- Simon Garner
Actor of the Week: Gary Oldman
Since starting our Actor of the Week feature at Life of Fims, we’ve covered so many quality stars, both current and legendary, and this week’s winner fits both moulds - the impeccable Gary Oldman. With a very diverse style, covering plenty of character types, Oldman is widely regarded as an icon of his generation.
The early ‘80s saw Oldman appear in a number of plays and receive awards for his roles as a result. It was 1982’s Remembrance that gave him his film debut, but the role that really garnered him attention was as Sid Vicious in the 1986 biopic Sid and Nancy. Depicting the relationship between The Sex Pistols’ bassist Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen, Sid and Nancy saw Oldman burst onto the scene with what many saw as an outstanding portrayal of the troubled music star.
For a long time, Oldman tended to be associated with playing villainous roles, and this was essentially down to doing a great job at many of these. A couple of notable examples also saw Oldman work alongside some former Actor of the Week winners. Firstly, as Norman Stansfield, a corrupt DEA agent, in Léon, working with Natalie Portman. Secondly, he worked alongside Keanu Reeves in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, where he played the title character Dracula. With stellar performances in both films, as well as others, this is where Gary’s extrovert villain tag began.
Continuing this antagonist angle, Oldman starred as Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg in the much-loved, 1997 Sci-Fi classic The Fifth Element. Set in 1914, Mondoshawans, an alien race arrive at an Egyptian temple to collect a weapon consisting of four stones, which contain properties of the four elements. They are collecting the weapon for safekeeping, and promise to return with the weapon in time to fight the great evil, should it return. Inevitably, this evil does return, and upon the Mondoshawans’ return to earth, they are ambushed by another alien race known as Mangalores. Responsible for the hiring of this race was Oldman’s Zorg, who has been sent by the great evil to acquire the four element stones. What is impressive about Oldman in this film is that he gives his character multiple angles. He conveys both mastery of evil, but also fear of his own boss, and it’s a great oxymoronic performance to watch.
At the top of the article, I said that Oldman was both legendary and current, and there are two roles that, I believe, are key to this. The first, and perhaps most obvious, is that of Sirius Black in the Harry Potter franchise. What is funny about this role is that it actually saw Oldman bring some of that long-attributed villainy at first, because Black was a falsely-accused fugitive when he was first introduced in the films. In The Prisoner of Azkaban, his first turn as Black, there’s a great shot of Oldman’s Black going mad in a wanted poster, and this coincides with his early-career extrovert villainy perfectly. (If you somehow haven’t seen the Harry Potter films, the paintings and photographs can move - magic!) Once it was clear, to non-book readers, that his intentions were, in fact, good, Oldman actually endeared himself to an entirely new audience and generation as a result. If he hadn’t already, he had now finally shed whatever tag he’d had, and went on to play the widely-loved hero Sirius Black in three more of the franchise’s films.
Probably unsurprising to our regular readers, my favourite role of Oldman’s was as Lieutenant/Commissioner James Gordon in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, and it also saw him work with three more former AotW winners in Christian Bale, Tom Hardy and Cillian Murphy. It’s a trilogy that simply means so much to me as a film lover, and Oldman plays a huge part in that. Gordon is Batman’s loyal, legal partner, doing things in the daylight Batman could never do. Through the trilogy, we see Gordon’s rise, alongside Batman’s, from beat cop, to Lieutenant, to Commissioner, and Oldman takes us on the journey with great skill. In Batman Begins, there’s a lovely scene between a young Gordon and Bruce Wayne as a child, and the scene takes place just after Bruce’s parents have been killed. Bruce is naturally distraught, and Gordon puts Thomas Wayne’s coat around his shoulders and tells him everything will be alright, and it’s all incredibly touching. Another wonderful thing about this scene is that it resonates again in the final instalment of the trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, where everything is tied together. Oldman is excellent here, as he really makes you feel for Bruce and Gordon himself, being in the position of having to console a young lad after the most devastating loss. Oldman is, however, at his supreme best in the final scene of The Dark Knight. Harvey Dent has been physically and mentally corrupted by The Joker, having been irreparably scarred by the bombs and crushed by the loss of Rachel, and subsequently holds Gordon and Batman responsible as a result. Whilst Dent is threatening his family at gunpoint, we see Oldman’s Gordon go through anger and desperation at a rapid rate, and he does it fantastically. It’s such an evocative scene, as you really relate to Gordon’s deepest fear of losing his loved ones. It also closes with a delightful speech from Gordon, delivering goosebumps every single time.
Surprisingly, Oldman has only been nominated for one Oscar in his long, illustrious career, and this was for his role as George Smiley in 2012’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. It baffles me that this is the case, as Oldman is an icon and has churned out many tremendous performances. This could be about to change, because all the buzz currently is around him and his apparent excellence in the upcoming Darkest Hour, where he portrays Winston Churchill.
I am of no doubt that there is so much more to come from Gary Oldman, and I am excited to witness it. Whatever he signs up to, I’m up for it! Gary, I never said thank you, though I’m sure I’ll never have to!