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Colin Firth Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Interview
Colin Firth Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Interview
Colin Firth has been a national heartthrob for ladies of all ages since he appeared in the BBC adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice back in 1995. Since then he has gone on to have starring roles in both television and cinema features, with parts in Love Actually, Bridget Jones, The Girl with a Pearl Earring, The English Patient, Nanny McPhee, Dorian Gray and Mamma Mia! all under his belt.

Having won an Oscar for his performance as King George VI in The King’s Speech earlier in the year, he has moved on from the stuttering royal to playing a Cold War spy in an adaptation of John le Carre’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Recently in London, he spoke to View’s Matthew Turner about the ever prevalent political disquiet, living up to the Alec Guinness TV series from the seventies, and just why he’s only just getting excited by his Oscar.
Let's start with the obvious question - what attracted you to the project and how did you get involved?

Colin Firth

I think it's pretty easy. What attracted me was a no-brainer - certainly if you look what else was around at the time. And the fact that I wasn't carrying it, added to it greatly. The idea of doing it seemed very cool to me. It wouldn't have done ten years after a fantastic TV series, it would have seemed suicidal and also would have been too close to that time for it to be retro and far enough on to feel a little out of date, possibly. But I think now, 30 or so years on from the series, it seemed like a really interesting time to do it. When I heard it was Tomas Alfredson and John Hurt and Gary [Oldman], it was absolutely irresistible.
What did you know of the book and TV series before?

Colin Firth

Hadn't read it. Obviously now I have. I had seen the series but not sure if I watched it at the time in sequence. It's rather hard to remember because there are things that go so thoroughly into popular thinking that you almost can't remember if you've seen it. People talk about Fellini-esque without ever having seen a Fellini film and yet everyone knows exactly what they mean. And I think that's a sign that something's made an impact. I do remember scenes between Terence Rigby, Alec Guinness, Patrick Stewart. I remember my father talking about it. It was endlessly present. So I had a familiarity with it but don't know if I saw it at the time. But I've seen it now.
Was there ever a question over which role you would play?

Colin Firth

No, I think this was the one they always had me in mind for.
All the men in this story make considerable sacrifices and I think that puts more emphasis on the fraternity they have at work...
He's got a little glint in his eye though, hasn't he?

Colin Firth

I think he has, he enjoys life. He's also vain, he cultivates certain eccentricities, that's part of his vanity. He's not just a spy, he's a bohemian, the artist, the one who has a slightly flamboyant twist to the way he dresses and rides his bicycle into the office. And he's sexually active, let's say. Very active. So yeah, there's somebody who makes use of irony which is probably very useful if you're a spy. It's based on not saying it exactly as you mean it.
Did he strike you as a lonely character?

Colin Firth

They're all profoundly lonely. I think that's what the film is very much about. To me it's a very moving and rather tender portrait of lonely men, disappointed idealists. I think Smiley is a study of loneliness. His romanticism and his view of marriage. I think he really does believe in the patriotic values of what he does and to see treachery in that area is heartbreaking. All the men in this story make considerable sacrifices in their personal lives to do what they do and I think that puts more emphasis on the fraternity they have at work. With such high stakes the sense of camaraderie is heightened and also heightened by the fact that it's dependent on secrecy. All those things ratchet it up and to realise one of them is betraying everybody and might have been betraying them for years is not just a threat, it's also heartbreaking.

And you have a world where because you don't know who it is, it might be any of them so all their relationships are compromised. For Smiley to go to Control's flat and see his face on the chess piece adds to his heartbreak because he realises that he too is not above suspicion. I think that's what it's about, it's about the personal relationships between these men whether it's Prideaux in his caravan, and the little boy visiting him – a rather lonely little boy - or Smiley and his marriage, Smiley at work. Or Guillam's rather surprising scene with his partner when he realises that is no longer tenable. Ricki Tarr's attempt at love. The girl's attempt to escape. Connie's been cut lose from the establishment. Esterhaus dancing by himself. I do think it's a very beautiful melancholic story and I think the thrust of it is much more emotional than intellectual.
What kind of spy would you make, do you think?

Colin Firth

I've seen John Hurt on the subject and I would have to echo him - I'd be completely crap. I think it's all very well to draw parallels with actors in terms of duplicity and inhabiting other roles and interpreting other peoples' motives but that doesn't mean we'd be any good if someone pointed a gun at us or we had to go through any personal physical discomfort.
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Content updated: 15/09/2019 20:31

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