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Gary Oldman in Mank. (Credit: Netflix)

Film

Six Definitive Films: The ultimate beginner’s guide to Gary Oldman

@Russellisation

“I enjoy playing characters where the silence is loud.” – Gary Oldman

Regarded as a member of the ‘Brit Pack’, a name given to a group of respected upcoming British actors in the late 1980s, Gary Oldman was named beside the likes of Colin Firth, Tim Roth, Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul McGann as one of the most exciting future talents. Whilst Roth and Firth have both excelled in the craft, arguably Oldman has become the highest-profile star, having worked with some of the industry’s biggest names throughout his impressive career.

A talented character actor, Oldman is known for transporting the viewer with a performance that makes you analyse the screen and question ‘is that really Gary Oldman?’.

Speaking to Daily Actor about his style back in 2017, the actor stated, “I have a relatively good ear and can do a few impressions of people. I don’t study them, but I think what happens with an impressionist is that they’re looking at one particular source…I try to completely surround myself with the assignment”.

Having enjoyed 40 years of success in the industry, Oldman can boast to have worked with such iconic filmmakers as Mike Leigh, Francis Ford Coppola, Luc Besson, David Fincher, Christopher Nolan and many more, often being the top-billed as part of a great ensemble cast. Starring in spectacular blockbusters and smaller independent dramas, let’s take a look back at Gary Oldman’s six definitive films.

Gary Oldman’s six definitive films:

Meantime (Mike Leigh, 1983)

Helping to kickstart several careers, the release of Meantime in 1983 helped to elevate the profile of filmmaker Mike Leigh, as well as catapult the stars of Tim Roth and Gary Oldman into the industry. Following the story of two brothers trying to make it by in 1980s East-end London, Oldman plays Coxy, an impulsive, arrogant friend of the brothers who produce several issues in Leigh’s plodding social drama.

Illustrating the very first time Oldman took on a character that was far from his own personality, the actor morphs into the role of Coxy and delivers a truly unhinged performance.

Sid and Nancy (Alex Cox, 1986)

Dabbling in television with the series Morgan’s Boy and Summer Season, Oldman’s next break came in the release of Sid and Nancy by Alex Cox where the actor would once again have the chance to flex his character muscles by taking on the real-life personality of Sid Vicious. Despite confessing that he “I wasn’t really that interested in Sid Vicious and the punk movement,” in an interview with Terry Gross on NPR in 1998, Oldman’s performance helped him considerably to rise up the ranks of the industry.

As a high-profile film about the much-loved singer of the Sex Pistols, Oldman’s wild role in the film that he dedicates himself to both physically and mentally, would lead to bigger and better things. 

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (Francis Ford Coppola, 1992)

In the 1970s there was no bigger name in Hollywood than Francis Ford Coppola, with the director having produced such classics as The Godfather, Apocalypse Now and The Conversation all in the space of a decade. So when Coppola came calling on Oldman to play the titular role of the world’s most famous vampire in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the actor bit his hand off. 

Having worked his way up to this significant point, featuring in State of Grace with Sean Penn in 1990 and JFK directed by Oliver Stone in 1991, his appearance as the pale-faced Dracula remains one of his most memorable. 

Léon: The Professional (Luc Besson, 1994)

Now working among the biggest names of Hollywood, Gary Oldman was enjoying newfound fame, appearing in the Quentin Tarantino penned movie True Romance in 1993 before featuring in Léon: The Professional by Luc Besson in 1994. Playing a twisted Drug Enforcement Administration agent, Oldman’s character has become one of his most memorable, particularly as the film played host to one of Natalie Portman’s first-ever films. 

Creepy, unsettling and truly malevolent, Oldman’s character helps fuel Besson’s memorable thriller, shortly before he would help the director again in 1997 with the sci-fi epic Fifth Element.

Batman Begins (Christopher Nolan, 2005)

Staying among the favourites of the industry well into the 21st century, Oldman took on roles in Air Force One, Hannibal and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban before he joined Christopher Nolan’s new superhero vision. Playing commissioner Gordon, a key character in the story of the caped crusader, the actor helped to brandish his mark on the iconic role, becoming a staple of the series alongside Christian Bale, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine.

Making an appearance in The Dark Knight in 2008 and The Dark Knight Rises in 2012, Oldman became a fan-favourite of Nolan’s iconic superhero trilogy. 

Mank (David Fincher, 2020)

Between the final film in the Batman trilogy and his appearance in David Fincher’s Mank, Oldman had been praised with much industry success. As well as celebrated roles in such films as Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the actor, more importantly, scooped his first Academy Award for Best Leading Actor in 2017 for his depiction of Winston Churchill in The Darkest Hour

Though an impressive performance, Oldman’s portrayal in the role seemed almost engineered for him to win the award, whilst three years later his more nuanced portrayal of Herman J. Mankiewicz in David Fincher’s Mank was far better. Nominated for the same award without being able to take the statuette home, Oldman showed a very different type of performance in Fincher’s Netflix movie, showing that he didn’t need several layers of prosthetics to pull off an iconic character performance.