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article imageColin Firth on the UK spy classic 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy' Special

By Earl Dittman     Feb 29, 2012 in Entertainment
A penultimate spy mystery on '60's British telly, writer John Le Carré's Cold War classic ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’(now on Blu-ray & DVD) has been adapted for the big screen with a cast that includes last year’s Best Actor Colin Firth and Gary Ol
Colin Firth (who took home a Best Actor Academy Award last year for The King's Speech) costars with Gary Oldman in the new big screen adaptation of the 1960's British television series, the two are a part of a stunning all-star cast in this masterful adaptation of John Le Carré's bestselling novel that redefined the spy thriller. While the film is packed with plot numerous twists and turns, since its release, most of the plot has been leaked out, but to ensure we don't ruin the intriguing whodunit element of the film, we are offering a basic skeleton of its plot. In Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, it's the height of the Cold War and Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), a.k.a. MI6 and code-named the Circus, has been compromised. A precarious operation goes deadly wrong, and the head of British Intelligence wonders if a double agent is leaking vital secrets. Brought out of retirement to expose the potential mole, master spy George Smiley (Oldman) is the only one who can be trusted to expose one of their own. Or can he? As the emotional and physical tolls mount on the high-ranking suspects, Smiley will be forced into the ultimate international spy game where everyone's motives are in question. In addition to Firth's stunning performance as Bill Haydon, the film also includes the brilliant acting talents of Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ciarán Hinds, it's the powerful and deeply resonant spy tale.
When it came time Firth to portray his famous spy character, Bill Haydon, to play the part, director Alfredson could haveinstructed him to read a lot of John Le Carré novels or simply rely on his memory about all the Le Carré books he had ever read. Firth says he wasn't asked to do either one by the film's director. "Thomas Alfredson isn't an instructing sort of person, I'd read a few." Firth says of the Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy helmsman. "I think that everyone has. I think that he operates not in one world, but in quite a few diverse ones. I think the source material for this was the book itself, really, and he's also very eloquent about the world around this. He very much was a first hand occupant of it in a way. Spies aren't the sort of people who are going to make themselves available for research on the whole. So, if you have someone who's been as close to the intelligence service as he has then that's pretty handy."
Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Universal
Early on during the film's release, Firth was quoted as saying that Le Carré books were just little boy's tales. Despite the British presses accusation, Firth was not trying to be rude, coy and dismissive about the writer's work. "I think that was probably, certainly earlier on that was probably…I mean, he's a popular writer and I think that's a bit of a crime in the critical community," says Firth, who is currently preparing to workwith Renee Zellweger on at the Bridget Jones sequel -- Bridget Jones's Baby. "I remember somebody writing very astutely about Alan Ayckbourn, who's a great comic playwright. I think it was Michael Billington, saying that he commits the worst offenses that you can possibly commit against any judgment of being a great writer. One is that you're comic and two is that you're prolific and seen as being popular. If you're any of those things you can't be a great writer."
Do those critiques apply to actors as well? "Possibly, because those are some of the three hardest things to achieve, certainly, comedy and popularity," explains Colin, the star of the upcoming film Arthur Newman, Golf Pro. "I think that Le Carré being popular, if you weren't familiar with his work I think there could be a presumption that this was rollicking and spiced up for boys and it really is not. I think that's very apparent when you look at things like The Constant Gardener. It might be less apparent if you haven't actually read the spy stuff, the cold war stuff. I suppose because Tinker, Tailor is particularly about a men's world, women barely feature here and there are only two female roles in it, that it's about men. But it's not about the macho virtues of maleness. It's not about macho effectiveness. It's not about hard bitten heroism. I think it's actually much more about fragility and loneliness and disappointed idealism. These men are seen to be broken, all of them on some level. Smiley is not only a disappointed man, but he's a man who's humiliation is complete by the fact that it's visible to all."
Preferring to keep the better part of the spy thriller Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy under wraps until spy fans see it, Firth declares he's up to answering all kinds of question. "I'm usually pretty boring," he says, "so you better ask the things you have been wanting to ask over the years, because you'll never get this chance again."
Colin Firth in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Colin Firth in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Universal
Colin Firth on Tinker, Tailor Soldier, Spy
[Have you gotten used to sneaking up on people since doing this movie?
"Exactly, in my Hush Puppies and my red socks."
How many institutions of the British government do you think you should play a role in?
"Oh, I see, yes. I feel there are a few left. Absolutely."
Have you played a character like this before?
"Yes, I think I have, not a very serious one, but I think that's been covered at some point."
Did the film make you think about where you were in 1973?
"I knew exactly where I was in 1973. I was going through a rather complicated adolescence and probably wearing clothes not unlike the ones that you saw in the movie."
And have you recovered?
"Yes. I've recovered nicely. I'm just about out of it now."
Colin Firth and Tom Hardy in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Colin Firth and Tom Hardy in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Universal
The homoerotic elements that were lightly touched on in the film, are those aspects of Bill and Jim's relationship? It was sort of glossed over.
"Yes. I don't think it is glossed over. I think it's more than hinted at. I think the reason why it's not made more explicit is because I think it isn't. I think the relationship is as undefined – I think it's an intense one – as the film makes it seem to be. I think they are friends and on some level or other they're lovers. I don't think the film is coy about it any more than it's coy about what we find out about the Guillam character. I don't know if there's more homosexuality abounding in the British intelligence services than there are in other institutions, but there's certainly some sort of perception that it's somehow consistent with spying in Britain."
Have you seen the spy films of the '70's, like, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold?
"That's Le Carré again. Yeah, some of them. Ipcress Files. Yeah, I like that stuff."
This film harkens back to those films because it's not about the action and guns, but more about the complexities of the world.
"Yes, I think that's true. There's room for all kinds of spy films. There has always been action involved in the spy or the detective genre. There's always been technology actually. There's always been some gadget, even if you go back to the '30's or '40's. Someone would pull out a bit of microfilm, but I think one of the things that people have found refreshing about this, aesthetically as much as anything else, is the low tech element. I mean, we're up to here now in iPads and slick designs which don't show the inner workings. Actually, I think suddenly that there's a poetry to a reel to reel tape recorder or an old typewriter or elevators where you can see the pulleys moving. What that also does is that if you don't have a machine or a microchip which solves a problem it means that it's thrown back on human ingenuity and the human element to all the puzzles and the emotions that are involved. I was reflecting recently on the business of just mobile phones in films. If you're going to take a story which is about how critical is it for one person to get information to another person and all the things that could go wrong in the meantime you could make a fantastic story out of that, except if the guy has a cell phone. It's over and problem solved before the first scene is over. So, the fact of a phone and that kind of communication, things that do things for you can really conspire against drama. It's a big problem."
How difficult do you think it is to convey the urgency that people felt back then? Now it's almost forgotten that there was a monolithic enemy in people's minds that constituted an MI6?
"What about the war on the terror?"
It's been replaced by more like that Whack-A-Mole. It's not situated in just one place.
"It's not Whack-A-Mole. It's not. There are people who really feel like they're on the frontline of intelligence gathering and it's absolutely critical. I'm not making an exact equivalent. I know what you're saying. Yes, there is a huge kind of machina duality in the way that it was setup. Monoliths on both sides. I don't think that it looks quite like that today, but I think that the paranoia is alive and the suspicion is alive and this idea that we have to infiltrate and have to gather intelligence. Instead of Reds under the beds now anyone can be a terrorists, anyone carrying a package on a plane or a backpack and the security measures. So, it's not just drones bombing Middle Eastern countries. Although, it is that."
Colin Firth in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Colin Firth in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Universal
I feel as though this is the kind of film that people expected you to do before you won the Oscar for The King's Speech?
"I did do it before I won an Oscar."
Yes, but subsequently have the scripts changed, the ones you're being sent? Have you been getting offered films where you'd have to run around or leap off of a building?
"Nope."
So, nothing changed in your life after getting the Oscar?
"Three scripts turned three hundred. Three bad scripts turns into three hundred bad scripts. No, but certain things change. It's hard to discuss case by case how that is. Things are a little busier in terms of what the possibilities might be, but in the end you can only do one at a time. It's going to be a spin of the dice. It was a spin of the dice before and it's still going to be a spin of the dice."
There's been no pressure to change your tastes?
"But to what? Yes, there is probably some pressure from some corners."
Commercial, like leaping off of buildings?
"Yes. Although not much because I don't think that people consider me to be an incredibly valuable financially really. I'd have to admit that, yeah, there have been certain people around me who think it'd be a good time to get a bit richer, but not as much as you might think because most of the better opportunities, I consider them better opportunities because they still have the risk element to them. They could go either way. They could end up being fascinating or they could end up disappearing and I'm still attracted to that sort of thing."
Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Universal
What other things have you done since then? I saw you just finished the film Arthur Newman, Golf Pro.
"I just finished that yesterday and I have great hopes for it. It was a wonderful, wonderful story to tell. It's exactly the sort of thing that makes me happy to do. I find it entirely unique. I don't think it's like anything else, just for the record. People keep calling it an untitled dark comedy. It's not that dark. Sadly it's not a comedy and I didn't think it was really very dark. So, it's just a film. It's a bit difficult to describe. That jumped out of the pile because it's not like anything else. There's absolutely no formula attached to that film at all. It gives me great satisfaction to be able to do something like that. It's a tiny film. You talk about opportunities, the recent good fortune that I've had helps films like that get going."
Do you think you would make a good spy?
"No, no."
But being an actor is a great cover...
"No. There are certain skills if you're any good as an actor that would apply to spying, like, being deceitful, the subterfuge, being able to second guess other people's motives, being forensic about other people's lives, why they do what they do, but you also have to have a great deal of physical courage in the face of peril and I don't think that actors would be great candidates in the face of having a gun pointed at you or something."
Colin Firth in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Colin Firth in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Universal
We talked about technology earlier. When you're at home what kinds of things do you like to do that aren't technical?
"There's a lot of non-technical things. Most of it is none of your business. I don't mean that rudely."
Long walks?
"Yeah, lets say long walks and tea and family."
Do you have another project lined up?
"I'm not sure, no. There's a thing called The Railway Man which I'm hoping will go ahead."
Untitled
Universal
What's that about?
"It's the story of Eric Lomax who wrote an account…he was tortured by the Japanese when he was a prisoner in world war two. He was on the Hellfire Pass Railway in Burma and it's about his attempt to reconcile what happened. He was determined to find the guard who tortured him and go back and take revenge and kill him. It's about that. It's sort of a flashback. I'm sort of the older character and Jeremy Irvine is the young actor who would play the young me, flashing back to the camps and stuff. Frank Cottrell Boyce wrote the script. He's a great writer. Jonathan Teplitzky is the director and Rachel Weiss is the actress."
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy Bonus Features: (Blu-Ray) "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: First Look": Deleted Scenes; Interview with Author John Le Carré; BD-LIVE; pocketBLU app: with Advanced Remote Control; Video Timeline; Mobile-To-Go; Browse Titles; Keyboard and uHEAR. (Available on March 20, 2012)
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Paramount
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Warner Bros
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Acorn
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Cartoon Network/Warner Bros
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Magnolia
Mandrill
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Acorn
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Magnolia
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Lionsgate
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Universal
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