Gary Oldman was born on March 21, 1958 in London, England. His father was a sailor and welder while his mother worked as a homemaker.
Oldman grew up in south London in a working-class household. He was the son of Leonard Bertram Oldman, a former sailor who also sold and repaired typewriters, and Kathleen, a homemaker.
He demonstrated a talent for acting from an early age, but claims he never considered it as a career until after he left school. Oldman studied at West Greenwich School in Deptford, leaving school at age 16 to work in a sporting goods store.
Early Acting Experience
Even before considering acting as a career, Oldman was involved in his school plays. His first acting experience came at age 12 in the role of the Bishop of Nicaragua in his school play called The Bishop and the Miracle Worker.
Although at this point acting was just an extracurricular activity for him, it was a harbinger of the acclaimed career to come.
Gaining Recognition as an Actor
Oldman won a scholarship to attend the Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance in 1976. He graduated with honors in 1979 with a BA in Theatre Arts.
Joining a Theatre Company
After graduating, Oldman did what many young actors do—he joined a theatre company. In 1979, he joined the Greenwich Young People’s Theatre in London.
This kicked off Oldman’s acting career by having him participate in a number of successful stage productions. These included roles such as Rat in “Wind in the Willows” and a murderer in “Saved”.
|Wind in the Willows
The positive reception marked the beginnings of his path to critical acclaim.
Winning the Time Out’s Best Newcomer Award
In 1980, Oldman transitioned from stage to screen by starring in the film “Meantime”. His portrayal of Coxy earned him the Time Out’s Best Newcomer Award.
This film proved that he could translate his talents as an actor to TV and movies, and previewed what was to come in his esteemed career.
Becoming a Member of Royal Shakespeare Company
From 1985 to 1986, Oldman was part of the Royal Shakespeare Company, for which he played the demanding roles of Scopey in “The Pope’s Wedding” and Feste in “Twelfth Night”.
Achieving Hollywood Stardom in the 1990s
The 1990s marked Oldman’s rise to mainstream popularity. Several of his iconic roles decade propelled him to Hollywood stardom.
Portrayal of Sid Vicious in “Sid and Nancy”
One of Oldman’s first breakout roles was playing the punk rock icon Sid Vicious in the 1986 British biopic “Sid and Nancy”. The film explores the turbulent relationship between Vicious (of the Sex Pistols) and his unstable girlfriend Nancy Spungen.
Oldman’s raw and gritty portrayal of the notoriously self-destructive punk figure received high praise and demonstrated his incredible ability to convincingly transform himself into a radically different person on screen. This showcased his skill and cemented his status as one to watch in the industry.
Playing Lee Harvey Oswald in “JFK”
In 1991, Oldman gave an electric performance as Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who assassinated JFK, in Oliver Stone’s film “JFK”. Even amongst an ensemble cast packed with stars like Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, and Joe Pesci, Oldman stood out for his haunting take on the mysterious Oswald.
Starring as Count Dracula in “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”
Arguably his most iconic role of the 90s was his 1992 performance as the bloodthirsty Count Dracula in the gothic horror film “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, the film was a box office smash and Oldman’s sinister yet seductive Dracula was widely praised as one of the best adaptations of the character to date.
Continued Success and Accolades in the 2000s-2010s
While the 90s were what made Oldman a star, his acclaimed work extended well beyond the decade. He has amassed quite the extensive filmography since 2000, showing off his versatility.
Playing Sirius Black in the “Harry Potter” Series
From 2004 to 2011, Oldman played the role of Sirius Black in the smash hit “Harry Potter” film series. Sirius acts as a fatherly mentor to the titular boy wizard. Fans of the franchise praised the likable rapport between Sirius and Harry, thanks much in part to Oldman’s affable screen presence.
Winning a BAFTA for “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”
At the 2012 British Academy Film Awards, Oldman won the BAFTA for Best Actor for his role in the 2011 Cold War espionage film “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”. It was his first-ever BAFTA win.
His grim and measured performance as intelligence veteran George Smiley drew widespread acclaim as one of the best of his prolific career.
Playing Commissioner Gordon in The Dark Knight Trilogy
Oldman added another iconic role to his filmography by playing Commissioner Jim Gordon in Christopher Nolan’s critically and commercially successful Batman trilogy. He portrayed Gotham City’s top cop in “Batman Begins” (2005), “The Dark Knight” (2008), and “The Dark Knight Rises” (2012).
Audiences appreciated him as a dependable ally for Christian Bale’s Batman. His serious yet sympathetic Gordon served as the moral center of the gritty films.
Achieving Career Pinnacles in the Late 2010s
As his career progressed into the late 2010s, Oldman finally achieved two major honors that had long eluded him—an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award.
Winning the Oscar for Best Actor
At the 90th Academy Awards in 2018, Gary Oldman won the Oscar for Best Actor for his transformative turn as Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour” (2017). Known for being a chameleon on screen, Oldman was nearly unrecognizable under heavy prosthetics.
His rousing portrayal of the legendary British prime minister during World War II earned wide critical praise. After decades of giving one acclaimed performance after the next without winning, Oldman finally earned Hollywood’s highest honor for his acting.
|Academy Award for Best Actor
Winning the Golden Globe for Best Actor
That same year at the Golden Globe Awards, Oldman won Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama, also for “Darkest Hour”. Again, the win came from his passionately crafted performance as Winston Churchill.
Like the Oscars, the Golden Globes had eluded him for his entire career. But the role of a lifetime as Churchill rightfully earned Oldman the glory from both voting bodies that he deserved.
|Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama
In his personal life, Oldman has been married five times and has three sons.
Marriages & Children
Oldman married English actress Lesley Manville in 1987, but they divorced months later in 1989. He married American actress Uma Thurman in 1990; their marriage ended after two years.
Oldman was married to Italian actress and model Donya Fiorentino from 1997 to 2001. They have two sons together: Alfie and Gulliver. He married his fourth wife Alexandra Edenborough in 2008 but they divorced in 2015.
In 2017, Oldman married writer and art curator Gisele Schmidt. They met at a movie premiere in 2015. This has been his longest marriage to date.
His three sons have also pursued careers in the film industry. Alfie works as a writer, Gulliver is an actor, and Charlie John (from the marriage to Donya Fiorentino) is a filmmaker.
Struggles with Alcoholism
Oldman has been open about his battle with alcoholism earlier in his career. He struggled with drinking problems throughout the late 80s and early 90s at the height of his fame. The turbulent third marriage to Fiorentino exacerbated those problems.
In 1995, he checked himself into Marworth treatment facility in Waverly Township, Pennsylvania, for alcohol rehabilitation on the recommendation of friend Dennis Hopper. Oldman cites that stint in rehab as what helped him eventually overcome his alcohol abuse issues.
In summary, Gary Oldman is considered one of the most brilliant character actors of his generation—an impressive chameleon capable of fully disappearing into radically diverse roles.
His standout performances have run the gamut from punk rebel Sid Vicious to the sophisticated grace of Winston Churchill. Other memorable roles include Dracula, Lee Harvey Oswald, Sirius Black, and Commissioner Gordon.
While often cited as one of the best actors to have never won an Oscar, Oldman finally earned that honor in 2018 alongside a Golden Globe for his rousing turn as Churchill in “Darkest Hour”. The wins represented career pinnacles that acknowledged his extensive acclaimed body of work.
Now in his 60s yet still going strong, Oldman’s dedication to his craft and captivating screen presence show an artist fully in command of his skills. Audiences eagerly anticipate what he will take on next. With five decades of superb acting behind him and more still ahead, Oldman’s brilliance has cemented him as a true Hollywood great.
Frequently Asked Questions
How did Gary Oldman get started as an actor?
Oldman displayed talent in school plays from a young age, but did not initially consider acting as a career path. He studied theatre in college, where his passion for acting grew. After graduating, Oldman began working with local theatre companies in London, earning recognition that eventually launched his screen career.
What was Gary Oldman’s big breakout role?
Oldman first generated significant critical buzz through his raw performance as the punk rocker Sid Vicious in the 1986 British film “Sid and Nancy”. The transformative portrayal showed his talents and set him on the path to stardom.
What was Gary Oldman’s most famous role in the 1990s?
Arguably his most iconic 90s role was playing the title character in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 adaptation of “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”. Oldman’s sinister yet seductive vampire became an oft-cited favorite Dracula performance.
Why did Gary Oldman win the Oscar for Best Actor?
In 2018, Oldman won the Best Actor Oscar for disappearing into the role of Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour”. He earned widespread praise from critics and audiences for humanizing the legendary British leader with humor, passion, and gravitas. It marked long-overdue leading-man Oscar recognition for Oldman’s consistently superb acting over the decades.
Has Gary Oldman struggled personally during his career?
Yes, Oldman struggled with alcoholism from the late 80s through mid-90s, once citing it nearly ruined his career. But he received treatment in 1995 and has been vocal about overcoming his addiction issues since then. He credits giving up alcohol as helping stabilize his personal life.