Oldman shows good side

Seasoned bad guy uses new skills in 'Dark Knight'

Posted: Thursday, July 17, 2008

LOS ANGELES - In some earlier parallel universe of Batman's Gotham City, it might have been Gary Oldman instead of Heath Ledger cackling and conniving as the maniacal Joker.

Courtesy Of Warner Bros. Pictures
Courtesy Of Warner Bros. Pictures

Nowadays, Oldman is dogged, upright cop Jim Gordon in the Batman world or the solicitous Sirius Black, the surrogate father to boy wizard Harry Potter.

This is not your father's Gary Oldman, the actor who built his reputation on such characters as prince of punk-rock anarchy Sid Vicious, presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald or Dracula himself.

In fact, Oldman has kind of become your father - a pillar of paternalism, a symbol of saintliness. The man you want covering your back, rather than the one you would never turn your back on.

With his second turn as Batman ally Gordon in "The Dark Knight," Oldman, 50, feels as though he has finally broken ranks with the bad boys and put to rest his typecasting as a go-to guy when filmmakers needed a villain.

"No, I don't hear it anymore. I mean look, Rolling Stone said, 'Oldman is so skilled he makes virtue look exciting,"' Oldman said in an interview with The Associated Press, quoting the magazine's review of "The Dark Knight" from memory. "You know what? That's the best review I've ever had. ... I'll put that on my tombstone. 'Makes virtue look exciting.' That's pretty good.

"In the past, I've had my share of good reviews, but it's always the crazy, scary, weirdo guy. I don't even know how it happened. Look at me. I mean, when I'm naked, I look like a bald chicken. How did I get to be a scary bad guy?"

It started as Oldman moved from stage roles to film in the mid-1980s and landed the lead in "Sid and Nancy," a portrait of the self-destructive romance between Sex Pistols bass player Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen (he was accused of murdering her in 1978 and died himself of a heroin overdose months later).

Oldman followed with "Prick Up Your Ears," in which he played doomed, danger-seeking playwright Joe Orton, and by the 1990s, his dark-tinged characters had turned into a full-blown rogue's gallery.

Oswald in "JFK." The vampire in "Bram Stoker's Dracula." An Irish gangster in "State of Grace." An evil overlord in "The Fifth Element." A brutal pimp in "True Romance." A corrupt cop in "The Professional." The saboteur stowaway Dr. Smith in "Lost in Space." The terrorist mastermind in "Air Force One."

The occasional romantic lead crept in, such as Ludwig von Beethoven in "Immortal Beloved."

Yet Oldman mostly played the heavy until he was cast as Sirius in 2004's "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," a role he reprised in the next two Potter flicks.

A year after "Prisoner of Azkaban," Oldman co-starred in "Batman Begins" as even-keeled policeman Gordon.

Even Christopher Nolan, director of "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight," had villainy in mind for Oldman, whom he was thinking of casting as a bad guy.

"But meeting him, it just seemed much more interesting to get him to play a really good guy, which I hadn't seen him do before," Nolan said. "He's done plenty of roles in the past with an obvious degree of intensity, and he's done it quite skillfully. To do it from the position of a very muted, restrained individual who's very good, has a lot of integrity, but is struggling with the same things everyone else is struggling with in this story, that's pretty amazing to watch."

Christian Bale, who returns as Batman, said Oldman has played his share of benign characters, but people tend to remember actors more for nastier roles.

"Everyone's intrigued by a bad guy," Bale said. "When you play good guys, it doesn't stick in people's heads quite as much. But Gary's a phenomenal actor, and that means he's not just good at playing a villain or a bad guy. He's great across the spectrum. ... For the likes of Heath and the likes of Gary, you've got people who are talented enough to play every kind of character under the sun."

A loner as a youth, Oldman grew up in a blue-collar family in a rough neighborhood of London. He went to drama school and acted on stage throughout Britain, his reputation as an intense performer eventually opening doors to television and film.

Never a comic-book fan, Oldman did have an interest in Batman from the big-screen movies and the 1960s TV show. He was particularly intrigued with how director and co-writer Nolan wanted to re-imagine the Gotham world with "Batman Begins," trying to make it darker and more immediate while explaining such things as "how does he get the Bat Cave, how does he get that Batmobile?" Oldman said.

"All these questions that I think I've asked myself when I've been watching these movies: How does he do that? Where'd he get that from? Who made that for him? Does he go down into a workshop and like, solder that together? Chris says, 'He's a billionaire. He has the cowl made here and the mask made there,' and he tries to give sort of a reality and logic to it. It's pretty cool."



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