Recently, Gary Oldman has been making headlines for the wrong reasons, but his talent and passion are undeniable.
Oldman is one of very few actors that can truly transform himself into a role, camouflaging himself so completely that you won’t even recognize the British actor. With his voice and appearance changing dramatically from one part to the next, you might need a friend to remind you that it’s Oldman. Roles like the explosive Sex Pistol Sid Vicious in “Sid and Nancy” (1986) and the volatile pimp Drexl Spivey in “True Romance” (1993) only scratch the surface of what the actor is capable of.
Gallery | Gary Oldman’s Most Transformative Roles
- Sid Vicious (‘Sid and Nancy’)
The world was introduced to Oldman as the self-destructive Sex Pistol bassist Sid Vicious in 1986’s “Sid and Nancy.” The actor’s portrayal of Vicious was as raw and explosive as Vicious himself and made everyone ask “Who is that guy?” Oldman did more than just duplicate Vicious’s passion; he said he felt “obsessed with being really, really, really, skinny” and — after slipping into those tight leather pants — even looked like the Sex Pistol.
- Joe Orton (‘Prick Up Your Ears’)
While this role isn’t so crazy, it’s pretty shocking to remember this was the role Oldman tackled immediately following “Sid and Nancy.” From a heroin-addicted rocker to a struggling, homosexual writer, the actor showed off his range immediately and made it clear he was never going to be typecast.
- Jackie Flannery (‘State of Grace’)
In 1990’s “State of Grace,” Oldman plays the hard-drinking, Irish gangster Jackie Flannery, opposite Sean Penn. If that weren’t enough, the character is also a psychopathic murderer who, quite simply, has some serious logic problems. Oldman is phenomenal in the role, capturing the despair and guilt of Flannery, while also maintaining his likability (somehow). How did Oldman prepare for the role? He’s said “The only research I did was drinking in Irish bars.”
- Dracula (‘Dracula’)
One of the most complex — and ambitious — roles of his career, Gary Oldman took on Dracula in 1992. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, the film was more a meditation in art direction and costume, but Oldman’s performance shines through. There’s something so perfectly wicked about the look of bliss on Dracula’s face after he licks the razor clean of blood.
- Drexl Spivey (‘True Romance’)
What do you do after you’re the lead in a Francis Ford Coppola movie? You take a small role as a racially confused drug dealer… Oldman is practically unrecognizable as Drexl Spivey, the volatile yet funny drug-dealing pimp, and while the actor is only onscreen for a few minutes, he steals the show in the Tarantino-penned “True Romance” (1993). Wondering where James Franco got the inspiration for his character in “Spring Breakers” (2012)? Look no further.
- Norman Stansfield (‘Léon: The Professional’)
Oldman is practically perfect in one of his craziest roles as the unstable DEA agent Stansfield. This pill-popping, corrupt DEA agent is the genius of writer/director Luc Besson, but it’s Oldman who makes him worthy of the movie villain hall of fame. How crazy is Stansfield? He’s a (huge) fan of Beethoven and compares his killing sprees to the composer’s work.
- Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg (‘The Fifth Element’)
Just look at him. Oldman takes on the crazy role of a corrupt, futuristic drug dealer in another Luc Besson film — complete with one very interesting hair piece. The movie itself is pretty out there and visually stunning, and Oldman’s Mr. Zorg is no exception.
- Buford Dill (‘Nobody’s Baby’)
“Nobody’s Baby” is a movie almost nobody saw. With a handlebar mustache, huge wire-framed glasses, and a cowboy hat, this off-beat comedy camouflages Oldman as a trailer-trash criminal. If that wasn’t enough, his character and his partner in crime (Skeet Ulrich) take a baby and try to flip it for a buck.
- Rolfe (‘Tiptoes’)
Yes, that person to the left — the one not named Kate Beckinsale — is Gary Oldman. The actor is truly a chameleon and few roles prove it more than his turn as Rolfe in the hardly seen “Tiptoes” (2003).
- Elvis (‘Guns, Girls and Gambling’)
OK, OK, I’ll admit even I haven’t seen this movie, but we can’t overlook Oldman as an aging Elvis impersonator. He even has dice hanging from his rearview mirror. Weirder still, it reunites Christian Slater and Oldman (“True Romance”) in a movie that yet again prominently features Elvis.
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Article photo courtesy of Warner Bros.