Criticised for bigoted remarks, Gary Oldman returns in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes | South China Morning Post
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Criticised for bigoted remarks, Gary Oldman returns in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Gary Oldman has had as many hits as misses. So where does Dawn of the Planet of the Apes figure on his career trajectory?

 

Gary Oldman is talking candidly about his career. "It's good at the moment," he says. "It feels like it's on a little pendulum, and it's on the upswing." With recurring roles in both the Harry Potter franchise (as Sirius Black) and Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy (as lawman Jim Gordon), the 56-year-old Londoner's past few years on screen have certainly been vibrant.

He was even finally rewarded with a long overdue best actor Oscar nomination for his sublime turn as George Smiley in the 2011 film adaptation of John Le Carré's espionage tale Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

Yet as Oldman discovered recently, pendulums can swing downwards just as swiftly. An interview published in the July/August issue of Playboy magazine in the US led to outrage as he defended fellow stars Mel Gibson and Alec Baldwin for their controversial remarks about Jewish and gay people.

"We've all said those things," he told the reporter. "It's the hypocrisy of it that drives me crazy." In the same article, the actor attacked everything from the Golden Globes to reality television and the idea that if you didn't vote for this year's slavery Oscar-winner 12 Years a Slave, you were a racist.

If it was meant as a swipe against political correctness, it was a miscalculated move that backfired. Aware that he came off "like a bigot", Oldman wrote a letter to the Anti-Defamation League, beginning what has been dubbed an "apology tour" as he showed remorse on the US television chat-show circuit.

"Words have meaning. They carry weight. And they carry on long after you said them," he told Jimmy Kimmel, teary-eyed and regret palpable in his voice. "I'm a public figure. I should be an example and an inspiration."

We actually speak before this incident occurred. He's charming, humble and far removed from the rent-a-rant he turned in for Playboy. The conversation ranges from Oliver Stone (with whom he made JFK, delivering one of his most chameleonic turns as Lee Harvey Oswald) to David Bowie; Oldman appeared in his video for the comeback song The Next Day.

He's delighted too with his work thus far this year: a major part in the recent remake of RoboCop and now Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the sequel to the 2011 movie starring James Franco - which itself was a prequel to the 1968 Planet of the Apes film starring Charlton Heston. Directed by Matt Reeves, the "wonderful young talent" behind Cloverfield, Oldman is bubbling with enthusiasm.

"I know this sounds so slushy, but it was a great time," he says, sincerely. "Really. I had two experiences, back to back, that were really great, with great creative people." Set a decade on from the Franco-starring Rise of the Planet of the Apes, this film sets out to further show how the simians evolved into walking, talking beasts.

Oldman had the chance to appear in an Apes film once before, when he "flirted" with Tim Burton's 2001 flop "re-imagining" of the 1968 original. "I brushed shoulders with that one, it didn't work out. That would've been dressing up in the ape costume."

Now the suits are a little more sophisticated - motion-capture uniforms worn by actors that allow computers to record expressions and movement and digitally render them in ape-form. Oldman, though, left that to Andy Serkis, who reprises his role from Rise of the Planet of the Apes as Caesar, the intelligent leader of the apes.

With the human population decimated by the 'simian flu' virus that ravaged the world in the previous film, Oldman plays one of the survivors, Dreyfus, a former law-enforcer embittered by the demise of his family.

"He's experienced a great loss, personally, and there's only one answer for him and that's to wipe the apes out," he says.

Oldman built his reputation on playing "frenetic and high-octane people": a manic cop in Léon: The Professional (1994), a Russian terrorist in Air Force One (1997) and Ludwig van Beethoven in Immortal Beloved (1994).

"You can engineer and steer a career to some extent, but you are at the mercy of the industry and what they're making, and you're at the mercy of the imagination or the people that are casting you," he says. "You can get into a bit of a rut. You can get stereotyped." Thankfully, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes continues his move away from such hyper-stylised characters.

Like Dreyfus, Oldman is a family man, with two teenage boys - 16-year-old Gulliver and 15- year-old Charlie from his third marriage, to Donya Fiorentino - in his care. (He also has a child, Alfie, from his first marriage to Lesley Manville.) The actor sounds like the responsible parent, fretting over which of his films to show them.

"There are things that I do in some movies that I don't really want them to see me doing. Like taking drugs and killing people and slapping women around." He showed them State of Grace, the film where he met second wife, Uma Thurman, but largely he's holding his old movies back until "they're 17, 18".

Now wed to 36-year-old British jazz singer Alexandra Edenborough, and with in-laws in the UK, he regularly returns to the country where he grew up. "I don't really feel a disconnect [with England]," he says, despite having lived in the US for almost 25 years.

Born in New Cross, in southeast London, Oldman ploughed his own past into his directorial debut, 1997's Bafta-winning Nil by Mouth - a dysfunctional family drama that, in some ways, recalled his own father, Leonard, a former sailor and welder, who left when Oldman was seven.

While both he and his father suffered from alcohol-related problems in the past, Oldman has been teetotal for years. Far removed from the wild lifestyle he enjoyed when he first moved to Hollywood - when he left Lesley Manville three months after Alfie was born - he calmed down when he became a father again.

"I wanted to really make a decision. Am I going to be a dad who's always away, or am I going to be a dad who's around?" he says. Now his younger sons have almost grown up, he wants to return to directing, some 17 years after Nil by Mouth. Written by Oldman, Flying Horse is a film about photographic pioneer Eadweard Muybridge. "I love photography - it's sort of a hobby of mine," he says.

He's spent more than three years on the script but is still searching for financing, despite gathering a cast together that includes Ralph Fiennes and his Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy co-star Benedict Cumberbatch. "I think it's a good script, and a good story. It'll happen," he says. As long as Hollywood forgives his recent indiscretions, that is.

 

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes opens on July 17

 

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