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Gary Oldman Talks Batman
'This is the Fast And Furious version. It is a truly epic conclusion'

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Gary Oldman's career switch from Hollywood's bad guy of choice to one of its most beloved sons is due at least in part to his sympathetic, principled take on Jim Gordon - a sergeant when we first meet him in Batman Begins, but someone who proceeds rapidly up the ranks with Batman's help. We talked to him recently about his approach to Gordon, Christopher Nolan's directing style, and what's it's really like to play opposite Batman...

Gary Oldman Talks Batman

What was your first meeting with Christopher Nolan about playing Jim Gordon like?
I never had a meeting with him about Jim Gordon. We'd met for a cup of coffee at the 101 Café in Hollywood and he was talking about his reinterpretation of Batman and his life through the comic and where it had travelled, really. From Tim Burton to... absolute shite. I mean, the last movie, whatever it was in the franchise, the early franchise with Mr Freeze, they should take that can of film and blow it up! Chris admired and was a fan of the comic and the original conception of Batman, which was darker. So that was basically the pitch, he was saying, 'I'm going to reinterpret it, I'm going to try and base it more in reality, there will be explanations'. I thought it sounded fantastic. Then they came in with a villain. And I was at that point where you say, "Oh. I can't do that anymore". I really felt I'd played all the notes that I could in terms of villains.

So how did you come to play Gordon then?
I had a think, and then I said to my manager, "What about Jim Gordon?" And they proposed it to [Chris] and, to his credit, he cast me. He went, "Oh that's an interesting idea". And you really get thrown into the deep end. We had a conversation over the phone, we did the deal, the dates were ready for when I'd fly to England. The first day we got to a set - a night shoot - it was me getting out of a cop car on the dock, looking up at the round-up of villains, not knowing who the hell had rounded them up. We did the first rehearsal and he said, "Oh, OK, so you're playing him like that." "Yeah." And he went, "Huh. OK. All right. Take?" And I went, "Yeah." And we did a take and he went, "Very nice. OK. Do you want another one?" And I said, "Well, I've come all this way." He went, "Alright, do another one." We did take two and he went, "Terrific. OK, moving on..." [laughs]. I think sometimes people want it to be far more complex and important and you go, "No, it's as simple as getting off a plane having done your work - or hoping that you've done your work - and walking on a set in front of a camera". There's no rehearsal, there's no whistles and bells and frills. It's just, you know, it's guerilla. You jump out of the helicopter and you're in the battle.

So is that how Chris is as an actor's director? Is it very much that he lets you find the voice and the style yourself?
Gary Oldman in The Dark Knight Rises
"It is a truly epic conclusion to the whole thing, and I don't mean that in a gratuitous way."
Gary Oldman
Well, my experience with him has been that. I think perhaps if I'd done something that he didn't like, he might have said, "Make it more like this," but he trusts the people he casts. He has a great deal of trust, and he expects you to do the work. You've got to turn up ready and prepared; he has no truck with people who are not ready. It's not that he's a bully, he's not a screamer. I've never actually heard him raise his voice to anyone. It's not that he completely leaves you alone, either. You'll do a take and he might step in and say, "There's a little more urgency to this, there's a little more at stake," or "Pull back off on this a bit because remember you've got this scene and this scene coming up, so give me a different colour here that you can play later". He tweaks and nudges rather than tell you how to do it. Listen, I've directed and it's like a benign dictatorship in that you've got to kind of manipulate. I always think directors get what they want but they do it in such a way that the actor feels that they've come up with the idea, when in fact you're giving the director what he wanted all along. There's a real art and a skill to it and a sort of diplomacy involved. Everybody has their way of working. [Tom] Hardy will just want to talk it out and talk it out and talk it out and analyse it. Some people sit quietly on it.

What's Christian Bale's approach?
Christian... I've never really talked to him about it. I've always really got to the set and I mean he's always ready. I just noticed with Tom that he sort of has to bounce it around a bit. And of course Michael! There was one scene [on The Dark Knight Rises] where Michael, Michael Caine, had to get very emotional and it's almost heart-breaking, it's almost too painful to watch. And he came in, take one: Got it. Take two: Got it. Take three: Nailed it. I mean it was like watching a masterclass in acting. I said to Christian at the time, "That is how it's fucking done." Just seeing it. No messing.

It's funny, because Christian said he said he doesn't feel like he's properly worked with you, even though he's done three films with you, because he's always behind that cowl and it creates this distance. Do you appreciate that?
Yeah, he's rather formidable and he's rather scary in those scenes. In the flesh. It always struck me that it's one of those costumes, it plays well on screen but in person it works, too. He's not Method but he gets there, and when he's Batman he keeps that vocal quality. He keeps it in that register. He can have a laugh, it does make him get a bit silly, and that's Christian's way of surviving, that he can come out of character and make jokes. I think that keeps him sane. And we were using summer for winter so we were standing there in overcoats and scarves and gloves and it's snowing and it's 105 degrees and he's in that suit... It is weird; I don't see Christian, I come in and I meet him on set as Batman.

There was a really big gear shift from Batman Begins to The Dark Knight. How would you define the gear shift again to this final instalment?
Well this is truly... Epic. You know those Fast And Furious movies where they drive at one speed, then they hit that button? And they put the octane or the gas into the engine and they seem to drive at hyperspeed? This is Chris hitting the button. This is the Fast And Furious version. It is a truly epic conclusion to the whole thing, and I don't mean that in a gratuitous way.

How has this whole experience been for you then? Will you miss it?
I think when you're into something like this and you don't know if there's going to be a third - for instance, when we made Dark Knight we didn't know for sure there'd be a third - you go about your life; it's not something that you're constantly thinking about. But once you're there back with all the people again it's like a reunion. There's all the same old people, the same old camera crew, the same old Wally [Pfister, cinematographer], there's the make-up people and you just sort of get back into the swing of it and it's just great to see everyone. So that's a bit bad, that we won't all get together again - or certainly not in that way. I may end up working with Chris again and I may end up working with Christian and Michael or any one of them, but it will be in a different situation. When you like something and you enjoy something you want it to go on. But it's all got to end sometime.

Interview by Dan Jolin

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Interview by Dan Jolin

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