Gary oldman actor biography

Explore the life and career of acclaimed actor Gary Oldman, known for his captivating performances in films such as Bram Stoker's Dracula

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 Gary Leonard Oldman (born March 21, 1958) is an English actor, filmmaker and occasional musician. He is well known to film audiences for his roles in films such as State of Grace, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, True Romance, Léon, The Fifth Element, The Contender, Batman Begins and the Harry Potter film series. Oldman has also portrayed a significant number of real-life historical figures on screen, such as Joe Orton, Lee Harvey Oswald, Ludwig van Beethoven, Pontius Pilate and perhaps most notably, Sid Vicious, his portrayal of whom in 1986 biopic Sid & Nancy was listed as one of Premiere Magazine’s “100 Greatest Performances of All Time”. 

Gary Oldman -

Birth name: Leonard Gary Oldman

Date of birth: 21 March 1958

Place of birth: New Cross, London, England, UK

Nickname: Gary, Gaz

Height: 5′ 10″ (1.78 m)

Spouse: Donya Fiorentino (16 February 1997 – 13 April 2001) (divorced) 2 children, Uma Thurman (October 1990 – 1992) (divorced), Lesley Manville (1987 – 1990) (divorced) 1 child

Famous Quote:

 “I don’t think Hollywood knows what to do with me. I would imagine that when it comes to romantic comedies, my name would be pretty low down on the list. Change is vital to any actor. If you keep playing lead after lead, you’re really gonna dry up. Because all those vehicles wean you away from the truths of human behavior.”

Almost from the start of his career, Gary Oldman displayed an edgy intensity that brought verve to his portrayals of ambiguous and obsessive personalities. Equally at home as either heroes or villains (although his resume boasted far more of the latter), this lean, wiry actor from South London gained a well-earned reputation as a brilliant chameleon. Decidedly private about his personal life, Oldman was briefly married to actress Uma Thurman, whom he had met during the shooting of “Henry and June” (1990). 

Despite a twelve-year age difference, the two stars wed soon after the film, but their union would last just two years. An acknowledged inspiration to such young up-and- comers as Bo Barrett, Ryan Gosling and Shia LaBeouf, Oldman’s status as an elder statesman seemed assured. But despite his high standing among fellow actors and scores of critically acclaimed roles under his belt, Oldman had yet to be nominated for an Academy Award – a shame given his stature as one of the most gifted actors of his generation.

Oldman is generally regarded as one of England’s best known and most diverse actors, having used a different speaking voice for every film role, as well as playing a broad range of demanding roles. In 1997 Oldman directed, produced, and wrote the award-winning Nil by Mouth, a movie partially based on his own childhood.

Oldman was born in Underwood, Nottinghamshire, England, the son of Kathleen, an Irish-born housewife, and Len Oldman, a former sailor who worked as a welder. Oldman has said that his father was an abusive alcoholic who left his family when Oldman was seven. Oldman was an accomplished singer and pianist as a child, but gave up music to pursue an acting career. His inspiration was Malcolm McDowell’s performance in 1970 movie The Raging Moon. In a 1995 interview with Charlie Rose, Oldman said: “Something about Malcolm McDowell just arrested me, and I connected, and I said ‘I wanna do that’.” Oldman retained his love for music, however, and can be seen singing and playing piano in the 1988 movie Track 29, and tracing over pre-recorded versions of Beethoven’s music in Immortal Beloved.

The son of a welder and a housewife, Leonard Gary Oldman was born on Mar. 21, 1958 in New Cross, London, England. An academically indifferent student, Oldman dropped out of school at 16 and found a job as a store clerk. He soon discovered his métier on stage, becoming active in the Young People’s Theater in Greenwich, England. He later won a scholarship to attend the Rose Bruford College of Speech and Drama in Kent. Graduating in 1979 with a bachelor’s degree in theater arts, Oldman quickly found regular gigs on stage. Oldman’s hard work and trademark intensity made him a favorite in Glasgow in the mid 1980s, culminating in the lead role in Edward Bond’s socially-conscious drama, “The Pope’s Wedding.” A huge hit with critics, the play earned Oldman’s two of the British stage’s top honors: the Time Out’s Fringe Award for Best Newcomer of 1985-86 and the British Theatre Association’s Drama Magazine Award as Best Actor of 1985.

Oldman won a scholarship to the Rose Bruford College, where he received a BA in Drama in 1979. He had initially applied for enrollment into Britain’s prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, but was refused entry. Oldman told Charlie Rose in 1995 that he was told to “find something else to do for a living”. Rose, surprised, asked jokingly, “Have you reminded them of this?”, to which Oldman replied that “the work speaks for itself.” 

Following his graduation from Rose Bruford College, he later studied with the Greenwich Young People’s Theatre and went on to appear in a number of stage plays including The Pope’s Wedding, for which he received Time Out’s Fringe Award for Best Newcomer of 1985–1986 and the British Theatre Association’s Drama Magazine Award as Best Actor of 1985. Oldman appeared on Reeves Gabrels’ album The Sacred Squall of Now, performing a duet with David Bowie on the track “You’ve Been Around”.

After graduating from drama school in 1979, Oldman spent almost eight years in theater, winning various awards. During this time he appeared in several minor television films such as Remembrace (1982) and Morgan’s Boy (1984). In 1986 he won his first starring role as the Sex Pistols’ ill-fated bassist Sid Vicious in the 1986 motion picture Sid & Nancy. The role launched Oldman’s career and paved the way for work in Hollywood. Oldman’s performance was highly regarded by many, perhaps most notably ex-Sex Pistols vocalist John Lydon, who despite questioning the authenticity of some parts of the film, said of Oldman in his biography: “The chap who played Sid, Gary Oldman, I thought was quite good”, and later called him a “bloody good actor”. 

Oldman reportedly lost considerable weight for the role and was briefly hospitalised. His portrayal was ranked #62 on Premiere Magazine’s “100 Greatest Performances of All Time.” Oldman starred in another real-life portrayal the following year, portraying playwright Joe Orton in the 1987 film Prick Up Your Ears. He played a violent football hooligan in The Firm (1988), and starred opposite Christopher Lloyd in Track 29 the same year. Oldman’s first foray into American cinema came later in 1988, when he played a troubled young Boston lawyer opposite real-life friend Kevin Bacon in Criminal Law. It marked the first time Oldman had performed on screen successfully using an American accent. In late 1988, he starred opposite long-time hero Alan Bates in We Think The World of You, and alongside Dennis Hopper and Frances McDormand in Chattahoochee (1989).

Segueing into television in the mid-to-late 1980s, Oldman brought some of his famous intensity to his small screen roles. An early example was evidenced in one of Oldman’s first screen performances as an explosive skinhead in director Mike Leigh’s telefilm “Meantime” (BBC, 1983). Oldman later consolidated his wild man persona with two very different, yet similarly doomed iconoclastic figures from English culture: punk rock legend Sid Vicious in the poignant and uncompromising cult classic “Sid and Nancy” (1986), and later the irreverent gay playwright Joe Orton in the finely tuned biopic “Prick up Your Ears” (1987). Though excellent in both roles, Oldman was more remembered for his turn as Vicious, portraying the heroin-addicted bassist in frighteningly accurate fashion. Meanwhile, Oldman continued his exploration of human darkness, traveling to North Carolina to play the mysterious long-lost son of Theresa Russell in Nicolas Roeg’s bizarre psychological drama “Track 29″ (1987).

In the United States, Oldman displayed his remarkable talent for mimicking American accents and myriad regional dialects. The fruits of his labor resulted in Oldman giving convincing performances as a coldhearted big-city attorney in “Criminal Law” (1988), a down-home Southern fried mental institution inmate in “Chattahoochee” (1990) and an Irish-American gangster in “State of Grace” (1990). But it was his dead-on impersonation of assassin Lee Harvey Oswald in Oliver Stone’s “JFK” (1991) that truly cemented his status as a human chameleon – few were able to distinguish the actor’s characterization from the stock footage of the real Oswald. Based on the strength of his performance in “JFK,” director Francis Ford Coppola offered him the lead in “Bran Stoker’s Dracula” (1992). As the titular bloodsucker, Oldman proved equally compelling in various incarnations – as a wizened old man, a dapper aristocrat and a snarling monster – standing out amid the lavish makeup and visually sumptuous costumes and sets. Oldman was predictably electrifying in his next outing, playing ruthless wannabe Rastafarian pimp Drexl Spivy in the Quentin Tarantino-scripted “True Romance” (1993). Though Oldman was onscreen for only a few minutes, his dominating performance echoed throughout the rest of the movie.

In 1991, Oldman starred in what was at that point the most significant role of his career as alleged Presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald in Oliver Stone’s JFK. The following year, however, Oldman would reach new heights of fame. In arguably the most famous performance of his career, he starred as Count Dracula in Francis Ford Coppola’s romance-horror blockbuster Bram Stoker’s Dracula. By far the most commercially successful film adaptation of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel, it was a major box office success worldwide, and spawned various merchandise and video games. 

Oldman’s performance is regarded by many as a staple of the horror genre, and was recognised by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films as the best male performance of 1992, who awarded Oldman the prestigious Best Actor award. The film established Oldman as a popular portrayer of villains in American cinema, playing the role of the antagonist in films such as True Romance (1993), Léon (1994), Murder in the First (1995) and The Fifth Element (1997). Oldman also displayed a skill for world accents; along with the Transylvanian Count Dracula, Oldman played German-born Viennese composer Ludwig van Beethoven in Immortal Beloved, and Russian terrorist Ivan Korshunov in 1997 blockbuster Air Force One. He also appeared as a grinning demon in the 1993 promo video to the Guns’n'Roses single Since I Don’t Have You.

Like many actors, Oldman had his share of demons to battle – in his case, alcohol. Oldman’s off-screen binges led to occasional brushes with the law, including a 1991 arrest for driving under the influence. After he completed “The Scarlet Letter” (1995), Oldman checked into rehab and underwent treatment. Once sober, he returned to Hollywood to reactivate his career and raise money for “Nil By Mouth” (1997), a dream project he wanted to write and direct. Meanwhile, Oldman was seen in varying degrees of success, making villainous turns in “The Fifth Element” (1997), “Air Force One” (1997) and “Lost in Space” (1998). Finally, he managed to raise enough dough – thanks to an assist from “Fifth Element” director Luc Besson – and was able to make “Nil By Mouth,” a blistering semiautobiographical examination of a working-class family torn apart by alcoholism. From its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, where it picked up the Best Actress trophy for Kathy Burke (as the abused wife), to its 1998 theatrical release, the film earned substantial critical praise for its unflinching writing, assured direction and stunning performances.

Oldman next lent his vocal talents to the animated feature “The Quest for Camelot” (1998), then made a rare excursion into television to play Pontius Pilate in the CBS miniseries “Jesus” (1999-2000). Later in 2000, he was back on the big screen as a conservative U.S. senator attempting to block the appointment of a female colleague as the first woman vice president in “The Contender,” written and directed by Rod Lurie. The timely material – which included a sex scandal and pointed references to embattled U.S. president Bill Clinton – marked the actor’s first time as an executive producer. Rumors of a tension-filled the set were rampant prior to the film’s release and disputes between Oldman and Lurie soon became fodder for public consumption. Not one to suffer fools, Oldman expressed his unhappiness with his character’s depiction as the villain. While his arguments with Lurie and the film’s distributor DreamWorks played out in the press, “The Contender” failed to make its mark with audiences.

Oldman appeared opposite Jeff Bridges as zealous Republican congressman Sheldon Runyon in The Contender (2000), in which he was also credited as a producer. He received a Screen Actors Guild award nomination for his performance. The following year he starred opposite Anthony Hopkins in Hannibal, as Mason Verger, the only surviving victim of Hannibal Lecter. Oldman reportedly spent six hours per day in the make-up room to achieve the hideously disfigured appearance of the character. It marked the second time Oldman had appeared opposite friend Anthony Hopkins, who was part of the supporting cast of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Oldman received an Emmy Award nomination for two guest appearances in Friends in 2001, appearing in the two-part episode “The One with Monica and Chandler’s Wedding” as Richard Crosby, a pedantic actor who insists that “real” actors spit on one another when they enunciate, leading to the famous spitting scene between Joey (Matt LeBlanc) and himself. Oldman agreed to appear in the series after meeting LeBlanc on the set of Lost in Space in 1998.

Oldman found himself in another situation with his prominent follow-up role as the exorbitantly wealthy, but hideously disfigured Mason Verger in “Hannibal” (2001). Some reported that the actor originally wanted screen credit. But when he was relegated to third billing, he allegedly opted to take no credit at all. Other articles claimed that he did not want to be identified for the sake of surprise, since the character required prosthetics that would render whoever played the role unrecognizable. Producer Dino De Laurentiis clearly stated at a press conference, however, that Oldman was indeed playing the role, pointing out that an actor of that stature deserved to be recognized for his contribution to the film.

Although he spent much of his career playing psychotics and sadistic characters, Oldman underwent a career makeover in the mid-2000s similar to that of Sir Ian McKellan. Eschewing his more typical adult-oriented fair, Oldman accepted a string of roles that played to younger audiences. Among his likeable, more sympathetic characters was Sirius Black, a recurring character in the “Harry Potter” series. First introduced in “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” (2004), Oldman reprised his role for its two subsequent sequels, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” (2005) and “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” (2007). Around the same period, Oldman delighted comic book fan boys around the world by taking the role of Gotham City Police Lieutenant (and later Commissioner) Jim Gordon in “Batman Begins” (2005), a re-boot of the lucrative Batman film franchise. Oldman later reprised the role in “The Dark Knight” (2008). 

Oldman later landed a major role in the Harry Potter film series, playing Potter’s godfather Sirius Black. Oldman and star Daniel Radcliffe reportedly became very close during the filming of the series. In 2005, Oldman starred as James Gordon in Christopher Nolan’s commercially and critically acclaimed Batman Begins, a role he is set to reprise in the forthcoming sequel The Dark Knight (2008). Oldman will reportedly be appearing in the 2009 version of A Christmas Carol. He is also confirmed for the starring role in David Goyer’s Holocaust-themed supernatural thriller Unborn, slated for a 2009 release.

In 1997, Oldman directed, produced, and wrote the award-winning Nil by Mouth, a movie partially based on his own childhood.[28] Nil By Mouth went on to win the Alexander Korda Award for Best British Film, a BAFTA Award (shared with Douglas Urbanski) and also the British Academy Award for Best Screenplay, the Channel 4 Director’s Award, and the Empire Award, and was declared by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts as one of the one hundred best films of all time. Recently Nil By Mouth was listed by Time Out as number two of the top 50 best British films ever.

Oldman and producing partner Douglas Urbanski formed the SE8 GROUP to produce Nil By Mouth. The company also produced The Contender, which also starred Oldman. He was also credited as a producer. Oldman has finished his latest screenplay, Chang & Eng, co-written with Darin Strauss, based on the author’s book of the same name; SE8 Group will produce. In September 2006 Nokia, Nseries Studio released the Oldman directed short Donut with music by Tor Hyams. The film was shot with an N93 in order to promote the phone. Oldman also directed the music video for “Red Rover”, a song from Jewish Rap Group Chutzpah’s 2nd CD “Hip Hop Fantasy,” shot entirely on the N93. So it appears they did know him after all!

Oldman has long established a cult following among film fans, perhaps due to his apathetic stance on fame and fortune, his versatile performances, and affable real-life personna. As well as a staggering number of fan-made tribute videos on YouTube, Oldman remains one of the most popular portrayers of movie villains amongst film fans: his array of villainous roles, such as Count Dracula in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Zorg in The Fifth Element, Norman Stansfield in Léon, and Ivan Korshunov in Air Force One have seen a page dedicated entirely to him on the website. 

In October 2007, movie website ran a countdown of the “Top 20 Crazy Bastards” of cinema, citing the film title and character name for each. #6 on the countdown, however, was simply “Gary Oldman, period.” MTV’s Celebrity Deathmatch also aired a match between Oldman and Christopher Walken to determine who was the greatest cinematic villain. Additionally, Oldman’s famous “spitting scene” with Matt LeBlanc during his appearance on Friends, where Oldman’s character insists that “real” actors spit on one another when they enunciate, and the ensuing spitting confrontation between the two, has become one of the more popular cameos of the series, and saw Oldman receive an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series.

Oldman’s character also has to dispel Joey’s belief that despite his formidable acting abilities, he has never won an Academy Award. This was perhaps a subtle knock on the much-questioned fact, among Oldman fans, that he has never been nominated for such an award, despite a number of critically acclaimed roles. In 2006, fledgling Hip-hop group Chutzpah turned up at Oldman’s home un-announced in order to ask him to talk up their CD, which was filmed for their DVD, Chutzpah, This Is?. Oldman’s influence has often been cited by younger stars such as Daniel Radcliffe, Christian Bale and in particular, Ryan Gosling, who cites Oldman as his all time favourite actor. In contrast to his often dark-themed on-screen roles, Oldman’s down-to-earth real-life nature is often cited in articles, and he was recently named as one of Empire magazine’s “100 Sexiest Stars in Film History.” Motion pictures starring Oldman as leading actor or supporting co-star have grossed over $1.8 billion at the United States box office, and over $4.6 billion worldwide.

Oldman’s acting style has occasionally been referred to as being excessive and over-the-top by critics, which may perhaps be due to a long run of being casted as eccentric and outlandish villains, something which he eventually grew tired of. Oldman, however, is also noted for playing reserved, non-villainous roles such as in The Contender, Batman Begins, and Harry Potter film series.

In 1991, Oldman was arrested for drunk driving along with friend and fellow actor Kiefer Sutherland. After a string of alcohol-fuelled debacles he checked himself into Marworth treatment facility in Waverly, Pennsylvania for alcoholism treatment in 1993. In subsequent interviews Oldman acknowledged his problems with alcohol and called himself a “recovering” alcoholic on a 2001 interview with Charlie Rose. In 2001, former wife Donya Fiorentino claimed that Oldman had a drug habit and subjected her to domestic abuse, a claim which was investigated by the family courts, child custody evaluator, the police, and Los Angeles city attorney—Oldman was awarded legal custody of their children; Fiorentino was granted short court-monitored visits. As of 2007, Oldman lives a teetotal lifestyle and attributes his success in beating his addiction to Alcoholics Anonymous, and has since publicly praised the organization.

It has been said that Winona Ryder and Oldman did not get along while filming Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Director Francis Ford Coppola said: “The issue was not only that they did not get along… they got along and then one day they didn’t – absolutely didn’t get along. None of us were privy to what had happened.” False rumours of an affair between the two also circulated in the media in 1992. Ryder has since been complimentary of Oldman, praising his acting talents and has conversed and had photos taken with Oldman at social events.

In late 2000, Oldman gave controversial interviews expressing his disdain for Dreamworks studio heads, who he felt had used their sway to have The Contender edited to reflect their Democratic affiliation, thus resulting in a politically biased product. Oldman stated on the Charlie Rose show that he felt his character, Republican congressman Sheldon Runyon, was the true patriot of the film and that it was no co-incidence that the product was released shortly before a Presidential election. Oldman stated in the same interview that he had had “more than my wrist slapped” for expressing his sentiments in previous interviews.

Despite numerous lead and supporting roles in major Hollywood productions, Oldman is intensely private with his personal life and is known for his stance on celebrity and the ideals of Hollywood, once stating that “being famous, that’s a whole other career. And I haven’t got any energy for it.” Oldman was born and raised in London, England, but moved to the United States in the early 1990s. He currently resides in Los Angeles, California with his young family. Oldman has been married three times: Lesley Manville (1988–1990), Uma Thurman (1990–1992), Donya Fiorentino (1997–2001). He has three sons: Alfie (b. 1988) from his marriage to Manville, Gulliver Flynn (b. Aug 20, 1997) and Charlie John (b. Feb 1999) from his marriage to Fiorentino. His sister, Laila Morse, is also an actress, best known as Mo Harris in the BBC’s long-running series EastEnders.

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