Gary Oldman Charlie Rose 1998-02-02

Monday 02/02/1998  

Actor Gary Oldman reflects on his experience directing «Nil by Mouth.»




Charlie Rose: Gary Oldman is best known for roles in such films as Sid and Nancy, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, JFK, True Romance,and Immortal Beloved. His latest effort is not in front of the camera, but behind it. As the writer, director and producer of Nil by Mouth, Oldman tells a personal story about a working-class family in South London. New York Times film critic Janet Maslin called his film »powerfully raw.» Joining me now, Gary Oldman, and I am pleased to have him back at this table. GARY OLDMAN, Actor/Filmmaker, »Nil by Mouth»: Yeah. Welcome back.


Gary Oldman: How are you?


Charlie Rose: How do you feel about directing?


Gary Oldman: How do I feel?


Charlie Rose: Yeah.


Gary Oldman: Well, I was always— I was always aware that it was— it was hard. I mean, it looked hard, you know, just as anobserver of it. And have always — tried to, at least — bedirector friendly.


Charlie Rose: Yeah.


Gary Oldman: You know, show up on time, know your lines, you know, have an idea or some clue of what you’re gonna do. I had no idea how hard it was, in fact— physically. The— just the stamina that one needs for it. But, you know, acting is an interpretive art and you are one who communicates these ideas— playwright, author— an author’s ideas, and it was nice, for once, to be in the driving seat. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it a lot.


Charlie Rose: Something you’d like to do again?


Gary Oldman: Something— I think I— Yeah, I think I have to do it again.


Charlie Rose: Really?


Gary Oldman: Like— in a way I had to— I had to write this piece.


Charlie Rose: Why did you have to write this story?


Gary Oldman: Well, it— it had been so— it was haunting me, and it was to the point of obsession. And it’s been such an important part of my life, growing up there, being molded and being shaped by that, and I thought that if I was— if I was gonnapick up a camera that I should at least start, come out of the gate as a director with a— with a— with a milieu that I really knew, that I could really own, you know—


Charlie Rose: Yeah.


Gary Oldman: —in a sense. You can— you may not like the film.You may like it. You may not like it. But— I’m on good ground here, you know. I know my subject on this one.


Charlie Rose: Tell me the story, for the benefit of those who haven’t seen this film.


Gary Oldman: Well, you know, it’s about a family in South London and specifically about a married couple — Raymond and Valerie — and they have— She’s pregnant, and they have a daughter, five, Michelle, and it’s really a couple of months— kind of a look through the keyhole, in a sense, looking in at their lives. And Raymond’s an alcoholic, and— you know, the themes or the issues that the film deals are chemical dependency and co-dependency. So, you know, Ray’s addicted to— Ray’saddicted to booze and Val’s addicted to the— for these women, the men are the drug, so she’s addicted to Ray.


Charlie Rose: You sat and watched in the green room a conversation I did with Anna Quindlen.


Gary Oldman: Yeah.


Charlie Rose: And you said, as you walked out, that it’s the same—


Gary Oldman: Yeah. I mean, I can’t get into the psychology of— Ican’t really get into the head of women why they put up with abusive relationships and spiritually, emotionally, verbally— you know, this film deals with domestic violence, but it’s notjust about that. It’s a violence of the spirit, of the soul, that the film deals with as well. And why they stay I can only imagine that is— it may be easier to be in a relationship like that than an indifferent one. You know, »He sees me flirting with someone else. He beats me up because he’s jealous, so that means he loves me, doesn’t it?» It might not be a cuddle or a kiss and it might be a belt around the head, but it’s better than— it’s better than nothing.


Charlie Rose: Better to— It’s better to show reaction to me than to ignore me.


Gary Oldman: Than to ignore me. But what she was saying about the— digging up the roots of one’s life, you know—


Charlie Rose: This is—


Gary Oldman: Yeah. When she was talking about sort of, youknow, divorce and why— Actually why some, you know, peoplestay together because of the fear of that. I’ve done it. I’ve been through it. And it’s— and I’m still— I’m still shaking and reeling from the aftershocks of it. From— you know, it’s 10 years ago,and it affects me. Every day I think about it in some capacity.


Charlie Rose: Do you really?


Gary Oldman: Yeah. You know— I have a child from that marriage, so you are inextricably— you’re linked to this person.


Charlie Rose: Yeah, but is it still painful.


Gary Oldman: It can be.


Charlie Rose: Yeah, yeah, it can be especially when there’s a— I think, when there’s a child involved. You know, that— and it kicks up— it kicks up a lot of dust for me, you know, because I do— I find myself projecting, feeling for him, you know, missing me for him in a way that I kind of miss my dad. I kind of put my— you know? I kind of put myself in that head— in that littleboy’s head, and it can be incredibly painful.


Gary Oldman: How much of this story is your story?


Charlie Rose: Of Ray?


Gary Oldman: Who was Ray? Ray was— Ray’s a bit of me. He was very much loosely based on someone who was a part of my family, who isn’t any more. It’s autobiographical in spirit, in mood more than it is literally. But it’s peppered with incidences and episodes and people that it’s a sort of cocktail of things, you know, from—


Charlie Rose: Set this up. This is where Billy, who’s been beaten up— Ray— drops by the family home to quickly see them. You remember this scene?


Gary Oldman: Yeah.


Charlie Rose: OK, set it up. Anything else I should say about that?


Gary Oldman: This is Billy, when he comes around with the wine, is it?


Charlie Rose: Yeah.


Gary Oldman: He comes around with the cases of wine.


Charlie Rose: Right.


Gary Oldman: Well, it’s just another sort of typical Sunday— It’s a typical Sunday afternoon at home.


Charlie Rose: Roll tape. Here it is. (excerpt from »Nil by Mouth») 1st


Actress: Hello, Billy, what’re you doin’ here. Come in. 1st


Actor: Is your mum here? 1st


Actress: Yeah, she’s in the living room. 1st


Actor: Can you get her? 1st


Actress: Come on in. 1st


Actor: No, I’m all right. 2nd


Actress: Kenny, Kenny, Billy’s here. 2nd


Actor: Billy, boy, get your ass in here. 2nd


Actress: You’ve got some funk coming around here. Ray’s on his way around. He’s just come off the phone, and he sounds boozed. 1st


Actor: Yeah, so? 2nd


Actress: Well, (deleted) for me. He’s got— over that picture. 1st


Actor: What picture? 2nd


Actress: You walked off with his mum’s picture. 1st What are you laughing at? 2nd Ray’s upset by that picture. 1st You have no desire with that, you little geek. You’re coming and get upstairs, right? ‘Cause he’s on his way over with that Mark. 1st


Actor: Yeah, (deleted) him. 1st


Actress: Well, where are you goin’ with a picture? 1st


Actor: Found it, and I— 2nd


Actress: Come in, and we’ll hide you under the bed. 1st


Actor: No, don’t be daft. Only come up to give you this. 2nd


Actress: What’s this? 1st


Actor: That’s for you and Nan, all right? Because I— She makes me— she makes eggs for tea and all that lot. You know what I mean? Bit fresh at the minute, so I— OK? See you later. 1st


Actress: Billy, take it back. We don’t want it. 1st


Actor: No, that’s yours. All right? I’ll see ya, maybe in a week.Ta-ta, Val. I don’t want big Ray getting on me. 2nd


Actress: You, you’ll bring back that picture, right? It was his mother’s. 1st


Actor: Are you still upset with me? 2nd


Actress: No, I love ya.


Gary Oldman: One of the few clips you can actually show on television.


Charlie Rose: I know. The film is dedicated to your father. Tell me.


Gary Oldman: Yeah. Well, he left home when I was, I think, seven, eight— and, in fact— and then died. I was— I was about 25, 26— In fact, I was in the middle of shooting Sid and Nancy, when he died. And I hadn’t seen him very much in that— in that time. And you— it affected me. I carried a lot of issues that were bubbling around in me that were— that were unresolved and— You see, I don’t remember— I don’t remember my dad ever saying that he loved me. See? I just can’t remember it. I’m sure he did. I know he did. I— I know he loved me. But I was a young boy, and a lot of— and a lot of it I’ve kind-of— somehow, you know, just sort of— I’ve taped over it. I’ve, like, erased it. So that when— and he didn’t see any of this— the success, you know, the stuff that I’ve achieved. And, when we were— and the film deals with absent fathers. There’s no authority figure in the movie, so that’s one of its themes, that it deals with— and Iwas sitting there in the editing room and watching all of this come back at me. And I thought, you know, »it’s for you in a way of—» It’s like a love letter, saying, »Whatever happened, you know, I can’t change any of it, so I might as well actually try and somehow resolve and move on and forgive.» You know, I can’t forget it, but I can actually, you know— I missed him a lot, and I think— It’s— my work has been very influenced and fueled by that, you know?


Charlie Rose: How so?


Gary Oldman: Well, you— as I say, because he wasn’t around to see a lot of it, I would find myself standing in the wings, you know, when I was in the theater, doing plays, and sort of— I would have conversations with him. Or one night I would dedicate it to him and say, you know, »This one’s for you» or whatever. You know— It— strange kind of relationship with him.And— because I think when a father goes— you— you— the little boy kind of has to become a dad in a sense. And then there’s always that— they’re such powerful mythical figures to us that then you have that, you know, you have this whole image of who dad is, you know. And— you know, and now, with time and— I can look at it and think, »Well, you know, he wasn’t perfect. I made him perfect,» you know. And no one can be that, so— that’s really what the— really what the heart of the dedicationis, just sort of saying, you know, »I’m gonna move on.» And, of course, the film— Ray talks about— Raymond in the film talks about his father, which in part is my—


Charlie Rose: Your voice


Gary Oldman: —is my father. Yeah, is my voice. You know? So, on that level it is a very personal film. But it’s a well of emotion that one has been tapping into for a long time ’cause it all—’cause it’s in Dracula. It’s in Oswald. It’s in all of that work.


Charlie Rose: Yeah.


Gary Oldman: But here the spotlight’s on it.


Charlie Rose: Yeah. It’s in all of the other work?


Gary Oldman: Oh, yeah. I think anything is for anyone. Whether they sculpt, paint— it’s all autographic, you know.


Charlie Rose: Did you— the autographic— autobiographical part— did you feel not loved because said— never said he loved you. Did you feel not— you wanted to know why.


Gary Oldman: I think it’s just hard. It’s very hard for seven-year-old to understand why someone doesn’t want to stay around.And you— I think a lot of people— well, I can only— Not a lot of people, me. I can— You blame yourself. You look to you.


Charlie Rose: »Something’s wrong with me.»


Gary Oldman: You’ve failed somewhere, you know, and you want to say, »Well, if you do love as much as you say you love me, why are you— well, then why are you going off over there?»


Charlie Rose: Yeah.


Gary Oldman: Gonna hang around. It’s very hard to work thatout as a little sort of chap. And what I’ve tried to do with my—with my eldest son. I just have a five-month-old— a new baby, so— But what I’ve tried to do with the eldest boy is always tell him I love him, and, you know— make him— you know, I wanthim to hear that.


Charlie Rose: That’s a direct result of what you experienced because you knew how painful it was for you.


Gary Oldman: Yeah.


Charlie Rose: Which makes me wonder— I had very, very different—


Gary Oldman: Yeah.


Charlie Rose: My father and mother—


Gary Oldman: Yeah.


Charlie Rose: Could not tell me enough how much they loved—


Gary Oldman: Yeah.


Charlie Rose: —me, and how— And I probably developed a hugesense of confidence, but at the same time my father didn’t do things with me as much as I wanted to— He wanted me to sort-of come and be a little person in his world— you know, go dothings with him rather than play sports and all the other things that I did, you know, in his absence. But I wonder if parents knew the consequences — as you do because you experienced it, therefore you are so good — you know, it would just beaxiomatic that they would do it. I mean, some of the most powerful stories I’ve heard—


Gary Oldman: Yeah.


Charlie Rose: —are the enduring presence of pain because ofthe absence of love from parent to child.


Gary Oldman: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I know that that has shaped—It’s shaped me.


Charlie Rose: Yeah.


Gary Oldman: You know—


Charlie Rose: And informed your work and everything else.


Gary Oldman: It’s significantly shaped me. And you see we’ve got this film— it deals with— it’s about, you know, the class immobile, the disenfranchised— and we— This is not— I didn’tmake this movie in response to a new government coming, you know, and I’m not gonna sit here and Maggie-bash, you know.But it comes at the tail of Conservatives in the— And we got this new government in— and everybody’s— you know, like you do— You’d think, »Well, a change, it’s gonna get better.» So, this movie was not made— this movie was made before that— before that happened. But his man— the sort of mantra of Tony Blair— he comes in and he sings, »Education, education,education.» This was his big thing. Which is fantastic. But, if you take, for instance, someone like Michelle, the little girl in the story, you send her out to school. She is so traumatized and— almost to the point of being catatonic, thinking, »Is daddy— the daddy that’s gonna walk through the door tonight— whether daddy will actually come home at all— but, if daddy comes through the door tonight, is he gonna be the daddy that loves me and that loves us all? Or is he gonna be the daddy who smells strange and whips me and my mother into an inch of life?» And, if you’re eight years old and you’re sitting in a class, you could have Einstein teaching you physics—


Charlie Rose: Yeah.


Gary Oldman: It ain’t gonna go in. You’re not gonna— If— I know if I’ve ever been worried about something, I’m preoccupied with it. You know, you half-listen. You can’t concentrate. You can’t read a book. You can’t focus because you’re worrying about this thing. And I think for many kids— for them it’s— it’s not so much in— it’s not so much that they’re— that they’re— they can’t learned but—


Charlie Rose: Preoccupied—


Gary Oldman: Oh, yeah. With all the stuff that’s going on at home.


Charlie Rose: That’s going on at home. Yeah. This scene, one last scene—


Gary Oldman: Yeah.


Charlie Rose: Where Ray has beaten Valery and is desperatelytrying to see her and get her back. In this scene he finds her so— as she comes home and he confronts her— anything else I need to say?


Gary Oldman: That’s where he goes to— She’s coming out of hospital, I believe.


Charlie Rose: Yes. Roll tape. (excerpt from »Nil by Mouth») 2nd


Actress: Found your picture. 3rd


Actor: What? 2nd


Actress: The one Billy took. 3rd


Actor: Oh. 2nd


Actress: Oh, I’m (deleted) mess. How’s your mum? Oh, you know, she’s worried, ain’t she? She’s worried about Billy and she’s worried about me. 3rd


Actor: Coming home? 2nd


Actress: We ain’t got a (deleted) home to go back to, Ray.Everything in that place is smashed. Jesus, I mean— I feel like you really must hate me. 3rd


Actor: I don’t hate you. 2nd


Actress: Well, I don’t feel loved. I mean, that ain’t love. I mean, can’t you see what the mess we’re in? Have you noticed what we’re like? We— we don’t talk anymore— (over shoulder) Just get in, mum. Just get in. I’m dealing with it. (to Ray) I mean, when you go out, you go out with your mates. And then, when you are indoors, you’re passed out and your brain’s asleep in front the television. I’ll turn the television off, go up to bed. You follow me up at three o’clock in the morning, stinking of booze.That’s what I get. And now you’re knocking about. No (deleted) fun, today, you know. And I feel so (deleted) old. You know, I’m so tired. You know, and I want to be able to look back and say,»Yeah, I had a bit of fun.» You know, when I’m old, instead of saying, »Felt sorry for me.» And that’s the life I’ve got. Do you hear what I’m saying?


Gary Oldman: And he stands there so— sort of— he’s sort of— I think he’s so handsome at the top of those stairs, and you just go, »Get it together.» You know—


Charlie Rose: »Don’t you hear?’ ‘ Yeah.


Gary Oldman: You know—


Charlie Rose: Great to have you.


Gary Oldman: OK.


Charlie Rose: Thanks, very much.


Gary Oldman: All righty.


Charlie Rose: Gary Oldman, the film, Nil by Mouth. Back in a moment, stay with us.

Monday 02/02/1998

Actor Gary Oldman reflects on his experience directing «Nil by Mouth.»