D R E S S I N G T H E PA R T Gary Oldman represents a traditional British sangfroid in his portrayal of George Smiley. In his own life, he has woven his way through the London looks of the past 40 years, from suedehead teen to bespoke-suited 50-something. Here, he traces the development of his style
INTERVIEW PETER HOWARTH Photography BOO GEORGE
Gary Oldman’s career is a significant achievement, even by Hollywood standards: over the past three decades he has taken on iconic characters – fictional, real and somewhere in-between – such as Sid Vicious, Count Dracula, Ludwig van Beethoven and Lee Harvey Oswald, bringing each to the screen with obsessive attention to detail. More recently, his interpretation of le Carré’s famous spymaster, George Smiley, in Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy earned him BAFTA and Academy Award nominations earlier this year, and he is due to return in July as Commissioner Jim Gordon in The Dark Knight Rises – the grand finale to Christopher Nolan’s billion-dollar-grossing Batman trilogy. But when we caught up with him in Paris the morning after the French premiere of Tinker, Tailor, we were keen to quiz him on his other lifelong obsession:
I grew up in Deptford in south London, and at that time I used to wear toppers, loon pants and tonic suits from shops like Take 6 and Topman. I was a bit of a soul boy, but I had a very eclectic taste in music – I was into James Brown and Bowie; and I was the only kid in the neighbourhood who would also be listening to Chopin. That mix of styles is something I’ve also pursued in my dress. Back then, though, it was the Seventies and I suppose I was a sort of suedehead – I wasn’t really a skinhead, but it was still a bit of a uniform. You had the Crombie coat with the pocket handkerchief with the stud. I owned a couple of those, I walked into school assembly once and I had a white ‘Benny’ on – a Ben Sherman shirt, button-down with a pleat in the back and a little hanger loop above it. I didn’t have a jacket on and the headmaster, before I even landed, said, ‘Oldman, wait outside my office.’ The accessories were important – loafers and brogues, and the socks: they were white and red. I remember saving up for things. I used to get up really early and do the round with the milkman; and I had a paper round. I remember gazing into shop windows at a pair of brogues or Dr Martens on the other side of the glass, like that ring in Lord of the Rings! And I’d think, ‘Three more weeks…’ Though I liked Bowie, I was never into the glam thing – it was all a bit much. I was never a punk either, though I got to play Sid Vicious in Sid and Nancy. Looking back, I suppose the role I had in Meantime – Coxy the skinhead – was closer to my personal style. That bomber jacket he wears was my own, out of the cupboard, and those knee-high Dr Martens were Tim Roth’s. He loaned them to me because we were looking for a pair that was worn. As a drama student I got into Thirties and Forties suits. There was this place in Holborn called something like Blax, where this guy had these second-hand suits and boxes of these vintage shirts that were still in their polythene wrappers. When I first went there, you wore a shirt and tie with a pin through the collar under the tie,
‘Tomas Alfredson, the director of Tinker, Tailor was clear about the importance of clothes to the film’
with an old, smart single- or double-breasted suit. The trousers hung beautifully as they had a turn-up that was weighted with a little piece of leather. Then, of course, you had to get the shoes: shiny brogues and Oxfords. It was another uniform, I suppose, but I remember being the only one who dressed like that. The trouble is that when you’re an actor you’re wearing your hair long, short, blue – whatever it requires. After a while, it became too much of an effort for me: if you’re going to dress in a late Thirties suit, you’re going to have to do your hair to match. Then the guy started making new suits based on those old patterns. I stuck with him for a long time – until I discovered Paul Smith. I remember coming across Paul’s shop in Covent Garden. It must have been 23 years ago. It was one of those things; I literally walked in off
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men’s style. Thankfully, he obliged.
the street. I remember looking in the window and thinking, Who’s this? I bought a shirt. It had a little bit of whimsy about it – a pocket with a strip of contrasting fabric on the top. A week later, there were shoes in the window; a week after that, suits. Back then, the store was a little bare, but it had such a vibe. I liked what Paul was up to because it wasn’t the retro thing that I’d been doing, but it still had that classic feeling – with a bit of a twist. It felt like bespoke tailoring. But it wasn’t poncey. In those days, even if I’d had the money, I’d never have dreamed of going to a tailor in Savile Row. But the alternative was always Armani – a great designer, but the shoulders were out here on me. Or another designer would have trousers that were too tight and you’d feel like a clown. There’s a certain body type, skin type, hair type that could pull that Eighties designer look off, but not me. Not then, not now. At Paul Smith there were clothes that I really wanted to wear and felt comfortable in. He’s been my staple diet over the years. Some days, it’s ridiculous. I’ll be in socks, shoes, glasses – I’m a walking advertisement for the man. But I also like mixing it up a bit – my wife got me this gorgeous Paul Smith moleskin jacket recently, which is my new favourite, and I often pair it with Levi’s. I suppose I’ve always liked dressing up. It’s funny: I’m a lifelong musician, but because I principally play the piano it’s been a solitary thing. It’s only now that I’ve started to play with some other people and have fun with it. I recently did a fundraiser for my kid’s school with a bunch of guys and we played a Beatles set – 14 numbers! It was great, an excuse to pull on some flares – the first time I’d worn them since the Seventies. As a kid, I used to dress up all the time. I watched Batman on the TV and then searched out my mother’s wide Sixties patent leather belt. I took it, stuck cigarette packets on it, painted it yellow and turned it into a utility belt. Of course, these days, I make a living by pretending to be someone else. And that’s the fun of it – you’re using your imagination and dressing up like a kid playing. And costume is so important for an actor. It absolutely helps to get into character; it’s the closest thing to you, it touches you. Some actors like to go into make-up and then put their clothes on, but I like to dress first; that’s my routine. For George Smiley in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, it was always in this order: shirt, tie, trousers, socks and shoes; and then I would pull on the sleeveless sweater and jacket. I’d go to make-up and hair, and the last thing was the glasses. I’d feel like I was assembling George that way. Tomas Alfredson, the director of that film, was very clear about the importance of the clothes to the look of it. He used to say that he wanted the whole movie to have the smell of damp tweed. You won’t hear many directors talk like that. It became like a manifesto for us. And I understood it perfectly because of my lifelong love of clothes. Given this, I do sometimes think it’s ironic that I’ve ended up living in LA. It’s one of the few
Previous pages: Gary Oldman wears Paul Smith bespoke dinner suit, from £2,500, and Paul Smith London dress shirt, from £195. Bow tie and pocket square, both Paul Smith, made bespoke for Oldman. Opposite, from top: with Tinker, Tailor producer Douglas Urbanski; David Dencik, Colin Firth and Toby Jones on
set; and John Hurt with John le Carré, photographed by Gary Oldman. Below: Oldman on the Prada autumn/ winter 2012 catwalk Grooming: Peter Smith Photographer’s assistant: Brian Doherty Digital operator: Sean Geraghty Retouching: Kasia Kret at Studio Invisible
towns where, as you step out of your apartment, you feel instantly ashamed of the lack of sartorial effort people go to. There’s a uniform over there of chinos and T-shirts and sneakers. I walk into Paul Smith’s Melrose Avenue store – it looks like a huge pink shoebox – and there’s a lovely girl working there called Amy, whose London accent makes me feel back at home, and sometimes I’ll ask her, am I the only one who comes in here? I know the shop is successful, it’s still going strong, but I rarely run into people who are wearing anything like what’s on sale there, because they’re all in the Hollywood uniform. That’s what I enjoy about coming back to Europe, to London in particular: you see people in tailoring with all their individual tastes, and not in long shorts with their bums hanging out. Mercifully,
even my young sons – who are American-born – are starting to get it. There was a time they’d come home in that gangsta look, and I’d say, ‘Over my dead body!’ But, this Christmas, one wanted a pair of Paul Smith boots – he’s 14 – and, because he’d had a good report and been a good lad, he got them. There’s only one downside: they’re starting to steal my clothes. I finally met Paul in LA many, many years after I bought that first shirt in Covent Garden. I explained that I’d go into his shop for a pair of socks and come out with two suits and three pairs of shoes. We’ve become mates and I like to fly the flag by wearing his stuff on the red carpet. Apart from a few things by a young tailor I know in London called Oscar Udeshi – he made me a lovely double-breasted tux for the last Venice Film festival – I’ve worn Paul exclusively for premieres. Though recently I did walk another carpet in Prada! That was a new experience. And what a carpet it was – an enormous red thing with geometric designs under modern chandeliers. It was for the autumn/winter 2012 men’s show and Miuccia Prada asked me and some other actors – Tim Roth, Willem Dafoe and Adrien Brody – to come over and model for her. I’d never done anything like it before and had to be in Europe anyway, so I thought, why not? It turned out to be quite an experience. They put me in an Edwardian-style frock coat that fitted beautifully, and a white shirt and a doublebreasted waistcoat. Apart from Tim Roth’s ribbing – he kept saying, ‘Can I have a glass of champagne?’ because I looked a bit like a waiter – I felt pretty smart and imperial, which was the whole idea. That outfit was immaculately dressy – the kind of thing you might wear to a premiere. And then, last night, it was the French premiere of Tinker, Tailor and for the occasion I went to Paul’s store here in Paris and got a beautiful dark blue suit. It’s important to look good for a premiere. And you do feel a little self-conscious. Last night, for instance, there was a very modest red carpet, but you get there and you stand in front of this bank of photographers and they’re all really nice and say hello. But then it’s like somebody fires a starting pistol and they’re all shouting, ‘Gary, Gary, GARY, GARY! OVER HERE, OVER HERE!’ For the BAFTAs [which were to take place the following weekend], I’m having a suit made by Paul. This is a new thing for me, but it’s for Tinker, Tailor, and Paul has an association with the film – he designed posters for it and a limited edition of the book, and was someone Tomas talked to about getting the British mood right. So it all feels right – a kind of ‘Best of British’ thing. I know some people don’t wear bow ties to these events, but I do. I feel a bit naked without a tie, to be honest. And I have considered bringing back the white dinner jacket. But, for now, I’m having a classic tuxedo made. To make it a bit more Paul Smith – and as it’s my first bespoke tux and I can ask for what I want – I’ve requested a tiny piece of whimsy myself. It will have one cuff button with a Union Jack pattern.