VANITY FAIR(may 1987)
|VANITY FAIR(may 1987)|
|Article|| On a gloomy afternoon in West London in 1985.Gary Oldman realized
he had gone too far.He had spent the day as he had spent so many recent days,pondering the blasted soul of Sid Vicious,the dead bass player of the Sex Pistols_listening to tapes of Sid talking;stomping around in the sort of squat,unyielding boots Sid sed to wear,Oldman was intent on becoming Sid Vicious,whom he's been hired to play in Alex Cox's movie Sid and Nancy;filming was to start in two days.But now he had to leave Sid behinf for two hours,to drive into town for his performance that evening in the Royal Shakespeare Company production of Edward Bond's the "war plays".And suddenly just getting into the car seemed unreasonably taxing.He barely had the energy to slip the key into the ignition.When he tried to turn the car around,to point it in the right direction-reverse,forward,reverse,forward again_somehow it was all too much.Gripping the steering wheel,Gary Oldman began to weep.When his girlfriend,the actress Lesley Manville,found him there,he was still weeping.He couldn't stop.
"He was going mad really"Lesley recalls"i had been telling he couldn't go on like this".To prepare for Sid and Nancy,gary has starved himself,he had dwindled from 150 pounds to 115"i became anorexic"he admits,his eye-brows leaping,his voice earnest,melodic,and burred"i was obsessed with being really,really,really skinny?I thought,this is the visual image I want to present,i want this before I do anything else"Oldman is what theater directors call a "metamorphosic actor" unlike a John Wayne or a Clint Eastwood,he doesn't play variations on himself over and over again.He is in the more contemporary mold of Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman(two of his heroes) actors who change their hair,their walk,even the very structure of their body to create new characters.To play Sid Vicious,Oldman took bass-guitar lessons(not to learn to play_vicious was notorious for his musical ineptitude_ so much as to learn how to hold the thing),wore Vicious-style leathers,interviewed drug users"you have to see what the eyes do, and where it hits first,how it hits the back of the neck and then the back of the legs"and he starved"i didn't drink.I didn't have dressing on my salad,i just ate raw vegetables-just steamed fish and a bit of lettuce.And at the same time,i was doing this play every night.The chemicals in my head were rearranging;i had no sugar in my body whatsoever"after the incident in the car,Lesley called a doctor, and Oldman was hospitalized;the starting date for Sid and Nancy was pushed back a week"the doctor said"eat a mars bar"Gary remembers,"so i had a bar of chocolate and i went speeding,it was like taking some kind of drug.And my body started to react again.The irony is that to play Sid i finally had to gain weight.."
Oldman's Sid Vicious proved to be among the most remarkable screen portraits of recent years.Here was the compleat modern misfit:the very air appeared to poison him;his every step looked treacherous and hard won;merely balancing his head atop his neck seemed beyond his meager skills.Yes beneath an anarchy as much physiological as psychological.Oldman unearthed something touching and vulnerable;more astonishing still,he conveyed Sid's eerie magnetism-the unmistakable luminescence of a star.
As splendid as it was,however,nothing in Oldman's portrayal of sid vicious could prepare us for his marvelous recreation of the murdered playwright Joe Orton(who wrote Loot and what the butler saw)in the new stephen frears movie,prick up your ears.With this performance_a heady mixture of charm,cruelty and self-love_oldman confirms wha
t those who have been watching him in British television and theater have long suspected:that is the most brilliant actor of his generation.Moreover,his emergence coincides with a new breakthrough in british film and theater,a vigorous efflorescence that we in american are only beginning to detect[...]
To play Orton,Oldman has adopted the "lazy upper lip".Lahr describes in his biography and he's concocted a strutting,heavy-lidded come on_head lolling back,chest puffed out-that reminds one of a batman Mae West;it's half promise,half effrontery,he also traces the most minute variations_in the way Orton tells a joke,for instance.[...]
Oldman is a born mimic;when he wants to dazzle you,he'll riff you through a gallery of perfectly tuned American accents_New York,Texas,Deep south,California_all in a way that rips past the cliched bray or drawl to the characterization underneath"it's both easy and very challenging to work with him"says Alfred Molina,the british tv and theater actor who plays Halliwell in prick up your ears,"because you find yourself so into what's he's doing that you forget about what you're doing.Seeing him is like having a really close friend and then suddenly discovering that this friend has the most amazing secrets,and he's saying,come this way,i'll show you what i'm really like.That's what he does for audience;he opens where you didn't know there were doors.."
Born and Raised in New Cross,in dismal South London,Oldman might easily have had a rougher upbringing than he did,his father,a hard-drinking welder,left his mother and two considerably older sisters for another woman when Oldman was seven.truen his sisters both married (and divorced)small-time gangsters;true as Gary says"it wasn't a broken home,it was a shattered home".But it seems Oldman was the spitting image of his father,for whom his mother carried a torch until the day,two years ago,when he died.And so says Lesley"Gary was spoiled,you can tell he's been looked after"Oldman's career may have been inevitable:coddled by three devoted women(the younger of his two sisters was twelve years older than he)he grew up in a warm bath of applause.One suspects he harbored the baroque fantasy life of a young sultan on the loose in the palace gardens.He took up painting,boxing and classical piano,"but in a way i was only playacting at these things,i was researching ,the way i'd research a part"And then he saw Malcom Mcdowell in the "raging moon" and in "if..." and he knew what he wanted" i wanted to be Malcolm,the antihero,iwas so angry about how bad my education was i wanted to turn a machine gun on the headmaster and sit on the roof like Malcolm and just kill them,and that's why i still like to play these outsiders these people who are always very fucked up"
Oldman isnt at all,nor is he one of the english glamour boys,swanning from soir�e to soir�e in the grand Rupert Everett manner.Oldman is a workhorse and one gathers a bit of a homebody.Soft-spoken and mannerly,he might easily mistaken for any other middle class,Saab-driving yup if it weren't for something arresting in the way he looks,something rebellious in the energy he emits.When I meet him in his brand-new house in well-off MOrtlake,in west London,he's sporting a muzzy scruff of beard, and his hair is lank and floppy.The house which he shares with Lesly is a modest two-story affair,with a little lawn in front and a scrap of yard in back, and at the moment it's a chaos of unpacked boxes.A shiny new bidet sits incongruously in the middle of the dining room;four canaries warble in a cage;the whole place smells like last night's beer"would you like coffee,tea,champagne?"he asks;champagne is a sunday tradition with him.Later,around four,breakfast is served,lesley carts in eggs,fish,ham,potatoes,fat rashers of bacon.
She is a slender and blonde,with crisp features,a peaches-and-cream complexion and an air of roseate,indelible britishness.They met in 1984 when they were both about to star in edward's Bond's "the pope's wedding" at the
royal court theatre"talent is an aphrodisiac" lesley says"and if you spot it in somebody else,you are attracted.We both work the same way;we're both interested in not playing how we are or what we look like"they also share two powerful formative influences:Max Stafford-clark the director of the royal court theatre and the mercurial Mike Leigh,who makes films for britain's channel four television;both use the sort of method-based approaches on which Gary and Lesley thrive"max stafford-clark and mike leigh will say something to you like,what wallpaper does your character remember having in the bedroom as a child?what was your character doing christmas eve 1962?everything is worked out but nothing is written out.It should be in your memory in your head,like your life is in your head"Lesley leaves the room,and gary suddenly pounces from his chair,crouching on his haunches in front of me.The grooves in his forehead lurching,he whispers"to play Joe Orton,you just think about cock a lot.Honestly i went off sex;lesly and i didn't make love and Fred(molina) went through the same thing with his wife,and we both become very camp,it's fun for eight weeks to be a gay man,we were like these two screaming queens by the end.And that's all the method,it's all Stanislavsky"[.......]
Even so,no matter what the part,Gary oldman is always certain that he can't do it"he gets panicked about every role he plays" Lesley confirms,"and that means that there has to be somebody,either the director or me who says"Gary that's stupid you must do this part"i mean he was like that when sid came along and Joe he just think he's not clever enough"
"He's like a racehorse that's never lost a race."adds Stafford-Clark"he knows that he has this gift for impersonation,and his excitement and pleasure in doing it are something the audience can feel,but he's also getting more insecure every week"All of which Oldman admits"the whole springboard for the work I do is fear"he says."once I get over that I'm fine but I can't just pick anything up and say"ah that's easy I can really do that"
What"s scares him so much? as he answers,one suddenly hears the tiny voice of the cloistered New Cross laddie,caught at the piano pretending he's Horowitz"i'm a phony"squeaks Gary"one day someone's gonna come along and say"Gary' you're not any good at all,you are sussed"
To which one can only reply:not bloody likely..
Vanity Fair:may 1987