Chat-Worthy Thespian: Gary Oldman

This is my LAMB Acting School debut post. It’s kind of perfect timing as the British thespian just turned 53 this past Monday!

If I were to come up with top ten great actors who haven’t won an Oscar, Oldman would’ve certainly made the list. If you think that idea is atrocious, get this, he actually has never gotten a single nomination!! Wha-? U-huh. Really? Yep. Come on! Exactly.

There are so many of his performances that are Oscar-worthy. Just from what I’ve seen, here are at least three roles that merit a nomination: Dracula (Bram Stoker’s Dracula, 1992), Stansfield (The Professional, 1994), and Beethoven (Immortal Beloved, 1994). It’s challenging to play a persona like Dracula that’s been done so many times over, but Oldman was quite a revelation as the romantic, seductive yet utterly terrifying prince of darkness that it could easily be one of the best Dracula ever. As Stansfield, he was so darn creepy as the pill-crunching corrupt cop who personifies evil through and through, it was a scene-stealing role that puts him as one of the most memorable movie villains. In the same year, he ‘transformed’ himself into one of the greatest composers that ever lived, Ludwig Von Beethoven. He immerses himself in the character and captured the musical genius’ inner turmoil, passion and madness, even in the scenes of him going deaf, it’s as if we could feel his world turning silent.

Now many of you probably would list his iconic portrayal of Sid Vicious in Sid and Nancy as his greatest role (which ranked #62 on Premiere Magazine’s 100 Greatest Performances of All Time in 2006). I haven’t seen the film yet, but from the clips and reviews I’ve read, I have no doubt it was a spectacular performance.

The many faces... and hairstyle of Gary Oldman

You could say that Oldman’s an actors’ actor, as a number of talented actors such as Ryan Gosling and Jason Isaac regard him as one of their favorite actors (per IMDb). Last August I made a post about The Chameleon vs. Perpetually-Typecast Actors and his name is the one that immediately spring to mind when thinking about chameleon actors. He along with under-appreciated thespians such as Alfred Molina, Ciaran Hinds, Sam Rockwell, etc. are the kind of actors who are able to ‘disappear’ into their roles. They’re the kind of actors who consistently seek out roles where they often appear unrecognizable on screen as their looks vary drastically from film to film. Even though he often plays bad guys, he manages to always bring something new to the table and elevate them from being caricatures or one-dimensional characters.

Despite his more indelible psychotic roles, I find him equally convincing as a noble regular guy. Case in point: Commissioner Gordon in Christopher Nolan’s Batman films. At first I was quite puzzled Nolan’s choice, but after seeing him in the role, I really think it’s inspired casting! In fact, Gordon stands as one of my favorite Gary Oldman roles, as well as my favorite amongst the stellar cast he shared the screen with. Oh, speaking of stellar cast, his supporting role as Sirius Black in Harry Potter is also one of my top ten faves in that franchise.

Just a couple of tidbits about the actor you might not know about: In 1997, Oldman directed, produced, and wrote a gritty drama Nil by Mouth (starring Ray Winstone), partially based on his own childhood. The movie ended up winning a BAFTA for Best British Film and is regarded by the organization as one of 100 best films of all time. Oldman’s also an accomplished pianist who once considered becoming a musician rather than an actor.

Gary Oldman as George Smiley

I can’t wait to see Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy – a spy thriller with Oldman in the leading role. It’s one of my most anticipated movies 0f 2011. This is a role that another British great Alec Guinness once played in a BBC miniseries back in 1979, a huge shoes to fill of which I’m sure Oldman is more than up for the task.

Too bad we’d have to wait until December for this, but on the plus side, it’s perfect timing for award season that hopefully Oldman would finally get the recognition he deserves. Now that Christian Bale’s won his Oscar, I’m pulling for Oldman to at least garner a nomination next year. Interestingly enough, both British actors often gravitate toward obsessive and/or deranged roles, and have a knack for doing various accents in movies.

Here’s hoping the day of this massively talented thespian getting passed over for an award will soon be at an end.


What are your thoughts about Gary Oldman? I’d also love to hear your favorite Gary Oldman role(s).

39 thoughts on “Chat-Worthy Thespian: Gary Oldman

  1. Yes! I couldn’t agree more, Ruth.

    When I found out Gary Oldman is British, my jaw just about hit the floor. And that was only a year or two ago. The guy spent his whole career acting, with me seeing his movies, and I couldn’t even peg his country of origin. Now THAT’S a good actor.

    1. You just found out he’s a Brit? He..he.. usually I have a pretty good radar about someone’s nationality, but I’m sure a lot of people are in the same boat as you and probably still think he’s American or something.

      1. My radar with it is horrible. Maybe my new rule of thumb will be “If they’re a good actor or actress, I’ll assume they’re British”.

        1. And you’re usually right! I think 90% of my fave actors are British… even when they’re speaking w/ American accent I usually have a hunch they’re not from around here.

  2. It’s truly perplexing to see such an accomplished and talented actor have a grand total of zero Oscar nominations. In some ways, it’s even more disturbing than Christian Bale’s case before The Fighter since Oldman has been around for so long.

    Let’s hope he finally is recognized for his work sometime soon!

    1. Perplexing is the word, Castor. Sometimes the Academy just doesn’t recognize talent if it hits them in the face. True, he’s been around longer than Bale… so yeah, I’m very hopeful his time will come w/ ‘Soldier, Spy.’

  3. Ted S.

    Gary Oldman is one of my favorite actors, he can play any role, villain or good guy and you believe in his character. It’s amazing that he’s never been nominated for an Oscar yet. The first time I saw him in a movie was in True Romance where he played a pimp who thinks he’s black. Even though it was a small role, he totally stole every scenes he was in.

    I agree he’s perfectly cast as Gordon in Nolan’s Bat flicks. Believe it or not, Nolan actually offered the role to Dennis Quaid first then Kurt Russell, both turned down the offer of course. Now I can’t imagine any other actor in that role beside him.

    1. I’ve only seen clips of him in True Romance but man, is he a freak. But you truly can’t see his real face under all that hair! Yep, he’s a scene-stealer all right.

      Oy, I’m sooo glad Quaid and Russell turned down the Gordon role. Yes I’m with you, can’t imagine anyone else in that role.

  4. Oldman is one of my favourite British Actors (of his generation), followed closely by Alan Rickman.

    So versatile and great in a good role or as a villain.

    One of his best, for me, is his role as Stansfield the two faced cop in Leon. Epic!!

    (I need to get into these LAMB thingies)

    C

  5. I’ve never really got to love him like you, to me he is one of those actors who will forever have supporting roles, but I did love his crazy role in THE FIFTH ELEMENT, and he was rather handsome and dashing in that bad film THE SCARLET LETTER.
    I didn’t know he was British, how odd 🙂

    1. Ahah, yeah he’s so deliciously nuts in Fifth Element. And that hair… who could forget that hair! I’m curious about Scarlet Letter, haven’t seen that one. Well, you’re definitely not the only one who doesn’t know Gary’s a Brit, Dezzy.

  6. No idea why he signs up for shit like Red Riding Hood and The Unborn amongst other contemporary classics, but Oldman will always be one of my faves. One of the few actors out there who can crank the insanity up to 11 without overacting. Really wish he got more screen time as Commissioner Gordon.

    And Stansfield is absolutely his best role. “I LOOOVE Mozart!”

    1. I had no idea he was in RRH until I read M. Carter’s review. My jaw just dropped, I was like what?! I know he’s probably the best thing in it, but still! Hear hear about Gordon, love all the scenes he’s in in BB and TDK.

      Btw, Stansfield is supposed to be a Beethoven fanatic I think, interesting that he plays the musical genius in the same year!

  7. Vince

    Thanks for this post Ruth! Like some of the comments, Oldman has been one of my consistent favorites on the screen. He will take a bad role and do something with it (True Romance for example). I first saw him in Sid and Nancy but he really impressed me in the Joe Orton bio-pic Prick Up Your Ears (Stephen Frears directed and also one of my faves) and as Sean Penn’s troubled brother in Phil Joannou’s State of Grace (a pretty good film in my opinion). Let’s hope the Ol’ Man gets his due. But honestly, I think he’s so respected it doesn’t matter. Explosive but not so over the top like Ed Harris – subtle too like Sirius Black…

    1. Ted S.

      I love his character in True Romance, especially when he finally met with Christiane Slater’s character, it was so funny and also pretty brutal scene.

      I totally forgot about State of Grace, he was way over the top in that movie. I haven’t seen it in years, just remember the slow-mo shoot-out scene at the end.

    2. “I think he’s so respected it doesn’t matter” I think you’ve got a point there Vince, that’s probably what he thinks too. It’s us who admire his work who gets riled up about these things. I mean, in the trivia on my sidebar, there’s that exchange w/ Charlie Rose and I just thought, this guy has a sensible head on his shoulder.

  8. PrairieGirl

    Amateur alert! I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of his films, maybe just the Beethoven one. But he’ll be on my radar a little more after this post.

    1. One of these days you gotta check out Nolan’s Batman films, Becky. I know superhero movies aren’t your genre but you might surprise yourself how much you’d appreciate and enjoy ’em. You might even forget you’re watching a comic book movie! With the likes of Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary (and Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight), you can be sure you’ll see award-worthy performances out of ’em.

        1. PrairieGirl

          Hey Dezzy, thanks for the caution warning! It’s very easy to succumb to Flixy’s temptations, (oh, yes it is, rtm). I love a rainy day, but can do without a flood ;-O

  9. Why is there not a ‘Gary Oldman’s Hair’ montage to some rap song on youtube? Can’t believe someone is passing up that golden opportunity!

  10. vony

    I think the first time I kind of notice Garry Oldman was the Immortal Beloved, he played as Beethoven.. Now that’s a movie that you can not missed..Characters are usually borderline psychotics. What I like about him also that he has a wide variety of roles that often requires a variety of different accents.His ability to change his appearance and voice to make every character unique

    1. Hi Von, yeah that is an amazing performance indeed. I couldn’t believe he was the same guy in The Professional! And yeah, he has a knack for accents, that’s why lots of people didn’t know he’s British. In fact, when I heard him talk with his real accent it just seems odd as he rarely speaks that way in his movies.

  11. wow! I didn’t know all of that about Gary Oldman! this was fun to read! I feel now that he has been grossly snubbed by the academy!

    As you were describing his variances of role choices, I happened to think about Samuel L. Jackson as well. I know that he sometimes is the same kind of character, but he acts in a lot of roles just for the love of acting! I respect that!

    I mean, look, he’s been diff characters in Star Wars, Pulp Fiction, Die Hard, Unbreakable, The Negotiator, Coach Carter. He, also, has never won an Oscar. (though nominated for Pulp Fiction)

    great post! Oldman was one of my favs in The Fifth Element!

    1. Yes, grossly-snubbed is right, T. I hope those days are numbered though.

      I never thought of that about Sam Jackson, but I guess you’re right, he does play a number of different roles, it’s just he’s got such a presence that he doesn’t exactly disappear in them.

  12. mcarteratthemovies

    As long as we’re saying that Gary Oldman is chat-worthy, let’s talk about “Red Riding Hood.” And by talk about, I mean scream “What the f***, Gary Oldman?” at the heavens. I have no clue why he picked this movie.

    1. I know!! That’s what I said in your RRH review… I’m guessing a dump truck full of $$$ was dropped in his backyard for him to get him to sign up for this. I doubt he’s dying to work w/ Catherine Hardwicke… or Amanda Seyfried for that matter.

  13. Gary Oldman is a mystery isn’t he. Such a phenomenal actor who has had some great roles in some great films but the fact he hasn’t won an Oscar still surprises. I do wonder why he hasn’t taken lead character roles more often…maybe that’s the problem…he’s terrific playing secondary characters but there’s always someone ahead of him in the credit roll.

    1. Well he was great in Dracula and Immortal Beloved, both in leading roles. I think he’s just the kind of actor who’s more concerned about the material, so even if it’s a small part, he wouldn’t mind taking it. I hope that with him in the lead in ‘Soldier, Spy’ he’d garner attention from the Academy. I mean, the guy already won the Jameson Empire Icon Award, surely he’s worth at least a nomination soon!

      1. Yeah, that’s right, one of few actors who put the movie ahead of the money. I think he’s very picky about the films he chooses to make and that has both helped him find some fantastic roles but hindered his ability to make more movies. I still think it is unfortunate he didn’t have a bigger part in Harry Potter. One of those instances where the story on screen demands the presence of a great actor but who is killed in the book form and therefore has no further part to play in the story. I would have written him back in!

        1. Yeah I love Sirius Black, Prisoner of Azkaban is one of my top 3 fave HP movies. I’m glad he’s got at least some cameo in a couple other movies, but yeah, I wouldn’t mind seeing more of him.

  14. Susan

    Without a doubt, Gary Oldman’s best roles are in True Romance (“It must be white boy day!”) and Sid and Nancy. He is such a great actor.

    1. Hey, sorry I missed your comment on Friday! I actually called you that day but forgot to thank you. I haven’t seen those two, only clips of them on YouTube. He’s tremendous in both of them, as always.

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