Gary Oldman received his first Oscar nomination for portraying George Smiley in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
Until just a few days ago Gary Oldman was often regarded as one of the most notable actors never nominated for an Oscar. The interesting part is Oldman who became notable early in his career for rather broad performances in films received a nomination finally for the most restrained performance of his career. I suppose the academy wanted him to calm down or something. It is also interesting that the many times broad Oldman not only gives his most restrained and understated performance, but also I would say the most understated performance ever nominated in the category. Yes even more understated than Robert Duvall in Tender Mercies, or Richard Farnsworth in the Straight Story.
It must be a great achievement of sorts for Oldman to have been recognized for such a restrained performances, since the academy often prefers louder performances with at least one scene. It is also notable that Oldman I believe is only the second actor to be nominated for portraying a spy role, the first being Richard Burton in The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, also based on a John Le Carre novel, which also features George Smiley but in a supporting role. Burton portrayed a spy who was basically far past the end of his rope, Oldman on the other hand portrays Smiley who some how has been a spy so long that he is content enough with spy life that it does not seem to effect him really in any way.
Oldman has quite a challenge actually than to find a way to make Smiley a compelling character, but still as the character should be. Smiley is a key player one of the most intelligent men yet he almost seems to come off as a non entity. He is suppose to be a man you don't notice in a room, yet he still has an undeniable presence. Smiley is suppose to be a man who actively tries not to be emotional and in order to not show any possible weaknesses to his enemies. Oldman does succeed in producing the professional side of Smiley perfectly. In every scene with a group Oldman is noticeable, but never in a way that only the audience would notice him. In every scene with he is listening Oldman never shows Smiley to simply be listening rather his eyes are always piercing into them showing his constant analysis, and examination to find the truth.
It is always a very difficult trick to make an character interesting whose whole point is that they are not suppose to in anyway emotional, but it is one that Oldman succeeds with. Oldman allows us to see that George is putting on a bit of an act at all times, an act he has been practicing for a long time, and is exceedingly good at but still an act in the end. Oldman is a master of the act with his distant body language as Smiley. As I said his eyes are always piercing and manipulating, but just the way he walks, and sits even suggests a man of great intelligence and ability. Oldman as Smiley is always seeming to say yes I know more than you, as well yes I am going to get exactly what I want from you. Oldman never portrays this as just a pompousness but a genuine skill in Smiley.
Oldman's key scenes though are his short moments where Smiley's emotions do seep through on occasion as well as a few moments where he lets his guard down. Most of these are only for a single moment that last only a second or two but each are brilliantly used by Oldman to more thoroughly reflect his character. My personal favorite of these brief moments is when he visits the now deceased control's (John Hurt), the former head of British Intelligence, apartment where he finds who control believed could be the double agent. When Smiley sees himself as one of the potentials Oldman reaction is a small but just about perfect indication that Smiley's heart is almost broken to learn that Control did not fully trust him.
Every time there is a break in the defenses of Smiley Oldman's portrays these absolutely perfectly to subtly show there is a great deal of emotional sadness in Smiley surrounding his wife in particular, but it is something he only ever lets onto in short outbursts, if they can even be described as that. Oldman is pitch perfect in these portrayal because they are always fast and quick but still clear indicators of Smiley's true feelings on the matter. Oldman shows them not to be Smiley purposefully letting down his defenses but rather a clear sharp emotional response that not even his experience in the matter of hiding emotions can completely hide.
His best scene though comes in a single scene where he actually lets down his defenses completely, which is when he tells about his meeting with the Soviet mastermind Karla to his confidant Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch). Oldman is terrific in this scene as Smiley changes his body language to no longer being firm and structured for interrogation and analysis and instead becomes just like any man for this moment. There is not flashback in this scene yet Oldman brings us into Smiley's early past, and shows us a glimpse of not only a once more emotional man but also Oldman presents to us what made Smiley change the way he did. He shows a more emotional man, and easier one to relate in this scene, but one less able to be successful in his line of work.
The role of Smiley is a challenging one in that playing a non entity is quite a difficult one, since he is not a simple man, but he portrays himself as a completely non emotional one. Oldman finds just the right dynamic with Smiley though. He always shows Smiley to be the expert spy, and his long history, but inserts moments of more direct emotions without fault to have far greater impact actually than if Smiley was constantly emotional. Gary Oldman finds the right path for Smiley throughout the avoid what could have been the potential limits of the part. Although I will admit this very understated and restrained performance might not be for everyone, I absolutely loved it.