Polished Performances

Actor: Gary Oldman
Character: Drexl Spivey
Film: True Romance

Over recent years he has, somewhat, been reduced to supporting roles that don’t entirely suit his talents but there was a time when Gary Oldman was the go-to guy for intensity. This was primarily during the 1990’s where Oldman hit a winning streak of intense performances that showcased his chameleon-like abilities; Phil Joanou’s State of Grace, Oliver Stone’s JFK, Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula and Luc Besson’s Leon are only a few of his standout performances. However, it was in 1993 in Tony Scott’s True Romance that Oldman really made a huge impact. So huge, in fact, that it took him only 10 mins of screen time to make his mark on the film.

Working from a script by Quentin Tarantino, Oldman plays Drexl, a merciless and brutal pimp who runs a prostitution business and deals narcotics for the mob. He has a flamboyancy and a care-free attitude but it’s his dangerous edge that also makes him a ruthless killer.

When you break the film down, you’ll realise that Oldman appears very little. In fact, it’s only two scenes. But that’s all he needs to make a lasting impression. Despite his limited screen time, for some odd reason Drexl feels completely fleshed out. It doesn’t feel like the cameo that it essentially is because Drexl is such a vibrant and colourful character and (by one confrontation with Christian Slater’s protagonist Clarence) he has a major impact in driving the plot forward. Rarely do actors manage to achieve this with a cameo but it just showcases Oldman’s ability to command the screen and practically steal the film from under everyone’s noses.

And on that note, True Romance is not a film that’s shy of quality performers or wonderfully drawn characters. It’s credit to Oldman to be able to standout among such heavy-hitters as Christopher Walken, Dennis Hopper, Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini and many, many others.

It’s not just Oldman’s ability to transform that’s captivating, though, it’s also his striking appearance. Drexl is a white man who believes himself to be a black Rastafarian. He has the dreadlocks, the accent, the pimp attire, the imposing facial scar and lifeless eye that add to a backstory we can only imagine but are never told.

Apparently, in the early versions of the script, Tarantino had written several more scenes for Drexl but many were removed and re-purposed for Pulp Fiction before being removed from that film as well. If this was the case, then it would explain that a lot of thought has went into writing him even if it was left up to Oldman to flesh that out. And that he does. Oldman brings to the screen one of Tarantino’s most memorable creations and considering QT’s vast array of well-written characters this is quite the testament. The only fault that lies with Oldman and Drexl is that he’s so good, that there’s just not enough of him. It’s a stunningly impactful performance.

Oscars? – Oldman is an actor that has been one of the Academy’s greatest shames. With the (long overdue) exception of his best actor nomination for  Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy in 2011, Oldman has never really been favoured in terms of awards. He got nothing for this other than a vast cult following and those that appreciate his work often mention Drexl among his best.

(For more Polished Performances looky here)

20 Responses to “Polished Performances”

  1. Yeah, for such a small role that’s over early in the film, Gary Oldman’s Drexl is hissable in the extreme. And his demise so worth it (made one of my Death Lists, too. Of course, that makes it a polished performance, alright. Good one, Mark.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. How did I miss this? Wow. I’m grateful for your post. Yes! Something cool to rent….

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’ve not seen True Romance, Cindy? It may not be Tarantino that directs it, but it’s classic Quentin. The dialogue is some of his absolute best and it’s got a cast to die for. Its a lot of fun. And very, very cool!


  3. This is such a great feature you run. I like how you are considering the impact of the performance rather than simply it’s physical space on screen. Sometimes those roles that don’t require a lot of screen time can wind up some of the most powerful. (Nick Nolte in Warrior springs to mind.)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Standing ovation, bravo!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This was when Oldman could do absolutely no wrong (he’s still awesome of course). Man, that guy has got serious range and he’s a blast here. Have you seen the trailer for Darkest Hour? Oldman somehow passes himself off as Churchill.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agreed, man. Oldman was on fire around this time. He was always an absolute machine. Like you say, he still is but he doesn’t quite get the same juicy roles anymore. I have seen that trailer and Oldman looks superb. I’m not overly interested in the film itself, but I’ll give it a look for Oldman’s sake. Cheers Mark!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Gary Oldman is the man. I just marvel at how deeply he gets into character and like a chameleon, finds something different in every role.

    Liked by 1 person

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