Veteran actor Gary Oldman had only a few scenes to play with Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, but he found the actor’s performance so extraordinary that he wasn’t sure how he’d feel watching the final film.
But Oldman, who plays Gotham City police Lt. Jim Gordon, says he was pleased to find that Ledger was good enough to make him forget the young actor had died from an accidental prescription drug overdose in January.
“I’d never been in a situation like this, where you’ve got a premiere coming up and you’ve got this sort of situation coming up and you’re thinking, ‘Heath’s not going to be there’ and ‘how am I going to feel when I see it?’” Oldman says. “And I really, honestly, I just forgot (he was gone).”
Oldman says working again with director Christopher Nolan was one of the major reasons he reprised the role — something he’s rarely done in his career, Sirius Black of Harry Potter fame aside. “His skill as a director aside, he’s a very nice man, he never seems to tire,” says Oldman. “He’s tireless, nice, prepped, knows exactly what he wants and you’re home for dinner and you put the kids to bed.”
That Nolan wrote a bigger and more essential part for Gordon was a bonus. In The Dark Knight, which opens July 18th, Gordon remains the “moral, incorruptible” glue that holds everything together. It’s a role that finds Oldman at the center of several major plot twists in the film, making it hard for him to talk about the film without giving away spoilers.
Staying on track in so large a production is never easy. With his schedule calling for him to work a few days at a time with long gaps in between, he had to rely on Nolan to find his place in each scene. “I interpret the part, but he’s like the road for me. He’s built the road, all I have to do is drive the car on it,” Oldman says. “He’s the wizard here.”
Oldman recently completed work on The Unborn, a horror film written and directed by The Dark Knight co-writer David S. Goyer. He’s also playing Jacob Marley, Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchit in Robert Zemeckis’ motion-capture animated adaptation of A Christmas Carol.
Oldman says the finished film of The Dark Knight is remarkable to him for daring to be a political thriller with a cape and cow. It also is remarkable for Ledger’s performance, which Oldman says is the kind of breakthrough that only a few actors are able to achieve.
“You watch someone like (Robert) De Niro in Raging Bull and, even if it’s not your cup of tea, what you have to celebrate or what you are responding to is the commitment to the work in that film,” Oldman says. “What you’re responding to in [The Dark Knight] is Heath’s total commitment to the role. I feel like I’m always watching the Joker. There’s no vanity about the role.”
In talking about Ledger’s death, Oldman says he never saw any sign that the actor was troubled by the role or in any way. “It wasn’t someone who was so contaminated and weirded out with the part that they went mad. So I just really do think it was just a very sad, tragic accident.”