LOS ANGELES Gary Oldman has starred in some of the biggest blockbusters of recent times including the "Harry Potter" franchise and Christopher Nolan's "Batman" series. But Oldman initially built his career playing some dark and twisted characters -- Sid Vicious, Lee Harvey Oswald and Dracula, to name a few.
With his new film, "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," which hits theaters on Friday, the actor steps back into the shadows for the role of mild-mannered but steely mole-hunter George Smiley in this gripping tale of Cold War British and Russian spies and traitors based on the famous novel by John le Carre.
Oldman took some time to talk to Reuters about the movie, his role and his ever-changing career.
Q: This was a nice change of pace for you.
A: "Completely, and that was part of the appeal. I was obviously familiar with it and with Smiley before I got the offer, but it's such a famous part it's also a bit like an actor being offered Hamlet or Lear. You know the role already."
Q: So no trepidation about doing it?
A: "No, huge. I thought twice -- more than twice -- about it. The dragons are in your head, aren't they, but you have to slay them, and he was my sort of nemesis. Once we started, he became a bit of a spiritual guide. Maybe he was looking over my shoulder."
Q: So how much of Gary Oldman is in George Smiley?
A: "He has this very unusual, inappropriate, masochistic relationship with his wife. There's a bit of the victim in George, as she's always off having affairs, and he seems to always accept this and her. You get the feeling he takes her back and they don't argue. He loves her dearly. So you go to the well of experience when you play someone like Smiley. We've all been there in one shape or another."
Q: Did you do much research?
A: "I didn't do much outside the book and the script, because we also had access to Le Carre, so I spoke with him and it was one-stop shopping. He was in MI5, and I picked his brain about little details. He had all these great stories. He's like a juke box. You pop in a coin and he has total recall and off he goes."
Q: This was directed by a Swede, Tomas Alfredson. That seems like an unlikely choice for such a British project?
A: "On paper, yes, but there were quite a few British directors who wouldn't touch it. The book, and TV series, was considered this Holy Grail you shouldn't mess with. So people were scared to go near it, and Tomas went after it, and did a fantastic job. It's not at all sentimental, which it might have been with a British director full of reverence for it.
Q: Next year you'll be back in Christopher Nolan's Batman movie, "The Dark Knight Rises." What can fans expect?
A: "A terrific story and a great conclusion to the trilogy. It's truly epic and it really delivers. I think Nolan's outdone himself here."
Q: You're also playing Elvis in "Guns, Girls, Gambling" next year?
A: "Yeah, it's a little indie and I'm an Elvis impersonator -- not a very good one. I'm the older Elvis, in the white jumpsuit."
Q: Aren't you also playing Merlin in the new "Arthur and Lancelot"?
A: "No, there's rumors. It was floated my way, so we're talking about it. Technically I'm currently out of work."
Q: Does that make you panic, when you're out of work?
A: "No, but I've gone through lean periods -- a year or two, and there's other variables apart from not finding something you want to do. There was the big actor's strike in 2002, that never actually happened, but all the studios closed down and shelved their movies. But I've been very lucky and never seriously out of work like some actors."
Q: What do you do when you're not on a project?
A: "Being out of work gives you the chance to connect with other things. I love music and I play piano and guitar a bit, and you get time to read and actually go to the movies instead of just making them. So it's good in that sense."
(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)