Alex Cox’s famous 1986 biopic about the Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious has become a true cult classic. Starring the immensely talented Gary Oldman as Sid Vicious, the film chronicles the music legend’s chaotic and destructive relationship with his girlfriend Nancy Spungen, which led to tragic consequences. It is a document of the landscape of punk, with all its excesses and flaws.
“We actually didn’t do much in the way of rehearsal prior to filming,” Cox recalled. “We had a table reading of the script and then usually we’d rehearse as soon as we got to the set and take it from there. For the cast, [the greatest challenge] was to recreate their characters vividly and credibly, and for the crew it was to facilitate and record it, on a daily basis.”
He also reflected on the evolution of punk within the context of modernity, claiming that “punk now is a fashion thing rather than a social movement. But it was very inspirational, and you can detect its energy in the Occupy movement, in good art, in many forms resistance to corporate domination. Will there be a second wave of punk-like rebellion? I don’t know. Anything is possible.”
Although Daniel Day-Lewis was initially set to play the iconic role of Sid Vicious, Cox changed his mind after witnessing the magic of Gary Oldman’s acting during a 1984 production of Edward Bond’s The Pope’s Wedding. Despite the fact that Oldman turned down the role twice, he ultimately accepted it due to the filmmaker’s persistence. Oldman explained: “I wasn’t really that interested in Sid Vicious and the punk movement. I’d never followed it. It wasn’t something that interested me.”
He described the script as “banal,” claiming that he “was a little bit sort-of with my nose in the air and sort-of thinking ‘well the theatre – so much more superior’ and all of that.” However, Oldman came around after he learnt of his significant potential income and the advice of his agent. In order to take on the role, Oldman exclusively ate “steamed fish and lots of melon” in order to look emaciated.
Due to his methodical and demanding approach, Oldman ended up in the hospital. The actor later denounced his performance by saying: “I don’t think I played Sid Vicious very well”, but his rendition of Sid Vicious continues to remain firmly embedded in the frameworks of popular culture.