Tuesday, July 12, 2011


JER: The basis of this article is driven primarily from the ignorance and untrained expertise of a local “movie critic” in my Palm Springs area who went on a rant about Gary Oldman as an actor and how he seems to always play the exact same 'brooding' characters in all his movies. He was tired of the same roles and wanted to see him expand is comfort zone into other roles instead! My friend, it is time to enlighten you since you obviously did not do your homework!

To begin with, Gary Oldman first came to my attention as the heavy boozing, drug infused embodiment of Sid Vicious, bass player for England’s punk band “The Sex Pistols” in the film SID AND NANCY in 1986.

Oldman as Sid Vicious- SID AND NANCY
As an unknown actor, it seemed almost immediate to compare Oldman and Vicious as one and the same! There was a sense of taking on the role and walking in the footsteps of the fallen bassist. Both the film and the actor was something I couldn’t take my eyes off of…try as hard as I could. Oldman played Vicious as a reckless anarchist with spiky punk black hair and a lower –east end British accent. He even wore the iconic chain and lock around his neck as Vicious did as a memento of Nancy’s holding of his heart! This would become the basis of most Oldman characters... unexpecting and unpredictable in behaviors and appearances throughout his career!

Even though Oldman kept himself busy for a couple of years, it wouldn’t be until 1990 when he would play the “loose cannon” Jackie Flannery in director Phil Joanou’s STATE OF GRACE opposite Sean Penn. Using New York’s Hell Kitchen as a backdrop, the story surrounds itself around Terry Noonan’s (Penn) return back from after some years of absence. He runs into his old childhood friend of Flannery (Oldman) who now has connections with the local Irish mafia. The film takes on a life all its own with making the seedy streets and location of Hell’s Kitchen as a character all its own. Oldman would change his appearance by Flannery’s long hair and unkempt facial hair… not to mention the New York/ Irish drawl spoken. With his cleverly choreographed moves and establishment of character, you just didn’t know if Oldman would stretch out his hands and invite you in for a warm hug or pull a pistol out on you and blow your brains out!
Oldman as Lee Harvey Oswald

A professional leap forward for Oldman’s career would take place in 1991 when he would take on the devious role of accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald in director Oliver Stone’s JFK. With more of a  “cast of characters” role in the never ending drama of JFK’s assassination, Oswald would play a pivotal role…yet, Oldman would play him as a victim…a patsy…basically, the one man being ‘framed’ for the actions he claimed to have had no part in. His body language was that of a man who wouldn’t look you straight in the eye, always looking around. The conspiracy is done exceptionally well by both Stone’s direction and the selection of a brilliant cast to help flesh out the people who were involved in the incidents that occurred.

Much respect and admiration could already be said about Oldman’s style of interchanging characters and being about to mask both his physical appearance and accents… but Oldman would take- on his most challenging role to date in his short lived career thus far. The role of Vlad III Darculea or “Dracula” would take shape in the form of many entities in director Francis Ford Coppola’s BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA in 1992. Oldman went through many different stages in order to assist in the telling of Coppola’s version of the classic gothic tale. To begin with, there were three different Dracula stages presented. The first would be a younger Vlad who battled the Turks in the year 1462, this is then followed by Dracula’s appearance as an old man when Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) visits the Transylvanian castle in 1895 and then finally appearing as the young Prince of Carpathia, decked out in turn of the century suit and top hat. Along with the physical came the Romanian accent, wavy long black hair with manicured mustache to the wrinkled skinned, ivory haired appearance for Dracula. Don’t forget the demons he would turn into as well, including a full sized ‘man-bat’ and a wolf-like creature. Fellow actors would comment that Oldman kept to himself throughout the production and took on the personification of a diva while working on the film. He hated re-takes and having to break out of character with flubbed lines from his co-stars.

Drexi Spivey- TRUE ROMANCE
 After much acceptance from both critics and audiences alike, Oldman would begin to play more diverse roles. In 1993, he would play a set of different characters in two films now considered to be ‘cult favorites.’ The first would be the Jamaican- accented, scarred- faced, dreadlocked pimp Drexi Spivey in director Tony Scott’s TRUE ROMANCE. Although only on the screen for a short time, Oldman’s character portrayal captivated audiences with his smooth phrases and dirt bag appearance. He sticks out like a soar thumb as a white man thinking he’s Jamaican whilst being surrounded by his burly black bodyguards… jabbering away as if he is one of da guys! The second would be the corrupted police sergeant Jack Grimaldi in ROMEO IS BLEEDING. Going opposite Russian hitwoman Mona (Lena Olin) the film becomes a toe- to-toe battle royale as Grimaldi finds that his target might finally be his match!

Oldman as an older Beethoven
1994 would mark another pivotal step in his acting resume as Oldman would take on the role of Ludwig Van Beethoven in IMMORTAL BELOVED. Playing Beethoven with a German accent and distinguished hairstyles and wigs of the era, Oldman also had to portray Ludwig as a deaf man, keeping certain poise in body language and presentations as well as learning the necessary compositions on piano.

Oldman as Jean- Baptiste Zorg
 1997 would bring Oldman’s oddest and most memorable cult character as Jean- Baptiste Emanuel Zorg In director Luc Besson’s THE FIFTH ELEMENT. Zorg’s character was flamboyant, yet deadly… all the while speaking with a Southern drawl… and living in space! The character is a space-age weapon’s dealer villain of the new millennium. Wearing a futuristic plastic suit and sporting a fashionable futuristic hairdo, Oldman’s character is played for fun and is a definite breakout role for the actor.

We can hop- skip a few years in between and bring it more recently when we talk about Oldman’s contribution to the Harry Potter franchise by fleshing out the character of Sirius Black in 2004’s HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN. We meet Black through Potter’s perception of introduction: a murderer; cold, callus and untrusting. Oldman portrays Black in the same fashion… deep and dark. The tide turns once we learn that Black is here to help Potter and that he is a kind, caring and enduring individual. Thus, again, calling on Oldman’s talents to switch portrayals to give both Potter and the viewing audience that element of surprise. Sirius Black would return in 2005’s HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE and 2007’s HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX.

Most recently, Oldman’s grand acting abilities are called upon to assist another popular franchise, this time as Jim Gordon in director Christopher Nolan’s 2005 BATMAN BEGINS. Playing a more mature role, both physically and mentally, the character is given a more fleshed- out background and becomes a very important ally to our main character. Oldman would reprise the role again in 2008’s THE DARK KNIGHT.

In conclusion, the actor that is Gary Oldman has been able to show many different sides to his acting abilities by not being type-casted into certain roles, but showing a full and well- rounded body of work in dramatic and comedic portrayals as well as bring a master of disguise: in accents and physical appearances.

 JOHNNY CHAZZ: Intriguing topic this week, Jer, and I can understand your concern in response to the recent words that were spoken by a "movie" critic in your area... First off, I have never really seen anything wrong with the idea of an actor / actress playing the same types of roles over and over. Heck, let's name drop: Robert DeNiro, Joes Pesci, Denzel Washington, Bruce Willis, and Samuel Jackson. To add, I could also mention classic actors such as Marlon Brando and Jimmy Stewart as having played similar roles in films over the years. Still, these names that I have listed are all award-winning actors who should rate high on anyone's list (although, as I always state - art appreciation remains subjective in the mind of the viewer). So, allow me to discuss this career of Gary Oldman for a moment. To be real honest, I am not a real fan of his films but with the same token that is not what the topic of discussion centers around here. SID & NANCY with Gary Oldman as Sid Vicious may have been one of his top roles. Servign as a cult classic, I always felt that not only was this role ideal for Oldman, but that his performance dictated the pace and mood of the film - dark, surreal and pretty dark and disturbing. A few years later of course we see him as "Lee Harvey Oswald" in JFK prompting Roger Ebert to label him as one of the best young British actors in cinema. This film (JFK) was also a real breakthrough on an International scale allowing U.S... movie watchers to get a taste for his talents. Over the course of the next five years, we would see Oldman play roles in DRACULA, TRUE ROMANCE, THE PROFESSIONAL (a very good film for the record), THE FIFTH ELEMENT (a disastrous film on many counts in my opinion) and then in 2001 as a revengeful killer in HANNIBAL with that raspy voice and disfigured visage.

What we have here is a talented actor who has played roles that are fairly similar in terms of being dark, disturbing and often times downright evil. However, we must create a distinction between that and what your local critic was exactly getting at, Jer. You state that he went on a rant regarding “how unoriginal Gary Oldman is as an actor and how all his characters always seem to be the same”. Perhaps he is right and in another sense perhaps he is not right. Oldman’s characters are generally “dark” in nature, but we have come to accept that as an audience and those of us who appreciate his work have no quarrels about his leading in these types of roles. To tell you the truth, he does it well. The roles remain original since there is no way to draw a line between the likes of Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols and Oldman acting the role of a pimp in TRUE ROMANCE.

I am guessing here that this critic probably has many favorite actors and directors for that sake who tend to become involved in roles and films that have similar “moods”- but the roles remain different. This is where we draw a line – a clear-cut distinction. Take John Ford, David Lynch, or D’Antonioni, Fellini or even Tarantino and the Coen brothers (today) and you will clearly see that the majority of their films have the same “mood” or “feeling” that is captured. However, every scene along with every device and cut as well as use of color, sound and musical score (and lack thereof for D’Antonioni fans) are vital to the success of the film and the resulting impact on audiences.

I would imagine this is a “personal” issue in a sense. Maybe it was the legal issues surrounding Oldman or his reclusive nature that bothers your critic, but I always say "Love the art - and don't get too caught up in the artist". It appears (speculation here, but a fair guess at that) that your film critic in your area simply does not care for Gary Oldman as an actor in some way, shape or form and, well...... it is probably as simple as that, Jer.

JER: I don’t believe it was a personal issue, it just sounded as if this critic was just on a rant about how he feels that Oldman plays the same characters, brooding characters was the phrase used, from what I heard…as if there is no originality or growth span from his part. What is most disturbing is the fact that I personally feel this is one of the greatest and most original actors to come out from the 90’s! I think those comments are better directed at others who cannot seem to get out of the vice- grip they have created for themselves.

Thank you for mentioning Luc Besson’s THE PROFESSIONAL or LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL, as it is known in special editions available on DVD and Blu-Ray. I forgot about the role of Norman Stansfield… nothing can be more unnerving than when Stansfield pops his little pill; doing that twist of the neck gesture and comes around a completely different person… almost like a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ metamorphic occurrence that has been presented before our very eyes. He delivers a glare so piercing that I was uneasy when I found myself caught in the receiving end of it.

Shall I even give honorable mention for his Russian terrorist role of Ivan Korshunov in director Wolfgang Petersen’s AIR FORCE ONE? Opposite Harrison Ford as the U.S. President, it was a no- holds barred match of wits, talent and actors portraying the common denominator between good versus evil! Oldman sports a Russian accent and that nemesis role that a patriotic individual would love to see his just deserts delivered!

JOHNNY CHAZZ: Staying on topic here, again I impress that we are discussing whether Oldman is playing the same characters over and over. I will conclude with stating what was said previously - his characters remain dark and often times of an evil-nature, but that is his niche and what he does well. How can we possibly fault his ability to perform in such roles if it is performed at such a high level? Again, I am not a fan of his movies, but his performances are certainly memorable and first rate.

JER: JC, I must disagree with you based on your closing statements. Would a majority of his characters fall under the category of brooding? Maybe. Does Beethoven from IMMORTAL BELOVED, Spivey from TRUE ROMANCE, Zorg from THE FIFTH ELEMENT, Gordon from BATMAN BEGINS and Black from HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX define as ‘dark’ characters? This critic sternly says no. They might be complex, even a little misunderstood… but not dark and clearly not a continual representation of ‘brooding’ characters paraded by a fine actor.

Well, my gloves will come off long enough to let my knuckles cool off a bit… in the meantime, I hope you enjoyed our most recent blog entry. On behalf of JOHNNY CHAZZ and myself, JER, we want to say THANK YOU so much for helping us reach past 2000 hits on our blog- page! We greatly appreciate the support from our readers and we hope to continue giving you interesting and unique topics to keep you coming for months to come! Tune in next week when it is JOHNNY CHAZZ' turn to deliver his topic of choice, so unitl then, we will always SEE YOU NEXT WEDNESDAY!

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1 comment:

  1. Gary Oldman was a good actor a long time ago when his movies were way better, but I so wish he would star in better movies than Batman and Harry Potter sequels. Those movies and sequels are horrible sorry to say.