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.
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.
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.
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 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).
Actor, director, screenwriter, producer, sporting goods store clerk
Sometimes Credited As:
Leonard Gary Oldman
BAFTA Alexander Korda Award for Outstanding British Film "Nil By Mouth" 1997
BAFTA Award Best Original Screenplay "Nil By Mouth" 1997
CableACE Award Actor in a Dramatic Series "Fallen Angels: Dead End for Delia" 1993
Evening Standard Award Most Promising Film Newcomer "Sid and Nancy" 1986
London Critics' Circle Award Best Actor "The Pope's Wedding" 1985
Time Out Magazine's Fringe Award Best Newcomer "The Pope's Wedding" 1985 - 1986
2007 Reprised the role of Sirius Black in "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," adapted from the fifth book in the fantasy series
2005 Cast as Lieutenant James Gordon, a detective on the Gotham police force in "Batman Begins," directed by Christopher Nolan
2005 Reprised role of Sirius Black in "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," adapted from the fourth book in the fantasy series by J.K. Rowling and directed by Mike Newell
2004 Cast as escaped prisoner Sirius Black in "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban"
2001 Had starring role in the Sundance-screened "Nobody's Baby", playing a drifter who threatens his buddy's newfound happiness
2001 Co-starred with Anthony Hopkins and Julianne Moore in "Hannibal"; took no screen credit for role of Mason Verger; film directed by Ridley Scott
2001 Made guest appearance on season finale of "Friends" (NBC), playing an alcoholic actor; received Emmy nomination
2000 Made rare television appearance as Pontius Pilate in the CBS biblical miniseries "Jesus"
2000 Executive produced and co-starred as a conservative US Senator challenging the appointment of a woman to the office of vice president in "The Contender", written and directed by Rod Lurie
1998 Played Dr. Smith in the screen version of "Lost in Space"
1998 Served as executive producer of "Plunkett and Macleane", directed by Jake Scott
1998 Provided the voice for Ruber in the animated "The Quest for Camelot"
1997 Offered a scenery-chewing romp as the villain in "The Fifth Element", directed by Besson
1997 Continued in the evil vein as the leader of a terrorist band that hijacks the presidential plane in "Air Force One"
1997 Feature film directorial debut, "Nil by Mouth"; also scripted and served as one of the producers along with partner Douglas Urbanski and Luc Besson
1996 Cast as art representative Albert Milo in "Basquiat"
1995 Reunited with Kevin Bacon in "Murder in the First"; played the sadistic warden to Bacon's prison in this based-on-fact drama about a former inmate of Alcatraz whose lawyer argued his imprisonment ther
1994 Cast as a crooked cop in "Romeo Is Bleeding"
1994 Initial teaming with Luc Besson, portraying a murderous DEA agent hunting down a missing 12-year-old, in "The Professional/Leon"
1994 Cast as Ludwig von Beethoven in the romance "Immortal Beloved", which purports to identify the composer's great love
1994 After completing the filming of "The Scarlett Letter" (1995), checked into a rehabilitation clinic for treatment of alcoholism
1993 Delivered a mesmerizing and remarkable turn as a dreadlocked drug dealer in "True Romance", Tony Scott's film version of the Quentin Tarantino script
1992 First US TV appearance in "Heading Home", a 1991 British TV-movie rebroadcast on A&E;
1992 Gave a memorable interpretation of the titular bloodsucker in "Bram Stoker's Dracula", directed by Francis Ford Coppola
1991 Teamed with Tim Roth as the title characters in the film version of Tom Stoppard's play "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead"
1991 Offered an eerie portrayal of the alleged presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald in "JFK", the controversial Oliver Stone-directed film about the events of November 22, 1963
1990 Portrayed a Southern man erroneously incarcerated in a mental institution in "Chattahoochee"
1989 American film debut portraying a slick attorney matching wits with a psychopath (Kevin Bacon) in "Criminal Law"
1988 Reteamed with director Colin Gregg on "We Think the World of You"; played a young married man who is the object of a crush of an older gay man (Alan Bates)
1987 Offered a fine turn as playwright Joe Orton in the biopic "Prick Up Your Ears"
1986 First feature starring role as punk rock singer Sid Vicious in "Sid and Nancy"
1985 Came to prominence under the guidance of Max Stafford-Clark, (artistic director of the Royal Court Theatre); made London stage debut in Edward Bond's "The Pope's Wedding"
1983 Had a brief part as a skinhead in the BBC drama "Meantime", directed by Mike Leigh
1981 Film acting debut, "Remembrance", directed by Colin Gregg
1980 Joined Citizen's Theatre in Glasgow, Scotland and appeared in "Massacre at Paris", "Chinchilla," "Desperado Corner", "A Waste of Time"; also toured Europe and South America with company
1974 Left school at age 16 and worked as a clerk in a sporting goods store
Acted in productions at the Theatre Royal in York, England