Did you know that, in addition to being the largest art museum in the western United States, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) is also a great place to catch a movie? It’s okay if you didn’t, because I only found this out for myself this past Friday after spending nearly six hours in its comfortable 600-seat Bing Theater. It was here, where I took in two wonderful films- State of Grace, The Contender- and listened to the phenomenally talented Gary Oldman.
Oldman reflected upon his illustrious 30-plus-year career and talked about his first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his portrayal of George Smiley in director Tomas Aldredson’s film adaptation of the novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, by John le Carre.
Often referred to as an “actor’s actor”, Oldman has portrayed a wide variety of characters on film, each seemingly more different than the last. When asked about how he manages to create a different voice for each of the characters he plays, he said, “I listen for the sounds. Accents and the way people speak has a music in it, so I try to find the specific notes of each dialect.” For the role of Smiley, he found it necessary to work with a voice coach, joking, “I’ve lived in America so long that I had to go to a Jewish New Yorker in order to get help with my British.”
Oldman shared that he doesn’t “chase” roles, but that “they find me”. He did admit that he lobbied for one role after hearing that Ridley Scott, director of Hannibal, had yet to cast Mason Verger, the only surviving victim of Hannibal Lecter. So following a phone call to Scott and a conversation which ended with Ridley saying, “my people will call your people”, he landed the role.
It was interesting to hear that the role of Sex Pistols ill-fated bassist Sid Vicious in the 1986 film Sid and Nancy, for which he is widely recognized and is said to have launched Oldman’s career, almost never happened. “I thought it was banal. I read the script and thought, ‘Who cares about this?’ At that time I was a soul man- James Brown. I never listened to punk so I passed on it and then it came back.” He also stated that he turned down the role of Ludwig van Beethoven in Immortal Beloved three times before finally relenting, “After the third time it came back, I thought, ‘Hey, c’mon. There must be some reason for me to do this.’ So I did”.
I’m sure most would agree that his most recent role might prove to be his best decision yet if he walks away with the Oscar on February 26th.
This was part of the Film Independent at LACMA Film Series, a year-round, weekly program that offers unique cinematic experiences for the LA creative community and the general public. For more information about upcoming events and to watch video of this entertaining Q&A moderated by Elvis Mitchell, visit Film Independent.