Gary Oldman’s most recent in-depth magazine interview gave him a headache.
He spent nine hours telling Playboy about the hypocrisy of Hollywood’s Jewish ruling class, defended Mel Gibson’s drunken anti-semitic clangers and Alec Baldwin’s use of the word ‘fag’.
The Londoner also dismissed the Dark Knight Batman series in which he played Commissioner Gordon as “work” he only did for the cash – prompting a mob of Christopher Nolan geeks to bash him on Twitter.
After a backlash over his other comments Oldman disappointingly appeared on a US chat show to beg forgiveness for sharing his opinions.
It was different in 1994, when he sat down with Loaded to front its first issue.
Oldman was just as brutally honest as he was with Playboy: he revealed he wouldn’t piss on Glenda Jackson if she was on fire, told why he wanted to kill Mel Gibson, boasted he was a better star than Mickey Rourke and slagged off showbiz back-stabbing.
Back then, jabbering Twitterati weren’t around and there was no way the man who played Drexl was going to be shoved into making a grovelling apologies for his opinions, reprinted in full here for the first time.
True Brit by Jim Turner, May 1994
As the sun melts into the amber haze hanging over the hills of West Hollywood, Gary Oldman is sipping matzo ball soup inside the candlelit confines of Notes, the restaurant at the Sunset Marquis.
Oldman sits in a quiet corner of the restaurant. If only the women in the hotel foyer knew who was sitting a mere seven steps away, they’d be falling over themselves to join the man whose credits include Sid And Nancy, Prick Up Your Ears, JFK, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and True Romance.
Oldman has also completed Leon, directed by Luc Besson (the maker of Subway and The Big Blue), which is scheduled for release later this year, and guest starred as a devilish tempter in the Guns N’ Roses video for Since I Don’t Have You.
The only reason for Oldman’s preferred anonymity is he has artfully mastered the ability to dissolve into the depths of his chosen roles, leaving fans unable to pen him in.
‘How do I sell my latest movie?’
Oldman’s latest role is that of New York cop Jack Grimaldi in Peter Medak’s Romeo Is Bleeding.
Reading aloud from the film’s production notes, I tell Oldman his character is described as ‘a voyeuristic cop involved in an incredible dance of double-crosses’, which sends the actor into convulsive laughter, causing him to drop his soup spoon back into the bowl.
“How do we sell this one?” laughs Oldman, pretending to be a film publicist. “How would I describe it? I would describe it as a man who basically can’t keep his dick in his pocket and his hand out of the till, and that sums it up. But of course, you can’t put that on the poster, ’cause it wouldn’t sell movies – or maybe it would. In the story, really, he’s a voyeur just by what he does for a living: he does stakeouts.
“Is he inherently that? No. But there’s a scene in the movie where I watch a couple of girls having a good time across the way. I take a cue from that, and in the next scene that I’m in with Juliette Lewis (who plays Oldman’s mistress), I’ve gone out and purchased an almost identical outfit – suspenders, stockings – and she’s doing a little dance. Then some marketing person calls me a voyeuristic cop!” Oldman laughs uncontrollably. “The double-crossing comes in because he’s working both sides of the table, by selling information – after so many years on the job, one day he decides he’s not just going to rely on his pension, that he should put some serious money away.”
Romeo Is Bleeding writer and co-producer Hilary Henkin describes Jack Grimaldi as “a guy who is in love with desire, and someone who is really chasing after the American dream, someone who also would have no notion of what to do once he got that dream. Consequently, he, as a symbol of that envy, digs himself a hole in the garden that he will never fill”.
Henkin, who was involved in the film from beginning to end, feels Oldman was the ideal choice for the role. “I just felt he was very organic for the character,” she says.
“For playing Jack, a mean sort of guy, I was looking for someone who could make you feel for him as well, and Gary has the capacity to break your heart, so it balanced off this character who was doing some less-than-above-board things.”
For the role of Jack Grimaldi, unlike those of Dracula in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Lee Harvey Oswald in JFK, and Joe Orton in Prick Up Your Ears, Oldman relied solely on the printed page for inspiration and needed no in-depth research prior to beginning the project.
“It was all on the page,” he says. “Hilary Henkin wrote a great script.” However, the script was reportedly circling round for the last 10 years, looking for just the right combination of people to put the story on the screen. “I think she has been over-protective of the material, and I would have to say in a good way,” adds Oldman. “And on this journey, she didn’t compromise, which is admirable, I can admire her for that. But I think there’s a point where you can take that kind of fanaticism about a piece of material, and there’s a point where it could become an adverse thing – it could harm you, in a way.
“I think she was adamant, and she came on as a co-producer. She was there every day with her headphones. People would come up with ideas for actors and she was like, ‘No, no, no’. I read where it was listed as one of the great unproduced screenplays in some magazine article. It can work sometimes having the writer there everyday.”
Like Peter Medak’s chilling, dark story The Krays, Romeo Is Bleeding also has sinister elements, but with plenty of black comedy sprinkled along the way. “I think that’s Peter’s thinking world; it flows in his veins,” says Oldman. “If you look at movies like Let Him Have It, that’s classic Medak – a classic in its own right – and The Ruling Class. Romeo has that feeling too. In that sense, it’s got the real stamp of the director on it. I felt Let Him Have It was a better movie than The Krays, because I come from that kind of area, so I look at it with a more watchful eye.”
“Watching myself on screen is a bit like wanking. I think it’s a little bit like wanking, anyway”
Oldman continues, “Romeo is hard to describe. I don’t want to give anything away. See, you do this stuff, and you respond to this piece of material, not really in an intellectual way. JFK is a different read; it sort of gets stuff going. It’s bigger than the sum of its parts, really. It’s an unusual thing in the process where you make a film where you go on your instincts about some thing, and you really don’t intellectualise it. Then you have to come to this part of it where someone asks you, ‘What’s it about?’ It was just fun to play. It’s about comedy, it had some great lines in it, and I thought, ‘Why not?’ I want to have a good time, and I’ve known the piece for seven years. I adored it, and wanted to be around it.”
Director Peter Medak and Gary Oldman share a long time deep respect and love for each other, and Medak felt Oldman was the obvious choice to play Jack Grimaldi in the film.
“We’ve been friends for six or seven years, and known each other’s work, and loved each other’s work, so we’ve always been looking for projects,” says the Hungarian-born director. “Gary was doing JFK, he came to me and said, ‘I’ve just read this script (Romeo) on the plane, and it’s totally insane. If you read it, and like it, we’ll do it’. So I read the script, and the whole idea was to work together – we kind of did it for each other, in a way.”
While working together, Medak says the two of them had such a great time they “began to cry from laughing so much”. He added, “The incredible thing is that we can do that, and just the second I roll the camera, and the minute I say, ‘Action’, it’s just incredible, I’ve only seen one other person who can do this, but… it was Mick Jagger when he was sitting in his dressing room years ago. It was one of his concerts where there must have been 75,000 people screaming for him, and the band were out there already. Backstage Mick was fucking about, putting scarves around his head – here, there – and finally put the scarf around his waist, and looked at himself in the mirror. It was like a demon came out of him – he charged himself up and went out on stage and performed for all of three hours.
“Gary is kind of like that – it’s like a superhuman blink. His eyes start to blink, like he’s sort of hyperventilating. You’d hardly notice, it’s so subtle though. He doesn’t purposefully do it, but he revs himself into this thing. And by the time I say ‘Action’, he’s on this supersonic flight. It’s just phenomenal. Fortunately, I’ve worked with some wonderful actors, but I’ve never seen anything like him in my life – his intensity, and what he puts into a role. I can’t wait to work with him again, because it’s just absolute magic.”
Slash said a similar thing after the GN’R video: “It’s great to watch him get into character. It’s the same kind of energy we have before we go on stage.”
‘Of course I watch my own films’
Does Oldman watch his own magic on screen? “Of course,” he smiles. Does he enjoy it? “If I’m good, it’s all right,” he says. I suggest there are a number of actors who say they don’t go to see themselves in the final cut of the film. “They’re lying,” laughs Oldman. “I’m not saying that they all enjoy seeing themselves, but to say that they just don’t see it, those who say, ‘I never watch myself, I never go to dailies. I never see the movie’…” he trails off in a tone of disbelief.
I ask if it’s hard to watch himself on the screen with an audience. Long pause. “Yeah,” he replies. “Watching myself on screen is a bit like wanking. You know what I mean? I think it’s a little bit like wanking, anyway.”
Oldman says Drexl – the white pimp who thinks he’s black – in Quentin Tarantino’s True Romance was one of the characters he most enjoyed portraying.
“I loved doing that. It looked like I was having fun, didn’t it?” he laughs again. “I just took that part on spec. I hadn’t even read the script. I met Tony Scott at the Four Seasons hotel and I hadn’t read the script. He said, ‘The story is about… oh, I don’t know, I’m terrible at telling a story. I don’t know what it’s about. I can’t describe it to you. He’s a pimp who’s white, but thinks he’s black’.
“I said, ‘Okay, I’ll do it’. I had a lot of fun doing that. There would have been more of that character, but in order to get the rating down, I suffered a bit of the scissors.
“I really went for it. I thought, ‘I’ve only got two scenes, I might as well make my mark’. Good days, happy memories.”
Oldman says Dracula was the most physically taxing role he has played, but his London theatre days were the most difficult as an actor.
“Nothing really compares to that kind of hard work,” says Oldman, pouring chilled water into his long-stemmed glass.
“I’ve done far more hard work than movies, on stage – just going out there every night. Dracula was physically exhausting, because of the nature of the beast – no pun intended. I was in the chair for five or six hours every morning having that make-up put on. In a way, it becomes like a cloud that hangs over the next morning. When you think you’ve done a long day and it still takes an hour and a half to take it all off.
“Everybody’s long gone home and you’re still there having your make-up removed, and you think, ‘In only another five hours, I’ll be in a car coming back to do the whole thing again’. That was a very hard film. With theatre, it never gets easier – that first performance, that first night. With film you’re somewhat cushioned, because you can just go, ‘Oh, fuck it. Cut! Do it again’. It’s not black and white, there’s a lot of grey areas.
“When you think about it, like we just said, ‘I suffered the scissors’. When you’re in a play, you’re your own editor, it’s a continuous journey. No-one’s going to come up on stage and manipulate your performance to take something away from you. You’re doing it live. But it can become a drudgery doing it every night.
“Obviously, some nights and performances are better than others. I don’t know anything like the down you get after a not-so-great performance, and the high you receive after giving a good performance. There’s no drug, or anything else, that can touch it. With film it’s not the same dance. When you come offstage after a great performance, you feel like god. You’re like a king.”
Oldman throws both arms towards the sky and smiles as if multitudes of followers were on the streets below him.
“It’s unbelievable! It’s my heritage, really. I started in a small barn when I was six years old…” he begins, slipping into luvvie-speak.
I ask if it is hard to walk away from a project and leave the final product up to someone else.
“It’s not your business,” he replies. “I can’t really put it any clearer than that. If it’s a good script, and you’ve got a good director – in that case, no, it’s not terribly difficult, because it’s a relationship of trust. You get on the boat, you set sail, and hopefully the captain will land you where you’re supposed to go. It’s all a gamble.
“It’s a strange business, a strange living to make, where you get up in the morning, and you come in and what you do that day is photographed and will go up on the screen on a piece of celluloid that will outlive you.
“You’ve got to be inspired, you’ve got to be on, you’ve got to be good that day. You could wake up with a head cold, or feel suicidal, or have a hangover, or maybe your wife’s just left you – you have to come to work and be wonderful.
“Or you could be in a comedy, and there is a tragedy going on in your private life. You come in and have to be funny. It’s a very strange game to be a player in. There are people making all of the money and having careers that are undeserved. A lot of it is luck, I think – luck at the beginning. It’s holding on to that.
“I was going to do something last year as a director. It was possibly the worst year of my professional life. I would have been editing by now. If I hadn’t made it in films, I’d be in the arts. I play the piano and I can draw. I’m writing a screenplay, but the worst it could be is really bad, and I’ve really got nothing to lose. That no-one would read it, and if they did, and they said it was a piece of shit, would be the worst that could happen.
“You begin to think, ‘If I get a Golden Globe nomination, or an Oscar nomination, then that could certainly make me more noticed, and bring my price up’. Or I can open a movie and it goes well opening weekend, then that gives me more muscle. It doesn’t always feel like that, but sometimes it can feel more like a race: who’s doing well this week, who’s down this week. I’m much more aware of that side of the business.”
“As soon as you get successful it’s like, ‘You should be miserable, you’re British! Why aren’t you fuckin’ miserable like the rest of us?’”
Should films teach a particular lesson?
“Well, we learn lessons from movies. I mean, Jurassic Park’s lesson was, ‘Don’t cast Richard Attenborough!’” Oldman breaks into more laughter. “I guess Steven Spielberg learned that one too late, though. I think he’s made up for that one, hasn’t he? Teaching is different from preaching. I’m a great fan of Cassavetes, though. I like those small, intimate, human stories. Why can’t you make a film about an accountant? I think there are some people out there trying to do it. Obviously, an intelligent way to go is to keep the budget down.
“My mind boggles when I hear $45 or $50million to make a picture. But that has a lot to with the fact that people have a quote of $5million. And some of these movies are $16million above the line before a frame of movie is shot, and that’s only two principal players’ fees, and maybe a director.
“It’s their price. And they’ve worked hard to get that price – some of them – and why not? Why not, if you can get $5million a picture? Fuck! There’s nothing wrong with that, unless a movie’s like Jurassic Park. Then, I guess, the money’s on the screen. You know where the money went. Any film that requires hardware, to a point, I can understand that.
“A lot of these people are very, very good. You pay the bucks.”
‘Success makes them jealous’
Currently, Oldman calls New York home, where he can go out in public relatively unnoticed – which he enjoys. “I get recognised, but not very much,” reveals Oldman. “I enjoy a good deal of anonymity in New York, because no-one gives a fuck! Everybody’s just getting to where they want to go.”
In his homeland, however, Oldman has experienced a bit of what he calls “professional jealousy”.
“As soon as you get a little successful…” Oldman begins, choosing his words very carefully. “They don’t want you going away, and doing stuff that, in a sense, they don’t have control over. If I’m not at the Royal Court Theatre, and Kenneth Branagh is not at the Royal Shakespeare Company, and the Queen isn’t in Buckingham Palace, then it’s like, ‘Hold on a minute, what do you mean you’re doing that? You’re all of a sudden being incredibly successful, you’re not supposed to do that! Don’t show off! Keep in your place! You should be miserable, you’re British! Why aren’t you fuckin’ miserable like the rest of us?’”
Oldman is definitely an actor who doesn’t take any shit. But before printing this issue, his manager Douglas Urbanski wrote to us concerned about the way the British Press perceive his boy as ‘a fighter and a troublemaker’.
Urbanski went on to point out, “Whilst he is honest, he is also fair, excruciatingly a gentleman on all counts.” He specifically raised concerns we had referred to Oldman as an actor who “doesn’t take any shit”. But, Urbanski, it’s like this: British screen entertainers are a like a gang of jelly babies wearing wigs for the benefit of canned laughter.
So when someone like Gary begins to carve his name into the world of film, like so many love hearts on a tree, it’s hard not to get excited.
Oldman gives good quote… on everything from Glenda Jackson to sexual tourism
“I wouldn’t cross the street to spit in her ear if her brain was on fire.”.
On Glenda Jackson
“Oh my God! Just when you thought it was safe to go back to Denmark… I do hope they ask me to play Horatio. Then I can kill him!”
On Mel Gibson playing Hamlet
“I’m a better actor.”
On Mickey Rourke
“I’ve worked with some real monsters.”
On fellow thesps
“I think that showing what a knife does when you cut someone across the face is valuable.”
“We all have that bit that stands over there saying, ‘This is boring, come on Gary, what can you do tonight, let’s get ourselves in a bit of trouble, let’s go out and get ourselves nicked’. Terrific!”
On the devil inside Mr Oldman
“It’s fun for eight weeks to be a gay man (he’s talking about his part as homosexual playwright Joe Orton in Prick Up Your Ears.) We were like two screaming queens by the end!”
On sexual tourism in acting
“Marrying an actress is an occupational hazard for an actor. It’s like a holiday romance. You spend 12 weeks falling in love, then realise you fell in love with the character they were playing.”