Six astonishing films. Six key collaborators. Six exclusive essays. An intimate insight into an enigmatic genius. When talking about Batman Begins, we turned to Gary Oldman to give us some insight on the man behind Batman, who was more than happy to oblige, sharing with his us his thoughts on Nolan’s unique creative vision.
"Christopher Nolan had the imagination to cast me as a good guy. I don’t know if he always saw me as Lieutenant Gordon — I don’t know what was in his mind when we met, other than he wanted me to be involved in Batman Begins. Of course, over the years I’ve played several villains: I’ve done the bad-boy bit. But maybe when we met for a coffee he saw something else. I’m very family-orientated, I’m very loyal. I don’t have a big circle of friends, but the ones I’ve got I’ve had for years.
"I consider myself a good friend: discreet, loyal. I can’t bear injustice. I’m big on truth. I try to live my life as honestly as I can. And Gordon is not just a good man, he’s the best man: he’s incorruptible — the moral compass of this world, really. He goes through the movies like an arrow: straight.
"It’s fun to play. Challenging. I do get my share of exposition! You have to make plot character, which is easier said than done. But it’s a mindset that you, the actor, have to have going in: “Alright, it’s plot, I’m going to surrender to it... Just relax into it.” Maybe that’s age — as you do it longer you calm down. I think as a younger actor I would have said, “Fuckin’ ’ell, I’ve got all this fuckin’ plot. I can’t say this!” But I like the discipline of Gordon. Sometimes you’re in movies where you’re surviving. You’re getting no help from the director and so you rely on your schtick. I call it ‘nesting’: you go to what you’re comfortable with. But I can’t do any of that with Gordon. The part won’t allow me to do that. It has fixed parameters: a framework, as everyone else is whirling around me. You do scenes with Christian and, in The Dark Knight, Heath — God bless him — and the way I describe it is, I’m the vase and they’re the flowers. You’re looking at the flowers but they have to stand up in something. That’s how I see Gordon.
"Chris’ ideas were really exciting, and what you see on screen is exactly how he described it when we met — he managed to convey the spirit, the atmosphere. When we were shooting I was commuting between Los Angeles and London. Every opportunity I had I would get home to see the kids, so I think over six months I did 27 round-trips. And you could set a watch by his schedule. That is impressive. It really is. That was a unique experience: to work with someone who was that well prepped and planned and just knew the target, where he was going. It was very thought-out and methodical, but not dry or intellectual — within that structure it was very creative. I respect that and respond to it.
"He’s just got such a vision, and he’s a nice guy, to boot: warm and funny. There’s a good atmosphere on set, very calm, relaxed. He doesn’t feel he has to justify the fact that he’s the director of this big movie. And a great director knows when not to say something. And Chris will not give you direction for direction’s sake, for the sake of opening his mouth and listening to his own voice. He lets you have the space to find things in the scene, and if he needs to tweak something he will simply step in and give you a note: “It’s very good, it just needs more urgency...” He just nudges you: “It’s very good, but just turn the volume up a little...” And he knows what he’s getting. There are some people who don’t know what they want, but he knows what he’s looking at and if he likes what you’re doing, he will say, “That was great. If you want another take have another, but I’ve got it!” And he may not have said anything to you other than, “Good morning!” when you arrived on set. But if you need help in a scene, he knows the world and can articulate it; he’s that director as well, if you want him to be. He’s just trusting. He trusts you are going to do your homework. That’s a nice feeling.
|When I saw the finished film, I was knocked out by it... I was on a ride with it.|
"I can’t wait to see Inception — I’m excited for it and for him — and I’m sure he will do a third Batman. When people say, “Oh, Chris doesn’t know if he’s going to make a third one,” I always think, “He’s negotiating.” He would be a very, very good poker player. I don’t know, maybe he loses his rag once in a while, but I’ve never seen him do it. I’ve seen a lot of directors scream and shout and lose their tempers. But Chris? I’ve never seen him raise his voice to anyone.
"Still, great directors know what they want, want what they want and get what they want. That’s what they all share. It’s kind of a dictatorship, but it’s a benign dictatorship.
“He gets the job done.”
This article first appeared in issue 253 of Empire Magazine. Subscribe today.