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Playboy Interview: Gary Oldman
  • June 25, 2014 : 17:06
  • comments

When actors list other actors they deeply admire, Gary Oldman’s name inevitably shoots to the top. Sid Vicious, Dracula, Beethoven, Lee Harvey Oswald, The Dark Knight’s Commissioner Gordon, Harry Potter’s Sirius Black—Oldman’s range is so staggering, a video meme went around recently called “20 Gary Oldman Accents in 60 Seconds.” Google it in awe. He’s Meryl Streep for dudes.

Like all great character actors, the man is less familiar than the roles he plays, which makes sitting down with him intriguing. His films have grossed more than Leo’s, Will’s, Brad’s or Denzel’s, yet Oldman remains as blank as a stare from George Smiley, the “breathtakingly ordinary” British intelligence officer Oldman plays in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. That part earned him a 2012 Academy Award nomination for best actor. This July he leads the human resistance in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

Born Gary Leonard Oldman in London on March 21, 1958, he grew up working-class and dropped out of school at 16. His father abandoned the family when Gary was young, but the budding actor later won a scholarship to Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance. Acclaim on stage gave way to audacious movie roles, first in the 1986 punk-rock biopic Sid & Nancy and, the following year, in Prick Up Your Ears, in which Oldman plays gay playwright Joe Orton. But it was portraying Oswald to newsreel precision in Oliver Stone’s JFK in 1991 that had critics—and other actors—calling him Hollywood’s best new talent. Life wasn’t always rosy. Years of hard drinking, four marriages (including one to Uma Thurman) and a few behind-the-scenes controversies kept him lying low. Of being famous, Oldman, who has three children, once said, “I haven’t got any energy for it.”

Contributing Editor David Hochman, who last interviewed Jonah Hill, sat down with Oldman over two consecutive days in a suite at the L’Ermitage hotel in Beverly Hills, a venue that stirred certain unchaste memories for the actor (stay tuned). Hochman also discovered that hanging with Oldman is a twofer. “Gary’s longtime manager and producing partner, Douglas Urbanski, sat in with us and hung on our every word,” Hochman says. “If the name sounds familiar, it’s probably from hearing Urbanski on conservative talk radio, where he frequently fills in as a guest host for Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage. He also plays Harvard president Larry Summers in The Social Network. At first I worried Urbanski might hog the spotlight, but Oldman clearly saw the interview as a rare opportunity to speak his mind like never before.”

PLAYBOY: Let’s begin with an impressive factoid. Based on lead and supporting roles, you are one of the highest-grossing actors in movie history, with films earning nearly $10 billion at the box office worldwide. That must feel amazing.

OLDMAN: I suppose it should.

PLAYBOY: Any working actor would want a career like yours.

OLDMAN: Except me.

PLAYBOY: Wait. You’re not happy with your career?

OLDMAN: It’s not that so much as there’s a perfectionism with me.

PLAYBOY: When you look back at your credits, what makes you say, “I could have done better”?

OLDMAN: Most of it.

PLAYBOY: Really? You don’t like Sid & Nancy?

OLDMAN: I don’t like myself in the movie, no. Frankly, I didn’t want to make it in the first place. I was talked into it at the time. And now, if I flip through the channels and come upon it, it’s “Fuck! Sid & Nancy,” and off it goes. I don’t think I played Sid Vicious very well. I don’t like the way I look in Prick Up Your Ears. I wasn’t the right person to play Beethoven and turned it down half a dozen times.

PLAYBOY: The Dark Knight? Harry Potter?

OLDMAN: It was work.

PLAYBOY: Uh, The Fifth Element?

OLDMAN: Oh no. I can’t bear it.

PLAYBOY: You do realize you’re considered one of cinema’s all-time greats, right?

OLDMAN: It’s all so subjective, you know? I guess I shouldn’t complain. I’ve learned over the years that people get upset when they tell you something is their favorite movie and you go, “Really? You liked that piece of shit?” That’s the sort of thing Sean Penn would say. So I now tell people, “Thank you, that’s great,” and move on. But you know, I remember John Lennon saying that if he could, he’d go back and burn most of the work the Beatles did. He said he’d rerecord all the fucking songs, and I get that. Most of my work I would just stomp into the ground and start over again.

PLAYBOY: Come on. Even Bram Stoker’s Dracula?

OLDMAN: Look, I think there’s been some really good work along the way, good moments. I can look at certain movies and think, That scene was good, or, There’s something I was trying to get at. It was the most thrilling experience watching myself for the first time in JFK, for example, because I couldn’t believe I was in it—Oliver Stone at the very height of his powers, the sheer energy of it all, his commitment. When I saw the finished product I had to pinch myself. I thought, Wow, I’m in this movie. This is terrific. Or to do a role like Smiley in Tinker Tailor and to work with someone like John Hurt, who had been such a towering figure from my younger days. Every day I was like a fanboy. I fainted at his feet.

But I’m 56 now, and if you’ve managed to work as long as I have, you understand that these roles everyone fusses over are your career; they’re not your life. It’s just a job, really. You have financial responsibilities, you have children, you have all those things all the regular people have. Honestly, I forget I’m an actor until I’m reminded.

PLAYBOY: You’re probably not hurting for movie offers. What made you do Dawn of the Planet of the Apes?

OLDMAN: I love the franchise. I was a fan, as we all were, of the original films. I thought the script was very good.

PLAYBOY: And it was a big payday, no doubt.

OLDMAN: Yes, but other big paydays come my way and I go, “Would I want to be part of that? No, thank you.” This one had a pedigree.

PLAYBOY: What’s it like working with a bunch of damn dirty apes?

OLDMAN: Well, it’s hard being around the apes, because they’re basically just actors in weird diving suits with dots on their faces and cameras on their heads. Their mannerisms and facial expressions were ape-like, which was fun to watch. But the finished look comes later, through rendering and special effects. When I did Dracula and Hannibal I spent hours each morning having the makeup glued and strapped to my face. On Dracula the hair alone was a major tribulation. But making Planet of the Apes I had no idea what my co-stars actually looked like. I mean, Charlton Heston was filming with the apes. I used to love those behind-the-scenes pictures where you’d see an ape with a great big cigarette holder or a bottle of Coca-Cola in his hand—that old-time movie magic. It’s not like that now.

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read more: entertainment, Celebrities, interview, playboy interview, issue july 2014

62 comments

  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    I love him even more now.
  • Walter
    Walter
    Gary Oldman is an amazing actor. It's nice to get a chance to see this side of him, too. Amazing interview, one of the best I've read.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Gary, please stop apologizing for having a strong, clear POV.
  • Peter
    Peter
    A wonderful interview. Right up there with the Playboy Classics.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    excellent interview...very excellent actor!
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    One of the most brutally honest interviews I've ever read.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    What a fantastic interview.
  • Michael
    Michael
    Nobody is born being shocked at nudity, certain words, or certain lifestyles. We are trained to be shocked at these as a means of control. Once you are brainwashed into doing your little dance of shock and horror at words, or nudity, or certain lifestyles, politicians can campaign on a promise of passing laws against bad words in the media, nudity in public or the media, or banning certain lifestyles. Gary Oldman sees these chains on us all and he does not care for them.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    I really enjoyed this interview. Certainly not because of the questions which were asked, but because I actually believed the answers given were genuine. Unfortunately, the vilification which follows voicing your true opinion about "certain matters" is a large reason why we really don't know anyone all that well. Especially a celebrity.
  • James
    James
    I always liked Gary Oldman's work, and now I like and respect him even more. It takes real balls to call out political correctness, Bill Maher, and Jon Stewart when you make your living in Hollywood. The only ones who can get away with it are the ones who have real "fuck-you" money like Clint or Harrison. Oldman says he isn't in that category, but he has to be close?
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Bravo, David Hochman--for letting Gary Oldman shine.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Bill Maher is not a libertarian. He's a liberal which is about 1/5 a libertarian.Libertarians believe there should be very little or no govt at all. Maher believes in strong civil rights (legalize marijuana), which libertarians support, but he still supports big govt with massive taxes that fund huge entitlements like Obamacare and SS which libertarians vehemently oppose.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Thanks for saying what a lot of people are afraid to say - guys like Bill Maher get away with saying insulting and despicable things about
  • Swami
    Swami
    There is no one that could have portrayed Beethoven better. If there was any fault with the movie, it was in the storyline and dialogue.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    The questions were unintelligent, however, oldman is brilliant, perceptive, insightful, and speaks truth to power.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Did they edit out the shocking parts!?
  • Eric
    Eric
    "Any night of the week you only need to turn on one of these news channels and watch for half an hour. Read the newspaper. Go online. Our world has gone to hell." Poor Gary has fallen victim to the media's ploy of advertising those terrible things which are statistically rare. He's got it right on the money when it comes to reality television being the "museum of social decay", however. Pop music has been damned since 1990.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    You're killin it Gary Oldman. Good for you!
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    In England/UK people would read this and think average guy with average views. Agree with most of what he said. Why in USA when someone gives an honest opinion is it a scandal. You Americans are to sensative to truthful people and blow this **** out of all proportions. More people should be truthful like this, then the world would be a far better place.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Kudos to David Hochman--so rare to read someone smart, talented, perceptive, self-aware and unafraid to speak their minds like Gary Oldman, even when you don't necessarily agree with everything they have to say.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    So if you tell the truth you have to apologize for it... Gary Oldman is a hero and it is a shame that the elites of Hollyweird hippocrates made him grovel. I would have been more proud of him if he stood up to the elites and said
  • Charlie
    Charlie
    I have always liked Gary Oldman, and Im sorry he felt he had to apologize on Jimmy Kimball the other night. Gary Is refreshing, Im the same age and I was beginning to wonder and I wont any more. Your Ok Gary don,t Change.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Gary is the ****ing man. Always had a deep respect for him as an actor, and now as an individual.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    For real... A great interview from a great talent. Your POV is refreshing to say the least.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    I'm not sure I agree witht he guy on all counts, but it's always fantastic seeing somebody being this honest and open about their views. And what he says about a lot of our culture being hypocritical is very true. People are still racist, and they're still homophobic. They just hide it better.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Great interview. Stop apologizing.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    It really is a shame that he has to go around apologizing for his opinion.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Bravo, David Hochman.
  • James
    James
    im with oldman **** the people ,,, and everyone is a bigot ,a ***, hypocrite , ans a liar , why should any man / woman have dominion over any other? i say lets go back to our start when you carried your self as honestly as you knew how and if some one challenged your belief you stand your ground as best your can and the strong survive , that way all the lazy ( people ) that want to ride coattails of those who work! **** equality it do"es not exist never has and never will , i believe in helping my fellow man
  • Eric
    Eric
    "Let?s begin with an impressive factoid." Unfortunately, dear interviewer, a factoid is not a tidbit of fact, but rather a falsity that is perpetuated as fact.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    I've loved him since he played Beethoven. I've watched that movie 3 times now, and I'm not one to watch a movie more than once. He was just amazing in that role. He must have studied piano to look so authentic.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    very intelligent and insightful comments...hollywood is a brainwashing, control machine, people should start boycotting these mediocore films and directors,
  • Adrienn
    Adrienn
    Millennials lack passion because they were raised with insta this insta that, porn and fast food, #of likes and followers
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    If you don't understand why legalizing drugs is important you really don't understand
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Interesting man. Only politically incorrect men are.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    So why is he apologizing...?
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Gary, pal, read Enough! please. It's great russian novell, and u can play amazing character in that.
  • Adrian
    Adrian
    Fantastic article I just lightly skimmed through it and hope to get back to it.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    I can't believe he says he's against drug legalization, and then calls himself a libertarian. That's boneheaded. However, he's right about Bill Maher failing the basic test of libertarianism, and he does at least indicate some depth of character here.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    I'd love it if Playboy asked him about how his libertarianism compares to David Mamet's deeper conversion to libertarianism, or "classical liberalism" after his having researched it for his book "The Secret Knowledge." Mamet actually did his homework and read F. A. Hayek's "The Constitution of Liberty" where he even drilled down enough to discuss the essay in that book "Why I am Not a Conservative." If only Oldman (and the rest of the megastars in Hollywood) had that depth of knowledge! At least Oldman is capable of using terms like "hierarchy" correctly -something beyond the grasp of most hollywood "elites."
  • Robert
    Robert
    Drudge has linked a story quoting this interview.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    What a whiny, sexist, racist *****. Stop using this interview as an excuse to be a piece of ****, people.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Not bigoted? Yeah right. Epic interview playboy. You have done well to expose the "honest" Gary Oldman.
  • Joe
    Joe
    So, refraining from calling someone a word that has been historically laced with hatred, persecution, and intimidation, is just the politically correct thing to do? Sorry, but that's bullshit. Nor do I buy the argument that "we all" use such demeaning epithets behind closed doors. That's a bigot trying to rationalize away his bigotry. Sad.
  • John
    John
    My respect for Gary Oldman is now less than when I started this interview.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Aw, poor wittle baby can't get away with being an asshole anymore without being called out for his s*it! How sad. No one's taking away your freedom of speech, dumbf*ck: they're merely stating that they don't agree with your s*itty opinion, and are showing you the door. Don't let the little boys on this thread fool you. The world's not going to hell, there's just a bunch of extreme right-wing a*sholes who can't take the heat of being held accountable for the s*it they say.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    I really liked Gary Oldman, but now... He really looks like an OLDMAN, with his crabby attitude and tired old arguments that racists have been trying to hide behind for the past 15-20 years. "I'm not racist, I just say ****** or kike behind closed doors from time to time, everyone does it!" Nonetheless, I'm glad he spoke his mind, I too wish everyone WOULD stop being PC, because if you're a racist, I want to know that I shouldn't support you.
  • Joe
    Joe
    So, refraining from calling someone a word that has been historically laced with hatred, persecution, and intimidation, is just the politically correct thing to do? And if it does slip out, it's just a joke? Sorry, but that's horseshit. Nor do I buy the argument that "we all" use such demeaning epithets behind closed doors. This line of "reasoning" sounds more like someone trying to rationalize his bigotry. Sad.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    is it just me or did anyone else read the entire interview w/ his accent in your head? haha
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