Gary Oldman: “There’s always room for a white Jamaican pimp. No matter who you are, everyone should do it at least once”

Once best known for villainous roles in films like Leon: The Professional, Air Force One, and The Fifth Element, Gary Oldman has more recently become recognized for his “good guy” supporting roles in Christopher Nolan’s Batman films and the Harry Potter series. 

Oldman continues his transformation into heroic roles in Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy as MI6 spy George Smiley, and, in an interview with The Daily Beast, Oldman talks about how his career has followed a unique trajectory.

Oldman’s gradual turn to less villainous roles mostly came from the desire to do something different with his villainous career path.  He explains, “I just got tired of being the villain, or the go-to guy when you wanted someone who was an extrovert or an eccentric. There’s a villain role that came in for me recently, and I just said, ‘This is how much I want.’ [Laugh]  You have to pay me this much to even get me at the table, because I’m more expensive if I play a villain!”

Yes even though Oldman has taken on more heroic roles, he still maintains his reputation of never acting in the same way twice.  Although he does this by looking for what he calls, “the key to open the door to a character,” the process can be difficult.  For example, for his role as Irish mobster Jackie Flannery in the 1990 film State of Grace, Oldman confesses, “I found real trouble finding that character. I went to a costume fitting at literally 5 to midnight and we were starting shooting in two days, and I didn’t have the character. I put on this leather jacket, and I had this long hair, and I flicked my hair. But I didn’t flick it sideways. I flicked it up. And I got him! I thought, ‘That’s it. This is the guy.’”  Similarly, Oldman tried literally dozens of pairs of spectacles before shooting on Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy began (only locating the “right” pair four days before filming began) and gained fifteen pounds in order to better portray the retired spy properly.  Nonetheless, Oldman found choosing the correct voice the most difficult aspect.  Oldman finally settled on borrowing the voice of the author of the novel the film is based on, John le Carré.  “I stole a little of his vocal inflection.  I began with an impersonation and then moved further away from it. When I met John, that was quite late on too, and I thought, ‘Yeah, that’s him.’ [Laughs] We always hope finding the character is going to happen, and sometimes it hasn’t. Then, as we say in England, ‘You’re all over the place like a madwoman’s piss!’

Well, being across the Atlantic I can’t say I exactly know what all this talk of a madwoman’s piss is all about, but Oldman does offer one last bit of additional advice to actors wishing to follow in his creative footsteps.  Referring to perhaps his most offbeat role — Drexl Spivey in True Romance — Oldman says, “There’s always room for a white Jamaican pimp. No matter who you are, everyone should do it at least once.”

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is now playing in limited release.

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