Maybe you’ve recently heard, but Gary Oldman is a complete bastard who sympathizes with Mel Gibson, thinks Nancy Pelosi is a “fucking cunt,” and can’t fathom why everyone is so damn beholden to political correctness. That’s certainly the only impression you’d be left with if you read the details of his new interview in Playboy as seen through the eyes of Mediaite,Salon, and The Huffington Post, all sites one could immediately picture frothing at the mouth at such a perfect opportunity to feign concern and scold inappropriate behavior from a big star in the name of the almighty page-view.
But you really should do yourself a favor and read the entire Oldman interview. As expected, what we’re hearing about it from those excerpting it to serve their own biases and generate traffic is only part of the whole picture. In order to fully appreciate where Oldman is coming from, it’s necessary to know the context of each of his comments. The fact is that while, yes, he does go off on a few very eyebrow-raising diatribes about politics and political correctness — utterly abandoning the latter along the way — he’s an almost comically antagonistic curmudgeon during the entire interview.
He hates most of his own movies, but not because he doesn’t appreciate the hard work of others that went into them, simply because he has no delusions about his own greatness and because he considers acting a job and nothing more. (He calls his incredible performance in True Romance, as white rasta Drexl Spivey, “a nice little turn.”) It’s actually a refreshing lack of pretension from someone of Oldman’s calibre.
He apparently deplores doing interviews considering that he’s given to saying exactly what’s on his mind and he knows from experience that this can get him into trouble. One of the best lines in the back-and-forth comes when he talks about doing publicity for Sid and Nancy, during which he was asked personal questions about his own early years. He answered them honestly and now regrets being so naive. “I’m so tired of it. I sometimes fantasize about sitting down in a situation like this and actually saying, ‘You know, it was all made up,” he counters. “‘I was just having a lark with you all.'”
He complains about the culture in Hollywood, saying that he grew up doing low-profile jobs in the service industry and has respect for people he encounters who do the thankless work nobody really enjoys. “There’s a lot of nonsense behavior, especially in a place like Hollywood. The money, the power, they create little monsters,” he says. And he definitely does have some very strong thoughts on where we are as a culture these days.
PLAYBOY: What’s your view of the future? Are you optimistic about where society is heading?
OLDMAN: [Pauses] You’re asking Gary?
OLDMAN: I think we’re up shit creek without a paddle or a compass.
PLAYBOY: How so?
OLDMAN: Culturally, politically, everywhere you look. I look at the world, I look at our leadership and I look at every aspect of our culture and wonder what will make it better. I have no idea. Any night of the week you only need to turn on one of these news channels and watch for half an hour. Read the newspaper. Go online. Our world has gone to hell. I listen to the radio and hear about these lawsuits and about people like this high school volleyball coach who took it upon herself to get two students to go undercover to do a marijuana bust. You’re a fucking volleyball coach! This is not 21 Jump Street.
Or these helicopter parents who overschedule their children. There’s never any unsupervised play to develop skills or learn about hierarchy in a group or how to share. The kids honestly believe they are the center of the fucking universe. But then they get out into the real world and it’s like, “Shit, maybe it’s not all about me,” and that leads to narcissism, depression and anxiety. These are just tiny examples, grains of sand in a vast desert of what’s fucked-up in our world right now. As for the people who pass for heroes in entertainment today, don’t even get me started.
PLAYBOY: Well, since you started.
OLDMAN: It’s like the old saying about mediocrity: The mediocre are always at their best. They never let you down. Reality TV to me is the museum of social decay. And what passes for music—it’s all on that plateau. Who’s the hero for young people today? Some idiot who can’t fucking sing or write or who’s shaking her ass and twerking in front of 11-year-olds.
Again, curmudgeonly as hell, but when you understand that Oldman’s entire personality is this way — that he’s as self-critical as he is critical of everything else — it tempers your blanching somewhat.
The normally excellent A.V Club’s take on the Gary Oldman interview mentions that he slams Philip Seymour Hoffman, but again, it excerpts only one seemingly harsh sentence. His actual comments about Hoffman delve into his own past substance abuse.
PLAYBOY: Is there any way the film community could have intervened to save Philip Seymour Hoffman?
OLDMAN: You can try, but you can’t stop someone, no. You have to want to do it for yourself. That’s the only way. I had heard he had run-ins with heroin and booze and things, so it wasn’t a total surprise. Tony Scott committing suicide knocked me sideways. That floored me, as did Heath Ledger. All those ridiculous stories about him being so in the character of the Joker was certainly not the person I knew. That’s sort of ludicrous, people blurring the lines and not understanding. There’s a lot of rubbish talked about acting, and it’s often propagated by practitioners of it. You just want to say, “Oh, shut up.”
Even when you’re working closely with people, you don’t really know what they’re like at home. On the outside someone like Philip Seymour Hoffman appeared to be happy professionally. He had kids; he was working with interesting people. But one never really knows. What eventually happens is you put the drink or the drug before everything else. There’s no argument about how good he was, but who knows what was going on inside? I don’t mean this disrespectfully, but maybe he looked in the mirror and always saw that very pale sort of fat kid. It’s a real tragedy for his family.
Now, yes, Oldman’s at his most astringent when it comes to his thoughts on political correctness, and maybe he goes overboard but he actually acknowledges as much in the interview.
OLDMAN: I just think political correctness is crap. That’s what I think about it…
I don’t know about Mel. He got drunk and said a few things, but we’ve all said those things. We’re all fucking hypocrites. That’s what I think about it. The policeman who arrested him has never used the word nigger or that fucking Jew? I’m being brutally honest here. It’s the hypocrisy of it that drives me crazy. Or maybe I should strike that and say “the N word” and “the F word,” though there are two F words now.
PLAYBOY: The three-letter one?
OLDMAN: Alec calling someone an F-A-G in the street while he’s pissed off coming out of his building because they won’t leave him alone. I don’t blame him. So they persecute. Mel Gibson is in a town that’s run by Jews and he said the wrong thing because he’s actually bitten the hand that I guess has fed him—and doesn’t need to feed him anymore because he’s got enough dough. He’s like an outcast, a leper, you know? But some Jewish guy in his office somewhere hasn’t turned and said, “That fucking kraut” or “Fuck those Germans,” whatever it is? We all hide and try to be so politically correct. That’s what gets me. It’s just the sheer hypocrisy of everyone, that we all stand on this thing going, “Isn’t that shocking?” [smiles wryly] All right. Shall I stop talking now? What else can we discuss?
PLAYBOY: What do you think of the pope?
OLDMAN: Oh, fuck the pope! [laughs and puts head in hands] So this interview has gone very badly. You have to edit and cut half of what I’ve said, because it’s going to make me sound like a bigot.
PLAYBOY: You’re not a bigot?
OLDMAN: No, but I’m defending all the wrong people. I’m saying Mel’s all right, Alec’s a good guy. So how do I come across? Angry?
Personally, I’m not defending some of the language he uses and I don’t think he acknowledges the core belief system that Gibson and Baldwin’s rants might have exposed (although I do agree with his take on the hidden hypocrisy of the perpetually outraged). But the “wry smile” indicated in the text — and his bombastically lashing out at everything — makes it feel a little less ugly because it makes it feel a little less all-serious.
Maybe the most incendiary comment Oldman makes is also the one that’s just about flat-out wrong. He claims that comedy and satire hide sins and that comics on the left are allowed to say things average people can’t get away with.
OLDMAN: Well, if I called Nancy Pelosi a cunt—and I’ll go one better, a fucking useless cunt—I can’t really say that. But Bill Maher and Jon Stewart can, and nobody’s going to stop them from working because of it. Bill Maher could call someone a fag and get away with it. He said to Seth MacFarlane this year, “I thought you were going to do the Oscars again. Instead they got a lesbian.” He can say something like that. Is that more or less offensive than Alec Baldwin saying to someone in the street, “You fag”? I don’t get it.
PLAYBOY: You see it as a double standard.
OLDMAN: It’s our culture now, absolutely. At the Oscars, if you didn’t vote for 12 Years a Slave you were a racist. You have to be very careful about what you say. I do have particular views and opinions that most of this town doesn’t share, but it’s not like I’m a fascist or a racist. There’s nothing like that in my history.
First off, the 12 Years a Slave thing is mostly nonsense. Yes, there’s nothing Hollywood loves more than smugly patting itself on the back for its own idealism, and there’s a very strong chance that the subject matter of 12 Years a Slave contributed to its success at the Oscars. But it’s doubtful anybody was going to accuse you of racism if you happened to think that Gravity was a better movie.
As for his thoughts on comedy: to some extent, genuine satire provides a blanket of protection for caustic commentary because it needs to. But if there’s anything we’ve learned over the past few years, it’s that there’s now an entire genus of social media activist that doesn’t consider the intent of a comment but digs its teeth directly into anything that offends it or uses language it finds unacceptable. And while we’re on the subject of language, I’m not saying that Gary Oldman’s right to level such a blistering attack at Nancy Pelosi, but I’m also not the least bit into shaming people because of their use of profanity. Oldman wants to say that kind of thing, it’s his business. I don’t agree with him here and I don’t agree with a lot of his politics, but he’s an actor, not a political leader who creates public policy.
The reason I think it’s at least important to take a look at the full context of what he says in this five-page interview is that there’s a larger issue here. There are news outlets whose bread-and-butter is ginning up controversy and to do that they often cherry pick the quotes that serve their own ideological needs. If you read the Playboy one-on-one and decide that Gary Oldman is a reactionary prick and you never want to see his movies again, that’s your decision. But at least you’ve read the actual interview rather than simply whizzing through a click-bait headline and a couple of quotes, then jumping right to a final judgment.
That’s the kind of crap today’s media culture thrives off of, and it’s bad for everyone.
Chez Pazienza was the beating heart of The Daily Banter, sadly passing away on February 25, 2017. His voice remains ever present at the Banter, and his influence as powerful as ever.