I play (head of scalphunters) Peter Guillam. My cover has been blown during an operation in North Africa and I’ve come back with my tail between my legs. I had been high up as an operative and then I’m demoted to run a branch of the service called the scalphunters at the Circus.
‘One of Peter’s contacts, Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy), comes to him with a claim that there is a mole operating at the heart of the Circus, and Peter takes it to the civil servant in charge of the intelligence service. George Smiley is brought back from retirement to investigate from the outside, and Peter is his man on the inside.
‘It’s a crucial relationship in the story and Guillam sacrifices a lot for Smiley, a man he respects enormously and regards almost as a parental figure. Guillam sees Smiley as a man who is trustworthy in an increasingly opaque and slippery moral landscape.’
‘John le Carré is an actor’s dream. He knew the spying profession well enough to see what it did to human beings, especially men. He really was part of that world, and that’s where the authenticity comes in – it’s not just the colours or geography or historical accuracy.
‘He is a fantastic man – so eloquent and beautiful. Every single nuance of the characters has been thought out, all the back story, and he gives you a very rich and detailed tip of an iceberg.
‘We talked about the idea that Guillam would have been a frozen child at one of the military public schools and there would be a distance between him and his parents, partly because of the work he was involved in. Guillam is in love with a man who’s older than him, and Smiley is another sort of father figure.
‘I’ve always wanted to play a spy, because it is the ultimate acting exercise. You are never what you seem.
‘Spying in Tinker, Tailor is about very lonely men in a very high-pressure job, and the absence of women isn’t just the mark of the workplace in the early Seventies, but it’s also very much to do with how emotionally retarded these men are.
‘It’s a mark of the many sacrifices I think they made. And sexuality was a very powerful tool then. I keep my character’s homosexuality secret because you are so open to blackmail. It necessitates a certain amount of secretiveness, which goes hand in hand with spying.’