Lorenza Muñoz of The Daily Beast reports a dicussion between Gary Oldman, who played ‘Tinker Tailor’s’ lead character George Smiley, and scriptwriter Peter Straughan,h5. as they discuss the background to five scenes from the BAFTA winning film:
‘An Oscar nomination has eluded him [Gary Oldman] —until now. With this nomination for his role as Smiley in John le Carré’s, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, he is finally in the club. He says putting his stamp on the beloved le Carré spy series is nothing short of a “fairy tale.”
For screenwriter and fellow nominee Peter Straughan, the Oscar nod is more bittersweet. His wife and co-writer, Bridget O’Connor, succumbed to cancer in September 2010 at the age of 49. Straughan has struggled with how he should feel about the honor, going from deep sadness to celebrating the nomination as a tribute to his late wife’s work. […] Here, Oldman and Straughan discuss key scenes in the movie, which was helmed by Swedish director Tomas Alfredson.
George Smiley Explains His Brief Encounter With the Russian Spy and Chief Nemesis, Karla:
Straughan: This is the scene where Smiley tells Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) about Karla. At the time [when Smiley first caught him] nobody knew who he was except that he was a Russian spy and he will most certainly face death if he flies back to Moscow.
Oldman: This is the Achilles heel of Smiley, really. Karla was the only one he couldn’t turn. In an odd way, he feels responsible that he created Karla. After this, [the lower-ranking Russian spy] becomes [the powerful] Karla.
Straughan: Yep. Karla flies back and he isn’t killed. Instead he rises to the top. Because this was such a long story, we thought we would have to actually go back into a flashback and act out the scenes. But we didn’t want to show Karla. And we felt it was too obvious to show Karla. So we talked to Tomas and we decided to just do it. It would put a lot of pressure on whoever was going to play Smiley to be able to hold an audience for that long.
Oldman: When I first read the scene I could see why they didn’t want to go into another flashback because then you are into making me look younger and other problems arise which I think can take an audience out of the story. But I thought it was very audacious. It is almost like a play, isn’t it?
Straughan: Yes, it is a theater piece.
Oldman: And it is also 40 minutes in. You have a momentum with the movie and then it stops for seven minutes. It is quite unusual in that respect.
Straughan: We saw it as the still center of the film. It is at the heart of it.
Oldman: In a very indirect way, I am saying to Guillam, cut the [personal] ties. Don’t make the mistake that I did. I am confessing.
Straughan: Of course, he gives away his [cigarette lighter which was a gift from Smiley’s wife] to Karla then, which Karla can use against him. And that is how Karla gets him … I remember watching it in the edit and we were a little nervous because the scene is so long … But it is shot directly into Gary’s face so the audience becomes Karla and we thought, “This works, this holds an audience.”
Oldman: We went back and forth with it. There was a line that was missing in the first cut: “He gave a pack of cigarettes to me untouched.” I was adamant that we had to put it back. This tells you something about the character of Karla. Here is someone who is a chain smoker and he gives the full pack of cigarettes back to me in the morning. It gives you great insight into the character of Karla. I am glad I won the argument.
Straughan: Yes, we did the full version and it is my favorite scene in the movie.
George Smiley Finds Bill Haydon Waiting for Him in His Home:
Oldman: This is where I come home and see Haydon (Colin Firth) and I know [something is not right] … He delivers this awful painting, and he thinks he is a good painter.
Straughan: It’s the painting that is hanging on the wall at the beginning of the film that Smiley is staring at.
Oldman: He would be damned if he would take it down. If [Smiley’s ex-wife] comes back and it’s off the wall, he gives her a victory. It shows you what kind of man he is that he would keep that painting on the wall.
Straughan: A thorn on his side.
Oldman: We worried that the [shot of] the [untied] shoes under the table maybe was not enough. But that little beat of the shoes and the red socks is really all the scene needs [to clue the audience into what is going on]. There was a voyeuristic shot of [Haydon and Smiley’s ex-wife Ann] through the window where you saw the shapes of them making love. But that was cut.
Straughan: There was also a flashback scene where Ann answers the phone when Prideaux [Mark Strong] has been shot. They ring to find out why Smiley isn’t answering the phone and Colin is in bed with her. But working on the same principle we had throughout the whole film, we wanted to do more with less. The red socks were a stroke of genius by Tomas.
Oldman: They are sort of polar opposites, Haydon and Smiley. They both wear a mask. Smiley would disappear into the furniture and that is his cover. Haydon is doing much the same thing but in a more extrovert way.
Straughan: By being so noticeable, Haydon hides himself. By wearing red socks with all the symbolic value red can have with communism. It is a double bluff … And the politeness in it. In a later scene when Smiley interrogates Haydon, they never break through the barrier of politeness.
Oldman: Smiley is the last of them, of a certain kind.
Straughan: Karla knew that Smiley’s wife was his weak spot.
Oldman: It is an amazing piece of writing. Smiley is being cuckolded by a man who is thousands of miles away.
Straughan: And Haydon, who prides himself on being a leader of the men, is basically Karla’s whore.
Read about the background of three more scenes from the film at The Daily Beast here