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Gary Oldman, Finally An Oscar Nominee, Reflects On His Long Career

Gary Oldman

First Posted: 02/ 7/2012 8:28 am Updated: 02/ 7/2012 8:28 am

Maybe it's to his credit that it took Gary Oldman this long to earn an Oscar nomination. In a career that has spanned 30 years, he's gone punk, donned wizard robes, thrashed around as a Russian terrorist and slipped into the trench coat of a reluctant government spy (just to name a few parts on his resume), playing each role so convincingly that you hardly know he's acting.

It has almost become a tradition: the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences skipping over the unassuming British star as they bestow honors on flashier, more tabloid-ready actors. This year, however, his turn in the big-screen reprisal of the classic novel and BBC miniseries "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" was too hard to ignore. Oldman earned his first Oscar nod for his effort as retired spy George Smiley, a role he says marks a seminal moment in his career.

Oldman spoke with The Huffington Post late last week about the nomination, his career and his future plans.

How did you react when you found out about the nomination?
I was in Berlin, rather fittingly, and I was giving what I thought would be my last interview about "Tinker Tailor," and my manager came in and said I'd been nominated. It wasn't expected, because we were not there at SAG or the Globes, so I wasn't holding my breath, but I thought there was a chance. It's exciting, it's wonderful.

Is it something that mattered to you?
I've never really put myself out there in that regard. I think that with the success of this in England and with the reviews and the box office, I think it gathered a momentum. It wasn't something calculated, at the beginning: "Oh, I'm going to go all the way with this, let's go to the Oscars with this." I think it just gathered momentum, and I was intrigued and thought, well I can either get off the track and or continue and see where this goes. And I'm just determined to just enjoy every minute of it.

You've said that this is the kind of role you've waited 30 years to play. What did you mean by that?
Well, first of all, it's a role that's all subtext, it's all inside, it's all going on but you're not necessarily expressing it. It's an iconic part, it's just a wonderful leading role and it's the sort of role that one, in a career, dreams about. It's a role that will come along once or twice. If you look at any of those great parts, for instance, you take someone like Daniel Day Lewis -- who I think, any way you slice it, is a genius actor. But look at Daniel Plainview (Lewis's character in "There Will Be Blood"). I know he's playing Lincoln and I'm sure there are great expectations for it, but how often do you get a Daniel Plainview?

[Robert] De Niro has some incredible roles, but one does think of Travis Bickle in "Taxi Driver." It's hard to top them. So this kind of role -- and when I say this kind of role, I usually play extrovert characters -- this role is also very quiet, it's subdued, it requires a different kind of thing, it's a minimalist performance in that sense. It's a "please don't ask me to bounce off the walls anymore," you know what I mean? I've been waiting for it.

What role has been the most challenging of all the very different things you've done?
This one was particularly challenging because, above and beyond the role, one had to sort of slay the ghost of [Sir Alec] Guinness [who played the part in the original BBC miniseries]. I'm up against, or compared to, someone who is such a huge success with the part. That was psychologically challenging to kind of get one's head around that.

I think the most challenging in a way and the most fun, looking back, was "JFK." Because there was very little on the page and [director] Oliver [Stone] gave me a bunch of airline tickets and some per diem and a couple of contact names and said, "Go to Dallas, go to New Orleans and find out who this guy was." And I just really pieced him together from there and came back and spoke, which influenced or informed the writing of Oswalt in that movie. You become a detective. So that's challenging, when a director has faith in you and there isn't very much there and you've got to fill in the blanks.

You wrote and directed one film -- 1997's "Nil By Mouth" -- it was a big critical success, and you said at the time you wanted to write and direct more. That was 14 years ago, and you haven't written or directed since. Do you still plan on doing another?
I'm out looking for money for one that I hope to do next year... which I'm not talking about at the moment. But I do intend to. I've just been doing a lot of things, I've been working and bringing up kids and being a dad. They're a little older now and I just felt there is a commitment, an emotional and personal commitment to a film that is beyond an actor. For me, Smiley was ten weeks really, obviously you have the work to do and the press and all that, but essentially it was nine or ten weeks, and Tomas Alfredsson, it was two and a half years. And I feel ready to do that now. The boys are getting older and I hope to step behind the camera next year.

When you read a script, what makes you want to do a film?
It can be many things. It normally is the material and the director. But I can give you a specific example. When I read the script for "Dracula," it had a line in it, he said, "I've crossed oceans of time to find you," I wanted to do the movie for that line. I wanted to say that line to someone. I just thought that was an amazing line, and I thought, Who wouldn't want to say that to someone they loved? And that hooked me.

What is the movie that you feel you're most remembered for?
It's surprising. The one that's normally at the top of the list would be "True Romance"; people also remember "The Professional." I think those are the top two.

You've worked with a lot of young talent recently, who has impressed you the most?
Daniel [Radcliffe] has impressed me enormously, that's an obvious one. Of the younger generation, of the 30-somethings, I like Ryan Gosling and of course, I've worked with Tom Hardy and Benedict Cumberbatch, they've impressed me enormously.

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