Gary Oldman meets Martin Amis
from The Face Interview
By Jim McClellan (© 1992 The Face)
The next morning I take a cab up to Oldman's house in the hills of Benedict Canyon. He's renting it off the actor who used to play Lieutenant Kowalski in the old TV show Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea. It's got big windows, big plants and a small pool. It's comfortable, not flashy.
Oldman says he likes it for the very un-Californian very-all leafy woods, not a freeway in sight. Oldman hasn't brought much to the place apart from a few shelves of books and the odd painting. He takes me into the study to show off his latest acquisition, a Toulouse-Lautrec. "Not bad, eh?" he smiles. Apparently he has a Rembrant and a Renoir stashed somewhere.
It's the first time I've seen him without his make-up. He still cuts an odd figure against the Californian elegance of his house. His hairline's been shaved back and a few weeks of the rubber mask have given his face an adolescent blotchiness. He's shirtless, still wearing the tracksuit bottom from last night. When he gets cold, he pulls on a black MAI flying jacket. While he paces around the kitchen, brewing tea and hunting (without success) for some breakfast, I look out the window and see a pair of jeans in the pool (it's his washing, blown there by an overnight storm).
Oldman looks tired, like he needs his Christmas break, but he still seems buzzing with energy. He talks about meeting Martin Amis in Zagreb, Croatia. Amis came up to him and went, "Hello Bexy." He knew all Bexy's lines better than Oldman. A few years ago Oldman was cast as John Self in a planned film version of Amis' novel Money (the producers are still looking for finance). Before they parted company in Zagreb, Amis asked whether he wouldn't also like to try his hand at playing Keith Talent, the slob grotesque at the center of London Fields.
Mention of Bexy sets him off on the sources for the character, from routines he picked up from kids on the street to his psychopathic gangster brother-in-law. He hasn't totally left the lads behind. He talks about putting all the things he's observed into a movie one day. He's already spoken to a screenwriter about his childhood memories of his brother-in-law. "One day, I'd love to direct that cockney movie, do it properly, get all those lads in there, all those boys."
Dutifully, he runs through the list of future projects he's got planned. His next film after Dracula will probably be The Saints, the story of the artist Modigliani, which which he hopes to do this summer in Paris with Phil Jouanou. He may work with with Sean Penn on his second directorial effort She's Delovely (an old John Cassavetes script). He may even have a stab at directing the film version of David Mamet's play Edmund. His mood seems much lighter.
He smiles ruefully about last night. "I don't know, I was painting a pretty bleak picture of it all. I'm pretty exhausted right now. That has something to do with it." The thing is, he actually feels he's beginning to learn the trick of balancing acting and life, of borrowing from what he calls 'the pain bag", using it in the work without it bleeding over into his real life. "And I have to learn how to do it. I've got responsibilities. I have a three-year-old kid, I'm not 21 any more. I've got to fucking grow up."
Is that one reason why he's most prepared to talk about his personal life and his past more that most actors? "Maybe," he sighs. "There are things I won't tell you. But I can only really talk about the work so much. So maybe I am being candid. But I'm not being overly dramatic, like, 'When I was a kid, sob, sob, I had such a hard life. 'But it shapes you, all that. In a sense, when I talk about it, I'm talking about work."
Perhaps one answer to the question of why Oldman generates such energy and intensity, why, out of his generation of British actors, he's the one who has taken America, has something to do with this. A brilliant mimic and an intelligent, committed researcher, he's technically accomplished the way British actors often are. But he also has an American willingness to pour his own life into the parts he plays, whatever the consequences. Before I go, he tells me about the last time someone recognized him on the street. He insist that he isn't famous, that it hardly ever happens. Typically it wasn't an autograph hunter. It was a student actor who wanted to know how to act like Oldman. He didn't have time to talk properly. "But what I wanted to say was 'Be me', like have my life in a sense. That's what I work with. Just use your life, because, really, it's all you've got."
Copyright The Face, februari 1992.