I’ll make no bones about it. Gary Oldman is my favourite actor alongside James Stewart. In my opinion, he is the embodiment of what an actor should be -a chameleon with the ability to transform into any role, in which we don’t notice the joins between performer and character.
So imagine my ridiculous levels of excitement when I see him being touted as a possible Oscar contender in the new adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. The role of George Smiley is much less shouty and angry than we’re used to seeing from Oldman -but he still seethes with the same intensity. It’s just the intensity is pitched at a lower volume this time round.
It’s been too long a wait to see ‘Scary Gary’ take the lead role in a film once more (the name was coined during production of Air Force One when his intensity awed the crew). A British De Niro in every sense of the word, no two roles, aside from Potter and Batman, are the same. OK so Oscar’s never rewarded him but frankly he’s too good for that.
So here’s a timely reminder of Oldman’s finest moments on the big (and small) screen:
Sid and Nancy (1986)
The one that put Oldman on the map is an uncomfortably intense two-hander (with Chloe Webb) about the destructive affair between Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen. The actor is uncanny as Vicious (showing a penchant for mimicry as well as straight performing) while his blistering version of My Way may have viewers believing punk rock’s poster boy never really passed on.
The Firm (1988)
It may be somewhat crass to pigeonhole Oldman’s creepily plausible footie hooligan Bex Bissell as a mere ‘villain’. Such clear-cut morality is exactly what director Alan Clarke avoids in his seminal TV drama, presenting both an affable, middle-class family man, and his id-dominant psychotic other half, beating the hell out of a pillow with a truncheon. The Firm secured the actor’s electrifying presence, prior to his move to Hollywood.
True Romance (1993)
The most insanely quotable of all Oldman’s characters sees him fill the screen for barely 10 minutes. Yet he stands out in Tony Scott’s violent A-list tapestry (also including Christopher Walken, Dennis Hopper and Brad Pitt) as racially confused, dreadlocked pimp Drexl, rumbling naÃ¯ve Christian Slater’s attempts at blackmail in a matter of seconds. Altogether now: ‘I know I’m pretty but I ain’t as pretty as a coupla titties’.
Perhaps the actor’s most iconic role, this is the apotheosis of everything Oldman can achieve when he goes evil. Stealing the film effortlessly from its nominal double act Jean Reno and Natalie Portman, his Beethoven-Baroque, pill-popping, corrupt cop is the catalyst for the film’s violent events, Oldman’s twitchy demeanour conducting an imaginary symphony of destruction. It’s a frighteningly fascinating portrait of the sort only he can achieve.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
Not just one for the kids this. Oldman’s trademark darkness elevates the third Potter entry to previously unforeseen, adult heights and establishes him a raft of fresh young fans in the process. What’s remarkable is how easily we the audience are misled by our own expectations: far be it from the raving lunatic he appears to be, Sirius Black eventually becomes a father figure of the best kind to young Harry, Oldman digging out a layer of unforeseen warmth to be carried over in a further Potter and two Batman entries.