The charismatic Englishman, Gary Oldman, has been hailed for his versatility as an actor. One doesn’t have to look far in his collective film history to find his incredible talent awe-inspiring. His life’s work in film has been a cinephile’s anthology of eclectic characters painted on the open canvas that is Oldman. Diving headfirst into his undeniably compelling breakout role in ’86 as the heroin-addicted punk rock star, Sid Vicious, in the starkly realistic film, Sid and Nancy, the actor simply hasn’t stopped shocking his adoring fans since.
From playing a heroin addict to a gay playwright in the follow-up film, Prick Up Your Ears, both roles earned Oldman great praise. His ability to adapt to such diverse roles with simplicity only continued: as the spot-on Lee Harvey Oswald in JFK, a seductive vampire in Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stroker’s Dracula, a cocaine-dealing pimp in True Romance, Ludwig van Beethoven in Immortal Beloved, a very sexy pastor in The Scarlet Letter, a psychotic megalomaniac in The Fifth Element, a jaw-dropping performance as a corrupt drug-snorting DEA agent in The Professional…the list goes on.
Oldman does outrageous characters so well, it’s almost bizarre to see him as the dependable Sergeant-turned-Commissioner James Gordon in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Then, of course, we can’t forget his role as Sirius Black in the Harry Potter franchise. After over two decades of acclaimed work, Oldman earned his first Oscar nomination for his role in the 2011 remake of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy—a serious mistake on their part.
We sat down with Oldman to discuss his role in the movie, Criminal, working with Costner and Jones some two decades after JFK.
STRIPLV: How have you described the film, Criminal, to audiences?
OLDMAN: It’s fast-paced. It’s got a lot of action in it. The center of it, this idea of memory transplant, if you will, is something that we haven’t seen before, and it makes it quite unusual and unique.
STRIPLV: Your character takes the memories of his deceased CIA agent and implants them in a convicted felon’s (Costner’s) mind. What are your character’s motives?
OLDMAN: Well, one of my operatives has certain information that we need to sort of capture our man who has fallen into his hands, and been brutally tortured and dies, and he holds the key. He holds the secret. And we are approached with this new science, this new technology that can transport a memory from one person to another, which I’m told is not so implausible. At least they have managed to do this quite successfully with lab mice and rats. Those poor mice and rats. So it’s not quite as sci-fi as it appears. But of course, you have to be a certain type for this process to work. And it’s something to do with some damage to the frontal lobe or… and of course, the perfect candidate for this is someone that my character absolutely loathes and despises and wouldn’t give the time of day to. But he’s a bit of a bully anyway. He’s quite a terrible boss to work for, so I guess it’s a little bit of karma that comes around, where he has to work with this character, Jericho. And that really, in itself, was part of what attracted me to the project, because it was a thriller, and this dynamic I’ve not seen before. It was quite unique.
STRIPLV: As a CIA agent, your character is very precise and logical. How did it feel to play this role against Costner’s unpredictable and dangerous Jericho?
OLDMAN: That’s the fun of it, that you’ve got this person who is, as you say, precise and methodical, who meets chaos, and gains in the end, really, a degree of respect for this guy—to the point where there’s even a possibility of a job offer. Kevin plays this sociopath, psychopath, this sort of brutal convict. But we see glimmers of maybe the boy in him, perhaps a glimmer of the good in him. We see obviously the nasty side of him, the very violent side of him. And then in and amongst that we see the personality that Ryan Reynolds plays. We see those memories that flash through with his wife and his kid. So Kevin Costner makes it look very easy, but he really pulls it off. It’s not as easy as it looks, the way that he sort of switches between the sort of violent Jericho, the softer Jericho, and the memories of…really the other personality, which is in the memory. I think he does a great job.
STRIPLV: What attracted you to the script?
OLDMAN: One of the reasons I wanted to do it was that I was intrigued by the material. I met Ariel, and said, “Look, you’ve got this hurdle, which is thing brain transplant thing. I mean, how are you gonna pull it off? Because if you don’t—if that doesn’t work, then the audience are not gonna go on the ride with you. It’s everything. It’s the showstopper.” He had such a great take on it, such confidence, energy and charm, that it won me over. I thought: ‘This guy knows what kind of movie he’s making.’ Kevin was already involved, so I knew that Kevin was on board. And it was one of the reasons why, that, with the enthusiasm of Ariel and the opportunity of working with Kevin again, and Tommy Lee, from reuniting from the JFK days. Kevin is a very hard worker. He’s very meticulous and thorough. He’s very present, working on this film and he wanted it to be the best it can be. And that’s infectious. It’s contagious—not just for other actors, but for the crew and the whole team sort of working on it. So he’s very gun-ho. He comes in with great energy and ready to work. And I like that. I respect that. I’ve worked with some people who, they’re lazy, or they don’t know their lines. So he’s very professional in that sense. And it was great to sort of see him. And you know what? It was (snaps his fingers) like that! It was like we had done JFK yesterday!