Gary Oldman on ‘Slow Horses,’ His ‘Deeply, Deeply F**ked Up’ Character, and Plans for Season 4

Sitting at a capacious round table filled with half-a-dozen entertainment reporters, Gary Oldman describes himself as a fan of television. “Some of the best stuff you see is on your television screen,” he said. “I love long-form.”

Frankly, this isn’t the first time a movie star who’s new to television has praised the medium printing his paychecks. But Oldman — in a winding, hourlong conversation pegged to “Slow Horses,” his first TV role as a series regular — really does seem to love the visual art of serialized narratives. During the December luncheon (hosted by Apple in New York’s Tribeca neighborhood), he brought up a dozen shows, often unprompted, and even quoted his favorite line from “Succession” off the cuff.

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“God, [Brian] Cox had one of the greatest lines when he said, ‘What is that smell in here? It’s like a cheesemonger died and left his cock in the brie,'” Oldman said, before pausing for a moment to reflect on the poetic put-down. “That is… that is fantastic.”

What other small screen gems does he admire? “I wanted to be on ‘Project Runway,'” Oldman said. “I wanted to be a judge.” That dream went unrealized, but another came true when he asked his producing partner, Doug Urbanski, to see if he could appear on “Top Gear” — and then he did. Over the holidays, Oldman and his wife watched every episode of “All Creatures Great and Small,” featuring his “Slow Horses” co-star Samuel West, and he “religiously” binge-watched the History Channel series “Vikings” — or he did, until the episode counts jumped from 10 to 20 per season.

“I couldn’t quite work out why there was just one season that wouldn’t end,” he said. “I was bingeing it, and it comes up: ‘Next episode,’ ‘next episode.’ I was like, ‘Shit.’ So I looked it up, and […] there was one [season] that was 20 episodes! I’m 18 in, it’s three in the morning, and I like these characters, but—.”

No one had the courage (or memory) to tell Oldman there were actually three seasons of “Vikings” with 20 episodes each, but no matter. He had other options to keep him entertained. When production of “Slow Horses” Season 3 was underway, Oldman said he and Urbanski shared a house, and they would get together each night for dinner and an episode (or two) of TV.

“We would open up our takeaway [from Cipriani] and watch, ‘Below Decks: Mediterranean,'” Oldman said.

“He would text me, ‘You’re late! Hannah’s had an argument with the chef!'” Urbanski said.

“I would,” Oldman said. “That’s true. And the other one we’d watch was ‘Married at First Sight: Australia.'”

Gary Oldman, TV fan? Consider me convinced.

“I’ve sometimes sat in envy of [TV] actors,” he said. “I thought it would be really nice to revisit a character. I’ve done it with [movie sequels,] but it’s different developing a character over a series, over many seasons.”

“Slow Horses” has given him ample room to do just that. Adapted from rich source material in Mick Herron’s novels, Oldman plays Jackson Lamb, an aging but brilliant spy and the slovenly leader of Slough House — a department within MI5 where lower-tier agents get dumped. With three seasons already available, the series is preparing to release its fourth this fall, and Apple has already ordered a fifth. Oldman, overjoyed with the process thus far, hopes to see the thriller through to its end, whenever that may be.

“If this were to be the last thing I do — and it’s up to Apple whether they keep us on the air, because they write the checks — but if they’re happy to keep us on the air, then I’m very happy to do this and do all eight books,” Oldman said. “And since we started, [Mick Herron] has written another one, so who knows? Maybe it’ll be nine books, and I’ll be happy to play Jackson Lambe [in all of them.]”

Jack Lowden and Gary Oldman in 'Slow Horses,' talking on the street, Jack with a bloody face
Jack Lowden and Gary Oldman in ‘Slow Horses’Courtesy of Jack English / Apple TV+

Regarding “the last thing I do,” Oldman was addressing comments made in 2022, when he said retirement “was on the horizon.” Since then, he’s appeared in both TV and film, and said he will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

“Over the summer, I did a cameo for Paolo Sorrentino in his next film,” Oldman said, by way of explaining his attitude toward new roles. “I’ve always wanted to work with him. I think he’s just sublime. The opportunity came up, it’s set in Naples, in Capri, so I had 10 days in Naples — I really can’t complain. What a nice gig. … So I don’t want to say I’m [retiring]. I’ll do other things, but my main focus and commitment really is the show now, and when I’m not doing the show, I like tinkering around with cameras and photography.”

Oldman heaped praise on “Slow Horses,” from the cast to the crew to his character. “We have very good writers, a very good writing team headed by Will Smith,” he said. “We’ve got Season 4 in the can, so now, after four seasons, Will is not only very skilled at putting an elephant in a phone booth — getting [each book] down to a reasonable length [for TV] — but he can hear our voices now, and he’s more familiar with us, so he can write for us. It’s a lovely process. It’s very collaborative. You really couldn’t hope to work with a nicer group of people.”

Part of Oldman’s appreciation stems from what he sees as good fortune. Before “Slow Horses” came around, he told Urbanski he was interested in TV, but only if it met certain requirements.

“I wanted to use my own accent,” Oldman said. “Lamb, I put a bit of top-spin on it, but it’s my own accent. And I don’t want any makeup. I’ve worn enough makeup in my life. I’ve had elaborate, uncomfortable costumes, so I don’t really want a costume. I like the spy world, I really enjoyed ‘Tinker, Tailor,’ so if it could kind of be in the spy world, that would be OK.”

“Doug had to tick all the boxes, and he came back and said, ‘I think I found it! I found the thing you’re looking for!'”

Lamb, an exiled expert in spycraft who’s more than happy to carry out his own operations without the spotlight that comes from being in MI5’s inner circle, has earned a passionate fanbase in three short seasons.

“It’s enormous fun to come in and be a slob — a non-P.C., cynical, offensive boss,” Oldman said. “It’s up there with [my favorite roles]. And really, I’ve had some good roles in my time.”

“Not really redeeming [Lamb] is part of the appeal,” he said. “Lamb doesn’t change very much. He responds to different scenarios and circumstances, but it’s like the die is set. … He’s deeply, deeply fucked up. But he knows right from wrong, and I think that he’s loyal and has a really good moral compass. People use humor to keep people at a distance — it’s all part of the game. He makes you think that he doesn’t care, but he probably cares more than most.”

With Season 3 currently in consideration for this year’s Emmys, Oldman is already excited for fans to get to Season 4.

“In Season 4, it will be the first time we can see inside Lamb’s flat, Lamb’s house,” he said. “What was really fun: Will said to me, ‘What do you think? What posters would he have on the wall? Would he have any posters or anything?’ You’ll catch it, only in passing really, but books are everywhere. I said, ‘What about a leg broken on the coffee table, but he’s put the books to level it up?'”

Oldman said he hasn’t read ahead in Herron’s series of novels, so he doesn’t know what’s ahead for his character. But he does read them as he gets ready for each season.

“Season 4, it’s one of my favorite books,” Oldman said. “We’ve got some good stuff coming up, although I’m not allowed to talk about it. … Just to say, I think it’s going to be good.”

Trust the man. He knows his TV.

“Slow Horses” is available on Apple TV+. Season 4 is expected this fall, and Season 5 has already been renewed.

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