Character actor, chameleon, often playing villains and grotesques (but the occasional hero as well), it is no coincidence that I chose the image from Ridley Scott’s detestable Silence of the Lambs sequel, Hannibal for the purposes of illustration of Mr. Gary Oldman. Here is an actor who has played Ludwig van Beethoven, Lee Harvey Oswald, Pontius Pilate and Sid Vicious in biopics, and in pure fiction, the gamut from Dracula to Drexl Spivey (the Pimp) to Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg (Space Dictator), to Officer Stansfield (The cocaine snorting corrupt cop in The Professional) to Shelly Runyon (the ugliest Republican senator ever put on screen), Milton Glenn (evil warden of Alcatraz), Sirius Black (The Prisoner of Azkaban), Rosencrantz (or was is Guildenstern?) and Lt. Jim Gordon (in the most recent incarnation of Batman universe.) Of course there are many more performances, because Oldman never seems to stop working in either Hollywood, Indie, or foreign productions (underrated Spanish thriller: The Back Woods.) He even directed one of the more nihilistic dramas out there, Nil By Mouth. Of course, all of these performances add up to his recent highly nuanced, but very restrained performance of career spook, George Smiley, in Thomas Alfredson’s recent incarnation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
Put Smiley in a room with the The Driver, and you just know that Oldman likes his Gosling served cold and raw.
Personally, I’m partial to his performance in The Contender which is so lizard-like and vile it is the black cherry on the top of his career. But even in a few quite mediocre films (Lost in Space), outright terrible (Red Riding Hood) or even the truly WTF-how-did-this-get-made (Tiptoes), Oldman is interesting, even excellent amongst the detritus of bad cinema.
My top 5 is tucked under the seat.
5. Stansfield/Zorg (a tie for a pair Luc Besson lunatic villains: The Professional / The Fifth Element)
” I like these calm little moments before the storm.”
4. Lee Harvey Oswald (JFK)
“I am not resisting arrest! I am not resisting arrest!”
3. Drexl Spivey (True Romance)
“Now, I know I’m pretty, but I ain’t as pretty as a couple of titties.”
2. George Smiley (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy)
“Things aren’t always what they seem.”
1. Shelly Runyon (The Contender)
“What I say the American people will believe. And do you know why? Because I will have a very big microphone in front of me.”