Who Is Alec Leamas?

Novelist John Le Carré created one of literature’s most fascinating characters in Alec Leamas, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold’s main heavy, who is on a final, fateful mission in East Germany. In Martin Ritt’s movie version, now out on Criterion Blu-ray and DVD, Richard Burton embodies Leamas with a morbid gravitas for the ages. In the following short excerpt from an exclusive, exceptionally wide-ranging interview with Le Carré, recorded for Criterion in 2008, he talks about his inspiration for the rueful Leamas. Then watch a clip from the film, in which Burton brilliantly elucidates his character’s philosophy—or rather lack thereof.

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