Tragic Details About Gary Oldman

His name has been coming up in conversations about our greatest living actors for a long time, yet Gary Oldman didn’t taste Oscar glory until 2018, when his transformative performance as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour landed him a controversial Best Actor statuette. His turn as Britain’s divisive wartime leader wasn’t even among his “finest,” according to RogerEbert.com, but it put his career as a “remarkable artist” under the spotlight.

Oldman set his heart on becoming an actor after seeing British romantic drama The Raging Moon on television as a youngster. He was reluctant to put himself forward for school plays (“I was never one to get involved in school,” he told The Big Issue) but would later get into drama school. His breakout moment came in 1986 when he won the role of punk rock icon Sid Vicious in Sid and Nancy, despite the fact that he “didn’t know a thing” about the business back then. “The nerve I had when I was young,” he said during a now-infamous interview with GQ. “Early on I was a real arrogant f*****, really.”

Oldman’s interview with the men’s mag became the subject of controversy when the actor’s manager got into a heated back and forth with the writer over perceived political affiliations, somewhat overshadowing the part where he opened up about his tragic past. He may be a world-renowned A-list star today, but the truth is, Gary Oldman had to overcome a lot to get to where he is.

Gary Oldman's military dad split on him at an early age

The youngest of three siblings, Gary Oldman was raised in a gritty South East London neighborhood where life could be pretty rough. His father, Leonard, left him, his mother, and his two sisters “with not even two ha’pennies to rub together,” the actor told Luxury London. Leonard (which is Gary Oldman’s middle name) served as an engineer in the Navy during World War II and even had a brief career as a professional soccer player with local team Millwall upon returning to England, though Oldman didn’t discover any of this for decades. All he had to remind him of his dad were correspondences from the war. “I have some letters … that he wrote, which are quite beautiful,” he told Venice Magazine (via The Hollywood Interview). “He was a real poet.”

While Oldman has always made it clear that his directorial debut Nil by Mouth isn’t 100 percent autobiographical, the film (which was released in 1997 and follows a struggling working-class family in London) gave viewers a glimpse into what life was like for the actor growing up. “Those are things that happened,” Oldman told Film Scouts when quizzed about the film’s bleak content. “I wasn’t just a fly on the wall and privy to the conversations, the dialogue that took place. There are events in there that happened, that I lived and witnessed when I was growing up in that neighborhood.”

Gary Oldman had it rough as a teenager

Gary Oldman exudes confidence in front of the camera, but it took him a long time to get comfortable in his own skin. “I remember being a teenager, trying to develop a self-image, thinking a lot about how people saw me,” he recalled during an interview with The Big Issue. “And if you’ve got greasy, mousy hair and you’re not very tall and you have the kind of pale acned skin that just immediately strokes in the sun, you’re going to suffer.” He’s had no shortage of admirers since he made it big (the Brit has been married five times in total), but back then he really struggled to make an impression.

Part of the problem was that Oldman’s best friend was a good-looking Irish guy who got all of the attention whenever they hung out with members of the opposite sex. “He had this thick unruly mop of dark hair, he had that Gabriel Byrne thing going,” the Harry Potter star said. “I knew he would be a ladies man. Me… I got the odd one. I wasn’t a huge success. I still remember my first kiss. I was nine years old. She was called Nicola. I was very, very sweet on her.” His love life has seen plenty of ups and downs since then, but Oldman is now happily married to his fifth wife, author and art curator Gisele Schmidt. The couple is often spotted out on walks together.

Gary Oldman was led astray without his dad to guide him

Gary Oldman worked various retail gigs after leaving school at the age of 16, but without his father around to help keep him on the straight and narrow, it wasn’t long before he started getting involved with petty crime. When he sat down with The Big Issue to talk about his turbulent childhood and subsequent career in the business, he said that this was pretty much normal behavior in his neck of the woods back in those days, though in his particular case, it was mainly down to peer pressure. “You come from a certain place, a certain culture,” he told the British magazine. “You mix with a certain type and it’s, ‘Go on Gary, climb over the wall, nick that thing.'” 

The Docklands area that he called home during his childhood hadn’t changed all that much when he returned with a film crew to make Nil by Mouth in the mid-90s (“Most of the pubs and the bars and the clubs were still there from when I was growing up,” he told Film Scouts), but his former neighborhood is practically unrecognizable today, in a good way. “London changes so quickly and it was a very different place for me when I was growing up,” he told Luxury London. “In a way, it’s lost a lot of that raw edge that it had, particularly around where I grew up. I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing.”

Gary Oldman draws on the pain of abandonment for difficult scenes

Many actors draw on traumatic experiences from their past to get themselves into the right headspace for a difficult scene, and Gary Oldman is no different. During his big GQ interview, the Brit revealed that he turns to something he likes to call “the pain bag” when he needs to get emotional in front of the cameras. “They were just little tricks,” he told the men’s mag. “I mean it is very simple… if you break it down. I missed my dad. And so if I had to be sad, I would think about my dad. And it would make me sad.” This technique was working for him, and, before long, he found himself leaning into the image of the tortured actor.

“I think I hammed it up a bit and played to the gallery,” he admitted. “I played it up a bit. But I’m sure Pierce Brosnan walked around wearing suits and stuff and thinking he was James Bond. I was consumed by it more, back then.” He went on to say that he now regrets taking people “behind the curtain,” but he’s never shied away from discussing his beginnings. 

When he spoke to BAFTA Los Angeles about his experience of drama school, he explained that he “trained for the stage” and that “there was no television training” when he started out. “Now, they are courses, and you have film acting,” he said. “There was nothing like that.”

Gary Oldman isn't the Hollywood bad boy you think he is

When Gary Oldman started getting big in America, he suddenly found himself partying with the likes rock icon Keith Richards, who apparently wasn’t all that impressed with him. The Rolling Stones man reportedly took one of Oldman’s friends to one side during a gathering at his New York pad and said: “Your friend, Gary? He’s a bit sensitive — he might want to watch that.” Oldman went on to earn a reputation as a “Hollywood bad boy” in the years that followed, but he actually agrees with Richards — the actor told The Big Issue that he has always been “a bit too sensitive for [his] own good.” According to the actor, people who don’t know him assume that he’s like some of the characters he’s played.

“The roles are out of control, a lot of them,” he told GQ. “There was a certain reputation, the ‘crazy, scary Gary’ which followed me around for a while. And really, if you speak to most people whom I have worked with, they would say, ‘No, he’s lovely, he turns up, does the work, nice bloke.'” Speaking to a live studio audience at a BAFTA Los Angeles event, the actor reminded everyone that he’s actually played more good guys than bad ones. “If you actually went through the list, there’s very few [villains], but they remember that bloody Luc Besson movie,” he said. “They remember Leon, me taking pills and blowing things up.”

The severity of Gary Oldman's alcoholism was shocking

When Gary Oldman arrived in the States, he started taking on waiter jobs in Irish bars so he could study American accents up close. It was during this period that he started to drink heavily, downing as much as “two bottles of vodka a day,” he revealed during a candid interview. “What I was drinking — anything. Anything I could get my hands on … My tipple was vodka … I could pour it on corn flakes.” Things worsened for him when he began drinking on his own, something he went to great lengths to hide. The actor revealed to GQ that he would go on benders alone in hotels, once spending over £16,000 in a four-day binge.

“You make phone calls — hours on the phone calling L.A. and London — and you have a room and a this and a that, and the minibar. Those miniatures. I’d go through the fridge three, four, five, six times. It’s expensive. It adds up.” Oldman went on to tell the magazine that he would strategically arrange his room so it looked like he had company when the hotel staff came to top up the drinks, though, looking back now, his efforts weren’t exactly convincing. “Who was I fooling?” he said. “Who was I kidding? Only myself.” The future Oscar winner would get so wasted that he would actually end up talking to himself. “I used to spout all of this poetry,” he recalled. “I would spout Shakespeare.”

Gary Oldman's drinking caused several low points in his life

As much as he tried to keep the true scale of his drinking problem on the down-low, those who worked with Gary Oldman during this dark stretch of his life knew full well what was going on with him. Fellow Brit Anthony Hopkins, who appeared alongside Oldman in 1992’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula, once revealed that he could “smell it on him” on the set. “He used to come into my trailer sometimes and stand there for a few minutes as if he was about to ask me something, then he’d p*** off,” Hopkins recalled. “Maybe he needed help. But I couldn’t do anything.” Oldman was hit with a DUI after a night out with actor Kiefer Sutherland in 1991, but he didn’t realize just how bad his situation was until the filming of 1995’s The Scarlet Letter when he forgot his lines during a pivotal scene.

“It was like I hadn’t looked at it,” he said of the script. “I started to sort of panic. At the end of the day, I had to have an earpiece put into my ear and there was someone reading lines into my ear. And I had cue cards — I had idiot boards. That woke me up.” He managed to get sober after that, and he’s been counting his blessings ever since. “But for the grace of God, I’m here today and people like River Phoenix aren’t,” he told the Los Angeles Times.

Gary Oldman had to reevaluate his life after another divorce

Divorce is never easy, and Gary Oldman knows that as well as anyone. He married his first wife, actress Lesley Manville, in 1987, but they split just three months after their son, Alfie, was born. Next was a brief union with Uma Thurman, who called their union “a mistake” during a Vanity Fair interview. “We met when I was 18,” she said. “It was a crazy love affair that ended, as it needed to.” The split was hard, but it was nothing compared to what Oldman went through with his third wife, model Donya Fiorentino. The pair had two boys (Gulliver and Charlie Oldman, pictured above with their dad), and he was awarded custody after a nasty separation.

“I woke up one day and was 43 years old, and I was a single dad and had these two kids,” Oldman told GQ. “It wasn’t exactly what I’d planned, but there it was, in front of me. So I just made a decision to be at home more. It was an opportunity to do it in the way I’d always imagined doing it, albeit doing it on my own.” On New Year’s Eve 2008 he married singer Alexandra Edenborough, who filed for divorce in 2015. He married Gisele Schmidt two years later and they’ve been going strong ever since. “I’m nearly 60 and at last I think I’ve come home,” Oldman said at the time (via the Daily News).

Gary Oldman's son helped him clear his name after abuse allegations resurfaced

Gary Oldman’s third wife, Donya Fiorentino, accused him of domestic violence during their messy divorce, claiming that he grabbed her by the throat and hit her in the face with their telephone receiver when she attempted to call the cops on him. Oldman vehemently denied this at the time, and he was forced to defend himself once again many years later when the Daily Mail decided to interview the former model in the run-up to the 2018 Academy Awards, where he was up for Best Actor. Oldman won the Oscar that year, just like he won the custody battle for their two boys, Gulliver and Charlie. After reading his mother’s damaging interview in the British tabloid (she called their four-year marriage a “nightmare”), Gulliver decided to publish an open letter about the whole affair.

“Custody of children is not given to a wife beater, and under most circumstances, hardly ever a man,” Gulliver, a photographer by trade, wrote (via The Hollywood Reporter). “My having lived full time with my father should be in itself proof enough … I was there at the time of the ‘incident’ so I’d like to make this radiantly clear: it didn’t happen. Anyone who says it did is lying.” He’s an icon in the acting world, and it seems as though Gary Oldman has the full respect of his kids, too. “He is a wonderfully kind man, gifted beyond belief,” Gulliver added.

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