October 2nd, 2000

Gary Oldman

Gary Oldman? Geezer. Grew up in Sarf London but went on to show those RADA stage school mincing boys what it was abaht. Spanked that blond geezer in The Firm. Er – nobbed Alfred Molina in Prick Up Your Ears. But then went to Hollywood and nobbed some actual birds, including Uma Thurman and Isabella Rossellini. Then made Nil By Maaaahth with top geezer Ray Winstone. Then, er, went back to Hollywood and starred in Lost In Space as evil Dr Zachary Smith. Still. Geezer, eh?

The resistible rise of Gary Oldman has to be one of the most outrageous wide boy strokes ever pulled on Hollywood. Still more outrageous is that he has somehow managed to blag a reputation as a prestige character actor, based on little more than a line in unlikely foreign accents and the odd psychotic twitch. That, plus a shameless, whoreish eagerness to do absolutely anything offered to him, however hackishly preposterous. How grateful Quentin Tarantino must have been that there was an even bigger twat than him prepared to play out his scripted fantasy of a white rasta patois-spouting pimp in True Romance; (“Guys, we need someone or I’ll have to wear the damn fake dreadlocks myself and – oh, Oldman says he’ll do it? Great!”)

As a child, doubtless to escape the harrowing realities of his upbringing, Oldman developed a penchant for fancy dressing. This desire to retreat from his (non) self into the extravagant, otherness of acting has never left him, not even after he quit a lifelong escapism into booze. In 1995, he went to to Ritz dressed as a female, deceiving the waiters as he quietly took his tea. Even when Oldman hit paydirt playing Sid Vicious, it was fancy dress. He was most thrilled at getting Vicious’s mother’s permission to wear his studded leather bracelet and padlock and chain necklace during filming. He startled critics with his brio and aggro but face it, Vicious was a far less complex character than he is romantically imagined – a pathetic junkie halfwit. Oldman hardly needed to draw on his reserves of reflectiveness and humanity to portray him, which was just as well.

In further roles, Oldman brought a distracting penchant for aggressive campness to bear. Odd, how interchangeable are his depictions of Joe Orton in Prick Up Your Ears (“Nice arse!”) and the gang leader in The Firm (“Do you want your spanking now?”). Both roles are smothered in “ooh, get her!” -type cracks and lashings of pouting, both of which have the effect of hampering any real glimpse into the true hearts of the characters. In The Firm, Oldman even opts, inexplicably, to sport a David Seaman-type moustache – something else to hide behind.

It’s no surprise that rather than delve the sort of social Brit realism in which he was mistakenly considered a master, Oldman took flight for a career camping it large in Hollywood, where they love a good fruity Brit. He would lose himself further in every role, overpraised at every turn – as a chillingly inaccurate Lee Harvey Oswald in JFK, for instance. However, his worst was yet to come. First, in Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), a triumph/disaster of make-up, in which he comes across first as a cross between Granny Clampett and one of those anus-headed aliens in early Star Trek, then in Victorian garb looking like Andrew Eldritch reluctantly donning grey top hat and tails to act as usher at his brother’s wedding. His breathy histrionics; “(It’s no laughing mattaaaghh!!)” made the average WWF wrestler seem suavely understated by comparison. It was a “laughing mattaaghhh”, however. Critics panned Dracula as a Gothic pile of bilge.

Since then, he’s deteriorated further. His corrupt DEA enforcer Stansfield in Luc Bresson’s Leon, all absurd, queenly posturing, silly suit and ostentatious drug addiction, ranks among the most ridiculously ineffectual screen villains ever. He seems to think he’s an arch-villain in a Batman movie, as opposed to a tense, low-key Euro-thriller.

Further opportunities for crass cartoonism occurred in Air Force One in which he plays a Russian villain called Ivan with an accent borrowed from an old Two Ronnies sketch. His playing of the emaciated victim/foe in Hannibal saw him disappear entirely behind make-up but his attempts to chill merely came across as a risible reminder of The Simpsons’ Mr Burns. Pure affectation and crude disguise – without them, Oldman is nothing. Granted, he directed Nil By Mouth but with that overrated, inconsequential, claustrophobic slice of autobiography, he’s shot his single grey bolt of authenticity. He was soon back doing a voiceover for Warner Brothers’ animated The Quest For Camelot. Oldman – you are a tart. Shut it.

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