Three characters own The Dark Knight: Harvey Dent, the Joker and Jim Gordon. Which is a big change from Batman Begins, where Gordon is an exposition machine and little else.
That’s nice because Gary Oldman was so wasted in Begins. A damn fine actor, he gets to display some of his chops in The Dark Knight, bringing a working man honor to the role of Gordon. As he sat down at the roundtable interview for the film a couple of weekends ago, I was slightly concerned that he might be a jerk – some of the intense actors can be that way, and I had heard a rumor or two about him being difficult, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. He was funny, effusive and shockingly spoilery. If you’re afraid of major, major spoilers, beware the interview below. I’ve blacked out the most spoileriffic stuff, but it’s better than you’re forewarned.
Q: Lieutenant Gordon has a much bigger role in The Dark Knight than he did in Begins, is that something that you asked for? To get your character to have more to do this time around?
Oldman: I’m sort of the moral center of the piece really; the ultimate good guy. But I didn’t campaign for it. I’m at the mercy of what Chris Nolan writes and I think we had a good time working on the first one and maybe I’d like to think that he liked working with me and thought that I could carry it and pull it off. But I was very thrilled when he sent me the script. I thought, “Oh, yeah! I’ve got more to do.”
Q: Compared to the first film, was it the same feel on the set, was it more structured, did you follow storyboards…
Oldman: No, you never see storyboards. It’s very unusual, a movie of this size, this scale, you normally have a second unit director but Chris shoots everything because his feeling is that the action is as much a part of the movie as anything else, so he thinks, “It’s weird that I direct the actors and do a style and look and then someone else, another director, goes off and make this other bit of the movie.” So, he shoots the movie from the second unit and the whole thing. I’ve never seen a storyboard, I am sure that they exist. The great thing about Chris is that he’s so prepped, he doesn’t shout, he doesn’t scream, I’ve never seen him lose his temper. You start the movie day one, day 147 you come back and he doesn’t look tired. I don’t know how he does it! He just goes, “Hey, how are you? Great! How’s it going? Great, got some great stuff here, flipped a truck last night. Ok, start over there…” [laughs] He’s a very pleasant guy to be around and you’re home for tea and put the kids to bed. You do a day’s work and you are home for dinner. Who could want for anything more?
Q: In the first film you got to drive the Batmobile, but you didn’t get to do that this time…
Oldman: No, I didn’t get to do anything…
Q: Was there something fun…
Oldman: Oh wait, I did! I drove the SWAT car, it is me, [Nolan] asked that I come in even though we might not see you. It’s amazing that the city of Chicago gave Chris permission to kick the hell out of it like that. Those are real stunt drivers and real cars. He really flipped that truck and crashed that helicopter. He doesn’t like to use a lot of CGI, the explosion is a real explosion. That’s a building blowing up with Heath walking out of it – that’s really blowing up behind him, that building. And of course Chris tells a great story, he says the take was bringing Heath out of the building walking across this car park then the building sort of blowing up in pieces behind him and then the whole thing blowing up… Heath walks and gets into a bus and the camera follows and as it pulled away out of the shot, there was a first AD in there on a walkie talkie and he says Heath turned at the end of the shot going, “One more.” [laughs] Yeah, no, we’re not going to do that again! You don’t get another one! So there are a lot of “one-takes,” there are a lot of one take things, you flip that truck and that’s it, it’s a one take deal. Chris said I don’t really want to use CG I want to flip an 18-wheeler and he said to his special effects guy, “now go make it work.”
Q: What was working with Heath like?
Oldman: Wonderful, I was saying earlier that there are actors that go along in a career and it’s as if they’re travelling at subsonic speed and then you’ll get a movie like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or you’ll get Dog Day Afternoon and actors like Nicholson and Pacino go through the sound barrier, they don’t do it every time but an actor in a career will do that, if they are lucky, if they’re good. And Heath has gone through the sound barrier with this. I think it’s an extraordinary piece of acting and he was such a…there was a frequency he was tuning into like a broadband or something, he was tuning something, he found something. He tuned into a station that none of us could hear.
Q: Some actors are very “method.” After they said cut was Heath still the Joker for a while?
Oldman: No, you get a little… if you are that intense when you’re playing a role like that, there’s an energy on set and people get into it. I mean Jim Carrey is pacing up and down getting into an emotional scene and you can’t fuck with him because he’s off in the corner trying to sort of get into it or you take a moment and say, or Francis Ford Coppola says to you, “I want you to weep in this scene.” Yeah, you’re going to go off into a corner and think about terrible things, I don’t know, you know what I mean? And you are focused on something but you know, what you get with Heath is he’s so committed to the role and you look at De Niro’s work and if anything you watch a movie like Raging Bull and whether you think it’s good work or bad work, you’ve got to admire the commitment to it, the commitment to the work to gain sixty pounds to play Jake La Motta, that has to be applauded. And Heath is completely committed to this character and so free when he works, it was just like a freedom. Often it shot differently, because Chris would say let’s put it on steady cam or let’s put it on a handheld and see what he does, just wind him up and let’s see what he does, and there’s a real sense of danger there. I think that really comes across. But, we would cut and I would sit on the sidewalk with him and he would have a cigarette and laugh and joke and talk about Mathilda.
People want to believe the Joker contaminated him and you’d have to have a neurological disorder to, you know what I mean? I’ve played a lot of weird, wacky characters in my time and I’ve always managed to get to sleep. You know what I mean? But people want a darker story there I think, then there really is. Christian is still alive, you know? I mean, so it’s just an accident sadly. But I think he’s looking down from heaven saying, “They’re going to nominate me for an Oscar? You’re kidding me!! Bad timing!”
But I think he will get nominated and the work will get recognized – and this genre doesn’t normally get recognized because people don’t take it seriously enough. I mean, people don’t understand that it’s as hard to costume a movie like Michael Clayton as it is to costume Dracula or Jane Eyre. It’s just as hard. You have to get the right suit, the right shirt: “Should it be cotton? That tie doesn’t work with that, is the cardigan right? Should she wear a short skirt? Should it be a 3/4 skirt?” I mean, even though you are going out and buying the clothes there is the same skill that goes into it. But, of course the Academy never acknowledges, they would never give a best costume Oscar to Michael Clayton. And, so they’ve never taken the acting in these movies seriously, I think the last time they did was Tony Hopkins, they gave him an Oscar for a horror movie. So I think that they will acknowledge this and take it seriously on the strength of the performance not because it’s a posthumous Oscar and it’s a sympathy vote because he’s dead. So, I’d like to see it, he’s wonderful in it isn’t he? He’s wonderful.
Q: Were you in any of the IMAX scenes? Was there a difference between the IMAX scenes and the 35mm scenes?
Oldman: Noisier camera and it’s the size of a washing machine. Noisy camera, and did you know there’s a booklet that comes with the IMAX? Of how to act? Yeah…you have to make it really subtle because it’s going to be so much bigger. And make-up, the whole thing, the gestures, make the gestures smaller…
Q: Did you take any of it to heart?
Oldman: Well, I couldn’t be small if I tried.
Q: After this movie Gordon will also trust his fellow police officers even less than before I am guessing?
Oldman: Yes, he really is a really honest and incorruptable, virtuous character in a system that is very, very corrupt.
Q: But I like that he’s also very sneaky…
Oldman: He has to be.
Q: Gordon seems like the only optimist, like he’s the only one who
believes his fellow officers are actually good even when Dent character
is telling him no they are all corrupt.
Oldman: I think he knows they are corrupt but I think Gordon’s a great
poker player and he even says at the end, I think he has enormous
admiration for Batman at the end because he says, he does say people
will lose hope and everything was riding on this and then Batman says,
“But I killed those people, I’ll take the fall for it.” And that shows
great character, someone that can do that, I think he has an incredible
amount of admiration for him at that point. If there is a third movie
it’ll be interesting becaase he does openly work with Batman, even
though he says to the DA “We’ll arrest the vigilante Batman on sight.”
But he does openly work with him and he does trust him, because he gives
a crime scene to Batman over the police officers and his detective and
he says, “Look, you know what, no one is looking you can have five
minutes with the crime scene.” But, there is that policy that he is a
vigilante and that he’s kind of not working with him, he works with him
but he’s kind of not working with him. And now, if there’s a third one
he has to openly, publicly, hunt him and chase him but he’ll have to
meet with him covertly.
Q: There’s a debate amongst comic fans about whether or not Gordon knows who Batman is after working together so long. From you point of view does Gordon care who Batman is?
Oldman: No, I don’t think he does. Where is that in a comic?
Q: Well, every now and then there’s a storyline where maybe Gordon has figured it out because after working with him for so long how could he not begin to wonder.
Oldman: I think Gordon thinks that Batman is George Clooney. [laughs]
Q: You’ve been rumored to be in Bob Zemeckis’ A Christmas Carol.
Oldman: I am.
Q: Could you talk a little about working in that CGI environment?
Oldman: People have said it’s like theater, but often they are the people that have never done theater [laughs]. They go, [American accent]”It’s like working in theater isn’t it Gary?” And you go, “No, it’s nothing like theater.” Basically it’s like being in a movie but without the breaks and costumes. But it’s the weirdest thing because you perform the scenes much like you would a play with like 200 cameras in the room but you don’t wear a costume and you’ve got weird dots on your face and Zemeckis will make the movie in the computer later.
Q: I know Jim Carrey plays a lot of parts, are there a lot of actors together, do you do it together or do you act by yourself?
Oldman: You’re with them, I play Marley and I play Tiny Tim and I play Bob Cratchit.
Q: When you read the script for the first time and read that Commissioner Gordon gets shot and we all assume…
were you surprised or were there notes saying that’s not really what’s going on here? Or were you just as surprised as us the audience watching?
Oldman: No I wasn’t surprised because they were already talking about the third one. [laughs] I read – Oh he’s shot! He’s dead, yeah well he’s got to come back! [laughs] I don’t know what they’re going to say about the third one, Chris Nolan is… you’ll see Chris today and you’ll say, “Are you going to do the sequel?” And he sits here and he goes, “I don’t know…I’m kind of tired, I’m going to go on holiday…” Which I think is code for yes!
Q: So they haven’t given you a heads up like, “Hey we’re gonna shoot it in Summer of 2009″ or anything?
Oldman: No, I think he’ll go away and work the story. The way he did this one was he got together with his brother – well his brother later – but he got together with David Goyer and they sit around and they flesh out the story, the plot. They are like, “What are we scared of in the world? What really scares us? Wouldn’t it be great if we could make the Joker do this…” And they just throw these ideas around and get a story roughly of what they want. And then he hands it over to his brother – Chris is a great writer in his own right – but they got the story together and gave it to the brother to flesh it out. It’s a great way to work, I can’t think of a better way to work.