Tinker Tailor’s Gary Oldman on Making a Smiley Face – with Glasses

Gary Oldman in 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy'

Even if Gary Oldman takes home one of those little gold statuettes at the Oscars for his performance in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, he’s already given away another object of no little importance connected to the movie.

The glasses that Oldman wore, playing melancholic spy George Smiley, are being auctioned off for charity.

Few readers come away from John le Carré’s book without an impression of the glasses, which Smiley habitually cleans with the wide end of his tie. (“His only fidget was to polish his glasses on the silk lining of his tie,” writes the author about Smiley at one point in Tinker, Tailor, “and when he did this his eyes had a soaked, naked look which was embarrassing to those who caught him at it.”)

Oldman has said, “To me, George Smiley’s glasses are the equivalent of James Bond’s Aston Martin.”

He’s spoken at length about his trepidation at taking on a character so closely identified with Alec Guinness, who played Smiley in the television version of the spy thriller. Guinness’s shadow, said Oldman, had him “paralyzed with fear.” A week before shooting started, Oldman recently recalled at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, he even called director Tomas Alfredson and suggested, “maybe I’m not your man.”

Alfredson, who uses Smiley’s glasses in part as devices to aid the audience in navigating the film’s narrative structure, realized that they also played a key role for Oldman as an actor.

“We tried, I think, a hundred,” Alfredson told an audience at New York’s Museum of the Moving Image before the movie opened last year.

Even after settling on a pair, Oldman would keep bringing new possibilities to Alfredson.

“He almost drove me crazy with those glasses,” says Alfredson, who believed that, out of frustration, “I thought I’d say yes if he showed up with an Elton John pair.”

Alfredson remembers that they didn’t settle on the final pair until three days before shooting began. In the end, Oldman’s glasses came from a store in Pasadena, California.

“I think it was a lot about him getting used to the idea of playing this guy, so all of his neurosis went into these glasses,” said Alfredson.

The online auction ends tomorrow (Monday) night. At the time of this posting, the highest bid was $725 – probably not too much more than what you’d have to pay for a pair at retail.