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Thursday 4 January 2024

The Many Faces of Gary Oldman

Dear friends. Season three of Slow Horses is over, and we're gutted. Like many, we love watching this classy spy drama to see Gary Oldman as sleazy Jackson Lamb is a master class of acting. 

If you don't have Apple TV, it's worth getting just for Slow Horses  (plus the first series of The Breakfast Show). 

Someone on X captured exactly why Oldman is so good.  He becomes every character he plays: you don't see Gary.  That's not true of many actors, including some of the most lauded.

Slow Horses boss Will Smith told Digital Spy that Oldman is a properly transformational actor. Jackson Lamb looks worse every season and Smith explained why. "He's leaning into the grunge of the character. He loves that. He loves the grime and he's got no vanity about playing him. 

"He'll be topless, washing in the sink with whatever squirt he can get from the Fairy Liquid bottle. That's just the joy, he just embraces the character and inhabits it and that's his genius."

A Fan for Many Years

I've been a fan of Gary Oldman for many years and have seen him in many roles including: Sid Vicious, Dracula, Sirius Black in Harry Potter, pimp and drug dealer Drexl Spivey in True Romance, Beethoven in Immortal Beloved, playwright Joe Orton in Prick Up Your Ears, and George Smiley in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. 

Recent admirers of Oldman are always agog when I tell them he's been married 5 times and his wives have included Lesley Manville and Uma Thurman. He was also engaged to Isabella Rossellini. 

His sister Laila Morse, 78,  (born Maureen Oldman) is well known to watchers of EastEnders as Mo Harris. The siblings are said to be close, despite a 13 year age gap, and have shared holidays together. 

Working Class v Public School Actors

In the UK actors are mostly classified by their background. Were they privately educated, like Damian Lewis, Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie, Eddie Redmayne and Dominic West, or did they grow up in a working class family?  

It's said that it is easier for privately educated actors to win places at prestigious drama schools such as RADA, and to get their pick of acting roles. 

Working class actors, like Oldman, Sean Bean and Christopher Eccleston, had more of a battle.  

Gary Oldman, 65,  grew up in the New Cross area of London, the son of a former sailor who worked as a welder, and his wife Kathleen.  His father, an alcoholic, left the family when Oldman was about seven. 

Oldman attended West Greenwich School in Deptford, leaving at the age of 16 to work in a sports shop. He studied with the Young People's Theatre in Greenwich during the mid-1970s, while working jobs on assembly lines, as a porter in an operating theatre, selling shoes and beheading pigs in an abattoir.

He applied unsuccessfully to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), which encouraged him to try again the following year, but advised him to find something else to do for a living.

Undeterred, Oldman won a scholarship to attend the Rose Bruford College in Sidcup, south-east London, from which he graduated with a BA in Acting in 1979. 

Oldman has worked with the Royal Court and has been a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. He won an Oscar in 2018 for his memorable portrayal of Churchill in Darkest Hour. 

Below: some of the many faces of Gary Oldman. Top left: Sirius Black in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004). Bottom right: as Sid Vicious in Sid and Nancy, 1986; centre with his second wife Uma Thurman; far right, as Zorg in The Fifth Element, 1997;  centre bottom, as Drexl Spivey in True Romance, 1993, and bottom right, as Ludwig Beethoven in Immortal Beloved, 1994. 

Inspired by Oldman 

Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Shia LaBeouf, Ben Mendelsohn, Johnny Depp, Jason Isaacs, and Michael Fassbender have cited Oldman as an influence.  Bale called him "the reason I'm acting". 

Brad Pitt said: "When I started out, my Gods, so to speak, were Gary Oldman, Sean Penn and Mickey Rourke and so it's a real honour for me to be sitting at the same table and mentioned in the same way with these fine actors." 

Keanu Reeves said: "He's one of the brightest lights, one of the sharpest edges. The guy is a master." 

Dame Kristin Scott Thomas, who stars with Oldman in Slow Horses, also acted with him in Darkest Hour and said:  "He’s the most amazing, generous actor. For a start, you don’t really know you’re working with Gary Oldman. It was Winston Churchill opposite me."

Are you a fan of Slow Horses? Had you appreciated Gary Oldman as an actor before this latest series?

Do tell in the comments. 


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