The Importance of Gary Oldman

Let's be real here. Gary Oldman is not an actor who you call and ask to come down for an audition. He doesn't have to try out to make the team. He's one of the greatest actors on Earth. If you are casting Gary Oldman in a movie, you are doing so because you (a) wrote a role in the film meant specifically for him or (b) wrote a role in the film without him in mind, but eventually realized that you were a fool and rewrote the role for him. The interview from today (where he revealed he has been approached about appearing in Star Wars) says it all. Oldman isn't Zac Efron, sheepish grin smothering his teen-man face as he realizes he was at least given a chance to be in a Star Wars movie and is thrilled just to be able to say anything so awesome in his life. He is Gary I'm-going-to-play-coy-with-you-because-I-know-the-part-is-mine-for-the-taking-but-I-don't-have-to-tell-you-nothin'-Oldman.

The phone call would go like this:

Lucasfilm: "Hello, Mr. Oldman. We would like to offer you a role in the new Star Wars film."

(dramatic pause)

Oldman: "You're bloody right you would. I'll do it."

(Lucasfilm erupts in joyous praise, exclaiming hallelujah to the heavens.)

If Oldman wants to be in Star Wars, the part is his.

Gary Oldman Roles

by Derek Eads. Click for larger image.

I've heard multiple people call Oldman a "safe" choice, or not "inspired". That's a fair analysis, but hardly unique. It's the traditional reaction whenever an indisputably brilliant actor is attached to a surefire blockbuster hit. He's great in every film he does, so it's safe to put him in Star Wars because we know he won't mess it up. What's wrong with knowing that you can expect excellence? Is that a bad thing? I'm not viewing it that way.

I feel like the fear with an actor as prolific as Oldman is that he'll be typecast, because that seems to be a common concern for the public with any recognizable actor. But we aren't talking about Johnny Depp (bless his Burton-chained soul). Gary Oldman is The Chameleon. He can play any character. Just look at the image to the right. If you haven't seen those movies, I dare you to at least Google the characters and find video showcasing Oldman in the roles. It would be incredibly difficult to find an actor alive today who is more rounded in his abilities. He's the hero, the villain, and everybody who falls in the middle. You give him a part and he will dissolve into it, recognizable perhaps by his face, but never by his mannerisms or techniques. Any trepidation regarding his appearance distracting from the plot should be discarded. As soon as Gary appears on the screen, you will immediately forget who you are watching, if you can even identify him at all.

Casting Anthony Daniels to play C-3PO in Episode VII is what I consider a safe move. Landing Gary Oldman is called a home run move. You're hitting the ball out of the park, because you are acquiring  a world-class, unparalleled, chief in his craft who can do anything you need. The opposite of safe isn't always "risky". It would be like saying that playing Michael Jordan in the championship game was a safe choice. Safe? It was the best choice! It was THE choice! It was the difference between winning and losing.

Maybe we fear the "star-effect." He's just too big of a name. He'll overshadow the movie. It's a desperate move to link Star Wars to one of the best in the industry. There is this lovely vision of Lucasfilm casting undiscovered talent with a Mark Hamill-esque story blossoming from their selection. Star Wars was built on no-namers, after all.

Not really.

Do we so undervalue the impact of renowned performers like Alec Guinness, Liam Neeson, James Earl Jones, Peter Cushing, Frank Oz, Samuel L. Jackson, or Christopher Lee? (All of whom were award-winning or nominated actors before appearing in a Star Wars movie.) Why do we continue to think that well-known equals too-known? The casting of actors (and hopefully in Episode VII, actresses) who were critically-acclaimed before Star Wars is as essential as the relatively unknown talent like Hamill, Natalie Portman, and Carrie Fisher. With the exception of Christopher Lee, all of the aforementioned actors were able to fade into their roles perfectly.

Quick tangent here. Has anyone ever seen The Dark Knight? Only 100 million-ish of you, right? Now, who instantly comes to mind when you think of that movie? Heath Ledger as the Joker. And who, without thought, would you say gave the best performance in The Dark Knight? Heath Ledger as the Joker. I would challenge you on that assessment. If Heath Ledger was the offensive player of the year, Oldman was the defensive. Go watch it again and focus on him. Gary was Heath's co-star. That film is infinitely more about Jim Gordan and the Joker than it is about Batman, from the aspect of acting alone. His desperate, conflicted cry of "We have to save Dent! I have to save Dent!" is one of my favorite moments in any film. It's a small moment, brief and perhaps unnoticed by most, but that's how it should be. It's so real that I can feel every one of his emotions, fifty different complexities and intricacies at once, and never even pause to wonder how he could be so believable. That is just layer upon layer of impeccable acting.

still-of-harrison-ford-and-gary-oldman-in-air-force-one-(1997)-large-picture

Could we see Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman together again?

There is a difference between a great "star" and a great actor. Despite his big-budget, big-name films, Gary Oldman is not just a movie star. The man is an actor first. A true thespian. A surviving relic in a decaying film world of increasingly stale talent. Academy Award winner Colin Firth declared Oldman "a very strong candidate for the world’s best living actor". He is absolutely correct. Maybe that's why Oldman excites me so much. He's been described as an "actor's actor". He is the best at what he does, he probably knows it, but he still respects the art of acting enough to consistently honor any role with his top effort. That's my kind of guy. That's the type of person I want representing Star Wars.

For Gary Oldman, there is no limit to the value he could bring to Episode VII. He can take any part and present a flawless portrayal. He would add instant credibility to a franchise that, whether we like it or not, has often been slighted by the media after the prequels. Don't you want Star Wars to be on top again? To be more than a summer blockbuster, a fun flick, a CGI extravaganza? I want Star Wars: Episode VII to be the best movie in the world. That's far from an unattainable goal. Imagine, for a wonderful moment, the critically acclaimed, award-winning, universally adored Episode VII. There hasn't been a Star Wars movie nominated for an Oscar that wasn't related to special effects, sound, or makeup since Return of the Jedi. Include Gary Oldman and you have an instant possibility of hearing his name and Star Wars announced together at the 88th Academy Awards.

Look, Gary Oldman won't make Episode VII a great movie by himself. That's going to take the combination of a script, cast, and crew that overachieve and do the incredible. But throw him in as in ingredient and he's sure to make everything taste a whole lot sweeter. The man is one-of-a-kind.

Gary Oldman in Star Wars is not safe. It is not desperate.

It is perfect.