BAFTA presents ‘Life in Pictures: Gary Oldman’

Gary Oldman has a secret. He is all set to star with Colin Firth in a remake of critically acclaimed film of the 1960s but he’s not telling anyone what it is. “I can see my agent at the back shaking his head” joked Oldman as BBC Radio 4 film presenter Francine Stock did her best to coax more information out of him. He never did reveal the mystery, but during his hour or so on stage he did provide the packed audience with a rare insight into the world of a working actor.

Described by his Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) director as Tomas Alfredson as an “acting Swiss army knife”, a dapper and relaxed looking Oldman took us through the cream of his back catalogue.

On one of his most iconic roles, the title character in Francis Ford Coppola’s flawed but fascinating Dracula (1992), Oldman explained it was “…quite a process to get the part, an extraordinary experience, and four weeks of rehearsal at Camp Coppola”.

He had his “run ins” with Coppola during the production and it was clear that they didn’t always get along but he obviously has tremendous respect for the director referring to The Godfather: Part II (1974) as “A masterclass in filmmaking…a piece of art”.

Another film-maker Oldman had a lot to say about was JFK (1991) director Oliver Stone. “He is a masterful filmmaker but he can just be a bit of a bully sometimes. I’ve always thought he’s quite rude, quite nasty to people”. No real surprises, as Stone is renown for his short fuse but it was refreshing for an actor of Oldman’s stature to be so open and honest.

The best anecdote from the making of JFK was that Oliver Stone sent Oldman to “conduct his own investigation” into the case and along the way he got to meet Lee Harvey Oswald’s wife Marie who described her late husband as a “great family man”. It was obvious that this role had sparked an interest in conspiracy theories and Oldman was as his most eloquent and passionate when he digressed to tell the story of Francis Gary Powers’ infamous U-2 spy plane crash.

He discussed his character in True Romance (1993) revealing that he got the idea for Drexel from ” Some kid I heard passing by my trailer on the set of Romeo is Bleeding (1993). “I got him him in to go through the script and basically stole his voice”.

There was also brief reference to his role in The Fifth Element (1997) when he revealed that he played the character of Zorg to pay his debt to Luc Besson. “It was me singing for my supper”, Oldman explained. “Luc had come in and partly financed Nil by Mouth…so of course I owed him”.

The evening swam along and we were treated to clips from his directorial debut Nil by Mouth (2007) and the excellent but rarely seen political thriller The Contender (2000) until we eventually got up bang up to date with his role as George Smiley in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – “I was inspired by a 1940’s Black & White photograph of Graham Greene that Tomas gave me”. He went on to say that he also based some elements of the character on the books author John le Carré.

As the retrospective drew to a close I doubt there wasn’t a person in the room who wasn’t sated and satisfied. Though I must say I had hoped he would have given more time to his role in Leon (1994) and I can’t remember Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy being referred to even once.

All that aside an enjoyable evening was had by all and BAFTA has to be applauded for it’s warm hospitality and fabulous taste in guests. As for Oldman he came across as a true gentleman and I look forward upcoming role as Elvis in Michael Winnick’s Guns, Girls and Gambling (2011).

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Lee Cassanell