Photos by Julie Cunnah

On the tail of a long-overdue first Academy Award nomination for his remarkable performance as the tenacious George Smiley in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Gary Oldman stopped by Film Society of Lincoln Center for an illustrated discussion of his prolific and extraordinary career with Program Director Richard Peña.

Since his explosive breakout in Mike Leigh's TV drama Meantime in 1984, Gary Oldman has come to be known as an “actor's actor,” an artist of extraordinary versatility who completely incarnates every role he's asked to play. “I don’t seek out roles,” Oldman told the packed Walter Reade Theater, “my whole career, I’ve been invited, in a way.”

Throughout his career, Oldman has tackled such iconic characters as Sid Vicious, Lee Harvey Oswald, Beethoven, and Dracula, as well as scene-stealing offbeat character roles like those in True Romance and The Fifth Element. “Acting is a bit like standing at the foot of a mountain,” he said. “You come in knowing what is required of you, and then you look up at the peak and realize that you’re gonna have to get all the way up there.”

In addition to providing insight into his own distinctive characters, Oldman also detailed what it was like working with directors who have larger-than-life personalities (Francis Ford Coppola, Oliver Stone, Tony Scott, and Chris Nolan to name a few). Providing impersonations of each, he said no matter the talent, good directing is knowing when not to say something. “When you can see something going, and see something cooking, you have to let it happen.”

Acting still breaks down into basic elements for Oldman. “Acting is not intellectual, it's a sensation. It's a feeling,” he said. “I try to create an ambiance or mood for a character and use music to determine how the character sounds—that’s where I start.”

If you missed this unforgettable converation, you can watch complete video of it below. Tickets to this sold-out event were made available to Film Society members and patrons before going on sale to the general public. To receive these and other great benefits, become a member or patron today by visiting the Support section of our site.