Gary Oldman Career Assessment: Simply a Bloody Good Actor
Date of Assessment: March 9, 2011
Positive Buzzwords: Versatile, accents, The Brit Pack
Negative Buzzwords: The Academy
The Case: There's much to be said about an actor with both loads of talent and a good head on his shoulders (instead of the usual "rammed up the arse" fare). In the rare instance of encountering such a subject, I find very little advice to offer except to suggest more of the same. Such is the case with this week's chap, Gary Oldman, who just might be too bloody adept for his own good; and while it doesn't do much in terms of page hits for me to concede to that point up front, Gary Oldman has it all wrapped up with precious little room for improvement.
Consider This: Before Christian Bale was losing excessive amounts of weight for roles, Gary Oldman was already doing it as Sid Vicious. Hell, Oldman was yelling into the camera before Bale too, but at least Oldman knows how to vary his routine as well as knowing the value of alternating between leading and supporting roles. Further, Oldman attracts very little attention to himself outside of his work; he also doesn't waste energy upon Oscar baiting or simultaneously begging for media attention while telling journalists to respect his privacy. Nope. Oldman simply does his job and does it damn well.
However, there are a few suggestions that I can make in the instance of Gary Oldman. First of all, we almost lost the guy when, in a momentary lapse of weakness, he threatened in 2007 to quit acting. (Don't do that again, Gary.) Secondly, one of his greatest strengths as an actor -- the "Oh shit, was that really him?" factor -- could also be considered a weakness. In order for the masses to truly appreciate "a Gary Oldman performance," they'd have to be able to easily recognize one, which perhaps accounts for the fact that countless audience members have enjoyed Oldman's work without even realizing that it's him on the screen. However, Oldman seems content enough to participate within mainstream movies while still lurking under the mainstream radar. This could potentially be considered detrimental (in the eyes of a greedy agent, perhaps), but we'll just let it slide and appreciate the output.
Overall, I defy you to point out an inferior or less-than-impressive Gary Oldman performance. In his breakout movie, Sid and Nancy, the bloke actually managed the relatively impossible feat of sympathetically portraying Sid Vicious; in Rosencrantz & Gildenstern Are Dead, he charmed and amused; in True Romance, he played a mulatto drug dealer and force to be reckoned with; in both State of Grace (as Jackie Flannery) and Romeo Is Bleeding (as a hair-trigger antihero), he gave crazy, over-the-top performances; in JFK, a pulled a morally ambiguous turn as Lee Harvey Oswald; in Hannibal, he did unspeakable things (of which we shall not speak); in The Professional, he played a sadistic beast who listened to Beethoven as he committed murder; then, in Immortal Beloved, he portrayed the lonely and tortured Ludwig Van Beethoven himself; The Fifth Element, he gave an absurdly threatening and utterly flamboyant, villainous turn; and within Bram Stoker's Dracula, he certainly didn't embarrass himself (unlike the other participants) and pulled off a wonderful (and highly original) dual take as both the young, handsome, and seductive and the creepy, old, knife-licking version of the legendary Count Dracula, who was anything but a stock character in the skillful hands of one Gary Oldman.
Do I even need to point out the fact that Oldman performed a different accent for every one of the above characters? He's also lent his voice to several video games, if you're into that sort of thing.
However, not everything in Oldman's body of work shines quite so brightly. I'm not even going to try to excuse his participation in The Scarlet Letter (although convincingly banging Demi Moore takes some true dedication) or in the made-for-tv Jesus, but a bloke is allowed to make a few missteps. If nothing else, these few roles can be swiftly dismissed with Oldman's highly amusing portrayal of an Oscar-winning actor, Richard Crosby, who was a foil to Joey Tribbiani in "Friends." Only Oldman could pull off wearing two belts in such an entertaining manner.
In addition, Oldman's done some selling out lately by accepting recurring roles within two lucrative franchises -- as Sirius Black in several of the Harry Potter films and Commissioner Jim Gordon in the Batman Begins and The Dark Knight movies. However, these two roles have merely further emphasized his already proven versatility as an actor; certainly, Oldman has now proven that he can adeptly persevere through understated, lesser roles (like Commissioner Gordon) instead of always chewing the cannibalistic scenery. There's also the possibility that Oldman's taken these money grabs to finance future directorial attempts in the manner of Nil by Mouth. If that's the case, keep on running with that money, Gary Oldman.
Prognosis: Oldman's continued fate as an actor remains as certain as always. Normally, this would be my cue to claim that it's a travesty that he's been entirely ignored by The Academy (not even one Oscar nomination), but that argument isn't even worth the time. Oldman honestly doesn't seem to give a shit about awards anyway, and that's a rather refreshing rarity in Hollywood. We just want him to stick around, for even his shittier recent films -- A Christmas Carol, The Book of Eli, Planet 51 -- still feature knockout Oldman performances, and I suspect that he'll probably be the best part of this weekend's Red Riding Hood. Beyond that, he's got eight films in various states of production (including The Dark Knight Rises and the particularly promising looking Tinker, Tailer, Soldier, Spy) and another one in development. As an actor who has famously stated, "I don't think Hollywood knows what to do with me" as well as "Change is vital to any actor. If you keep playing lead after lead, you're gonna dry up," Gary Oldman shows nothing but more promise for the future.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at agentbedhead.com.