Gary Oldman is one of a group of British actors known as the ‘Brit Pack,’ who began to make their mark in Hollywood in the 1980s. Other now famous actors in this group included Colin Firth, Daniel Day-Lewis and Tim Roth. Born Gary Leonard Oldman in the New Cross section of London on March 21, 1958, Oldman relocated to the United States in the 1990s.
Acting was not Oldman’s first choice as a profession. He was already enjoying success as a singer and a pianist while still a child. He credits actor Malcolm McDowell with inspiring him to give up music for acting. After seeing McDowell in the 1970 film “The Raging Moon,” Oldman, decided that acting, not music, was what he wanted to do.
Oldman attended The Rose Bruford College on a scholarship and graduated in 1979 with a B.A. in Theater. He had originally hoped to attend the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, but was rejected for admission. It was even suggested that he find a different line of work. Despite this dismal dismissal of his acting talents, Gary Oldman went on to work in theater after graduation, specifically in the Greenwich Young People’s Theater, and from 1985 to 1986, he was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. He received Time Out’s Fringe Award for Best Newcomer of 1985-1986 and the British Theater Association’s Drama Magazine Award as Best Actor for 1985.
Gary Oldman made his first starring rold film debut in “Sid and Nancy” in 1986, playing Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols. Oldman’s portrayal earned him the Evening Standard Film Award as Best Newcomer. Two years later, he received a nomination for Best Actor from the British Academy of Film and TV Arts for his role in another biographical film, portraying 1960s playwright “Joe Orton.” These biographical roles set a standard for Oldman’s later work in films such “JFK “(1991), in which he played the role of Lee Harvey Oswald, and “Immortal Beloved” (1994), in which he appeared as composer Ludwig van Beethoven.
Critics of his work have attributed much of Oldman’s success to his almost uncanny ability to completely submerge himself in his roles. Indeed, it seems as almost that a sort of possession, if not obsession, takes over when Oldman dons makeup and costume. Oldman doesn’t see himself or his acting this way, however. “Any actor who tells you that they have become the people they play, unless they’re clearly diagnosed as a schizophrenic, is [conning] you.” In discussing his title role in Francis Ford Coppola directed “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” Oldman had this to offer, “I guess what I’m trying to say is, it’s not Dracula crying, it’s Gary Oldman, but using the technique of the character. The emotion is mine, because I don’t know what it’s like to be undead and live 300 years.”
Whatever the technique, Oldman has achieved a reputation as “an actor’s actor.” Many other successful actors admit their admiration and even credit Gary Oldman with being a major influence in their own acting careers. Brad Pitt called Oldman his “acting god.” Others whose work has been influenced include Johnny Depp and Christian Bale.
Since 2000, Gary Oldman has added to his body of work with movies such as “The Dark Knight,” “Batman Begins,” “The Unborn,” “Hannibal,” “A Christmas Carol” and “The Book of Eli,” as well as a recurring role in the Harry Potter films.
In his personal life, Oldman describes himself as an “isolationist,” and avoids the limelight of Hollywood. “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,” he said. He has been described as intensely private and remarked that being a Hollywood celebrity was another whole job itself, one that he didn’t have the energy for.
Unfortunately, much of the actor’s personal life has been marred by a struggle with alcohol. Oldman’s father was an alcoholic who was often abusive and abandoned his wife and children when Oldman was only seven years old. During the early 1990s, Oldman developed a reputation for being a hell-raiser and bad boy. His drinking resulted in a charge for drunk-driving that ended with 89 hours of house arrest and an alarm bracelet.
He checked himself into rehab in 1993, and today is a teetotaler. He credits AA with saving his life and said this about alcoholicism, “There’s an uncanny thing that chemically happens to you when you’re in the chronic stages of alcoholic drinking. I have been able, on occasions, to have two bottles of vodka and still be up talking to people. That got very frightening. By nature I’m an isolationalist, so my boozing was at home, thank you. I was not a goer-outer. I mean, I didn’t drink for the taste and I didn’t want to be social. Someone once described alcoholics as egomaniacs with low self-esteem. Perfect definition.”
Gary Oldman has been married four times. Former spouses include: Lesley Manville (1987 to 1990) divorced, one son, Alfie; Uma Thurman (1990-1992) divorced; Donya Fiorentino (1997 to 2001) divorced, two sons, Gulliver Flynn and Charlie John.
He is currently married to Alexandra Edenborough and resides in Los Angeles.