The Firm (1988)
The Role: Clive ‘Bex’ Bissel
Why It’s The Best: This TV movie from Alan Clarke features a stunning turn from Oldman as ‘Bexy’, a football hooligan who revels in the chaos of unsporting behaviour.
The fact that the film’s been simultaneously condemned and celebrated for its unflinching depictions of violence speaks for Clarke’s layered, fearless approach to the topic, not to mention Oldman’s similarly fearless approach to his character.
Iconic Moment: “How can I put this?” ponders Bexy. “I can’t.” He lets the headbutting do the talking for him . Killer.
Gary Says: “At first I think [ Alan ] was very shy of meeting me because I had started to, as it were, happen in movies and obviously you bring a baggage to something. You bring history.
“But he met me through… my agent bullied him. And we met and I read for him. There’s sometimes, it’s strange, there’s sometimes a sort of reputation that precedes you, where people have a very fixed idea of who you are and what you are like.
“But we hit it off. And that’s it, you know, he gave me the part. I went back a couple of times I think. I think he saw me once or twice… more than twice, to make up his mind.”
The Dark Knight (2008)
The Role: Jim Gordon
Why It’s The Best: It sees Oldman playing a straight-laced upstanding member of society, which by virtue of being played by Oldman makes for a fascinating interpretation of commissioner Jim Gordon – an integral but usually stuffy cut-out from the Batman comics.
Iconic Moment: Captured by Aaron Eckhart’s demented Two Face, Gordon pleads for his family’s life...
Gary Says: “It is nice to play someone who’s really the moral centre of the piece, someone who’s strong and has got great backbone and character, and is virtuous and honest and incorruptible, and all these things that I think Jim Gordon is.
“All those qualities make him fun to play - versus some of those other wacky or strange people I’ve played in the past. This is a conscious decision just to turn the ship around and do other things."
Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban (2004)
The Role: Sirius Black
Why It’s The Best: Though Oldman’s the first to admit that he took the part of Harry Potter’s shamed godfather Sirius Black in order to pay the bills, there’s no denying that he’s perfect casting, bringing an edge to the series of book adaps that had been absent before his entrance.
Iconic Moment: Free from Azkaban but now a hunted man, Sirius bids Harry an emotional goodbye before flying off on the back of hippogriff Buckbeak.
Gary Says: “I’m playing him as a bad guy and then you make that twist. It’s a bit like playing Shakespeare. Shakespeare doesn’t really write subtext, you play the subtext. You do it all in the line, I’ve not embellished it with a whole lot of psychology.
“It’s a certain technique to playing it, a certain style. I appear, you think I’m the bad guy and through the course of the scene you realise, ‘Oh, he’s not that.’
“But when you see me, I have an energy and intensity and the audience, not being familiar with the book, would still think that I‘m actually after Harry Potter and that I’m presumably in cahoots with Voldemort. I guess what I am saying is you play him as a good guy but he has been wrongfully accused and imprisoned.”
Immortal Beloved (1994)
The Role: Ludwig van Beethoven
Why It’s The Best: If ever there was a better filmic chameleon than Oldman, we’ve yet to find one. Immersing himself fully into the role of the German composer, Oldman is here damn near unrecognisable.
The fact that he remains silent for the first 20 minutes of the film while simultaneously emoting for England is a small triumph in itself. Plus, proving his dedication to his art, Oldman practiced playing the piano five hours a day so that he could match the tinklings of pianist Murray Perahia.
Iconic Moment: As the music soars, Beethoven remembers the pains of his childhood .
Gary Says: “Beethoven was all about artistic control. He was like the Orson Welles and John Cassavetes of the music world. He wrote with passion. He wrote about feelings and emotions and he wrote what he wanted to write.
“Most of the work from that period was commissioned, because that's how you earned your money. It's hard to believe that most of what Mozart wrote were gigs!
“You listen to ‘The Requiem’, and you can't believe that it was a commission! That he just sort of wrote it. But Beethoven wrote what he wanted to write.”
The Role: Stansfield
Why It’s The Best: Oldman shows that he can bring gravitas and a dangerous energy to just about any character he plays, shrugging into the boots of corrupt DEA agent Stansfield.
That scene in which Oldman interrogates Michael Badalucco? The sniffing and invasion of his personal space was dreamed up by Oldman on the spot, meaning that the expression of unease on Badalucco’s face is genuine.
Iconic Moment: Off his face on illicit substances, Stansfield leads a bloody, devastating killing spree during the film’s breathless opening. Plus that line, “Death is... whimsical today.”
Gary Says: “I was dating a girl at the time who had been a girlfriend of Luc [ Besson ]’s. He came to town and we met and he said, ‘I have something for you, I think.’ He gave me the script and that was it.
“He tells you how to move, how to speak, where to stand. He tried that with me [laughs], not always with the greatest success. You have to be open to ideas, and it's okay if someone has a better idea than you. You can't nest and be so closed off. You act and direct with an open hand. It's about collaboration.
“There's one vision, ultimately. I am there to serve the director's vision, and I respect that. I'm not just going to stamp my foot and demand my own way. I'm going to go with the flow.”
Romeo Is Bleeding (1993)
The Role: Jack Grimaldi
Why It’s The Best: Oldman’s proficiency with accents comes to the fore as he perfectly narrates this film noir.
It’s just one reason this is up there as one of his best ever roles, Oldman running the gamut of emotions as a(nother) corrupt cop who does favours for the Mafia.
Iconic Moment: Jack gets on the wrong side of the mob, and has one of his toes cut off...
Gary Says: “I've got a scene where I'm weeping, and my wife is leaving because obviously I've fucked up. And I say to her, ‘I love you, I adore you, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry...’
“And the day I get to do that, I've got to go to a place that ain't too good, you know? And I think, ‘Am I going to make two pictures a year - and do this for the rest of my life?’”
True Romance (1993)
The Role: Drexl Spivey
Why It’s The Best: Oldman dreamed up Drexl’s facial scars himself, imagining the character to be a white man who grew up convinced he was Jamaican. It’s a blinding performance that sets the bar high for the rest of Tony Scott’s action extravaganza.
Trivia hounds might find it interesting that Oldman based his character on actor Willi One Blood, who he went on to co-star with in Leon .
Iconic Moment: Oldman and Slater have a breathless exchange before things get seriously violent...
Gary Says: “People remember that and the ‘eggplant’ scene, which was really like a short, wasn't it? It's like a one act play in itself. Very well-written. One of the few films I've made where you just shot what was there because the script was so good.”
The Role: Count Dracula / Vlad III Draculea
Why It’s The Best: Because Oldman gets to let loose in a seriously sumptuous gothic re-telling of Bram Stoker’s tome. Even if the movie wasn’t critically lauded, Oldman’s performance near makes the whole thing.
From the youthful, long-tressed Knight to the frightful abomination that he transforms into, Oldman’s a magnetic presence from credits to close.
Iconic Moment: Discovering his beloved has killed herself, Draculea swears vengeance on the church he’s been fighting for and drinks blood from a bleeding cross. Oldman delivers the whole thing in Russian, no less.
Gary Says: “[ It was ] wonderful. A lot of rehearsal. We had four weeks of rehearsal. Coppola gives you room, gives you space, leaves you alone, really. It comes back to that thing of casting well and knowing when not to say something. Knowing when not to step in.
“Even though what an actor's doing might not be exactly your take on it, or you're not sure where they're going with it, you can't stifle the creative process. You have to let it breathe, then maybe later, come in and say, ‘Well, you're going off a bit there’ or ‘Why don't you think about this?’”
Sid And Nancy (1986)
The Role: Sid Vicious
Why It’s The Best: It’s an early high point in Oldman’s varied career that showed just what the young actor was made of.
Playing the part of an icon known and beloved by many comes with its own demands and risks, but Oldman more than rises to the challenge, completely transforming into the troubled punk bassist.
Iconic Moment: Oldman does his own rendition of ‘My Way’. Frankly, it’s fantastic – might even be better than Sid’s original version...
Gary Says: “If there's anything I learned from Sid, it was not to do heroin. I was able to speak with his mother, who was very helpful.
“That locket I wear in the film was actually his. She loaned it to me. I believe she committed suicide later. It was wonderful meeting her. It was sort of like being able to play John Cassavetes and having access to Gena Rowlands!”
The Role: Coxy
Why It’s The Best: Oldman’s first big role, and his first time co-starring with Tim Roth. He plays oddball skinhead Coxy with the very energetic charisma that he’ll become famous for.
It almost went very wrong, as well – in one scene, Roth threw a bottle of milk that hit a fluorescent light, and Oldman was rushed to hospital with a rash after the chemicals rained down on him.
Iconic Moment: “I’m alwight, you alwight?” Coxy deliberately drawls at a black man as they both wait for the lift - which then leads to a seriously uncomfortable lift trip.
Gary Says: “Meantime is one of Mike Leigh's best films. A lot of people are fans of Prick Up Your Ears and they say, ‘Why don't you do something like that?’ You go, ‘Because it was written by Alan Bennett, directed by Stephen Frears! You don't get that every year!’"
Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (1990)
The Role: Rosencrantz
Why It’s The Best: It gives Oldman a chance to play the fool, quite literally. As the mentally-challenged Rosencrantz, he’s a blitz of brilliant comedy timing and pitch perfect line delivery. Crucially, he's also hysterical.
Iconic Moment: The titular duo play a game of question tennis, each winning a point if the other fails to answer a question with a question...
Gary Says: “They’re both innocents in a way, but there’s something sympathetic and charming about Rosencrantz. To say he’s dumb, he’s not stupid.
“There’s the leader and the led. Albert, Costello. Laurel, Hardy. Guildenstern fancies himself a little as an intellectual, and Rosencrantz is just a little slower.
“But he has this other thing that’s genius, and he’s inventing things. And he has the speech about the birth and death, that great speech. I just wanted to say those words.”