PLAYBOY: Is there any way the film community could have intervened to save Philip Seymour Hoffman?
OLDMAN: You can try, but you can’t stop someone, no. You have to want to do it for yourself. That’s the only way. I had heard he had run-ins with heroin and booze and things, so it wasn’t a total surprise. Tony Scott committing suicide knocked me sideways. That floored me, as did Heath Ledger. All those ridiculous stories about him being so in the character of the Joker was certainly not the person I knew. That’s sort of ludicrous, people blurring the lines and not understanding. There’s a lot of rubbish talked about acting, and it’s often propagated by practitioners of it. You just want to say, “Oh, shut up.”
Even when you’re working closely with people, you don’t really know what they’re like at home. On the outside someone like Philip Seymour Hoffman appeared to be happy professionally. He had kids; he was working with interesting people. But one never really knows. What eventually happens is you put the drink or the drug before everything else. There’s no argument about how good he was, but who knows what was going on inside? I don’t mean this disrespectfully, but maybe he looked in the mirror and always saw that very pale sort of fat kid. It’s a real tragedy for his family.
PLAYBOY: You’ve been married four times, including, as you mentioned, to Uma Thurman. What have you learned in the process?
OLDMAN: [Groans] Look, relationships are very, very hard. They just are. I mean, four times! I’m not proud to say it. One of them was for 10 minutes. I don’t think it meant very much to either of us. What can I say about marriage? I don’t know. It’s all been a bit of a disaster in that area. I have very good artistic instincts, often right on the money. Love, not so successful. But you know, if someone says, “Here’s a script. Now you’re Beethoven,” that I can do.
PLAYBOY: That was hard work too. You actually played piano for those scenes, right? How did you manage that?
OLDMAN: Well, I do play piano and they showed me playing only certain parts. But yes, I had to learn to play the cadenza to the “Emperor” Concerto, for instance. Just learning that took five hours a day for six weeks. That was the research for the movie, basically—me chained to a Steinway. Whether it’s Beethoven or Lee Harvey Oswald or anyone else from real life, you can’t become the character no matter what anyone says, but with work and research you can go for the spirit.
PLAYBOY: Are you as exacting in other aspects of your life? Is everything color-coded in your closets at home?
OLDMAN: I have very neat closets, yes.
PLAYBOY: Are you meticulous about your car?
OLDMAN: Yeah. It’s part of my curse. I have a Porsche Beck 550 Spyder replica that I look after quite well. The original was made in 1955; mine’s from 1976. And I have a collection of vintage posters. If I get something framed, I can take it back three times to get rid of a little fluff under the glass. I have one of those eyes that I can walk into a room, as I did with my contractor recently, and see the slightest irregularity in a bookcase. I told him, “Yeah, it’s fantastic, but it’s slightly off up there on the left side.” He went, “No, it’s not.” But it was, by something like a sixteenth of an inch. He said, “Fucking hell, how can you see that?”
PLAYBOY: What do you do to relax?
OLDMAN: I couldn’t relax if I tried. I always have to do something. That’s why in my downtime I’m either learning an instrument or doing photography. [holds up hands] I have silver nitrate on my hands because I’ve been working with an old camera I just acquired off eBay—a Dallmeyer plate camera from 1865. I built a little darkroom in the basement, and it keeps me occupied. Keeps me off the streets.
PLAYBOY: How are you with money? Do you micromanage your investments?
OLDMAN: Not really, no. I don’t have a portfolio. I probably have less money than most people think I do.
PLAYBOY: So you’re not seeing much of that $10 billion?
OLDMAN: I mean, I do fine. I once parked my Porsche in George Clooney’s garage while I was away. I said thank you and he said, “It’s no inconvenience. It always makes me look good if I have two Porsches.” You know, that’s what they pay you for. But I’m not getting The Dark Knight or Harry Potter money, certainly. Daniel Radcliffe, now he’s got fuck-you money.
PLAYBOY: What would you do with fuck-you money?
OLDMAN: Well, I sometimes joke that I would just slip away to Palm Springs or someplace and close the gates, find refuge behind the hedges. Right now, for instance, just financing a film, getting studios to part with their money and the sorts of things studios are doing, it’s just a crazy, crazy time. I have a script I’ve written called Flying Horse. It’s about Eadweard Muybridge, the 19th century photographer who arguably invented cinema and had a very interesting life. It’s been nearly two years trying to get money. I have my cast pretty much, but the funding isn’t there. Partly it’s the subject. If it had zombies and Leonardo DiCaprio in it, people would be falling over me.
If you haven’t seen Seduced and Abandoned, you should. It’s a documentary with Alec Baldwin about raising money at the Cannes Film Festival. They try to finance a fictional movie that’s a little like Last Tango in Paris. You see how insane these people are. One guy actually turns to Alec and says, “You were great in that submarine movie. Do you think you could have a scene in this one that takes place on a submarine?” I can understand why someone like Mel, for instance, would finance his own movies now, because it has all become so crazy.
PLAYBOY: Mel Gibson?
PLAYBOY: What do you think about what he’s gone through these past few years?
OLDMAN: [Fidgets in his seat] I just think political correctness is crap. That’s what I think about it. I think it’s like, take a fucking joke. Get over it. I heard about a science teacher who was teaching that God made the earth and God made everything and that if you believe anything else you’re stupid. A Buddhist kid in the class got very upset about this, so the parents went in and are suing the school! The school is changing its curriculum! I thought, All right, go to the school and complain about it and then that’s the end of it. But they’re going to sue! No one can take a joke anymore.
I don’t know about Mel. He got drunk and said a few things, but we’ve all said those things. We’re all fucking hypocrites. That’s what I think about it. The policeman who arrested him has never used the word nigger or that fucking Jew? I’m being brutally honest here. It’s the hypocrisy of it that drives me crazy. Or maybe I should strike that and say “the N word” and “the F word,” though there are two F words now.
PLAYBOY: The three-letter one?
OLDMAN: Alec calling someone an F-A-G in the street while he’s pissed off coming out of his building because they won’t leave him alone. I don’t blame him. So they persecute. Mel Gibson is in a town that’s run by Jews and he said the wrong thing because he’s actually bitten the hand that I guess has fed him—and doesn’t need to feed him anymore because he’s got enough dough. He’s like an outcast, a leper, you know? But some Jewish guy in his office somewhere hasn’t turned and said, “That fucking kraut” or “Fuck those Germans,” whatever it is? We all hide and try to be so politically correct. That’s what gets me. It’s just the sheer hypocrisy of everyone, that we all stand on this thing going, “Isn’t that shocking?” [smiles wryly] All right. Shall I stop talking now? What else can we discuss?
PLAYBOY: What do you think of the pope?
OLDMAN: Oh, fuck the pope! [laughs and puts head in hands] So this interview has gone very badly. You have to edit and cut half of what I’ve said, because it’s going to make me sound like a bigot.
PLAYBOY: You’re not a bigot?
OLDMAN: No, but I’m defending all the wrong people. I’m saying Mel’s all right, Alec’s a good guy. So how do I come across? Angry?
PLAYBOY: Passionate, certainly. Readers will have to form their own opinions.
OLDMAN: It’s dishonesty that frustrates me most. I can’t bear double standards. It gets under my skin more than anything.
PLAYBOY: Who speaks the truth in this culture, in your opinion?
OLDMAN: There are a number of people. A voice I particularly like is Charles Kraut-hammer. I think he’s incredibly smart. I think he’s fair, very savvy and politically insightful, so I enjoy watching him. There are artists as well, like David Bowie, where there’s an autonomy. He recorded his most recent album and didn’t even announce he was doing it. He was in a position where he thought, Listen, I haven’t produced anything for 10 years. If this is no good, then I can just put it in a cupboard and no one need ever know. But he wrote the songs, picked the cover. I’ve always admired David. I’ve known him about 30 years. We’re friends. And David can constantly reinvent himself because he’s so talented. He has a point of view.
One of my sons wants to be a photographer. I said to him, “Why do you want to rob the bank when it’s already been burgled?” There’s no livelihood there. I know great photographers who are still going around with their portfolios. So I said to him, “Look, I don’t know how you would earn a living, but if you’re passionate and this is what you want to do, boy oh boy, you’ve got to have a point of view. Are you going to be a fashion photographer? Are you going to be a journalistic photographer?” It’s great to just sit there and go, “I just want to take pictures, man,” and fuck off to college for two years that I’ll pay for. Wedding photographer? You need a singular purpose. Can I tell you what else I get frustrated about?