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Oldman, Gary (1958-)


Main image of Oldman, Gary (1958-)

Formidably versatile character star who, from a difficult East End background with an alcoholic father, won a scholarship to the Rose Bruford School of Speech and Drama. After work with Glasgow's Citizens Theatre, he made his West End debut and entered films in Remembrance (d. Colin Gregg, 1982).

His first major break came as Sid Vicious in Sid and Nancy (d. Alex Cox, 1986), an unsettling account of the rocker's doomed relationship with Nancy Spungen. He followed this quickly with the eye-catching role of Joe Orton in Prick Up Your Ears (d. Stephen Frears, 1987), capturing the wit and charm of Orton's brief life; with We Think the World of You (d. Colin Gregg, 1988), as the imprisoned object of Alan Bates's affections; with alarming football hooligan protagonist 'Bex' Bissek in Alan Clarke's telefilm, The Firm (1988); and with Nicolas Roeg's obliquely compelling Track 29 (1988), in which he plays a stranger who may be Theresa Russell's son.

Since then, he has acted mainly in US films, gliding chameleon-like from Lee Harvey Oswald in JFK (d. Oliver Stone, 1991), the Prince of Darkness himself in Bram Stoker's Dracula (d. Francis Coppola, 1992), Beethoven in the dreadful Immortal Beloved (UK/US, d. Bernard Rose, 1994), to a ruthless Republican senator in The Contender (US/UK, d. Rod Lurie, 2000), and having a high old time in such expensive tosh as Air Force One (d. Wolfgang Petersen, 1997) and (unrecognisable) as a victim of Hannibal (UK/US, d. Ridley Scott, 2001).

Back in Britain, he directed the excoriating semi-autobiographical drama, Nil by Mouth (1997), in which the effects of alcoholic tyranny in an East End family are observed unflinchingly. At very least he extracted unforgettable performances from Ray Winstone, Kathy Burke, Edna Doré, and from real-life sister Laila Morse, who also appeared in Love, Honour and Obey (d. Dominic Anciano & Ray Burdis, 2000).

He is one of the most enjoyable character actors in contemporary film; it would be a shame if he gave up acting, but his directorial debut exhibits a talent remarkable enough to make one want to see more of it. He was married to and divorced from (1) Lesley Manville and (2) Uma Thurman.

Brian McFarlane, Encyclopedia of British Film

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Thumbnail image of Nil By Mouth (1997)Nil By Mouth (1997)

Gary Oldman's disturbing portrait of a dysfunctional South London family

Thumbnail image of Prick Up Your Ears (1987)Prick Up Your Ears (1987)

Alan Bennett-scripted biopic of 1960s playwright Joe Orton

Thumbnail image of Track 29 (1988)Track 29 (1988)

Disturbing Oedipal drama from Dennis Potter and Nicolas Roeg

Thumbnail image of Firm, The (1989)Firm, The (1989)

Gary Oldman in Alan Clarke's searing indictment of football hooliganism

Thumbnail image of Meantime (1983)Meantime (1983)

Memorably bleak Mike Leigh film about feuding East London families

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