Gary Oldman on investigating, and becoming, Lee Harvey Oswald in Oliver Stone's 'JFK'

Posted by · 6:27 pm · December 5th, 2011

Fifteen minutes really isn’t enough time with a guy like Gary Oldman. I’m sorry, not for me. Only a douche bag would complain about ANY time with Gary Oldman, of course. I’m aware of the navel-gazing. But someone that good, that many times out, and in that many different ways just kind of demands a laundry list of queries per film.

I didn’t get to do that. Fine, okay. The task at hand is discussing Oldman’s nuanced, awards-flirting performance in Tomas Alfredson’s “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” but I had to give myself some excuse to venture out. So I tried to tie it in.

The thing about Oldman — which I’ll get in to more in depth in my full interview later in the week — is how much he has stood out despite being a part of so many esteemed ensembles. The roll call of actors he’s worked with is massive, but just consider the casts of “State of Grace,” “JFK,” “True Romance,” “Basquiat,” “The Contender,” “Hannibal,” select entries in the “Harry Potter” franchise and Christopher Nolan’s successful Batman triolgy. And yet he’s always more of a cog in the wheel, whereas in “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” he’s fronting such an ensemble.

One of those films mentioned above, “JFK,” is one of my absolute favorite movies of all time. Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, the film features perhaps some of the best film editing of all time and is a bewitching soak in the usually unexciting realm of the courtroom drama. It’s command over imagery is staggering, and its ensemble is historic.

Of COURSE Oldman was a part of it.

Oldman played Lee Harvey Oswald in the film, featured in flashback frequently and having a chunk of the film — a gem of a sequence that likely solidified a lot of the film editing accolades “JFK” received in late-1991 — dedicated to his character. So I thought it would make a nice sidebar:

Here’s what Oldman had to say about working on Oliver Stone’s film:

“It was unusual, memorable, working on that movie. I certainly think it’s one of Oliver’s best films. What he was doing with the medium, the way he was inter-cutting black and white and color and 35 and eight millimeter. We’d never really seen anything like that, to take all those formats and play with them so successfully. And he was really on his game. He was on fire when he was doing it.

“But there was very little of Oswald on the page. He basically gave me airline tickets, some per diem and a few contacts and said, ‘Go to New Orleans, go to Dallas, and find out who Oswald was.’ You became a detective. An investigator. And that was a great experience, just sucking up the history and the world.

“You’d meet someone who knew Oswald, and then you’d meet someone else who knew Oswald and he’d have another sort of side that he would tell you. And there were people that believed he was a patsy, they had never seen anything like that. They’d say, ‘That’s not the Oswald I knew.’ And then other people would say, ‘Oh, yeah, I believe he did it.’ I mean there were probably people I spoke to who said they knew him and didn’t, because they come out of the woodwork, you know? Suddenly he’s everybody’s fucking friend. But I thought it was a great way of working.”

Will Oldman’s performance as Lee Harvey Oswald make the cut in tomorrow’s installment of the lists: The Top 10 Gary Oldman performances? We’ll see.

Check back for that and be on the lookout for the full Batman-free Oldman interview later this week.

For year-round entertainment news and awards season commentary follow @kristapley on Twitter.

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