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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy - Colin Firth interview

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Interview by Rob Carnevale

COLIN Firth talks about the appeal of playing British spy Bill Haydon in a big screen version of classic John Le Carre novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and why it mirrors one of his earliest roles.

He also talks about the pleasure of working with such a starry and talented British cast, including Mark Strong.

Q. What appealed to you about playing Bill Haydon?
Colin Firth: Well, I would have played any role in this. I went to meet Tomas [Alfredson, director] having seen the script without knowing which character they had me in mind for. I was just very intrigued by the idea of working with him and just the idea of an interpretation of this story, which I thought was an interesting time to do it, partly because I think we’ve gone up at least a generation since the BBC adaptation. And we’re now not telling a current affairs story, we’re telling something retrospective and that changes the lens through which we look at it. So, all those things had a kind of mystique without my knowing any of the particulars. Whether it was Esterhase or Bland or Allenine these are all characters that are so well drawn you feel you could follow them off through the door into their own lives and it would be an interesting story. Haydon is certainly no exception to that and these characters are revealed as the story goes on and he’s as interesting as anybody the more you find out about him.

So, I found it had an enormous amount of texture. I did a film at the beginning of my working life called Another Country… I did it on stage and then I did a film and in a way I think these characters came out of the same world but further on. That was set in the 1930s and it was about the people who became spies, loosely based on real characters. So, to me, Haydon could have been a figure out of that world 30 years on.

Q. Everyone talks about the Alec Guinness portrayal of Smiley in the BBC version and how revered it is but Ian Richardson was also great as Bill. Did you go back and have a look at his performance?
Colin Firth: Yes I did. It didn’t influence me, though, because he’s so completely different from me. It’s wonderful what he does but I wouldn’t and couldn’t do that. Good writing offers infinite possibilities for interpretation and I think it’s interesting that we are, it seems to me, all physically extremely different from the way the TV series was cast and there’s something quite liberating in that.

Q. What do you think when you’re sat in a room around a table that also includes John Hurt, Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds, Gary Oldman… some of the finest British actors around? Is it a thrill for you to be there?
Colin Firth: Of course it is [smiles fondly]. Absolutely. You can’t stop thinking about it really. It’s an embarrassment of riches. I think if one didn’t understand the job better one would be worried that it would show you up. But actually I think good acting makes you look better, whether you actually are or not. It flatters what you do.

Q. I’ve read that you also found it nice to be part of an ensemble cast, having carried so much of The King’s Speech, which was more of a two-hander?
Colin Firth: Very much so. There’s something very particular about that pleasure. I know we’re fairly… we’re not known for being shy of the limelight, actors on the whole, but there is something very particular about the pleasure of team-work in our game. I think it’s quite healthy. And to watch this film, in the company of the rest of the cast and be rooting for everybody, and that sense of having done it collectively, particularly with a film that’s been fulfilled so beautifully, it really is a very profound satisfaction.

Q. How much did you enjoy building the relationship between your Bill and Mark Strong’s Jim Prideaux, which forms such an important part of the story, and yet which relies on establishing so much in such little time?
Colin Firth: It was great. Mark and I don’t have much screen-time together, as you say. Our story is in our history and it does help to have a history with an actor – we worked together 15 years ago and have remained friends. I have huge regard for what he does as an actor. I’ve seen him on stage countless times and on-screen, I think he’s brilliant. And although our relationship mercifully does not mirror the one that you see in the film it does help to have some history and it does help to have a kind of short-hand with an actor that you’re going to work with briefly. In terms of my very, very limited screen-time in this film I think the moments with Mark are the highlights for me.

Read our review of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Read our interview with Tom Hardy