His film career started with a small part in Remembrance in 1982 with Timothy Spall. Then he played Coxy, a racist skinhead, in Mike Leigh’s Meantime. His major breakthrough came when director Alex Cox cast him in the lead role of Sid Vicious in Sid and Nancy. Oldman followed this by playing Joe Orton in Stephen Frears’ Prick Up Your Ears, written by Alan Bennett and co-starring Alfred Molina, a part which earned him a BAFTA nomination. He also appeared onstage with Molina in Caryl Churchill’s Serious Money, a play which introduced him to the actress Lesley Manville. They married in 1987 and had a son called Alfie in 1988 but sadly, the marriage didn’t last and they divorced in 1990.
Gary began to balance his film roles between US movies and more low-key British ones. In 1990 he starred alongside Tim Roth in Tom Stoppard’s film adaptation of his hit play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, while also appearing with Sean Penn in State of Grace. It would be the director of this film, Phil Joanou, who would introduce him to Uma Thurman, and the pair hit it off immediately, marrying in October 1990.
Oldman’s first major Hollywood lead role came in 1992, with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, in which he played the infamous vampire Count. Unfortunately, his marriage to Uma Thurman broke down that same year. But he followed his success as Dracula with a series of bad guy roles in films such as Leon, The Fifth Element, Air Force One and Lost in Space. His marriage to model and photographer Donya Fiorentino (ex-wife of David Fincher) gifted him with two sons, Gulliver and Charlie, but was tumultuous to say the least.
In 1997, Gary made his directorial debut with Nil By Mouth, a hard-hitting film loosely based around his experiences growing up, which deals with drink, drugs and domestic abuse. Nil By Mouth won BAFTAs for Best British Film and Best Screenplay and Gary was nominated for the Golden Palm award at the Cannes Film Festival.
A few quiet years followed, with only small roles in films such as Hannibal (in which he was unrecognizable) and little-known movies like Interstate 60. Off-screen he was involved in a bitter divorce and custody battle with Fiorentino, during which she made some outrageous claims about his behaviour. The judge found in his favour and he gained custody of their children.
Gary would storm back onto the big screen in 2004, joining the hugely successful Harry Potter series for what is widely considered to be the best installment, The Prisoner of Azkaban. The following year he starred in the first film in another popular franchise, Batman Begins. In both of these he had broken away from the usual ‘bad guy’ roles with which he is most associated, by becoming a godfather to Harry Potter and an ally in Batman’s fight against crime.
Continuing to divide his work between low-key films and big budget Hollywood, Oldman also finds time to do the occasional classic villainous role, such as in The Book of Eli. He has a number of movies on the horizon, including the much anticipated The Dark Knight Rises and the lead role in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
5 Recommended Films:
- Bram Stoker’s Dracula
- Sid & Nancy
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
- The Dark Knight
Other films to watch: Prick Up Your Ears, The Fifth Element, Air Force One, Romeo is Bleeding, State of Grace, Criminal Law, Batman Begins, The Book of Eli, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, The Contender, Immortal Beloved, Basquiat, Interstate 60, Murder in the First, Chattahoochee
5 Movie Quotes:
- “I like these calm little moments before the storm. It reminds me of Beethoven. Can you hear it? It's like when you put your head to the grass and you can hear the growin' and you can hear the insects. Do you like Beethoven?” – Norman Stansfield in Leon
- “People think that Hell is fire and brimstone and the Devil poking you in the butt with a pitchfork, but it's not. Hell is when you should have walked away, but you didn't.” – Jack Grimaldi in Romeo is Bleeding
- “You who murdered a hundred thousand Iraqis to save a nickel on a gallon of gas are going to lecture me on the rules of war?” – Ivan Korshunov in Air Force One
- “Because he's the hero Gotham deserves. But not the one it needs right now. And so we'll hunt him. Because he can take it. Because he's not our hero. He's a silent guardian. A watchful protector. A dark knight.” – Jim Gordon in The Dark Knight
- “You will, I trust, excuse me if I do not join you. But, I have already dined, and I never drink... wine.” – Count Dracula in Bram Stoker’s Dracula
5 Pieces of Trivia:
- His sister Laila Morse appeared in Nil By Mouth and plays Big Mo in EastEnders.
- He sings with David Bowie on the song ‘You’ve Been Around’ from Reeves Gabrels’ 1995 album The Secret Squall of Now.
- He has never been nominated for an Academy Award.
- He has a tiny cameo in the 1990 film Henry & June, where he’s credited as ‘Maurice Escargot’.
- He directed a music video for the Jewish Hip-Hop group Chutzpah, shot entirely on Nokia Cell Phones (he is also a spokesperson for Nokia). The actress Juliet Landau directed a 25 minute documentary, Take Flight: Gary Oldman Directs Chutzpah (2009) about the making of the music video.