Skip to content Skip to footer

Gary Oldman in Slow Horses

To what extent do you personally identify with Jackson Lamb?

Well, it’s weird, in a way. I’ve played all sorts of crazy people in my career. But I started — in film, at least — with Sid and Nancy, which is a London character. And I sort of had my own accent in it. I affected it slightly because I based the rhythm on Sid Vicious. But I am from London and Sid was from London, so it was very close to me in that sense. And it seems rather fitting that I feel like I’ve gone all around the world and I’ve come back with Lamb. There’s a timbre and an edge I give to the sound with Lamb, but he’s pretty much — in that respect — he’s close to me. Hopefully, I’m a lot nicer and softer than Jackson Lamb. I haven’t got too much in common with him. But he is closer to my own voice.

One of the most compelling things here is Lamb’s relationship with his “Joes,” his junior agents. He’s awful to them, but every once in a while he shows how much he’s willing to risk for them. Are those the most satisfying scenes to play?

I think he’d be sort of one-dimensional if it was just [always belittling them] . . . He’s provocative and he’s confrontational and he’s really someone who takes great delight in not being P.C. He knows what he’s up to, but there’s a very strong sort of code of honour that he has. As I say in season one . . . “They’re losers but they’re my losers.” There’s a great loyalty that he has toward them. It’s sort of tough love, as well. He sort of berates them and says, “Are you tough enough? Are you tough enough for the job? Are you tough enough to take it?” The kind of profession that they’re in is not, you know, selling shoes in a department store. They’re spies out there in a very dangerous environment. So perhaps it’s his way of toughening them up.


Where to begin! The London-born actor is one of the world’s most recognizable performers. He’s played Dracula. He’s played Sid Vicious. He’s played Batman’s Commissioner Jim Gordon. The list goes on. And at long last, in 2018, he won a long-overdue Oscar for his turn as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour.


For his first big foray into television, Oldman plays crotchety MI5 agent Jackson Lamb, the leader of a group of Bad News Bears-esque spies dismissed and derided by the elite of the U.K. intelligence community. And yet, these “slow horses” routinely save the world from — to use this second season as an example — Soviet Union sleeper-agent conspiracies.

This show has already been renewed for at least two more seasons. That’s quite a commitment for you, given that you’re an actor who’s accustomed to jumping from film to film to film . . .

Well, I love the show and the material and the character. As long as the people enjoy the show and we have subscriptions and an audience and Apple to write us the cheques and keep us on the air, then I will keep going. I am wholly committed to the show and to Jackson Lamb and the company. So yeah, I would be happy to do this for the foreseeable future. It’s really a great gig.

You’ve been described as a “methodactor,” someone who really commits fully and lives in his character’s mindset all through filming. Is that how you see your process?

To be very honest with you, I don’t quite really know what “method acting” is. Let me give you an example. When I was doing Dracula with Francis Ford Coppola many years ago, he wanted me to weep on camera. He didn’t want me to cry — crying is one thing — but weeping is a whole different thing . . . Anyways, I had the scene with Tony Hopkins [who played Van Helsing] and as marvelous and wonderful as Tony is, it wasn’t working. So I got my assistant at the time to stand on a box so that the eye-line was the same as Tony’s and ask me questions about my son. And I used that to give me the honest emotion of what Coppola required. Now, that’s not Dracula crying; that’s Gary crying but channelling it through the prism of Dracula — through the physicality and makeup. I don’t know if that’s “method acting.” I think you just use what you use to get there.

Leave a comment

Sign Up to Our Newsletter

Ritatis et quasi architecto beat

Whoops, you're not connected to Mailchimp. You need to enter a valid Mailchimp API key.