Film: BFI London Film Festival Guide


Interview with Gary Oldman

South Londoner Gary Oldman is celebrating 35 years on screen in 2014 with a lead role in the latest version of RoboCop...

South Londoner Gary Oldman, who currently lives in Los Angeles with wife Alexandra Edenborough, is celebrating 35 years on screen in 2014 with a lead role in the latest version of the RoboCop franchise.

Having worked for many of the world’s most renowned filmmakers - Francis Ford Coppola, Christopher Nolan, Ridley Scott, Oliver Stone, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Zemeckis included - London-born actor and director Gary Oldman is most certainly Hollywood royalty. Bolstering this tag are figures from The Hollywood Reporter that place him top of the list of the highest grossing actors of all time – with films he has either acted in or directed generating some $3.7bn in the United States and $9.3bn worldwide (by the end of 2013).

“I wish I had a cut,” laughs the 55-year-old, who was born in New Cross on March 21, 1958. “It's by accident, but I have this little race with Sam Jackson. He overtook me for a while, I overtook him… it goes on like that.”

Enabling him to consolidate his place at the top of this film Premier League will be his starring role alongside Joel Kinnaman in MGM’s remake of Paul Verhoeven’s classic sci-fi movie RoboCop – which is due for release on February 7 in the UK. It is the fourth instalment of the franchise, which began back in 1987 with Peter Weller playing Officer Alex Murphy/RoboCop, Nancy Allen cast as Officer Anne Lewis and Ronny Cox taking the role of Robert ‘Dick’ Jones.

Oldman himself will play RoboCop inventor Doctor Dennett Norton in this latest version of the film series. Both he and Kinnaman, who takes the role of Alex Murphy/RoboCop, are excited about the similarities the new movie shares with the original.

“I remember when the first one came out,” Oldman continues, “and watching it back, it's actually better than I remembered it - it's got some very interesting things in it. What Jose wanted to do was take those ideas from the first one and expand on them, and to do that, he had to just smash it to pieces. It's not a remake, it's not a reboot - it's what (Christopher) Nolan did with Batman. He just wiped the slate clean, went way back to the original, and then gave you the world. Sort of reinvented it.”

RoboCop is not the first time Oldman has been part of a major movie franchise. Younger readers especially will remember him for his role as Sirius Black in the Harry Potter series – the character appearing in Prisoner of Azkaban, Goblet of Fire, Order of the Phoenix and Deathly Hallows – Part 2. Sirius initially seems to be a bad character, with an interest in dark arts, but has gone from a villain to a hero come Deathly Hallows. RoboCop is a similarly intriguing character.

“It's sort of a Frankenstein story in a way,” says Oldman, attempting to define the title character. “What he doesn't have, is choice. And we don't allow any. I mean, he gets injured and then he wakes up, he's a robot. And in the movie, he says, I want you to turn me off. And I argue that with him. This is not a happy ending, there's never going to be a happy ending; he's not a normal man.”

RoboCop’s release comes in Gary Oldman’s 35th year working in film. Inspired by Malcolm McDowell’s performance in the 1970 classic The Raging Moon, the actor studied with the Young People’s Theatre in Greenwich and the Rose Bruford College of Speech and Drama in Sidcup, Kent, obtaining a BA in Acting from the latter in 1979. He was the first in his class to receive professional work as actor and has also gone on to direct BAFTA award-winning film Nil by Mouth, voted 21st in a list of the top 100 British films ever by Time Out magazine.

“I’m trying to do some directing at the moment,” Oldman laments. “It’s not easy though. You have so much and then you need to make a film. Studios now, they have a model, and their model is a certain amount of money. And then you can't shoot anything here in the UK because it's too expensive. So you have to travel and they are either shooting it in South Africa or they are shooting it in Canada or they are shooting it in New Orleans, and they want a little tax subsidy from here and they get a kickback from there and they want this and they want that. That's how they are making movies.”

Surely this isn’t an early death knell for the vast array of films shot in the capital of late?

“I think if you’re using London as a backdrop then you’ll carry on using London as a backdrop – you can’t really get around that. It’s for those movies that don’t require the Thames or the Houses of Parliament or the backstreets of west London or Hampstead Heath.

“But directors will always use London because it is iconic, wonderful and so recognisable. It has so many variations and alternatives, brimming with life and personality. It’s a wonderful platform that instantly takes a production into a new realm. So they will never not stop coming here.”

RoboCop is in cinemas from 7th February.