Gary Oldman is considered one of the greatest actors of all time for a range of reasons too multifaceted to go into, but one of the chief among them is diversity. Over the course of his career, he has avoided typecasting to such an extent beneath the prosthetics you often wouldn’t believe it was him if his name wasn’t on the poster.
Naturally, this diversified role call has exposed him to more genres and directors than most. Thus, he is in a unique position to offer his thoughts on the often loggerheads relationships between actors and directors.
When appearing on SiriusXM’s Opie & Anthony show the star discussed working alongside Luc Besson, who he made Leon: The Professional with, for our money one of the greatest action movies of all time. “Yeah, he likes to tell you things,” he said of Besson’s directorial style. He then discussed how Besson spent the first few days on set tirelessly telling Oldman every detail of his character. “It’s not very actor friendly,” Oldman remarked, “Just let me do my thing.”
He then continued to regale those in the studio with an industry tale of how Harvey Keitel was originally cast as Victor Ziegler before he quit, and the role was passed down to Sydney Pollack. It was Stanley Kubrick’s last film by which point his unique ways of operating had been firmly established, and for Keitel, they evidently proved too much to handle.
“Originally Harvey Keitel was in Eyes Wide Shut,” Oldman began, “He was playing Sydney [Pollack’s role]. He was doing the scene and they were just walking through a door and after the 68th take of this, just walking through a door, Harvey Keitel just said ‘I’m out of here, you’re fucking crazy’. He just said, ‘you’re fucking out of your mind’, and left.”
Kubrick’s style at this stage was to remain very reticent as a director and to wait for the right shot to land itself in the can. In order to achieve this, he ran his sets with an iron fist, famously working with smaller support crews than any other director so that every penny and effort went into what appeared on screen and not extraneous factors, like large catering crews or someone to hold his coffee.
Such extreme focus and such little communication, however, evidently tested some actor’s patience. While Oldman never worked with Kubrick himself, the story gave him a gleaning insight into what it might have been like. “He would just say do it again,” he continued. “I don’t know whether he was looking for something very specific and he wasn’t going to tell you? I mean I love Kubrick’s films, but I don’t know how I would’ve worked with that.”
Famously, on this front, Kubrick once declared that he didn’t know what he was looking for until he saw it. Interestingly, although Oldman declared that he didn’t know how he would work with such direction, he has subsequently worked with David Fincher on Mank – Fincher being another director who is fond of endlessly repeated takes and the result was an Oscar nomination.
You can catch the interview in full, below.