Vast riches poured in for appearances in box-office smashes including the Harry Potter franchise and The Dark Knight trilogy. But until a few days ago all he had to show for a glittering career, now extending more than 35 years, was a solitary Oscar nomination way back in 2012.
However all that is changing. The 59-year-old Londoner is now clutching his first Golden Globe, awarded last Sunday for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour. The honour is always said to be a barometer for the Academy Awards and he is hotly tipped to walk away with one of the gold statuettes in March.
Oldman, who started out as a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, is regarded as one of our finest method actors. He is renowned for his versatility with past roles including characters as diverse as Sid Vicious, Beethoven and Dracula. And it is accepted that an Oscar is long overdue. Yet should he win the coveted prize Oldman won’t consider it his finest achievement.
Gary Oldman celebrating his Golden Globe with wife Gisele Schmidt and sons Charlie and Gulliver
He insists that honour will always go to the manner in which he transformed his life after becoming a single father. For the best part of a decade Oldman, who has been married five times and had a reputation as a hellraiser, put his career second to raising his two sons.
“Being a single dad is the most challenging thing I have ever done. The hardest thing I have ever done,” he says. “I look at those boys and how really great they are and they are my greatest accomplishment. That gives me a sense that I have got something right. I take great joy and peace from that.”
Gulliver, 20, is an aspiring photographer while Charlie, 18, is a model. Oldman, however, had a far grittier upbringing.
He was born in New Cross, London, in 1958. It was a rough area and he grew up in a home with an outside toilet. His father, a welder, was an alcoholic who walked out on the family when Oldman was seven.
He left school in his mid-teens to work in a sports shop and before becoming an actor had a variety of other jobs including hospital porter and abattoir worker.
All his early acting parts were on stage and he was with the RSC for a year in the mid-1980s. His breakthrough film part was playing the ill-fated punk Sid Vicious in 1986’s Sid And Nancy. The actor is said to have lost so much weight to emulate the skeletal look of the musician that he collapsed on at least one occasion. More plaudits followed including a Bafta nomination in 1987 for portraying playwright Joe Orton in Prick Up Your Ears.
By the time he headed for Hollywood in the early 1990s he was a rising star. Plum roles landed in Oldman’s lap. There was Count Dracula in Francis Ford Coppola’s version of the classic horror story and Lee Harvey Oswald in JFK. But he made his name in LA playing villains – notably pimp Drexl Spivey in Quentin Tarantino’s True Romance, a sadistic prison warder in Murder In The First and a terrorist in Air Force One.
Oldman also became known for the intensity with which he tackled every role but it seemed that he was on the road to burn-out. By his own admission the actor began drinking and it is no secret that as his bank balance prospered he was also in and out of rehab.
He has told how he would check into plush hotels for solitary benders, bingeing on whisky for days to reward himself for acting success. In a bid to conceal his problem from hotel staff he would drink from an array of glasses in a bid to indicate that he had had guests rather than being a sad, solitary boozer. He was also once held overnight for drunk driving at an LA police station after an evening out with actor Kiefer Sutherland.
An unsettled home life added to the turmoil. His first marriage to British actress Lesley Manville lasted just three years and produced a son but was over by the time he hit the big time.
BAD MATCH: With Uma Thurman
In 1990 Oldman became one half of a Hollywood A-list couple when he tied the knot with Uma Thurman but it proved a disastrous match. She soon dumped him, claiming he was “impossible” to live with.
Bride number three in 1997 was Donya Fiorentino after they met at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. That relationship also ended in acrimony four years later, culminating in a bitter custody battle over their two sons Gulliver and Charlie.
Oldman later admitted that marriage was one role for which he was not cut out for in his younger days. “I’m not proud to say it,” he has said. “But I’ve had a few goes at it so I’ve probably learned something.”
The boys were the positives. Oldman won custody and got his own act together, thriving on the new responsibility. He has said: “I woke up one day and I was 43 years old and I was a single dad and had these two kids. It wasn’t exactly what I planned but there it was in front of me. So I just made a decision to be at home more.”
ACRIMONY: With Donya Fiorentino
That reassessment of his life meant taking a pragmatic approach to acting. He focused on taking fewer but better-paid roles, which would pay handsomely and allow him to be a hands-on father in LA as much as possible. That was where blockbuster parts, playing Harry Potter’s godfather Sirius Black from the third instalment onwards and police commissioner James Gordon in The Dark Knight films, came in.
“Really good leading roles are few and far between,” Oldman once said with a nod to his decision to opt for these supporting parts, adding: “There are two Garys that are operating. I’m out there looking for a good role, primarily. But I’m looking for a good price tag so it would buy me freedom.”
He became one of the best-paid actors in the world alongside stars such as Tom Hanks, Harrison Ford and Tom Cruise. Reports of his net worth vary, with most estimating it at around £30million, but one recent report put it as high as £135million, helped by appearances in blockbuster films such as Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes and the remake of RoboCop.
Oldman made his directorial debut as long ago as 1997 with Nil By Mouth, a family drama set in the area of London where he grew up but that aspect of his career was also put on freeze-frame as he chased the dollar.
In 2008 he married his fourth wife, songwriter Alexandra Edenborough who is 20 years his junior, but it ended in divorce seven years later. He blamed the age gap but this time the split was said to be amicable.
Oldman was finally Oscar nominated for his portrayal of British spymaster George Smiley in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy in 2012 but missed out in the best actor category to Jean Dujardin for The Artist.
FINEST HOUR: Oldman as Churchill
On a happier note he married his latest wife, art curator Gisele Schmidt, last summer and he is hoping Darkest Hour will provide a double celebration. Oldman revealed recently on a chat show that he was dressed as Winston Churchill when he proposed to Gisele on the film set and, true to form, he threw himself into fully preparing for the part. The film covers a five-week period at the start of the Second World War when the prime minister agonises over the nation’s fate.
OLDMAN devoured books on Churchill, studied his speeches to get the voice just right and visited the Cabinet War Rooms from where Churchill orchestrated the evacuation from Dunkirk. As the most prestigious awards ceremony of them all approaches it is already being described by critics as the Briton’s finest hour.
If they are proved correct the name of Gary Oldman, who put family first, may finally have to be removed from the list of greatest actors never to have won an Oscar.