Gary Oldman on the Power of ‘Slow Horses’ Character Jackson Lamb: ‘He Says Things We All Wish We Could Say’

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Gary Oldman is having the time of his life with Jackson Lamb.

The third season of AppleTV+’sSlow Horses” welcomes back Jackson (Oldman) fast asleep on a couch in the waiting room of a doctor’s office. Only his shoes are visible as he lays back, eyes closed, and freely lets out a series of farts. Other patients look on in disgust and are offended by his behavior. One goes up to the receptionist and complains about him. Poking his head up, Jackson says in a wry manner, “It’s my colon, terminal.”

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Jackson Lamb is a grumpy old man, who drinks, smokes, dons a filthy raincoat with cigarette burns and stains, needs a shower badly… and farts a lot. He attempts personal hygiene this season by cleaning his underarms in the office restrooms, except there’s no soap around. And Oldman can’t get enough.

“I’m grateful to be doing something of this pedigree at this point in my career,” he exclaims.

His process for portraying Jackson began with the “Slough House” series of novels by Mick Herron on which the series is based, and then the scripts. “In terms of creating character, this all comes from the imagination of Mick,” Oldman says. “It’s very detailed and the books are full of information. A lot of the work of putting this man together has been done for me. I get ideas as I read and go along. There are things in the book and script that spark conversations in your head.”

Oldman says it’s rare to revel in one character for this long. There are nine books, and the sixth season of the series is already in the works. So there will be plenty more to unpack. And it’s a good thing, as Jackson seemingly becomes more and more unreadable with each season. Oldman is careful not to spill details about the upcoming fifth season, but since he’s excited to be heading back to London soon to step back into Jackson’s shoes, he can’t help himself. “In Season 5, the presence of Jackson Lamb is more than we’ve seen, maybe more than other seasons. I tell a story that reveals another layer and why he is the way he is,” he teases.

Oldman loves his film work, but he enjoys how many layers he’s able to peel back with Jackson, thanks to the medium.

“With a movie, you don’t really have a rehearsal. You have a two-hour window to tell your story, and a lot of that character richness has to go because you’ve got a short window. This is a growing thing,” he says of working on a series. “I’m experiencing other dynamics of Lamb as the seasons go along.”

Oldman, who recently turned 66, says his life experience is also baked into elements of Jackson. “My parents divorced when I was young, I’ve had the death of my parents, I’ve been divorced, I’ve been in love, I’ve been out of love, I used to drink — and I’m 27 years sober — but guilt, shame and all the things we experience as people, you bring to the work.”

This season sees the “Slow Horses” team band together after Catherine Standish (Saskia Reeves) is kidnapped. Together, they try to fit the pieces to rescue her.

Oldman’s company of actors includes Jack Lowden’s River Cartwright, Kristin Scott Thomas as Diana Taverner and Jonathan Pryce as David Cartwright. And he relishes working alongside them. He likens it to a tennis match.

“You hit the ball, they hit back and throw up an interesting spin on it. You have this back-and-forth with all those actors, who have wonderful instincts and intuition. They bring their magic, and they bring their humanity to it,” he says. “I’ve been doing it all these years, but I still get that thrill of running it through with the others when they’re that good — they’re seasoned pros and they’re wonderful at their job.”

With such a caliber of actors, Oldman says showrunner and executive producer Will Smith — the British stand-up comedian and writer, who won two Emmys as a producer of “Veep” — always allows room for improvisation. “There are changes and tweaks that we make along the way. I’ll occasionally turn to him and say, ‘That line doesn’t sit with me, what do you think? Can you give me an alternative?’

Or you throw something in.”

With so much left to explore in Jackson Lamb, and the novels to lean back on, Oldman is not concerned about the show “jumping the shark.”

“We have the books, so we’re lucky in that respect,” he says, noting that the character remains relatable “because he says things we all wish we could say.”

Once he shoots the last take and has wrapped for the season, he’s found a way to shake off traces of Jackson: “It’s nice just to be able to wash your hair.”

Oldman is so convincingly good — even over Zoom — that it’s hard to tell if he’s joking.

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