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Actor Gary Oldman Plays Not My Job

British actor Gary Oldman poses during the photo call for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy at the 68th Venice Film Festival on Sept. 5, 2011.
Giuseppe Cacace/AFP/Getty Images

It was a huge surprise in Hollywood last week when actor Gary Oldman got an Academy Award nomination for his performance in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy — people weren't surprised that he was nominated, but they were shocked that this was the first time.

We've invited Oldman to answer three questions about Up With People — a horde of wholesome, smiley young people who performed four Super Bowl halftime shows back in the day.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

PETER SAGAL, HOST:

And now, the game where we reward people for remarkable achievements with an unremarkable game we call Not My Job. Huge surprise in Hollywood last week, when actor Gary Oldman got his first Academy Award nomination for his performance in, "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy."

Now, the surprise is not that he got the nomination, but that he had never gotten one before, despite amazing performances as, among others, Sid Viscous, Lee Harvey Oswald and Commissioner Gordon. Now that was a great movie.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Gary Oldman, welcome to WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

GARY OLDMAN: Thank you.

SAGAL: So congratulations on the Oscar nomination. That's very exciting.

OLDMAN: Yes, it is. It is. And I'm determined to enjoy every minute of it.

SAGAL: And it's true, in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," which is just terrific, I saw it just last night, you played George Smiley, this very quiet, very intense, very still character. It just seems like there's scenes in the movie where you actually don't move at all, quite effectively.

And have you said to yourself, wow, you play all these psychopaths, I think in the "Fifth Element" you actually chew the scenery in one scene...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: I'm not sure. It's been a while since I've seen it. And they give you the Oscar for this?

OLDMAN: Yes. Can you believe I've spent - well, I've been an actor for 33 years. And I guess I've been in movies for nearly 25. And I've played my share of psychos and weirdos bouncing off the scenery. And they give me a nomination for something that is so understated.

SAGAL: Yeah. It's a great performance for that reason. You do so much while doing so little, if you will.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: You did play - that's a compliment, people.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: It's about subtlety.

OLDMAN: I heard them laughing.

SAGAL: It's about craft.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: But I remember every time I would go and see a big movie in the 90s, you were the psychopathic villain. And there's the "Fifth Element," there's "Air Force One."

OLDMAN: Yeah.

SAGAL: There's going back to "The Professional."

OLDMAN: Yes.

SAGAL: I mean, was it a little weird that for a period of about ten years when anybody said we need somebody that...

OLDMAN: Yes.

SAGAL: ...the entire world will loathe...

OLDMAN: Yes. Well it can get, after a while it can get a little tiresome. I mean you're at the mercy of the imagination of people that are casting you.

SAGAL: Right.

OLDMAN: And I did get this sort of typecasting thing got a grip on me for a while.

SAGAL: Right.

FAITH SALIE: Gary, what do you think it is about you that makes you so good at playing creepy?

SAGAL: Other than the fact that you've killed a bunch of guys.

OLDMAN: Yeah, other than that.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

OLDMAN: You know, I don't really know. If you met me in person, people are always surprised. I look much bigger on the screen than I am in real life. I mean, if I take my clothes off, naked I look like a boiled chicken.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

OLDMAN: I don't know how this has happened, but it has.

SAGAL: I'm sorry. I just had this image of, say, Harrison Ford in a death battle with a boiled chicken.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CHARLIE PIERCE: Actually, you held you own in that fistfight, for a boiled chicken, very well.

SAGAL: Oh yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

OLDMAN: Yeah, you have to see - "get off my plane."

SAGAL: Oh.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: You could have played his role. You know what's funny is we're talking to you and I'm listening to your voice and I'm saying to myself, first, well that's not what Gary Oldman sounds like. And then the second thing I think to myself is I have no idea what you really sound like.

OLDMAN: I don't think I do anymore.

SAGAL: Well that's the question, because, I mean, you have done so many different not just accents but voices. You've played Americans of like eight different kinds, you've played Russians and lord knows what Dracula was.

OLDMAN: Yeah, I mean the funny thing is that for playing the quintessential Englishman, George Smiley, I worked with a coach to get my English accent back.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Really?

OLDMAN: Yeah. I went to a New Yorker to learn how to speak English.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: I mean is someone - to paraphrase Mark Twain - were to shake you awake in the middle of the night, you have no idea how you'd sound when you screamed "What are you doing?"

OLDMAN: Well, I would shout something like - maybe, yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: You are, of course, one of your next big movies coming is the third of Christopher Nolan's Batman movies.

OLDMAN: Yes.

SAGAL: And you play Commissioner Gordon, iconic American comic book character. Of course, Christian Bale, who's from Wales, is playing Batman.

OLDMAN: Yes. Yes.

SAGAL: Michael Kane is playing Alfred. He's not even pretending not to be English.

OLDMAN: No, he's not pretending. Yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: And Christopher Nolan, the director and writer is British as well. Do you guys ever get together and go "why us?"

OLDMAN: Yes. Well, we sit around, as good Englishman do at 4:00 in the afternoon, drinking tea, going, you know, "what happened?"

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

PIERCE: Gary, when we're in the middle of - because we live in the middle of this - we don't sense, except for obviously the different regional ones, we don't sense there being an American accent. So how do you learn to talk American? I mean what do you do?

OLDMAN: The thing in the American voice is the R's.

SAGAL: The R's?

OLDMAN: Yeah. They all have a different kind of musicality. I'll give you an example. If you've got - you still have the sound of the Italian in the Italian New York. And the inflection at the end always tends to go down. So you'd saying something like - you know, the classic mobster saying is "Hey, forget about it."

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

OLDMAN: You know, it goes down. It's like this is the end.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

OLDMAN: And then if you go Irish American, the Irish, well it goes up. So it all goes up at the end. You'd go "forget about it."

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: I'm sorry, point of personal privilege. Do a Jew please.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

OLDMAN: Let's forget about it; everybody else did.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SALIE: Gary, you've played such a breadth of characters and so many of them nefarious. What is the strangest encounter with a fan that you've ever had?

OLDMAN: Oh.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

OLDMAN: The strangest encounter, I have a little office and it was public knowledge that I was up there and occasionally I would have people outside and they'd want a photograph with me or they'd want an autograph.

And I think the weirdest thing is I got a knock at the door one day and I opened the door and there was a young lady there who had a drawing, a sort of template of me on her boob.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

OLDMAN: And...

SALIE: Was it a permanent drawing?

SAGAL: Was it a tattoo?

OLDMAN: Yeah, and she was going to get it tattooed and wanted me to sign my signature under the face which was sort of just below her nipple.

SAGAL: Below her nipple? Because it's important, given your range of work, what role was it? Do you know?

OLDMAN: It was Dracula.

SAGAL: Oh, of course.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SALIE: And you have to answer, Gary, did you sign it?

OLDMAN: Well, I'm a gentleman.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Well, Gary Oldman, we're delighted to have you with us. We've asked you here today to play a game that this time we're calling?

CARL KASELL: We are the most cheerful, happy people you've ever seen.

OLDMAN: Oh lovely.

SAGAL: Isn't it nice?

OLDMAN: Yeah.

SAGAL: These days, halftime at the Super Bowl, it's A-list acts such as Bruce Springsteen, U2 and Madonna. But once upon a time, on four different occasions, in fact, it was a hoard of smiley young people who ran onto the playing field to entertain the nation with something wholesome. They were called Up With People.

We're going to ask you three questions about that group. Answer two right, you'll win our prize for one of our listeners, Carl's voice on their home answering machine. Carl, who is Gary Oldman playing for?

KASELL: Gary is playing for Jaclyn Turner of Newark, Delaware.

SAGAL: All right, ready to play. Here is your first question. Up With People was launched in 1965 at a conference in Mackinaw Island, Michigan. It became a big group, lasted for years. They have a lot of alumni now. What do current and past members of Up With People call themselves?

Is it A: Up With People Persons? B: Uppies? Or C: Pooples?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

OLDMAN: Well, I will have to go for Uppies.

SAGAL: Uppies. Yes, in fact, they call themselves Uppies.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Quite proudly. Very good, very good. Next question, the first Up With People concert at Mackinaw Island had a very unexpected act. Was it, A: Glenn Close, the actress, singing her own composition "The Happy Song." B: the young Vincent Furnier, soon to be known as Alice Cooper? Or C: the two year old Michael Stipe of REM mumbling happy birthday?

OLDMAN: You know what, I'm going to go for B again.

SAGAL: You going to go for Vincent Furnier, the singer who became Alice Cooper, was a member of Up With People?

OLDMAN: Yes.

SAGAL: I'm afraid it was Glenn Close.

OLDMAN: It was Glenn Close?

SAGAL: It was Glenn Close. And since you in your circles, in fact I believe you'll run into her at the Oscars, let me tell you, she really doesn't like to talk about it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

OLDMAN: I can imagine, but I just have to bring it up now.

SAGAL: You do.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Please do tell us what she says. All right.

OLDMAN: Okay.

SAGAL: This is exciting though. It means that you've got one right with one to go. You can win it here if you get this one right.

OLDMAN: Okay.

SAGAL: Up With People became famous for doing medleys of classic American songs, but they also wrote their own. Which of these was a real original Up With People song? A: We're American Made and in America We Will Lay? B: What Color is God's Skin? Or C: We Hate Wars But Love to Win Them?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

OLDMAN: Oh, this is a tough one.

SAGAL: It is.

OLDMAN: This is a tough one because those top two I think...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

OLDMAN: I'm going to go with B.

SAGAL: B, What Color is God's Skin?

OLDMAN: Yes.

SAGAL: Yes, that's the one.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

OLDMAN: Yes, yes, yes, yes.

SAGAL: You have it.

OLDMAN: It was all I could do not to shout that out because I owe my freedom from drugs to Up With People.

SAGAL: Do you really?

OLDMAN: I walked into Washington Square in Greenwich Village blasted out of my mind on LSD and there was Up With People singing "What Color is God's Skin."

SAGAL: No, really?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

OLDMAN: And I have never touched the stuff since.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: All right.

OLDMAN: Absolutely true.

SAGAL: Carl, how did Gary do on our quiz?

KASELL: Gary, you had two correct answers, so you win for Jaclyn Turner.

OLDMAN: Oh.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Oh. Thank you so. I hope, Gary, this is the first of a number of wins you're going to achieve this spring. Good luck, I really hope you do. The movie is terrific.

OLDMAN: I'm going to look up the Uppies.

SAGAL: I think you should.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: It should be your next movie, a biopic.

OLDMAN: Look for dauntless...

SAGAL: Gary Oldman is nominated for the best actor Oscar for his role in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy." Go see it. And Gary Oldman, thank you so much for being here.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SALIE: Bye, Gary.

SAGAL: Bye-bye.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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