Gary Oldman: the 'jobbing actor' whose Oscar recognition is long overdue

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After three and a half decades in the business and more than 60 films to his name, the Oscars have finally seen fit to crown British character actor Gary Oldman, for his performance as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour.

In an emotional speech, during which he told his 98-year-old mother to "put the kettle on", Oldman collected his Best Actor award with a sense of genuine glee and humility.

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This recognition is certainly well deserved - and overdue - too.

Throughout his eclectic and prolific career, the 59-year-old South Londoner has consistently turned in memorable, captivating performances, whether appearing in intellectual highbrow fare, or bombastic action movies and blockbusters.

Whatever the tone or subject matter, Oldman is often the best thing about the film.

From Leon to Dracula - to Kung Fu Panda 2

Oldman's career stands in stark contrast to Daniel Day-Lewis' method mystique. He doesn't make a project every five years, before disappearing into self-imposed exile. He works, and works, and works some more.

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In the last ten years, Oldman has appeared in 24 films. These have included the acclaimed drama Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, a horror version of Red Riding Hood, the Robocop remake, and he voiced an evil peacock villain in Kung Fu Panda 2 (doing an excellent job, by the way).

You could argue that this dedicated ethic is a result of his working class roots, but regardless, the range and variety of his Hollywood CV is breathtaking. As are the roles themselves.

Oldman has played gangsters, politicians, scientists, wizards and punk icons (his electrifying turn as Sid Vicious in 1986's Sid and Nancy was an early breakthrough).

Long-time devotees will remember him as a dreadlocked, patois-spouting pimp in Tony Scott's True Romance, and an unhinged, drug-addled corrupt detective in Leon.

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In Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 version of Dracula, it was Oldman who excelled among the cheesy, hit-and-miss cast as a truly creepy and unnerving Count. Buried under ancient make-up and a gigantic white wig, he gleefully slurred every wicked word at a cowering Keanu Reeves with delicious aplomb.

Darkest Hour, of course, is only the latest in a long line of roles where the accent-hopping, appearance-swapping actor has been almost unrecognisable.

There were those who failed to spot him as a futuristic arms dealer in Luc Besson's stylish sci-fi The Fifth Element, while Oldman himself asked not to be credited in Silence Of The Lambs sequel Hannibal, where his disfigured and deranged Mason Verger rasped and schemed from beneath a literal mask of waxy, practical effects.

Adored by critics and audiences

Oldman, however, does not merely have a talent for chameleon-like scenery-chewing. You only have to look at his sad-eyed, understated turn as Jim Gordon in the Dark Knight series, with his features modified merely by a bushy moustache, to see that.

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As Smiley in Tinker Tailor, meanwhile, for which he received his previous Oscar nomination, his demeanour strikes a calm, patient and fatherly sense of quiet contemplation throughout - even as the murky conspiracy around him only deepens.

Lest we forget Oldman's hard-hitting 1997 drama Nil By Mouth, which also showed off his talents as a writer and director.

Oldman has managed that very rare feat of being both an acclaimed actor beloved by contemporaries, critics and the wider film industry, and somebody also adored by the average film viewer.

His latest turn in Darkest Hour is the embodiment of his career. A role he almost literally disappears into, given the fat suit and prosthetics, but one where a full emotional and very human range is on display; resulting in both rave reviews and standing ovations from cinema audiences.

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The character - not the actor

Whatever, or whomever, he is playing, Oldman is a performer who demands the viewer's attention. Someone who has a presence, and power, that goes beyond the eye-catching costumes and make-up.

Crucially, when those things are stripped away, he still commands the screen. Perhaps more importantly still, you never feel as though you are watching Gary Oldman, the actor. You are always, most definitely, watching the character he inhabits.

It would seem almost disrespectful perhaps to describe Oldman as a 'jobbing' actor. And yet, in terms of his prolific work-rate and variety of roles, that is essentially what he is.

The difference, of course, is that Oldman makes an indelible impression with each and every one. And that is ultimately what makes him a genuine great.

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