Sins of the father
Gary Oldman: ‘I've given my life to other people who sit in an editing room and chop it around‘
Actor and self-confessed recovering alcoholic, GARY OLDMAN has opened a ﬂoodgate of memories about his tough London childhood in his directorial debut Nil By Mouth. This isn't just filmmaking, it's therapy.
Words: Alan Morrison
WHEN GARY OLDMAN wants to make a point, you’ve no choice but to listen. The same intensity that crackles 'when he’s playing screen psychos is tangible in the air around him, although today it’s emotion rather than violence that’s coming to the boil. His voice is quiet as he explains himself, but every now and then, when a particularly painful memory breaks the surface, the atmosphere tightens.
At the age of 39, Oldman has taken a short break from acting to make his debut as a writer-director. Nil By Mouth, set in the South London of his childhood, has been compared to Mike Leigh and Ken Loach, though it doesn’t indulge in the sentimentality of the former or the political point-scoring of the latter.
The story centres on Raymond, an alcoholic bully who regularly doles out beatings to his long-suffering wife Val. No matter how bad the violence gets — and it gets life-threatenineg bad — Val sticks by her man, just like her mum sticks by her and she sticks by her drug addict little brother. It’s all family, innit?
When asked how autobiographical the piece is, Oldman is in two minds. It is ulti- mately a work of fiction, he claims, but the on- screen locations used are the very places he spent time in, growing up in New Cross. The bar Raymond drinks at on his own is where Oldman’s father escaped to on a daily basis. The pub where Val’s mum sings is two doors down from the house where Oldman was born. The actress in that scene is cx-Eastender Edna Dore, but the voice is 76-year-old Kathleen Oldman. Gary’s mother, singing a song. a favourite of her husband’s. that her son requested at his wedding to Donya Fiorentino. wife number three, earlier this year.
It’s this blend of fiction and very personal fact that has led to misinterpretation by some tabloid writers. And Oldman’s not happy.
‘l’ve read headlines like “Oldman’s Father Is A Thug“, that my father beat my mother up and tried to drown her. I didn’t say that. Some of it happened, some of it didn’t. My dad wasn’t violent. My dad is the dad that Raymond talks about. sitting in the chair. falling over, not a guy who came in and knocked my mum about. My father left when l was seven or eight years old, and my mum had quite a hard time of it, went out and got two jobs. But there’s a great stoicism. resilience and humour to these women.’
Given the film’s obvious admiration of the women’s survival instincts and its scathing attitude to men’s self-aggrandising bullshit.