Whether playing a punk rocker, an assassin, a war vet, or a ghoul, Gary Oldman has consistently amazed viewers with his ability to completely disappear into his roles. Though capable of portraying almost any type of character, Oldman has put his stamp on those of the twisted villain/morally ambiguous weirdo variety, earning renown for his interpretations of the darker side of human nature.
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Born Leonard Gary Oldman in New Cross, South London, on March 21, 1958, Oldman was raised by his mother and two sisters after his father, an alcoholic welder, left them when Oldman was seven. Nine years later, Oldman left high school to work in a sporting goods store; in his spare time, he studied literature and later acting under the tutelage of Roger Williams. He went on to act with the Greenwich Young People's Theatre and, after attending drama school on a scholarship, worked with the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow. Oldman next worked in London's West End, where, in 1985, he won a Best Actor and a Best Newcomer award for his performance in The Pope's Wedding. By this time, he had made his film debut in Remembrance (1982) and had appeared in two television movies, notably Honest, Decent and True (1985).
Oldman got his first big break when he was cast as Sid Vicious in Sid and Nancy (1986), Alex Cox's disturbing docudrama account of the punk rocker's tragic relationship with Nancy Spungen. Oldman's unnervingly accurate portrayal of the doomed rocker won rave reviews and effectively propelled him out of complete obscurity. The following year, he turned in a completely different but equally superb performance as famed playwright Joe Orton in Stephen Frears' Prick Up Your Ears and earned a Best Actor nomination from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts for his work. After moving to the U.S. that same year, Oldman appeared in Nicolas Roeg's Track 29 (1988), and in 1990, he had one of his most memorable -- to say nothing of cultish -- roles as Rosencrantz opposite Tim Roth as Guildenstern in Tom Stoppard's brilliant Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.
Oldman's first American role in a major Hollywood film was that of alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald in Oliver Stone's JFK (1991). He then gave a creepy, erotic performance in the title role of Francis Ford Coppola's rendition of Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992), a lavish film that proved to be the most commercially successful (next to JFK) of Oldman's career to date. In addition to playing such eccentrics as Drexl Spivey, a white pimp with dreadlocks who tries to prove himself a black Rastafarian in True Romance (1993), Oldman went on to play more conventional characters, as evidenced by his straightforward portrayal of a crooked cop in Luc Besson's The Professional (1994), his performance as Beethoven in Immortal Beloved (1994), and his role as Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale in the disastrous 1995 adaptation The Scarlet Letter.
In 1997, Oldman made his directorial bow with Nil by Mouth, a bleak, semi-autobiographical drama about a dysfunctional blue-collar London family that Oldman dedicated to his late father. The film proved to be a controversial hit at that year's Cannes Festival, and the first-time director won a number of international awards and a new dose of respect for his work. He subsequently returned to acting with Luc Besson's The Fifth Element that same year, made while he took a break from editing Nil by Mouth. He also gave an enduringly cheesy portrayal of the sinister Russian terrorist bent on wresting world domination from American president Harrison Ford in the blockbuster Air Force One (1997) and followed that up by playing yet another villain in the 1998 feature-film version of the classic TV series Lost in Space.
Two years later, the veteran actor was earning accolades on screens big and small with both his critically acclaimed performance in Rod Lurie's Oscar-nominated political drama The Contender, and his Emmy-nominated guest appearance in the popular TV sitcom Friends. Meanwhile, after escaping the clutches of the silver screen's most notorious cannibal in Ridley Scott's Hannibal (2001), Oldman joined the casts of not one but two of the most successful film franchises of the 2000s: The Harry Potter Series and Christopher Nolan's brooding Batman saga. As benevolent wizard Sirius Black in the former, he helped Hogwarts' most famous student battle the forces of evil, and as Lt. Jim Gordon in the later, he aided The Dark Knight in defeating some of Gotham's most powerful supervillains. And while he wasn't performing exorcisms in The Unborn or searching unlimited power in The Book of Eli, Oldman was showing his versatility by voicing characters in such popular video games as The Legend of Spyro: A New Beginning and Call of Duty: Black Ops. In 2011, as if to remind audiences that he could still be a compelling lead in addition to a strong supporting player, Oldman tackled the role of veteran MI6 spy George Smiley -- who comes out of retirement to sniff out a Russian mole in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. A highly stylized take on the classic John le Carre novel, the film not only drew rave reviews from critics, but also an Academy Award-nomination for Oldman. Oldman wrapped up his work in Harry Potter the same year, with a cameo in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2 and Nolan's Batman trilogy finished the following year with The Dark Knight Rises. In 2014, he appeared in the remake of RoboCop, followed by a major role in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. ~ Sandra Brennan, Rovi