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"I love this lunch set up," Mark Strong says to me. "It actually allows you to talk [to the press] about the little things."
Strong and I are among a good 25 people at EVE Restaurant in Los Angeles spending two hours having casual conversations about Tomas Alfredson's superb new thriller, "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy." Less than 24 hours after the film's LA premiere, Focus Features has recruited press from major industry or awards-centric outlets to eat a fine meal with "Tinker" stars Gary Oldman (a contender for this year's best actor statue), Colin Firth (last year's winner), the aforementioned Strong, Alfredson (better known to many for helming "Let the Right One In") and screenwriter Peter Straughan. It's a game of musical chairs, or tables in this case, where the talent pops in for a good 30 min or so during the meal. But, unlike traditional interview settings the mood is relaxed and none of the stars in the room are going to find anyone there quizzing them about revealing plot details from their next project (say, "The Dark Knight Rises"). This is also the second of these Focus lunches I've attended after "The Kids are All Right" and "Pariah." Why other studios aren't copying this strategy is beyond me. But I digress...
My conversation with Strong actually came at the end of the meal. Straughan was up first and our small table (two Hollywood Reporter writers, a Variety critic and myself) quizzed him about some of the changes in this adaptation of John Le Carre's celebrated novel. Straughan was kind enough to let us in on a few of the twists, but to go into further detail would ruin the picture for those who haven't seen it yet. What struck us most was Straughan's wildly unreported revelation that Bridget O'Connor, his co-screenwriter on "Tinker" and wife, had died of an illness during the first few weeks of production (less than a year and a half ago). I asked Straughan if he could see some of her contributions in the final work and he joked that most of it was hers and he was just the typist. Anyone who has seen Straughan's resume ("Men Who Stare At Goats," "The Debt") knows that is highly unlikely, but it's clear the movie means something special for him.
Colin Firth was up next and last year's best actor winner was in a jovial mood. He's clearly relieved the best actor attention is all about Oldman this time around and we actually spent most of our time talking about where he catches up watching films: airplanes. Firth was as self-deprecating and honest as usual noting he has a habit of crying while watching films at 25,000 feet (only planes mind you and that didn't happen on his flight out to LA where he finally saw "Midnight in Paris"). He wasn't keen, however, to talk too much about "Bridget Jones' Baby" ("I think we know who the father is"), but talked about the American indie he just finished shooting, "Arthur Newman, Golf Pro." Of course, that isn't the title anymore and Firth noted that those who have pegged it as a dark comedy are wrong. "It's neither dark nor a comedy," he noted. So, yes a new title is coming. Get ready IMDB.
Oldman, whose inexplicable streak of never being nominated for an Oscar should end this year, popped over and joined us for dessert (a tart lemon soufflé). Considering how popular the book and previous TV incarnation of the material is overseas, I asked Oldman if he was relieved after the reviews out of the Venice Film Festival and the U.K. (the picture opened in Sept. in Britain) were so positive. That was an affirmative, but Oldman joked that since he'd basically lived in the United States for the past 23 years (seven in New York, 16 in Los Angeles) he was sort of seen like an ex-Pat (well, not really). Oldman noted he'd headed to the States because at the time - the late 80's - there just weren't a lot of movies being made in the U.K. Only 53-years-old, Oldman also mentioned how strange it was that young actors he was so impressed with these days such as his "Tinker" and "Dark Knight Rises" co-star Tom Hardy, Michael Fassbender and Ryan Gosling had relayed to him that they were inspired to become actors because of his work. But considering Oldman is finally getting his due with "Tinker," he'll take some ribbing from the slightly younger generation if he has to.
The event ended with both Strong and Alfredson stopping by. Strong and I discussed how it was great to see him out of the "villain" role in "Tinker" where he plays a British agent caught in an operation that goes terribly wrong. The "Sherlock Holmes" star said that he considered his drug trafficker with an existential crisis in "The Guard" his last baddie for awhile until he realized "John Carter" would be coming out significantly later (he shot it over two years ago). Strong also noted the reshoots he did for "Carter" really were just like animation and the strangest he'd ever had to do. Instead of reshooting the entire scene or the entire scene from a different angle he'd actually just say one line here and there. Strong also revealed he's going to be doing smaller movies for the foreseeable future (getting away from the heavies) and most intriguing was his description of the recently wrapped dramatic thriller "Close to the Moon" he just shot in Romania alongside Vera Farmiga. It's based on a real case that took place in 1959 when the country was under communist rule. A group of convicted bank robbers were asked to stage their heist again for the sake of a documentary about their case. It sounded trippy, but Strong isn't sure when or where it will eventually turn up (we'll guess for him: Toronto or Venice). We're also going to assume a "Green Lantern" sequel isn't on his upcoming schedule.
The jovial Alfredson, whose personality is 180 degrees from his last two dark and moody films, reiterated that if a sequel to "Tinker" would happen it would be in a few years and they still have to decide which le Carre story that would be. Straughan then dropped it would likely be "Smiley's People" with some flashbacks from "The Honourable Schoolboy."
And with that, it was time for the "Tinker" crew to do more interviews and get ready for a night of Q&A's. Judging from some of the passionate reactions to "Tinker" so far, however, this isn't the last we'll hear from these cinematic spies this awards season.
"Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday.
For year round entertainment commentary and awards season news follow @HitFixGregory on Twitter.
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