With a string of searing performances in cult movies behind him, Britain’s GARY OLDMAN has become one of the hottest properties in Hollywood. He tells Jenny Cooney why he found life after the undead Dracula in low-budget black comedy Romeo Is Bleeding.
aven’t you heard? I’m a lunatic,‘ chirps Gary Oldman as he sits down in a plush New York hotel suite and chuckles in confusion. ‘That’s what I read recently in an American magazine, so I guess it must be true,
The bad boy from South London actually sounds like he’s not too sure whether he should be boasting or complaining about his latest illustrious title. He’s been called everything from ‘Britain’s answer to the Brat Pack’ to ‘the new Olivier’, but now he’s a New York resident, he’s learning that those damn yankees like to put people in labelled. little boxes. And Oldman doesn’t ﬁt.
Today, however, he looks pretty normal, dressed in jeans and a white cotton schoolboy’s shirt. His scruffy brown hair and motley beard look like they haven’t seen a comb in a while, but he’s still strangely handsome, flashing a brilliant white smile as he imitates everyone from Anthony Hopkins to Peter Medak, the Hungarian director of his latest black comedy, Romeo Is Bleeding. Surely there’s a lunatic lurking, dying to get out?
‘I suppose there’s a bit of me in there,’ he acknowledges with a gruff grunt. ‘But the press just match me with what I do on the screen and they kind of bleed it into my own life . . . And then I had one indiscretion one night, when I went out with Kiefer Sutherland [and was arrested for drunk driving], and I’ve never been able to live that down. All of a sudden, I’m a wild man.’
So what can we believe? ‘I managed to keep my life very private for a very, very long time, but when I start reading stuff that’s half supposition or all wrong, it goes too far,’ he says, lighting up another of his two- pack-a-day cigarette habit. ‘The stuff about Kiefer Sutherland made out we got drunk the week after I was married [to actress Uma Thurman] because I was so miserable — it was actually two years later. That stuff can hurt the people close to you. It can hurt my mother when someone writes that I’m an East End drop-out — I have a BA. Honours degree in Theatre
‘It has occurred to
me I die in neatly
everything I do. In Sid And Nancy, State Of Grace and JFK, I get
killed. In Dracula, it’s the first time I’ve ever played the undead, so that qualifies too.’
History, so that’s hardly a drop-out.’
The other, less written-about Gary Oldman is indeed the one who made such a brilliant name for himself in the British theatre scene, including a stint with the Glasgow Citz in the early 805. In 1986, with no feature ﬁlm experience, he landed the role of legendary punk-rocker Sid Vicious in Sid And Nancy. Since then, he has caught the eye as other real-life characters — playwright Joe Orton in Prick Up Your Ears and alleged presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald in JFK — developed a cult following with crossover arthouse hits, and broken into the big time with Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
But it’s those psycho turns that linger in the public memory: the threatening football hooligan in TV drama The Firm, the dreadlocked drug dealer in True Romance, and now the corrupted cop in Romeo ls Bleeding. Next up will be Murder In
The First where he plays a vicious Alcatraz
prison warden who will make One Flew Over
The Cuckoo’s Nest’s Nurse Ratched look like a primary school teacher. So who could blame Oldman for having an identity crisis?
‘It has occurred to me that I die in nearly everything I do,’ he says, slowly exhaling his smoke with a bewildered grin. Already over the course of a relatively short career, Oldman has played at least ﬁfteen characters who never quite
make it to the ﬁnal credits. ‘In Sid And Nancy. ?
State OfGrace and JFK, I get killed. In Dracula, it’s the ﬁrst time I’ve ever played the undead, so that qualiﬁes too. Even Dennis Hopper had to
admit he’s played some strange characters, but
he said: “Man, you’ve got it over me when it '
comes to dying — you get the prize
Oldman resists commenting on his personal life having been burnt by the press over his ugly custody battle with ex-wife actress Lesley Manville for their four-year-old son. His marriage to Uma Thurman also ended in a blaze of publicity after the pair tried to work together on a ﬁlm about the life of poet Dylan Thomas in
8 The List 22 April—5 May 1994