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The Untold Truth Of Gary Oldman

Gary Oldman's name may be synonymous with "movie villain" to many filmgoers, and in fairness, that association is not totally without reason. The acclaimed actor has delighted and horrified audiences to equal degrees playing some of Hollywood's most iconic baddies in Leon: The Professional, True Romance, Air Force One, The Fifth Element, JFK and more. However, it would be a major mistake to reduce his career to one primarily spent playing antagonists. The Oscar winner has worked in film, theatre, television and video games. He's transformed into real life figures such as Ludwig van Beethoven, Winston Churchill, and Herman Mankiewicz, as well as putting his own unique spin on famous fictional characters like Dracula and Commissioner Jim Gordon. He's even gotten behind the camera. This — and so much more — is the untold truth of Gary Oldman.

Gary Oldman started his career in British theatre

After seeing the film The Raging Moon in his youth, Oldman was inspired to seek acting as a career. He first did so on the stage: As a teenager he acted in local London productions through the Greenwich and Lewisham Young People's Theatre, and received a scholarship to continue his pursuit of acting at the Rose Bruford Training College for Speech and Drama, graduating with a theatre degree in 1979.

He became a member of the Glasgow Citizens Theatre, and would later go on to perform at both the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal Court Theatre, acting in a variety of productions, including The Pope's Wedding. Reflecting on his time onstage at the Royal Court Theatre, he said he learned a great deal from those experiences that he's applied in his later work, adding that he still has a real affection for the place.

"It was my dream, it was my ambition to work here. And then [I] discovered what a joy it was to be on the other side, to play the theatre," Oldman said. "I get emotional getting out of the cab looking up at the building because it was such a wonderful time here."

Gary Oldman initially turned down the part of Sid Vicious in Sid and Nancy

His work in the acclaimed 1986 biopic Sid and Nancy introduced Gary Oldman to audiences around the world outside Britain, and he earned widely positive reviews for his performance as the punk rock musician Sid Vicious. But it was a role he was reluctant to take. "The script was stupid," he said years later. Having recently turned down several projects, however, he changed his mind about playing the Sex Pistols bassist and accepted the part.

The film helped catapult Oldman to stardom and earned him the award for Most Promising Newcomer from the Evening Standard British Film Awards. However, he still has a complicated relationship with the movie — like many actors looking back on their early work, he doesn't care for his performance in the film.

"I don't like myself in the movie, no. Frankly, I didn't want to make it in the first place," Oldman later said. "I don't think I played Sid Vicious very well."

Gary Oldman was nominated for an Emmy Award for his guest work on a sitcom

While Gary Oldman is primarily known for his large body of work on the big screen, he's appeared on television as well — and to considerable acclaim. In 2001, he appeared on the hit NBC sitcom Friends, guest-starring in the season 7 finale as Joey's co-star Richard Crosby — an actor who, to Joey's annoyance, spits while delivering his lines. When he refuses to stop, Joey gives him a taste of his own medicine, leading to a scene in which the two constantly spit through their lines at each other.

Oldman's comedic chops and spitting skills on the show were recognized with a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series. Years later he looked back on the experience fondly, saying, "When I did Friends, Matt LeBlanc made me laugh — he's hilarious."

Gary Oldman has lent his voice to multiple video games

Gary Oldman certainly doesn't confine himself to any one medium. He's worked in film, television, theatre — and video games too. He's provided voices for The Legend of Spyro series and multiple iterations of Call of Duty, among other titles. More recently, he signed on to appear alongside fellow screen stars Mark Hamill, Gillian Anderson, Mark Strong, and Andy Serkis in the game Star Citizen: Squadron 42, which utilized motion capture technology to shoot.

Oldman has said that he approaches his video game roles like any other, although significantly more is left up to his imagination.

"These things come across my desk much the same way as any other role. They're acting roles, at the end of the day, and each game sets up some particular hurdles that you have to go through," Oldman said. "One is more of a vocal performance, for example. And each one offers something new. I'm always amazed at how quickly the technology advances."

Christopher Nolan initially had Gary Oldman in mind for a very different role in the Dark Knight series

Gary Oldman has a reputation for playing bad guys, from real-life assassin Lee Harvey Oswald in JFK to literary creature Dracula and a fictional terrorist in Air Force One. It's no surprise, then, that director Christopher Nolan initially envisioned him for a role as one of the villains in his Dark Knight trilogy.

Nolan first met with Oldman to discuss him playing Raʼs al Ghul in Batman Begins, a role which would later go to Liam Neeson. By this time Oldman was sick of playing villains and had little interest in the part; a few days later, Nolan decided to switch gears and offered him the part of Commissioner Jim Gordon, which presented him with the opportunity to play against type and take on the role of a legendary comics good guy.

"[Gary's] played a lot of extremely fascinating, very deeply flawed individuals," Nolan explained. "But I'd never seen him play a straightforwardly good man."

Gary Oldman is a big fan of John Cassavetes

Gary Oldman counts Alan Bates, Tom Courtenay, Albert Finney, Alec Guinness, Robert Redford, and Cary Grant among his heroes in the movie industry, with great admiration for each of their work in film. There does seem to be one actor and filmmaker, though, who's particularly influenced Oldman and his work: John Cassavetes.

"The film Husbands means the most to me," he said. "I love John Cassavetes."

Husbands is a 1970 comedy-drama about three men in the midst of a midlife crisis after the death of a friend. Cassavetes wrote, directed and acted in the film, and in 2001, Oldman recalled to Cassavetes' wife and collaborator Gena Rowlands his experience seeing the film in a movie theater for the first time, and marveled over "the scale and size of the thing." He also expressed his belief that Cassavetes "is probably the greatest unknown American director who ever lived."

Oldman's 1997 film Nil by Mouth, which found him making his feature debut as a writer and director, attempts to follow in the Cassevates tradition — by Oldman's own willing admission. "I readily admit that Nil By Mouth is not so much influenced by as it is inspired by Cassavetes," he said.

Gary Oldman's Oscar-winning performance in The Darkest Hour required hours of makeup every day on set

In order to convincingly play Winston Churchill in The Darkest Hour, Gary Oldman needed to look the part, which was no easy task. Given their sizable physical differences, the work of a skilled makeup artist was essential for the role. Knowing the challenges involved in such an undertaking, Oldman appealed to Kazuhiro Tsuji, an artist who previously worked on the The Grinch and Looper. Tsuji had retired from the film industry, but Oldman was able to convince him The Darkest Hour was a worthwhile project.

Through Tsuji's efforts, six months of makeup testing and four hours in the makeup chair every day on set putting on prosthetics, a wig and a padded suit, Oldman transformed into the famed politician. "Sometimes I would walk to the set and pass a mirror," he recalled. "I'd catch myself in the mirror and go, 'Ahh!' It was stunning."

Gary Oldman has also written and directed his own movie

In 1997, Gary Oldman made his feature directing and writing debut with the semi-autobiographical film Nil by Mouth. After penning the script, Oldman recalled he had severe difficulty securing the finances to make it, with even his agent considering it "career suicide" due to the large amount of profanity and heavy content.

"I couldn't find a penny from anyone in England," he said. "Nobody wanted to make it."

Oldman was determined to make the film, though, and ultimately secured a producer, though he had to personally put up millions.

The film, which received generally positive reviews, portrays a South East London family's experiences with domestic abuse and addiction, the latter of which Oldman's own alcoholism informed. As he later mused after screening Nil by Mouth at the Cannes Film Festival, "I think I'm the only alcoholic who had their fourth or fifth step in competition."

Another passion project

Following his Oscar win for The Darkest Hour, it was announced that Gary Oldman would return to the director's seat to write, helm, and star in the biopic Flying Horse. The film tells the true story of Eadweard Muybridge, the English photographer best known for developing stop-motion photography techniques and early projection devices.

Oldman doesn't intend to shy away from the darker parts of Muybridge's personal life. In 1874, he shot and killed his wife's lover after learning of their affair. He was charged and stood trial for the murder, but was ultimately acquitted on the grounds of justifiable homicide.

"We long to make good movies, and that means good stories," Oldman and his producing partner explained in a joint statement. "And there are few stories as good as these events."

Gary Oldman's role in Mank was his most challenging

Gary Oldman earned widespread critical acclaim and award nominations for his performance in David Fincher's Mank, a 2020 biopic focusing on screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz — particularly his work on the script for Citizen Kane.

In a decades long and distinguished career that's been filled with complex and larger than life parts, Oldman said this was the "most challenging of any role that I've had."

Unlike many of his other films such as The Darkest Hour, Immortal Beloved, and Dracula, Oldman didn't have the aid of elaborate makeup or a hairpiece to separate himself from his troubled character here.

"David said, 'I want you as absolutely as naked as you've ever been. There's no wig, there's no teeth, there's no forced noses. Just you,'" Oldman said. "I do like the odd disguise to hide behind. But above and beyond that, you're playing a man who has such self-loathing."