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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.

Originally broadcast Feb. 4, 2012.

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

CARL KASELL: From NPR and WBEZ-Chicago, this is WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!, the NPR News quiz. I'm Carl Kasell, and here's your host, Peter Sagal.

PETER SAGAL, HOST:

Thank you, Carl.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Thank you everybody, you are fabulous. It is June at last, and that means another year is half gone and you still haven't started that novel. But it also means you can procrastinate outside because it's summer.

KASELL: I'm spending all day sunbathing. Watch your leathery back, crazy tanning lady.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Think of today's show as a primer for summer. We're going to talk summer movies with summer movie actors and we're going to review some important relaxation opportunities. And then, of course, we're going to enjoy the classic summertime pastime.

KASELL: Kite surfing.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: No, Carl, actually, I was talking about baseball.

KASELL: Knock yourself out, old timer. I'll be kite surfing.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: We begin with a man who has starred in more than his share of blockbuster summer movies, "Air Force One," the Batman trilogy, the Harry Potter series and many others.

KASELL: Gary Oldman joined us in February, along with Faith Salie, P.J. O'Rourke and Charlie Pierce and expressed some amazement that after chewing scenery around the globe, he got his first Oscar nomination for playing a buttoned down bureaucrat in "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy."

GARY OLDMAN: 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.

(LAUGHTER)

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

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: It's about subtlety.

OLDMAN: I heard them laughing.

SAGAL: It's about craft.

(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.

(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.

(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.

(LAUGHTER)

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

SAGAL: Oh yes.

(LAUGHTER)

OLDMAN: Yeah, yes, it's the immortal line isn't it, "get off my plane."

SAGAL: Oh.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: 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.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Really?

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

(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.

(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?"

(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 would say something like - you know, the classic mobster saying is "Hey, forget about it."

(LAUGHTER)

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

(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."

(LAUGHTER)

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

(LAUGHTER)

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

(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.

(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.

(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.

(LAUGHTER)

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

OLDMAN: Well, I'm a gentleman.

(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?

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?

(LAUGHTER)

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

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

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

(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.

(LAUGHTER)

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

SAGAL: You do.

(LAUGHTER)

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

OLDMAN: OK.

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: OK.

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?

(LAUGHTER)

OLDMAN: Oh, this is a tough one.

SAGAL: It is.

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

(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)

(APPLAUSE)

P.J. O'ROURKE: Yes, yes, yes, yes.

SAGAL: You have it.

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

OLDMAN: I know. I know.

SAGAL: Do you really?

O'ROURKE: 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?

(LAUGHTER)

O'ROURKE: And I have never touched the stuff since.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: All right.

O'ROURKE: 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.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Gary Oldman, thank you so much for being here. What a pleasure to talk to you.

(APPLAUSE)

SALIE: Bye, Gary.

OLDMAN: Bravo.

SAGAL: Bye-bye. Bye-bye.

OLDMAN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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