Oldman Relishes New Take on Heroic Gordon Role in ‘Dark Knight’
by Paul Fischer
Film Monthly Home
Short Takes (Archived)
Small Screen Monthly
Behind the Scenes
New on DVD
Books on Film
What's Hot at the Movies This Week
Los Angeles-based Brit Gary Oldman balances single fatherhood with a perpetually busy movie career, but as he confided to Paul Fischer, the usually publicity-shy actor admits that acting is no longer his priority, though he did love revisiting Lt. Gordon in The Dark Knight.
Paul Fischer: When you read the script to Dark Knight, how surprised were you that they had given Gordon such an arc?
Gary Oldman: Well, I was, I don’t know if I was surprised, but I was just, very happy. And then, when Chris [Nolan] called and said, because, there was talk, there was rumors, it may happen, it might not, it might happen it might not, and then it happened very quickly—it seemed to happen very quickly. It’s like, they’re making the second one and it starts in two months and they’ve already been prepping it, and it was all done a bit stealth, I think, when it started. And he called me, and he said, I loved what you did in the first one, and knowing what you can do—because I kind of carried that, that emotional, he’s like at the center of it, all this chaos is going on.
PF: He’s the moral center.
GO: He is the very moral center of it. He’s absolutely, when you talk about a good guy, they don’t talk better than Jim Gordon. Incorruptible, virtuous, strong, heroic, but understated. So I was thrilled, and Chris said, “I’d love for you to come back and do it, there’s more to do, and I think you’ll have a great time.”
PF: What are the challenges of playing such a good guy? What do you do to make a good guy interesting, as an actor?
GO: You know, that’s a hard one, I don’t really know. I mean a lot of it is in, a lot of it is already there in the script and I come in and just interpret it. There are roles that you do, that you know when you’re working too hard for it. And you go, I’m working much harder than I really need to. Because the writing isn’t holding you up. That arc that you talked about is so sort of perfectly structured, that it’s a great map. It’s like a road that you get on, and then you go, I just really need to follow the road. Chris has built the road. I don’t know what you do. It was just a case of really interpreting what was there. With a bad guy, you know, often you can take it places. I mean, the challenge of it is that, you’re a little more restrained. You’re reigned in. And you’ve got Batman to one side of you and the Joker to the other side. Doing all this sort of stuff. And they get all the fireworks. So you have to be content with playing the vase. That’s the best way I can put it. They are the flowers and you are the vase.
PF: In this movie, you are also a centerpiece in a way.
GO: And the centerpiece, but you’ve got to just be very clean and what I call on-the-line acting—you have to just do it all on the line. You can’t give it too much subtext and get clever with it. You have to get out of the way of yourself, that’s the best way I can describe it. When you’re playing a good guy, don’t be too clever with it.
PF: Do you need to be a comic-book fan to be a fan of this?
GO: No. I don’t particularly—I have no, outside of these movies, I don’t have a great deal of interest in Batman.
PF: Did you deliberately avoid reading the comic books?
GO: No, I don’t like comic books. I wouldn’t know what to do with one, you know what I mean? I’d be bored after five minutes.
PF: What attracts you to doing a big movie like this? Your range of film is extreme, really, you go from one end to the other. What’s the fun of doing a big movie like this, to you?
GO: Well, you feel—when you do a movie like this, you feel the money. And I don’t mean your bank account.
PF: No, no, the money that’s been spent on the production.
GO: Yeah. There’s more time, there’s more days. You don’t feel there’s a certain panic on the set with a smaller production, because in the old days, they used to make movies in 50, 60 days, and that’s just a normal thing to make a movie. Now they want to make them in fucking 19 days, it’s a joke. You’re basically making the schedule. You’re not making the movie, you’re making the day. We gotta do this, we gotta do this, we gotta get this done, we gotta get this done. You got one take. So actually the process is just dull. I’d rather be at home.
PF: Do you miss directing?
PF: Are you going to do it again?
GO: I’m going to do it again. I’ve been bringing up two kids.
PF: Really? How have you been able to do it. I looked at your filmography, and according to my information, you have five movies coming out.
PF: Let me see how many of these are true—you never believe it. The Unborn.
GO: Yeah. Right.
PF: You play a rabbi in that.
GO: I play a rabbi.
PF: I can see that.
GO: [laughs] But you know, it was a three-week gig. It was twelve days work. Name another one.
PF: Planet 51.
GO: Voiceover. Took me a morning.
PF: A Christmas Carol.
GO: Four days. With Bob Zemeckis.
PF: Who are you in Christmas Carol?
GO: Jacob Marley, Tiny Tim, and Bob Cratchit.
PF: You have to completely change your entire persona for all three? Is that tough? How did you find doing all that green screen?
GO: This is all different, it’s a whole body capture, performance capture thing. It was interesting, it was interesting but they do, and I’m in the trench on the floor and then the eyelines are all up when I’m Tiny Tim. And then I’m floating around on the thing as Jacob Marley. I had a gas. But it was in, out. So we got 12 days on The Unborn, a morning’s work on Planet 51—
GO: Yeah, Rainfall, 10 days. I’m the head of the CIA substation out in Tokyo.
PF: That’s a purely foreign film?
GO: It’s a Japanese-language movie.
PF: But you’re doing it in English. You’re the American.
GO: Guy, yeah. I’m the American guy.
PF: And Legend of Spyro?
GO: Legend of Spyro, it’s a video game. Yeah, I do the voice, so these don’t take me very long and the rest of the time I’ve not been doing anything, I’ve crammed them all in.
PF: How old are your kids?
GO: Nine and 11, nearly.
PF: So obviously it’s more important for you to spend time with your family than to.
GO: Yeah. My circumstances have been a little extreme. I’m a single dad, so they live with me, so I’ve been bringing ‘em up.
PF: How is that?
GO: It’s challenging, but wonderful.
PF: Do they go to public school or private school?
GO: Private school. So I’ve been busy doing that, really. So this whole thing of Harry Potter and Batman has been perfect for me. Because you have the time off, I can spend seven or eight months at home with the kids, and then I go away. So when we did the first Batman, that was shot, more than half of it was shot in London, the first one. I did 21 round trips from London to L.A. I’d shoot for one day, I’d get out the car, walked into a building, flew home, spent four days at home, come back, work three days, fly back, spend a weekend at home, fly back into London, do five days, come back for two weeks, come for a day, go back. And that’s how I sort of did it.
PF: Do you miss England?
GO: There’s things I miss. Yeah.
PF: If they offered you an English movie to do, would you?
GO: Yeah, it depends—depends what it is. When things come in. you know, I read most things.
PF: What are your criteria these days for selecting a project?
GO: Location. I mean, I would like something that shoots here, or in America. Rather than something that shoots too far away, or even too far away in America, really, even if it was on the East Coast, you know, it’s further to get home. Utah’s closer. Vegas is closer. Chicago is doable.
PF: That’s like a three and a half hour flight.
GO: Yeah, so Chicago is kind of, you don’t feel so far away from the kids, and you don’t feel that you’re on the other side of the world.
PF: Do they accompany you?
GO: Sometimes they do, yeah, but so, but where the industry shifted and it moved to, you know, where Europe, Prague and Hungary and all those places were doubling, they’ve been doubling for Virginia. Czechoslovakia was suddenly doubling for the South or something. I didn’t do any of those. Just turned it down. “Where’s it shoot?” “Prague.” “Pass.” “Do you want to look at the role?” “No, don’t care.” “They’re paying this.” “Don’t care. Don’t care.” “But it’s a great part.” “Who cares? Too far away.” And the great thing about Chris is that he’s so prepped and he knows exactly what he’s doing—you’re home for dinner and you put the kids to bed. I love that. There’s none of this 16, 15, 17 hours days. And like, the schedule’s changed, you were working Thursday but now it’s Wednesday, or now it’s next week, and they’re a day behind or they’re two weeks behind. You get none of that. He’s [snap, snap]. It’s impressive. And you start work on it, and you may have a break of a couple months let’s say, and you come back it’s Day 147 and he still looks as fresh as the day it started. I go, “How are you?” Good. “How’s it going?” “Good, got some great stuff. Heath’s great. Yeah, flipped a truck the other night. Yeah, so.” He doesn’t look any different! He doesn’t look tired! And I go, “How are you?” And he goes, “I’m pretty good.” It’s an amazing experience working on these films.
PF: Do you still have that boyish enthusiasm for acting as you once did?
GO: No! [laughs] No.
PF: That answers that. Obviously, you’re taking a break now, right? You’re not signed up for anything.
GO: Yeah, I’m around. We’re doing this for a bit.
PF: I know publicity is your favorite thing.
GO: They’re good people, and it’s a great film and it’s nice to promote something that’s good, and also Warners, I’m like part of the family now. It’s been, with—
PF: With Harry Potter and this.
GO: So I mean, I’ll come out for these guys.
Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.
Got a problem? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org