22 June 2010

Icons of our time - Gary Oldman.

'Now I know I'm pretty, but I ain't as pretty as a couple of titties', he came in peace but he left us in pieces, memorable quotes which stuck in the head like a Bex Bissell headbutt, spawned by the acting talents of British thesp Gary Oldman arguably one of the best this country has ever produced, forging such a wide range of characters and accents from fiction to fact, cult heroes, to infamous villains and fictitious ghouls, his versatility knows no bounds. Who else can you say you've ever seen play a white Rastafarian drug dealing psychopath with such conviction? never mind his role as a dwarf. Born in South London in 1958, his father a welder his mother a housewife, Oldman was a keen musician at an early age, but upon seeing and being taken aback by Malcolm McDowell's performance in 1970's The Raging Moon aka Long Ago Tomorrow - the story of a young talented footballer who becomes paralysed and has to come to terms with being confined to a wheelchair, he decided to pursue a career in acting. After several years involved treading the boards Oldman broke into screen acting towards the end of the seventies, his debut role coming in 1982's Remembrance, followed by a breakthrough role in Mike Leigh's terrific television play Meantime (1984) one of my favourite films, a true slice-of-life swipe at Thatcher's Britain. This was a fairly small but memorable role as Coxy the scruffy young skinhead, who was largely all piss and wind, looked like he needed several baths, but was still a funny kid, alongside the cream of up and coming young hopefuls Phil Daniels, Alfred Molina and Tim Roth - whom he teamed up with again in the film version of the Tom Stoppard Shakespearean play Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead. Meantime set a standard which led to a starring role in Sid and Nancy (1986) as The Sex Pistols' infamous late bassist Sid Vicious, a role in which Pistols vocalist John Lydon claimed was portrayed by 'a bloody good actor'. This paved the way for a career on the other side of the water and the boy from South London was Hollywood bound.
Often playing darker characters and bad guys Oldman got one of the ultimate bad guy roles as the Count himself in Francis ford Coppola's 1992 box office hit Dracula, not to mention playing the devil on more than one occasion, one being in a long commercial the other a Guns 'n' Roses video. He also played the infamous, Lee Harvey Oswald in JFK (1991). Beethoven in Immortal Beloved (1994) and British play write Joe Orton in Prick Up your Ears in 1987. Such a diverse character actor though, it's his choice of more than quirky roles which makes him stand out for me personally, he nailed it as a football hooligan top 'table' pub fighting, pillow beating Clive 'Bex' Bissell in Alan Clarke's original The Firm, only a television movie, but one many will always have a soft spot for, arguably flawed in it's concept; the numbers, the clothes and the details which matter to a minority, I personally don't think it's that far off myself, it became a 'cult' due to two large factors, the talented Alan Clark directing the hungry Oldman in the lead as 'Bex', remade last year by Nick Love, and although pretty watchable, it never captured the magic of the original, The Firm is that combo of Clarke and Oldman, without them anything else is inferior. This was shortly followed by yet more bar brawls and headbutts in his role as the boisterous and Irish-American mobster Jackie Flannery in the slick State of Grace along side Sean Penn and Ed Harris in 1990, with the corrupt pill popping Mozart fan Agent Stansfield in Luc Besson's acclaimed Léon The Professional (1994) following soon after.
His role as Drexl Spivey in True Romance (1993) is truly unforgettable, an awesome film as it goes, but the role of Drexl has to be one of Oldman's finest cinematic characters for me, I remember reading that he went pretty 'method' to immerse himself into this role, as far as hanging out down in the 'hoods in Los Angeles to perfect his accent, which is the most convincing white, black man you could ever expect to see. His mixed bag of roles have also included the unrecognisable role as Mason Verger in Hannibal 2001, the only surviving victim of Hannibal Lecter, Oldman spent many hours in make up for his turn as the ugly, mutilated, paralysed pederast who meets his untimely fate to some hungry boars. His role as the dwarfed twin brother to averaged sized Matthew McConaughey in 2003's hit and miss Tiptoes has to be seen to be believed, I don't quite know how they did it.
Gary Oldman starred along side another British talent Paddy Considine in the Spanish produced backwater thriller Bosques de Sombre aka The Backwoods, a film that to me unfortunately never really lived up to it's cool poster, which is never a good thing, but it did have a great Leonard Cohen score and a smart late seventies outdoor look about it, shotguns, semi flared cords, lambswool pulovers and waxed Barbours.
I guess such a wide range of roles and a huge chunk being in independent cinema is what makes Gary Oldman such a diverse talent, a master of accents and one not afraid to be covered in slap too. It's not hard to see why Oldman has such a cult following, and has inspired many other actors since. Many will say his best period came in the 90's with many successful and important roles to much acclaim and to decent box office receipts, but he's recently appeared in some big budget box office hits such as the Harry Potter serials and the latest Batman franchise. He also did a star turn away from the camera, narrating the recently released and rather good Italia 90 documentary One Night in Turin. He is currently acting as George Smiley in a remake of the John le Carré spy thriller Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy which was a hit late 70's television show starring the late great Alec Guinness.

The many faces of Gary Oldman, from the top, Coxy, Sid Vicious, Drexl Spivey, Mason Verger, Count Dracula, Jean-Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg, Ludwig Van, Lee Harvey Oswald.
With then on and off screen wife Lesley Manville on the set of The Firm.
With Natalie Portman on the set of 1994's Léon
Basquiat 1996, with Jeffrey Wright, David Bowie and Dennis Hopper, and below as dwarf Rolfe in Tiptoes.

Personal live saw Oldman divorced from actress' Lesley Manville and Uma Thurman and separated from former girlfriend Isabella Rossellini, Oldman still smarts from his lurid press as a womaniser and Hollywood hell-raiser. Sober, now a recovered alcoholic who once allegedly sank a couple of bottles of spirits a day, Oldman isn't keen on fame in general and the Hollywood ideal, often dubbed the best actor never to have won an Oscar, Oldman is still a highly decorated talent, behind the camera Oldman's directorial debut with his semi-autobiographical and pretty hard hitting Nil By Mouth in 1997 which was some debut, gritty to say the least, Nil by Mouth is notable for it's 480 uses of the word 'fuck', but that's just trivia, this is an excellent film, worthy of the many independent film awards it bagged, including a Palm D'or nomination at Cannes and a BAFTA for best screenplay, it's about time he did it again.

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