It took awhile for me to become a fully-fledged Gary Oldman fan. He can be, shall we say, unsettling. But that’s because he’s so good. SO good. Heads and tails above most of the rest. I’d like to think that’s because he honed his craft in theatre well before getting into film. I know he’s hardly undersung, in the sense that he’s a pretty famous guy. But I think he is thought of as kinda crazy and weird. What we are missing is how incredibly talented he is.
I’m going to list the reasons I think that Gary Oldman is one the top 5 best actors today.
1. His vocal work. Minnie Driver, for example, has a knack for dialects. Meryl Streep, too. They just really have an ear for that sort of thing. You could say Gary Oldman does, too, in the sense that he performs them admirably. But the thing is, the dialect is only 10% of what he is actually doing with his voice. You close your eyes while watching Ms. Driver in, say, Sleepers. And it’s Minnie Driver doing a Brooklyn accent, albeit a good one. You close your eyes during Romeo is Bleeding and you hear Jack Grimaldi, corrupt cop and tortured soul. And still, it’s Gary Oldman. And yeah, he’s doing a good, subtle Brooklyn accent. But it’s so much more than that. There is depth and nuance. Romeo is Bleeding is actually kind of a typical 90’s bleak cop/gangland movie. But Oldman kept me watching.
2. His intensity. He is authentically intense. Judging by his list of wives, I imagine this comes pretty easily to him. He throws himself into these roles. There is always something simmering underneath. This is a direct quote from the man himself, “I had this idea of myself as a shy, kind, sweet chap. I was working with Winona Ryder and she turned to me and said, “F***, man, you’re really intense!” I was so shocked, I went, “What do you mean? I’m not intense, I’m sweet!” My passion and energy get mistaken for anger.” His first major movie role was playing Sid Vicious.
3. He says things like this, “Any actor who tells you that they have become the people they play, unless they’re clearly diagnosed as a schizophrenic, is bullshitting you.” Hallelujah. I am staunchly on the no actor crazy talk bandwagon.
4. I find, that no matter what awful lunatic he might be playing, that I always empathize with him. With some actors, when they play such roles, they seem so easy to hate. They are essentially hateful plot devices. But when Gary Oldman is playing these characters, you see tortured soul.
5. He doesn’t look like anybody else in Hollywood. That’s interesting and imminently watchable.
6. He never phones it in. Every second he is onscreen his is completely engaged. I would LOVE to see him onstage.
Certainly, I haven’t seen every movie Gary Oldman has ever made. But I have seen a lot of them over the years, and I will share my favorites with you now:
Sid and Nancy. I don’t think I understood what “co-dependent relationship” meant until I saw this movie. Luckily, I don’t think I’m in one. My absolute favorite quote from this movie happens when Nancy (Chloe Webb) has just up the phone with her parents:
Oldman shines, if you can shine while playing the particularly scatalogical Vicious. What’s surprising about his performance is how strangely optimistic it is. You might already know what happens in the end, but it’s really hard not to follow his faulty and disturbed logic. “This is just a rough patch. It’ll be okay when we get to America.” You can see how relationships…as well as heroin…can be so addictive.
Check out this clip where you get a small sense of his physicality. He just sort of lumbers along, like his body is made up of spare parts.
Dracula. Only after viewing this movie did I realize what a sad, tragic character Count Vlad Dracula is. His loss, in the beginning of the film, is astounding. Raw. I have no interest in the Twilight series. Why would I? Nothing can compete with Oldman’s Dracula. The movie itself leaves a few things to be desired. But his performance does not.
I am completely susceptible to Wounded Soldier syndrome. Rrrgggglll.
Absolutely ridiculous. He’s maybe onscreen for 10 minutes. It doesn’t matter. This movie is it’s cameos. Check out Oldman, but also check out Brad Pitt as the loser roommate and his honey-bear drug accoutrement.
The Professional. Perhaps the least cuddly squeezy of the Oldman roles. It’s like being in the same room as wet dynamite.
This is just a small sampling. He’s a heartbreaker. When his Beethoven is reduced to playing the piano with his head on the soundtable is maybe, for me, one of the more tragic moments in film. Oldman as Sirius Black is perfection…and those chest tattooes. Girrrllll…. This guy has been around a long time, and yet he still surprised me with his fatherly, slightly frumpy and long-suffering Jim Gordon.
If you’ve avoided Oldman, or haven’t bothered to explore his filmography, grab a drink (you might need it), and enjoy. Truly he is one of my faves and not only a Movie Hero but (risking geekdom) an Acting one, too. As long as this guy is out there, we need not bemoan the death of the great Actor.
*What is a movie hero? An un or under-sung member of the film making community who deserves more of the spotlight. And yet lack of such a spotlight often adds to their charm.