INSIDE: Gary Oldman’s dark side
After playing a pimp, a terrorist and an assassin, Hollywood’s go- to bad guy is portraying a particularly poisonous peacock, writes Neala Johnson
WHAT is it with Gary Oldman and villains?
‘‘ I don’t know,’’ says the man in question, shaking his head.
‘‘ I can’t even get away from them when they’re animated.’’ Kung Fu Panda 2’ s animated Lord Shen, a nasty peacock with a thing against pandas, is the latest in a string of brilliant baddies Oldman ( pictured) has brought to life across a 30-year movie career.
He played Lee Harvey Oswald in JFK, a corrupt cop in Leon, a terrorist in Air Force One, a violent pimp in True Romance . . . and on the list goes.
How did this Englishman become Hollywood’s go-to bad guy?
‘‘ Well, people remember the villains,’’ Oldman says. ‘‘ If you think of . . . Sid and Nancy – not a villain. Joe Orton ( in Prick Up Your Ears ) – not a villain. Rosencrantz &
Guildenstern are Dead – not a villain. Beethoven – not a villain. Chattahoochee – not a villain. Harry Potter – not a villain.
Batman – not a villain. Dracula – not really a villain. I mean, it’s a lot of movies where I’m not a villain.’’
The makers of Kung Fu Panda 2 say Oldman was their first and only choice to give voice to Shen.
Oldman liked the fact he could record just 10 minutes from his LA home – ‘‘ I would just get in the car and go down the hill. It was fantastic’’ – as well as the chance to make a movie his two younger sons could watch.
‘‘ There’s certain things I don’t want them to see,’’ Oldman says of showing his backcatalogue to his boys. ‘‘ Some of their friends have seen The
Book of Eli. I don’t want them to see me screaming, beating up women, shooting up a family, taking drugs . . . they’ve got plenty of time to see it if they wanna see it.’’
Plus, there’s no denying Shen is a very cool character.
‘‘ One of the best costumes I’ve ever had,’’ Oldman says, deadpan.
But the 53-year-old was under no illusions Kung Fu Panda 2 would be a walk in the park. ‘‘ I’d done the voice for [ video game] Call Of Duty, so I knew how tough it could be.
Call Of Duty, it’s insane, you have a thousand lines of shouting and you do eight-hour days. You can only work in seven-minute chunks because you’re shouting, you get a headache.
‘‘ But I had no idea that Kung Fu Panda 2 would take two years. I did the first voice for Shen and I did two movies and almost a year went by before I went back. I’d forgotten I was in it!’’
It’s been more than 20 years since Oldman adopted his first American accent for a film. He admits to an in-between-twocultures feeling, but doesn’t seem tortured by it. ‘‘ I don’t know what I feel any more. I love European cinema and when I see it I feel a connection to it, a sensation, I can’t explain it, it’s just a feeling I have,’’ he says.
‘‘ But now, I suppose I feel a bit like an American with an English accent.’’
The makers of Harry Potter sure enough remembered where Oldman comes from, recruiting the actor as one of a bevy of British veterans littering the adult cast. While playing Sirius Black, a bromance blossomed between Oldman and the series’ young star, Daniel Radcliffe. Rarely an interview goes by where Radcliffe doesn’t profess his actor-love for Oldman, singling out the elder thespian’s career as the path he’d most like to emulate.
‘‘ Oh I know, he’s adorable, isn’t he?’’ says Oldman of Radcliffe.
‘‘ I met him when he was, what would he have been, 12 when I first worked with him? 12 going on 35,’’ he laughs.
‘‘ When you’re around young talent like that, where you can be an inspiration is that you come in and you’ve done your homework, you get there on time, you have a good work ethic.
‘‘ I mean, my career’s gonna be very different from Dan’s, we’re not gonna play the same parts. God bless him, he could watch movies I’m in ’ til the cows come home but it’s such a unique thing to each person.’’ Before clocking on for work on the next
Batman, The Dark Knight Rises, Oldman detoured to the state of Georgia to make a four-day cameo in Australian director John Hillcoat’s The Wettest County In The
World. The depression-era crime drama stars Shia LaBeouf and was scripted by rocker Nick Cave.
Oldman’s approach to making such a cameo could not have been more succinct.
‘‘ I’ll get there, I’ll meet Shia and the other actors and we’ll walk through the scene and we’ll shoot,’’ he says.
‘‘ Most of the time you don’t get rehearsal, so you’ve just got to be able to burn from the first bar. It’s rock and roll.’’
Now showing Village Cinemas
I don’t want them [ sons] to see me screaming, beating up women, shooting up a family, taking drugs DARK SIDE: Gary Oldman’s roles ( clockwise from left) Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Lost in Space, Sid and Nancy, The Book of Eli and Dracula.