Vicious Facts About Gary Oldman, The Hollywood Shapeshifter

September 21, 2023 | Christine Tran

Vicious Facts About Gary Oldman, The Hollywood Shapeshifter

Gary Oldman is an English actor who is best remembered for his dark roles in franchises like Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy and the Harry Potter films. From his roots in working-class London to his Shakespearean rise and controversial off-screen politics, the morally complicated shadow of Oldman’s biography has followed him into his personal life. Love him or hate him, enjoy these 41 provocative facts about Gary Oldman.

1. I Come from Trouble Waters

Gary Oldman was born to a London sailor-turned-welder and his wife on March 21, 1958. It was stormy sailing during Oldman’s childhood. His father was an alcoholic who abandoned the family when Oldman was only seven years old.


2. Top Scores of a Different Kind

At the age of 16, Oldman dropped out of school. Why? To pursue career opportunities in a sports shop.

Gary Oldman FactsGetty Images

3. Every Song Comes to An End

Oldman’s entertainment roots are actually in music. As a child, he was a musical pianist and even a singer. These lyrical ambitions were later dropped to focus on acting.

Heartbreaking Relationship Issues factsPixabay

4. An Angry Inspiration

Oldman cites Malcolm McDowell’s performance in The Raging Moon (1971) as his primordial inspiration to become an actor. To quote Oldman, “Something about Malcolm just arrested me, and I was connected, and I said ‘I wanna do that.’”

Gary Oldman FactsGetty Images

5. Having a Ball With the Landlady

While raising her son in south London, Oldman’s mother ran a boarding house for football players. Some of her boarders even included the local football club, Millwall. Oldman would become a huge fan of the team. According to Oldman’s mother, his absentee father even represented the team in a few games.

Gary Oldman FactsShutterstock

6. I’m Your #1 Fan

Growing up, Oldman was such a big fan of European football that he followed Manchester United just to support his local hero, George Best.

Gary Oldman FactsGetty Images

7. It’s Bloody Show Business

To support himself while studying acting in the mid-1970s, Oldman held a number of odd jobs. He worked as an assembly line worker, a porter in an operating theatre, and a shoe salesman. Most gruesomely, he worked in a slaughterhouse where he was in charge of beheading pigs.

Job search written with chalk on a blackboardGetty Images

8. The Best Revenge Is Living Well

Oldman was rejected from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), who had little faith in his thespian skills. They told him that he could re-apply, but also advised him to find another line of work. When asked if he ever rubbed his later success in the RADA’s face, Oldman simply laughed and said, “the work speaks for itself".

Gary Oldman FactsWikimedia Commons, Chemical Engineer

9. Shut the Puck Up

While earning his BA in Acting in 1979, the already-mischievous Oldman played the trickster Puck in a school production of Shakespeare’s comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Zendaya FactsShutterstock

10. Pay His Own Way

Oldman attended Rose Bruford College in Sidcup, Southeast London. Despite—or because of—his “shy but diligent worker” ways (to quote the actor himself), Oldman was there on a scholarship.

Stories Of Real-Life Heroes factsShutterstock

11. Fame Just Needs Elbow Grease

Among his class, Oldman was the first graduate to get acting work. Instead of claiming that this preferential treatment was caused by his talent, Oldman credits his success to something less inspiring: grunt work! According to Oldman, he was just incredibly diligent about getting employment as an actor.

Montgomery Clift factsShutterstock

12. Puss in Boots

In 1979, Oldman made his professional theatrical debut in the York Theatre Royal’s staging of Dick Whittington and His Cat, based on the English folk tale about a poor man’s rise to Lord Mayor of London. Like all great politicians, Whittington's success begins with the sale of his cat. Naturally, Oldman played the crucial role of “Puss".

Gary Oldman FactsGetty Images

13. A Most Papal Success

Oldman’s stage breakthrough turned out to be his role as Scopey in the drama The Pope’s Wedding (1984). For his performance, he received critical acclaim and esteemed theatre accolades such as the Time Out Fringe Award for Best Newcomer.

Gary Oldman FactsShutterstock

14. Two Isn’t a Crowd

For his role in The Pope’s Wedding, Oldman shared the Drama Theatre Award with Sir Anthony Hopkins. Years later, the men would reunite onscreen, co-starring in the film Pravada, Dracula, and Hannibal.

Anthony Hopkins FactsGetty Images

15. Sick of Sid

Gary Oldman turned down the role of Sid Vicious in Sid and Nancy (1986) three times. The film’s director, Alex Cox, had previously worked with Oldman—albeit on-stage—as the director of The Pope’s Wedding. Though Cox felt that Oldman would be perfect, Oldman was reluctant to move onto the silver screen.

As Oldman himself admitted, he was still a bit of a theatre snob: "I wasn't really that interested in Sid Vicious and the punk movement. I'd never followed it. It wasn't something that interested me. The script I felt was banal and 'who cares' and 'why bother' and all of that. And I was a little bit sort-of with my nose in the air and sort-of thinking 'well the theatre – so much more superior' and all of that."

Punk Music FactsGetty Images

16. What’s More Punk Rock Than Getting Paid?

Despite looking down on film and punk, Oldman changed his mind and took the role of Sid Vicious based on a few reasons. First, his agent’s insistence that he take the opportunity and second, the movie-star salary. Fair enough, Oldman!

The Fast And The Furious factsShutterstock

17. An Oldman Never Forgets

According to The Fifth Element (1997) director Luc Besson, Gary Oldman could recite any scene from Hamlet while on-set of the science-fiction movie. Oldman had starred in a production of the Shakespeare play an entire decade earlier, but he still remembered all of his lines.

Gary Oldman FactsGetty Images

18. Seal of Approval

Oldman’s performance a Sid Vicious in Sid and Nancy (1986) made film critic Roger Ebert describe him as “the best young British actor around". He received unprecedented critical praise for his work, with Sid's bandmate John Lydon calling Oldman “a bloody good actor". Seeing as Lydon was highly critical of the film’s portrayal of his band otherwise, that’s saying something.

Gary Oldman FactsGetty Images

19. The Real Fiction Was This Job

Quentin Tarantino briefly considered Oldman for not one but two roles in Pulp Fiction. In another universe, Oldman would have played the iconic Jules Winnfield (who would be played by Samuel L. Jackson) or the drug dealer Lance (who would be played by Eric Stolz). Of course, neither of these roles were realized.

Samuel L. Jackson factsGetty Images

20. The Nerds Are Unanimous

For his performance as Count Dracula in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 adaptation of the Bram Stoker novel, Oldman was awarded Best Actor by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films.

Gary Oldman FactsBram Stoker

21. So Much for the Blue Pill

Oldman’s name was in the running to play Morpheus in The Matrix. Of course, this part went to the now-iconic Laurence Fishburne.

Anthony Hopkins Facts

22. Plastic Punchdown

Throughout the 1990s, Oldman became notorious for playing villains in films such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula, The Fifth Element, True Romance and, yes, even as Pontius Pilate in Jesus (1999). MTV’s Celebrity Deathmatch took note, pitting a claymation-style Oldman against Christopher Walken in order to declare who was the greater cinematic villain of all time.

Gary Oldman FactsGetty Images

23. Care for a Bite, Old Friend?

Gary Oldman spent six hours a day in make-up to play Mason Verger, the mutilated survivor of Hannibal Lecter in Hannibal (2001). The film reunited him with long-time friend, Sir Anthony Hopkins, with whom he had become close on the set of Bram Stoker’s Dracula almost a decade earlier.

Anthony Hopkins Facts

24. Silent But Deadly

Despite his close friendship with Sir Anthony Hopkins, Oldman's name was conspicuously absent from marketing materials for their film Hannibal (2001). Oldman's absence is reported to stem from a dispute over who would receive top billing (that sweet, sweet real estate in posters and promotional materials). In the end, the film’s co-stars Sir Anthony Hopkins and Julianne Moore were the movie's headliners while Oldman fell by the wayside.

Anthony Hopkins FactsGetty Images

25. I’ll Be There for You, When the Saliva Starts to Fall

Oldman was awarded a 2001 Emmy Award for his two-part episode guest spot on Friends. He played a pretentious actor who insisted to Joey that “real” actors have to spit on each other when they enunciate. Oldman really came a long way from the theater kid who wouldn't deign to act in movies!

Rod Serling factsShutterstock

26. No One Said Magic Was Easy

In 2004, after a career downturn, Oldman bounced back with his role as Harry Potter’s godfather Sirius Black in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Oldman would admit to taking on the role mostly because “he needed the work” and hadn’t acted for more than a year. Moreover, the parts pleased his sons, making him a hero among his children and children’s’ friends.

But good things hardly come easy: Oldman described the role as surprisingly challenging and even compared it to one of those weighty Shakespearean dialogues.

Gary Oldman FactsGetty Images

27. He Does His Own Styling

Oldman himself was behind the design for Sirius Black’s manic hairstyles in Prisoner of Azkaban (he let director Alfonso Cuarón handle the tattoos).

Gary Oldman FactsFlickr

28. Harsh Words for a Softcore Mag

In a 2014 interview with Playboy magazine, Gary Oldman ridiculed what he saw as too much “political correctness” in American culture. The actor defended the notorious slurs uttered by his colleagues Alec Baldwin and Mel Gibson. Regarding Gibson’s controversial case, Oldman alleged the Lethal Weapon actor had “bitten the hand that [feeds]" in "a town that's run by Jews" (aka Hollywood).

Sure. That's what was wrong with that Mel Gibson recording.

Mel Gibson factsGetty Images

29. Better Take That Back

The Anti-Defamation League publicly admonished Oldman for his anti-Semitic comments in Playboy magazine. While Oldman would insist that he was not personally “a fascist or a racist,” he nonetheless issued a formal apology on Jimmy Kimmel Live!

Gary Oldman FactsGetty Images

30. Not That Hard to Believe

Although Oldman wore heavy prosthetics to play the fatter and older Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, it’s an exaggeration to say that he was "aged up” for the part. During the film’s timeline, Churchill was 64 years old; Oldman turned 59 while filming. I guess Hollywood living makes a difference…

Gary Oldman FactsGetty Images

31. The Gold is Enough

For playing Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour (2017), Oldman was awarded almost every accolade available: an Academy Award for Best Actor, a BAFTA Award, a Screen Actors Guild award, and even a Golden Globe—despite the actor’s notorious criticism of the award show in earlier years. Oldman has called the Golden Globes meaningless and declared that they are rigged.

Surprisingly, he didn't bring up those comments in his acceptance speech.

Gary Oldman FactsGetty Images

32. High and Dry

Oldman struggled with alcoholism throughout the early 1990s. Admitting himself into rehab in 1995, he is committed to the sober lifestyle and has endorsed Alcoholics Anonymous.

Susan B. Anthony factsShutterstock

33. Bye, Bye Baby

Altogether, Oldman has been married five times. He left his first wife, Lesley Manville, in 1989—mimicking the example set by his own father, Oldman left Manville just three months after the birth of their son, Alfie. Today, Manville and Oldman have moved on, reconciled, and become friends.

Newborn baby sleeping on pink blanketSam Rana, Pexels

34. Hardly a State of Grace

Oldman briefly married actress Uma Thurman in 1990. The two met on the set of State of Grace but divorced after just two years together.

Uma Thurman factsGetty Images

35. Not a Hit With Everyone

In 2001, Oldman was accused of committing domestic assault against his estranged third wife, Donya Florentino, in front of their two sons. To this day, Oldman insists that no offense took place. He was never charged, and formal custody was granted to him, with Florentino having restricted visitation rights contingent on passing sobriety tests.

As the Oscar campaign for Oldman’s role in Darkest Hour (2017) kicked in, these allegations resurfaced in the tabloids. Oldman and Florentino’s oldest son went on the record to lament the “pain and hardship” caused by his mother’s “lies". To quote the son, "I was there at the time of the 'incident,' so I'd like to make this radiantly clear: it didn't happen."

Gary Oldman FactsGetty Images

36. A Killer Part

Oldman didn’t get his first US blockbuster until Oliver Stone’s JKF (1991), where he played the chilling role of Lee Harvey Oswald, otherwise known as the man behind the slaying of President John F. Kennedy.

Anthony Hopkins Facts

37. A Most Deadly Preparation

To prepare for his role as Lee Harvey Oswald in JFK, Oldman was simply given several plane tickets and a list of contacts. Otherwise, director Oliver Stone gave him little in writing about his characterization. On the contact list? The real Oswald’s wife, Marina, and two daughters, with whom Oldman talked to get into character.

Gary Oldman FactsShutterstock

38. Red, Blue, and Gold

In 2000, Oldman was embroiled in rumors of a scandal with DreamWorks. Just as his role as a zealous Republican politician in The Contender nabbed him a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination, rumors leaked that Oldman was upset with DreamWorks’ alleged editing of the film to be more “Democratic” (Oldman is a libertarian). His agent dismissed this as “sloppy sensationalism," claiming that Oldman was “the least political person” he knew. Critic Roger Ebert has also dismissed this feud with DreamWorks as “myth".

Nevertheless, Oldman’s agent alleged that the actor had been the victim of “creepy phone calls advising him that he was ruining his chances of an Oscar nomination".

Gary Oldman FactsGetty Images

39. You Can’t Sit With You

The early 2000s marked a “career slump” for Gary Oldman. It was whispered he was being blacklisted for allegedly badmouthing DreamWorks for their editing of The Contender.

Paul Newman factsShutterstock

40. My Father Will Hear About This!

Oldman’s first impressions of the young cast of the Harry Potter franchise were mixed. During their first meeting, Oldman got into the godfatherly mood by learning that Daniel Radcliffe was a music fan and gifting the boy with a bass guitar. When Tom Felton (who played Draco Malfoy) met Oldman for the first time, he assumed the older actor was an on-set janitor. Classic Malfoy!

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince FactsGetty Images

41. Where There’s Smoke, There’s Oldman

Oldman smoked about €30,000 worth of Cubans on-set to embody Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour (2017). For those of you keeping track, that’s about 12 smokes a day. While on set, Oldman also contracted nicotine poisoning and had to undergo a colonoscopy. Do you think that could be related to anything?

Gary Oldman FactsGetty Images

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

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