Gary Oldman returns as Jackson Lamb in 'Slow Horses' Season 3 Oldman plays the slovenly leader of failed British spies in the Apple TV+ drama, based on Mick Herron's Slough House novels. Herron is more interested in the character's failures than his virtues.

Gary Oldman had 'free rein' in spy thriller 'Slow Horses' — now back for Season 3

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Hapless spies and their boorish leader are back in Season 3 of "Slow Horses." It begins streaming on Apple TV+ today. The drama about failed British intelligence agents is based on the popular Slough House novels by Mick Herron. NPR's Elizabeth Blair takes a look at Jackson Lamb, the spies' miserable but brilliant leader, played by Gary Oldman.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: The spies have messed up their careers in different ways - botched a surveillance operation, been caught gambling on the job, left a top secret file on a train - and Jackson Lamb won't let them forget it.


GARY OLDMAN: (As Jackson) Working with you has been the lowest point in a disappointing career.

BLAIR: He's full of insults, like...


OLDMAN: (As Jackson) It's Saturday, haven't you got other people's cats to steal?

BLAIR: And...


OLDMAN: (As Jackson) If you meant to kill him, he'd still be alive.

BLAIR: Gary Oldman's Jackson Lamb is comically disgusting. He smokes and drinks on the job, needs a shower, has flatulence issues.

MICK HERRON: I think despicable characters are more interesting to write about than kind, humane characters.

BLAIR: Lamb is the creation of Mick Herron.

HERRON: He's not very pleasant company to be with. He has a lot of unpleasant habits, very poor personal hygiene, and a tendency to be as rude as he possibly can to his subordinates. And what we don't know is how much of this he actually means.

BLAIR: "Slow Horses" lets us in on the source of Lamb's misery gradually. He was a Cold War spy who saw death up close. Despite the reputation of his misfit spies, they're still part of British intelligence. They just don't get the sexy James Bond-style assignments. When they do get out, Lamb is on their case, like in this scene when they're looking for a hostage and his kidnappers in the woods.


OLDMAN: (As Jackson) Three men came into the woods, one came out, I'm assuming the one who took the van to Herridge.

JACK LOWDEN: (As River) How do you know?

OLDMAN: (As Jackson) Reading the signs of the earth.

LOWDEN: (As River) What, like snapped branches, trampled grass?

OLDMAN: (As Jackson) No, you dozy sod, the dead body over there.

BLAIR: Herron's take on the spy genre, says executive producer Will Smith, is refreshing because his characters are so believable.

WILL SMITH: People struggling with kind of relatable issues that everyone goes through, you know, kind of divorce and grief, feeling they're not in the right place in their career, that they hate their boss.

BLAIR: Lamb's boss is his main adversary. Kristin Scott Thomas plays Diana Taverner, the second in command of the British Security Service.


KRISTIN SCOTT THOMAS: (As Diana) What do you want?

OLDMAN: (As Jackson) I want that kid found alive.

THOMAS: (As Diana) And you think I don't?

OLDMAN: (As Jackson) I think your attention has been split between finding him and burning me.

BLAIR: Oldman wasn't available for an interview, but critics rave about his portrayal of Lamb, so does Will Smith.

SMITH: These incredible microexpressions that Gary can do where he'll just sort of twitch a muscle under his eye and I'm like, I don't even know how you're doing that. It's such a small thing but says so much. He's just - he's a constant wonder to me.

BLAIR: The first two seasons of "Slow Horses" did so well for Apple TV+, they ordered two more.


MICK JAGGER: (Singing) Surrounded by losers, misfits and boozers, hanging by your fingernails.

BLAIR: Another fan of Herron's books is Mick Jagger, who co-wrote and performs the theme song.


JAGGER: (Singing) You're finished, you're foolish, you failed.

BLAIR: Season 3 is based on "Real Tigers," Mick Herron's third novel in the Jackson Lamb series. The villains are different, but Lamb and his spies are still very much the underdogs.

HERRON: Fiction is full of heroes. I'm not averse to adding to their number. But with Lamb, I'm more interested in his failings than I am in his virtues, I have to say.

BLAIR: But Jackson Lamb is not all bluster. Herron says, he might not have a heart of gold, but he does have a moral code.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.


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