, the same crossroads. You know there are the differences of course in characters. I always think the differences are there when one uses imagination, but emotionally you look for the similarities.
But I want to go back to that, because you mentioned something really interesting where you ‘felt it’ — kind of when you say ‘Shakespeare,’ you just drop into the rhythms of iambic pentameter. You were saying that you were able to find that kind of rhythm in Le Carré in the dialogue in the role?
Oldman: Yes, it’s there. That is what gave me pause, too, before I said yes to the project. I mean they offered me the role, and I had to think about it for about the month, because the dragon in my head that I had to slay was Guinness. You can’t sort of walk through that fire. There is such a DNA there in the role of Smiley. You can’t completely reinterpret him. You can’t be different.
After the brooding, moody “Let the Right One In” reclaimed the vampire film from twinkling in the Twilight, director Tomas Alfredson moved on to film an adaptation of John le Carre’s Cold-War classic “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” a saga of a used-up intelligence man (Gary Oldman) tasked with uncovering a mole at the top of British Intelligence. We spoke with Alfredson in L.A. about capturing the Cold War, intelligence on film, and the scary-positive thought that spies are people, too.
What about ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ specifically made you go, ‘Yes, next film?’
Alfredson: You should trust your body. If you laugh, cry, if your heart starts pumping, if you get worried, if it’s scary, you should trust your instincts when you read. It’s not so much about planning your career or making a smart move, or ‘is this good for me or not,’ it’s just if you get moved, and if you get strong feelings. In this case it was also actually meeting the producer and Mr. Le Carré himself that you felt like ‘Yeah I want to spend two years with these people. I trust them. They’re great.’ It’s simple.
When you define that as twenty-four months. You’re making a decision to spend twenty-four months with these people. Do you ever think, ‘You know watching that, that was a great use of twenty-four months of my life?’ or does the end result being two hours make you go, ‘I wish people had some clue about how much work went into this?’
Alfredson: Over the years, I really like stuff that you could hold. Imagine if you were a carpenter — you could actually make a chair that people could sit on. If it’s well made several generations can sit on the chair. This film I’ve done now for twenty-four months, it will disappear into everything else and it turns out to be a DVD or videocassette. It’s so immaterial in that way. You shouldn’t complain about that. It’s just the hard facts of the trade, but sometimes when you’re lonely or everything is uphill, you sometimes say to yourself, ‘You should only know how much work I put into this,’ but you should allow yourself to whine here and there.
Violent, yet devoid of the amphibious cars of the Bond series or the shaky-cam “realism” of the Bourne films, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy will face a tough time at the box office. It shouldn’t. It’s a Cold War-era tale, one that plays out in moral shades of gray, where the broad and brilliant cast engage each other with a series of smiling lies, whispered facts and silent nods of the head. The time is 1973, the clothes are mostly brown and your friends are occasionally your enemies and your enemies occasionally have to be admired. Directed by Thomas Alfredsson—whose breakout film Let the Right One In was another retro fable about secrets and power punctuated by drops of blood—Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is the intellectual action flick of your dreams. It combines the fine acting and craftsmanship of the inert, dusty films that have been taxidermied into the dead pose of Oscar contenders with the brisk, bloody visceral appeal of a thriller (without the computer-generated imagery and computer-generated idiocy that so often makes those films a chore). In short, it is the ideal holiday film for grown-ups.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy plays out under slate-gray skies or in the dead of night. An operation in Bulgaria has gone horribly wrong. With an agent shot, the fallout sees Control (John Hurt) the head of British Intelligence, resign in shame and take his top man George Smiley (Gary Oldman) with him. But a year later, Undersecretary Lacon (Simon McBurney) calls Smiley back. Control is dead, and a field agent has reason to believe that the eternal rumors of a long-standing Soviet mole at the top of British intelligence are in fact true. In fact, as Smiley discovers, Control already had a list of suspects that includes the five most important men in British Intelligence: Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), Roy Bland (Ciarán Hinds), Toby Esterhase (David Dencik) and…Smiley himself.
While not part of the official selections at Cannes, someone at Paramount studios must figured that if you have to have the stars of “Kung Fu Panda 2″ meet the press, well, why not do it in the South of France? Especially since the first “Panda” played there out-of-competition back in 2008 — and also probably in no small part because Angelina Jolie probably had family plans to travel with “Tree of Life” star Brad Pitt …
Sitting with Jack Black and Jolie, the voices of Po the Panda and Tigress, I asked exactly to what degree either of them acted out while in the recording booth; does the kung-fu spirit move them to move? Jolie thought so: “It can get pretty physical.” Black, renowned for his distinctive physicality on-screen, was even more sure: “I do like to mimic any of the moves that Panda’s going to do. I like to do it, too, so I get the vocalizations just right.”
As a sequel, “Kung Fu Panda 2″ is also in 3D — so, I asked Jolie, how did everyone involved make sure that the film wasn’t just bigger but also better? “Why it stands out is because so many animated films are great, but (‘Panda 2′) does stand on its own in that it’s an ancient story, it’s a classic, and it feels like a classic with kung fu and animals and fun.” Jolie explained that many of the merits of “Kung Fu Panda 2″ were revealed to her in the making of it.”It has a beautiful message in it. We knew that — (but) I didn’t know exactly which ones, and then we discovered that they were about family and inner peace and coming to terms with who you are and friendship and loyalty. It was what we’d hoped for, and better than I imagined.”
With Black, his excitement about the sequel was a little more down to earth — and all about Gary Oldman’s bad guy, an albino peacock named Lord Shen. “I love that it had a great new villain with a very evil and intriguing plan. At the same time, Po had this inner journey that he was going to take to find out who he really is — and to find inner peace is the only way to truly kick ass. It seemed like a really good, fun movie.”
As Po, Black has a mix of enthusiasm and observational irony; how hard is it, I wondered, for him to get into that headspace? “It’s pretty easy. It’s basically me in my teen years — that’s how I think of it. The first movie, Po was me when I was 10 years old, and this one’s me when I was 13, 14. The next one will probably be …” ‘Kung Fu College,’ I asked? ” Black shrugged: “Who knows? I didn’t know where that was going. It might be a prequel. We might go back — before I was born. Haley Joel Osment will take over.”
With animation, having a great actor as the new villain is all well and good — until you realize that you may never be in the same room with him. So did Jolie and Black feel mixed emotions about having Oldman join the cast but not necessarily them? Jolie nodded: “Absolutely. We think, ‘I’m finally doing a movie with Gary Oldman — but he’s a peacock and I’m a tiger and we’re not on the same team.’ The other side of it is … who cares? I just get to do a movie with Gary Oldman. ” Black also felt that having someone with bad guy experience was imperative: “Yeah, he’s always been one of my favorites. He’s done so many great ones over the years. That was the big question: ‘Who’s going to be the peacock? Who’s going to be the villain?’ When I heard Gary Oldman’s name, my heart’s like, ‘Come on … please come true.'”
“Directed by the Hughes brothers (“From Hell,” “Dead Presidents“), “The Book of Eli” starts strong and strange with a man hunting in the ash-blasted barrens of a ruined world. That strength and strangeness continue for a while, with the Hughes’ style alone powerful enough to squeeze a few drops of juice from the postapocalyptic pop-culture pulp we’ve seen in films from “The Road Warrior” to “The Road.”
“The Book of Eli” at first resembles nothing less than a Sergio Leone film: Every shot feels like it’s filmed from a distance of two inches or two miles, with nothing in-between. Dusty drifter Eli (Denzel Washington) is traveling out of the wasteland with moral might, a secret piece of precious cargo and a swift-flashing knife. That Western feel stays strong through a number of scenes: an ambush, arriving in town, meeting the corrupt ruler of a community that is only slightly better than nothing.
But “The Book of Eli” loses its way not long after its big reveal, which the film’s stars and advertising have already given away, so I feel no compunction in talking about it. The title volume is a Bible. Eli needs to take it west, while the ruler of the shabby, scary town Eli stumbles into, Gary Oldman‘s Carnegie, has been looking for one for a while. It seems all but one Bible were destroyed in the wake of the war, and Carnegie wants to use the good book for bad purposes, to help motivate and rationalize his grander plans. “It’s not a book,” he roars to his subordinates, including the craggy, cagey Refridge (Ray Stevenson). “It’s a weapon!” (Sci-fi fans will spot plots and themes from “A Canticle for Leibowitz” and “Fahrenheit 451″ between the lines of “The Book of Eli,” and they won’t be wrong to see them.)”
“The cast (of “Book of Eli”) had plenty to say about the very Western feel of “The Book of Eli.” You could argue that many postapocalyptic films echo with the themes and topics of Westerns — what is “The Road Warrior” if not “Shane” writ very, very large? — and “The Book of Eli” does work on that level.
In fact, it’s to such a degree that Gary Oldman can (and, when I prompted him, did) dig into the plot on a granular level and list Western plot point after Western plot point: “When I first read the script I thought that it was a postapocalyptic Western. We don’t have horses, but we have these armored trucks. But the story, the premise, is very like an old-fashioned Western. You have [my character], he’s sort of like a mayor, or a dark sheriff; there’s a town that he’s kind of got under his control, and the drifter comes through and he wants something and I want something he’s got and he’s not prepared to give it to me, and I lock him in the jail and he escapes and I get a posse together and go off. It’s classic Western stuff.”
Denzel Washington explained that the first screenplay he read was even more explicit in the parallels: “The original script was very much like a Western; [screenwriter Gary Whitta] even used words like ‘saloon’ … ‘barn’ … it definitely was much more Western-meets …” Here, Washington summed up five decades of the Western appropriation of Eastern action cinema with one phrase: “Grasshopper. [Eli's] a guy with a samurai sword, he walks into the saloon … we took some of that away, because it already has that feel anyway.”
Mila Kunis, meanwhile, shrugged off any question of similarities of classic Westerns with a moment of self-effacement: “Look who you’re talking to … I watched [Westerns] because my dad made me. … [But] I love ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly‘; it’s my favorite film of all time.”
Meanwhile, co-star Kunis, who plays Oldman’s daughter and Washington’s ally, was less concerned with the presence of Western-film moments than with the absence of Western civilization. I asked her to name a few favorite postapocalyptic films, and Kunis, interestingly, came at the question with a true outsider’s perspective: “I’m not the biggest fan of postapocalyptic films; I can’t even begin to name a single one that I ever watched more than once … except for … what was that movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger? What was that? ‘The Terminator.’ That’s the only one I can say I’ve seen more than once. ”
Washington, asked the same question, responded with a firm grasp on great movies and, perhaps, a slippery grip on the nature of the subgenre: “Was ‘Blade Runner‘ postapocalyptic? It had a lotta rain. I like that; I remember that. And I don’t know what ‘Brazil’ was … I just remember a lot of ducts. What was that? What was ‘Brazil’?”
I did ask Kunis if filming “The Book of Eli” made her stock up on bottled water in the basement or otherwise raise her own apocalypse awareness level: “A little bit … but I was that person anyway, for Y2K. I was that person, from 1999 to 2000, who was, ‘We gotta stockpile water in this house, Mom!’ And she was like, ‘Child, you crazy!'”
Really? I asked Kunis: Your mom talks like one of the waitresses from “Alice”? “‘Alice’! That’s your reference? I love ‘Alice’! I wish my mom spoke like that. In my head she does; really, she has a thick Russian accent.”
And, closing out the crazy-talk, I also asked Kunis if the ending of the film left a thread by which her character could be the basis of a second volume of “The Book of Eli.” Kunis batted sequel talk aside with a wave of her hand: “No, no, no. There is no second installment of this. Come on. You can’t make ‘The Book of Eli 2.’ It would be a very silly movie.”
“The Book of Eli” opens this weekend; all things considered, look for “The Book of Eli 2: Read Harder” in 2013.”