Nationality: British. Born: London, England, 21 March 1958. Education: Attended Rose Buford College of Speech and Drama, London. Family: Married 1) Donya Fiorentino, 1997, two sons: Gulliver Flynn and Charlie John; 2) Lesley Manville (divorced), one son: Alfred; 3) the actress Uma Thurman, 1990 (divorced 1992). Career: 1980—stage debut in Massacre at Paris ; 1980–86—theatrical appearances include Chincilla , A Waste of Time , Summit Conference , The Pope's Wedding , Desert Air , Women Beware Women , Real Dreams , and Smart Money ; 1982—film debut in Remembrance ; 1993—in "Dead End for Delia" episode of Fallen Angels TV series. Awards: Fringe Best Newcomer Award, 1985–86; Drama Magazine Award, for Best Actor of the Year, 1985; Cable Ace Award, Best Actor in a Dramatic Series, for "Dead End for Delia" ep. of Fallen Angels , 1994; Channel Four Director's Award, 51E Scottish Screen
Remembrance (Gregg) (as Daniel)
Meantime (Leigh—for TV) (as Coxy)
Honest, Decent and True (Les Blair—for TV)
Sid and Nancy (Cox) (as Sid Vicious)
Prick Up Your Ears (Frears) (as Joe Orton)
We Think the World of You (Gregg) (as Johnny Burney); Track 29 (Roeg) (as Martin); The Firm (Alan Clarke—for TV) (as Bex Bissek)
Paris by Night ; Criminal Law (Campbell) (as Ben Chase)
Heading Home (Hare) (as Ian Tyson); State of Grace (Joanou) (as Jack Flannery); Chattahoochee (Mick Jackson) (as Emmett Foley); Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (Stoppard) (as Rosencrantz); Henry and June (Kaufman) (as Pop, under pseudonym Maurice Escargot)
JFK (Oliver Stone) (as Lee Harvey Oswald)
Bram Stoker's Dracula (Francis Ford Coppola) (as Vlad Dracula)
True Romance (Tony Scott) (as Drexl Spivey); Romeo Is Bleeding (Medak) (as Jack Grimaldi); Who Was Lee Harvey Oswald? (doc for TV) (as voice of Oswald)
Leon ( The Cleaner ; The Professional ) (Besson) (as Stansfield); Immortal Beloved (Rose) (as Ludvig von Beethoven)
Murder in the First (Rocco) (as Associate Warden Glenn); The Scarlet Letter (Joffe) (as the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale)
Basquiat ( Build a Fort, Set It on Fire ) (Schnabel) (as Albert Milo)
The Fifth Element (Besson) (as Jean-Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg); Air Force One (Petersen) (as Egor Korshunov)
Lost in Space (Stephen Hopkins) (as Dr. Zachary Smith); Quest for Camelot (Du Chau) (as Ruber)
Jesus (Young—mini for TV) (as Pontius Pilate)
The Contender (Lurie) (as Congressman Sheldon B. Runyon + pr); Anasazi Moon (Seltzer) (role)
Nil by Mouth (+ dir, sc)
Plunkett & Macleane (Scott) (exec pr)
Nil by Mouth , London, 1999.
"Gary Oldman: Wildman of the Brit Pack," interview with Fred Schruers, in Rolling Stone (New York), 18 October 1990.
Interview with Dennis Hopper, in Interview (New York), January 1992.
"Dracula Speaks: Gary Oldman and His Role as the Count," interview in Film Review (London), February 1993.
"True Grit," interview with Geoff Andrew, in Time Out (London), 3 September 1997.
Steinberg, Robert, "Gary Oldman Turns up the Heat in Hell's Kitchen," in American Film (Los Angeles), October 1990.
Abramowitz, Rachel, "Neck Romance," in Premiere (New York), December 1992.
Ascher-Walsh, Rebecca, "Immortal Bedeviled," in Entertainment Weekly (New York), 10 February 1995.
Current Biography 1996 , New York, 1996.
Rebello, S. and others, "Who's the Best Actor in Hollywood?" in Movieline (Escondido), October 1996.
* * *
Gary Oldman is an actor with a chameleon-like quality. From part to part—and a widely varying lot they are—he is utterly convincing; as often as not, he is also unrecognizable. Usually, this spells doom to an actor's potential for stardom. Audiences cannot follow an actor they cannot find. But Oldman has mysteriously avoided this trap; perhaps because of his versatility and range—both of which not even his closest competitor, fellow Brit Daniel Day Lewis, has matched—he has somehow managed to achieve that stardom. Unlike Day Lewis, however, he has yet to win an Oscar, but this cannot be for long.
After making his screen debut in Remembrance and then appearing among the cast of Mike Leigh's "kitchen sink" TV drama Meantime , Oldman shot into the public mind with his lacerating, in-your-face performance as the self-destructive punk rocker Sid Vicious in Alex Cox's Sid and Nancy , the first of several, disparate biopic roles he would undertake in the years to come.
Vicious's rebelliousness against society aside, there would seem to be little in the character or Oldman's uncanny incarnation of it to suggest, "Gee, that's just the guy to play avante-garde, gay British playwright Joe Orton!" But that is exactly what director Stephen Frears did think and Oldman was cast in Prick Up Your Ears , the film version of John Lahr's Orton biography which traced the short life of the working-class writer whose meteoric career was cut short when his lover Kenneth Halliwell (Alfred Molina) murdered him in 1967. Oldman's personification of Orton was so persuasive that even hard-to-please British director/film historian Ken Russell was given to note: "Gary Oldman as the gay genius turned in a remarkable performance, managing the transition from ingenuous provincial lad to glam metropolitan sophisticate with an invisible technique."
Sporting a variety of convincing regional accents and dialects, Oldman has played an array of thoroughly American characters no less vividly, from lowlife drug running scum ( True Romance , The Professional ) to noir heroes fixated on the wrong woman ( Romeo Is Bleeding ). As the Boston defense lawyer who gets psycho Kevin Bacon acquitted then fights to get him behind bars when Bacon kills again, Oldman brought sorely needed dignity to the utterly exploitative Criminal Law , his American film debut. State of Grace , an Irish-American Mean Streets about the Hell's Kitchen gang known as the Westies, found Oldman on the opposite side of the law (not for the first time or the last) as a none-too-bright gangster killed by his own brother (Ed Harris) as a payoff to the Mob. In Chattahoochee , Oldman himself was behind bars as a Korean war vet suffering post-traumatic stress syndrome who is wrongfully incarcerated in a mental institution that makes Bedlam look like Sunnybrook Farm, and brings some welcome reform to it. In Murder in the First , he squared off once more against Kevin Bacon, a prisoner who goes mad due to the brutal treatment of Oldman's Alcatraz warden. The latter two films were based on true stories.
JFK on the other hand was based on theory and supposition. Marshaling mountains of information uncovered by Warren Report critics over the years, director Oliver Stone's provocative docudrama concluded that the Mob served as functionaries in a much broader, government-managed scheme to assassinate Kennedy, a scheme in which Lee Harvey Oswald was just what he said he was, a "patsy." While the veracity of the film's conspiracy theories were vigorously challenged by critics, Oldman's dead-on portrait of Oswald was roundly applauded as eerily accurate in voice and manner. Oldman even looked the part, without the use of much makeup—another trademark of the actor's amazing, and seemingly effortless, virtuosity in biopic roles. Two years later, he supplied the voice of Oswald, reading from Oswald's own diaries, in a PBS Frontline documentary rebutting much of the Stone epic's conspiracy evidence. Again, the effect was positively eerie.
Since then, Oldman has played everything from the screen's most passionate yet monstrously otherworldly Dracula to Beethoven (bearing yet another uncanny physical resemblance to the character) to Nathaniel Hawthorne's guilt-ridden puritan adulterer who gets Demi Moore's anachronistically feminist Hester Prynne saddled with The Scarlet Letter. And yet his career is still in its prime.
On Hollywood's A list for roles as the villainous counterpart to screen superheroes like Bruce Willis and Harrison Ford, Oldman has appeared, without fear of being swallowed by the special effects and pyrotechnics, in some of the biggest-budgeted science-fiction spectaculars of recent vintage too— The Fifth Element (almost unrecognizable as the alien evil), and Air Force One (as a terrorist who holds the President and family hostage in the skies). And rather than giving the impression that he's slumming in such films, he invests his performances with twists that makes the characters he plays in them more rather than less visible amid all the high-tech razzle-dazzle. For example, in Lost in Space , a bloated spin on the old television series of the same name, he studiously underplays his role as the villainous Dr. Smith to stay noticed—in marked contrast to all about him in the film who feel the need to chew the scenery.
Typically, leading men add longevity to their working lives by aging gracefully, and almost imperceptibly, into character roles. Oldman has a strong leg up. He is a charismatic leading man and bravura character actor already—with, like many successful actors of his generation, an eye on moving behind the camera as well. 1997's Nil by Mouth—a searing, semi-autobiographical portrait of a working-class British family brought low by alcoholism, abuse, and other dysfunctions—marked his debut as a triple-threat auteur. He not only produced the critically well-received and award-winning (but not widely seen) film, he wrote and directed it too. Perhaps it might have found a wider audience if he'd starred in it as well.