PLAYBOY: Go for it. You’re on a roll.
OLDMAN: More and more, people in this culture are able to hide behind comedy and satire to say things we can’t ordinarily say, because it’s all too politically correct.
PLAYBOY: Do you have something in mind?
OLDMAN: Well, if I called Nancy Pelosi a cunt—and I’ll go one better, a fucking useless cunt—I can’t really say that. But Bill Maher and Jon Stewart can, and nobody’s going to stop them from working because of it. Bill Maher could call someone a fag and get away with it. He said to Seth MacFarlane this year, “I thought you were going to do the Oscars again. Instead they got a lesbian.” He can say something like that. Is that more or less offensive than Alec Baldwin saying to someone in the street, “You fag”? I don’t get it.
PLAYBOY: You see it as a double standard.
OLDMAN: It’s our culture now, absolutely. At the Oscars, if you didn’t vote for 12 Years a Slave you were a racist. You have to be very careful about what you say. I do have particular views and opinions that most of this town doesn’t share, but it’s not like I’m a fascist or a racist. There’s nothing like that in my history.
PLAYBOY: How would you describe your politics?
OLDMAN: I would say that I’m probably a libertarian if I had to put myself in any category. But you don’t come out and talk about these things, for obvious reasons.
PLAYBOY: But there are a ton of conservatives in Hollywood, and libertarians too. Bill Maher has called himself a libertarian.
OLDMAN: I think he would fail the test. Anyway, unlike Bill Maher, conservatives in Hollywood don’t have a podium.
PLAYBOY: Fine. We’ll give you one. What would America look like under President Hillary Clinton?
OLDMAN: What can I say? I feel we need some real leadership, and it’s nowhere in sight. Look at what’s happening right now. John Kerry going off to China to talk about North Korea? What’s that going to do? The ludicrousness of it. What a waste of money. You’re going to go to the puppeteer and say, “Can you help me with the puppet?” As far as Hillary, I guess I feel like my character in The Contender, Shelly Runyon. He doesn’t want Joan Allen to become president; he just believes she isn’t the right person for the job. It’s nothing to do with the fact that she’s a woman, but he uses a bit of dirt on her to bring her down.
PLAYBOY: By the way, what happened on The Contender? The rumor is you objected to the movie’s final cut because it had a liberal bias. What actually went down?
OLDMAN: The stories got blown out of proportion. I just happened to mention that there was another cut of the film that I thought was superior. I can’t even remember what it was because there were so many cuts and things that we watched. But I did watch a cut that was probably a minute and 20 seconds longer that had just a little shift from the final cut that made me go, “I think that’s a better cut than this.” I’m very proud of the film. We produced it. But it had the whiff of a scandal, which I’m told may have cost me an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor. It’s all part of the journey, I guess.
PLAYBOY: Would it mean something to you to win an Oscar?
OLDMAN: I suppose, yeah. But who knows? Does it mean anything to win a Laurence Olivier Award or a Tony? I guess it’s peers or people acknowledging you in some way. I know it certainly doesn’t mean anything to win a Golden Globe, that’s for sure.
PLAYBOY: Why not?
OLDMAN: It’s a meaningless event. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association is kidding you that something’s happening. They’re fucking ridiculous. There’s nothing going on at all. It’s 90 nobodies having a wank. Everybody’s getting drunk, and everybody’s sucking up to everybody. Boycott the fucking thing. Just say we’re not going to play this silly game with you anymore. The Oscars are different. But it’s showbiz. It’s all showbiz. That makes me sound like I’ve got sour grapes or something, doesn’t it?
PLAYBOY: Does it?
OLDMAN: I don’t know. I mean, I don’t have an Oscar.
PLAYBOY: Everyone likes to imagine Hollywood as this glorious monoculture of glittery celebrity, but it sounds as though you feel quite separate from all that.
OLDMAN: I think so, a bit. It’s sort of like a club. I’m respected, but it’s still a little bit like something’s happening over the garden wall. Do you know what I mean? It’s like being invited through the curtain into first class. Occasionally I can see what they eat up there, but then it’s back to my seat.
What people don’t realize is that you need to work at being a celebrity. I’m not talking about movies. I mean the other side of it. You have to campaign. It’s a whole other part of your career, and I wish I could have navigated it a bit better. I may have an Oscar now, had I.
PLAYBOY: Do you consider yourself successful?
OLDMAN: I’m successful. I know that. And I think I’ve been successful because I’m probably very good at what I do. I’ve been very disciplined. I’ve been very focused. I’ve been very lucky—that plays a huge part. Sometimes not getting a role ends up being the best thing. When a project turns out to be a disaster, you look at it and go, “Wow, I dodged a bullet there.” Of course, it’s worked against me when I’ve turned something down and someone had a huge success with it. But it’s been a good run.
I love to work and I wish that could be enough. Now we’re in this thing where everything has to be analyzed and dissected behind the scenes. I personally never want to know how the guy pulls the rabbit out of the hat. I don’t need people prying. Maybe I’m shy. I don’t know. You look at a movie like Hannibal, and even with all that makeup, it was the most free I’ve ever been. I think it’s because I was hidden. On the other side of that coin, the most stressful role, the most painful to do, was Smiley in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. There’s no mask. It’s very exposed. You have to play boring in an interesting way. Not that Smiley is a boring character, but he’s plain. Everything is dialed way down. You look at something like The Professional or True Romance or even State of Grace, and there’s a kinetic sort of ferocity and a fire to those characters, where the volume is up. I understand why Alec Guinness had a kind of nervous breakdown leading up to the shooting of the original Tinker Tailor and wanted out. I had a breakdown too, briefly.
PLAYBOY: You did? What happened?
OLDMAN: At first I passed on the movie, but then I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Once I signed on, I thought, Fuck me! I can’t do this. I can’t pull this off. Everybody’s going to see what a fake I am. This is the moment I get found out. Who does he think he is? He thinks he’s Alec Guinness.
Now, normally I agonize after a movie, not before. I’ll walk down a street and suddenly I’m thinking of a scene I did two years ago. I’ll go, “That’s how I should have done that line.”
Maybe with Smiley I felt that people would see all the things I can see about myself that I don’t like. And if I don’t like them, then they won’t like them. All the things I critique were out there. I remember Peter Sellers saying that the time he was happiest in life was in the very moment of actually playing the characters. Everything else was just a bit of noise—the thought of doing it, the preparation, the building up, the going away, the packing the bags, the getting on the plane, the staying at the hotel. All of that, as glamorous as it sounds, after you’ve been doing it on the road for 30 years, you just want to get on the set and go. It’s like that for me too. Everything is okay when I’m in that moment. As soon as I put the clothes on and walked on the set as Smiley, I was as relaxed as I’ve ever been.