PLAYBOY: If nothing else, you’ve found a profession that lets you channel anger through your characters. The scene in Léon: The Professional of you screaming, “Bring me everyone!” is a classic.
OLDMAN: Again, I could take it or leave it personally. What’s funny is that the line was a joke and now it’s become iconic. I just did it one take to make the director, Luc Besson, laugh. The previous takes, I’d just gone, “Bring me everyone,” in a regular voice. But then I cued the sound guy to slip off his headphones, and I shouted as loud as I could. That’s the one they kept in the movie. When people approach me on the street, that’s the line they most often say. It’s either that or something from True Romance.
PLAYBOY: Another amazing performance. You play Drexl Spivey, a dreadlocked pimp who’s been called the coolest drug dealer in movie history. Please say you enjoyed that role.
OLDMAN: It’s a nice little turn.
PLAYBOY: How did you transform into a white Rasta thug?
OLDMAN: As soon as they told me, “Okay, there’s this white guy who thinks he’s black, and on top of that, he’s a pimp,” I thought, Yeah, I’d like to do that. When you add the matted hair and the eye and the fake teeth, it all comes pouring out. The Drexl voice came to me in New York one day. I heard a kid talking outside my trailer and literally pulled him in from the street and said, “Read this dialogue and tell me what you think.” He read a couple of lines and said, “That’s good, but it don’t fly. I wouldn’t say that.” I said, “What would you say?” and he helped authenticate it so I could show up and become that character.
PLAYBOY: Do people come up and say, “Get off my plane,” like Harrison Ford says to you in Air Force One?
OLDMAN: More than a few times. That movie had some enjoyable moments. I remember the flight deck was on a sound stage and there was a big sign that said NO DRINKING, NO SMOKING AND NO EATING ON SET. At one point I looked over and Harrison was in the doorway beneath the sign with a burrito, a cigar and a cup of coffee, which I thought was hilarious. I could never get the image out of my head. Nowadays we would take out an iPhone and post something like that on Instagram.
PLAYBOY: Let’s talk about directors. How does someone like Francis Ford Coppola, who directed you in Dracula, differ from Christopher Nolan from the Dark Knight trilogy?
OLDMAN: Well, Francis is a hero of mine. He’s arguably the best American director but also a brilliant writer. Many people forget he won an Academy Award for the screenplay for Patton. I recently watched The Conversation again and couldn’t believe how it stands up. I always tell students who want to be writers or directors that first on their list of what to watch should be The Godfather: Part II, because in terms of camera, lighting, cinematography, composition, production design, costume, storytelling, writing and acting, it’s flawless. It’s a master class in filmmaking from soup to nuts.
We didn’t always see eye to eye on Dracula, but I have enormous respect for him. He’s very forceful and lets you know exactly what he thinks. Chris Nolan is more about giving you really good notes. On The Dark Knight he’d do a take and then say something like “There’s a little more at stake.” Francis will shout at you during the take, “There’s more at stake! You love her! No! Love her more than that!” He’s like D.W. Griffith.
PLAYBOY: Goth chicks must have been banging down your door after that movie.
OLDMAN: It’s funny. I used to have this little office on Melrose, and people would come and try to find me. An attractive young woman came in one day with a tattoo of Dracula on her breast and wanted my signature over it. Then she went and had my autograph tattooed. I was cool with that.
PLAYBOY: Have you enjoyed your fair share of groupies?
OLDMAN: I’ve had some wild nights in this hotel, actually. All sorts of goings-on here when I was younger. Hef would be proud of me. I’ve probably had fewer than others but more than some, I suppose. I don’t get the whole autograph thing, though, or taking selfies with somebody. But so be it. People say nice things, though I don’t always particularly believe it. I guess I wish I could enjoy it more. I look in the mirror and think, God, how did I ever fucking make a movie? But there were definitely some wild times.
PLAYBOY: Give us one.
OLDMAN: There’s an amusing story about a trip up to San Francisco fueled largely by vodka and timed perfectly to the big 1989 earthquake. We were literally at the epicenter. Afterward it was like, “Well, was it good for you, darling? Because the earth definitely moved for me.”
Just like anyone out here, anybody in this industry, you’re working with attractive people, you’re young, and one thing leads to another. Few are immune to it. I remember being at a dinner many years ago in New York with Arthur Miller. I was sitting next to him. After we loosened up with a few glasses of vino, I turned to him and said, “Do you ever walk down the street and just stop and go, ‘Fuck, I was married to Marilyn Monroe’?” He went, “Yeah.”
PLAYBOY: Were you loaded on some films more than others?
OLDMAN: It wasn’t that I was at the bar every single night or drinking on set. I always took the work seriously. I always showed up on time. I’m prepared, I know my lines, and I’m shocked when other people don’t. But there was one movie toward the end, The Scarlet Letter, when I was in a dodgy place. And I was pretty good in it too. I have hardly any memory of making it, though.
PLAYBOY: Your co-star Demi Moore called you out on your addiction, right?
OLDMAN: Yes, Demi, lovely Demi. I remain grateful. This past March was 17 years since I last had a drink.
PLAYBOY: What’s the secret to sobriety?
OLDMAN: The secret is you have to want to stop. They talk about 12 steps if you go through the program, but the only one you have to do perfectly is the first, which is to acknowledge that you have a problem and that your life is unmanageable. It’s a horrible thing to be in what people call “the disease.”
PLAYBOY: What’s your take on legalizing marijuana?
OLDMAN: It’s silly to me. I’m not for it. Drugs were never my bag. I mean, I tried it once and it wasn’t for me, though, unlike Bill Clinton, I did inhale. To me, the problem is driving. People in Colorado are driving high and getting DUIs. That’s what I worry about. Listen, if you want to do cocaine, heroin, smoke marijuana, that’s fine by me. It’s just that I worry about kids behind the wheel of a car more than anything.