Gary Oldman used to be Hollywood’s go-to villain. Now he’s better known for playing good guys, like Sirius Black in the Harry Potter films and—as fanboys well know—Jim Gordon, the beloved police commissioner in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, which concludes with The Dark Knight Rises.
TIME: Where you always a Batman fan?
Gary Oldman: I loved the Adam West television series growing up. Loved it. Programming in those days was very limited so it was one of the most exciting things on television. I certainly would look forward to it. And of course, one didn’t realize when one was six or seven years old how campy it was.
You signed on to play Jim Gordon without even reading the script. How come?
I sat down with Chris Nolan and he just pitched this fantastic reinvention of Batman. Chris is very persuasive.
Were you always committed to the trilogy?
We weren’t even sure that there was going to be a third after The Dark Knight wrapped. It was a very, very well-kept secret.
What was the hold-up?
Chris wanted to get the ending right, so he wrote the ending of this one before he wrote the script. I think he was holed up in the writing room with his brother and David Goyer (his co-screenwriters) trying to cook something up that could equal, if not top The Dark Knight.
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Everything about DKR has been very hush-hush. What was that like?
There was so much paranoia around the script getting out — understandably because of spoilers. So when I travelled with it, I would hide it because it was too big to put in a hotel safe. Once I hid the thing and forgot where I’d put it. I had a 20-minute panic… but found it under my mattress.
Eight years pass between The Dark Knight and this new film. How has Gordon changed?
We’ve policed and cleaned up Gotham, but the city has grown fat and cynical. Gordon comes in with this secret he’s been carrying around—how it all went down with Batman taking the fall for Harvey Dent. It’s out of character for Jim Gordon to lie—he’s been carrying that around with him. And I think it has taken its toll on him. It has cost him his marriage. And when we meet Jim in this film, he’s about to go public with the truth and for whatever reason, he thinks maybe the people aren’t ready to know this yet. Then, of course, all hell breaks loose.
You are like Super Gordon in this role. It’s very physical.
One of the reasons Chris’s movies work so well is that he doesn’t like to use a lot of green screens or digital wizardry. We all had our own stunt doubles. One of my poor guys even broke his leg.
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But Nolan’s lack of green screens makes for some pretty incredible scenes.
Yes, take the spectacular opening sequence. Apart from a few digital effects and obviously an interior of a plane, which was shot in the studio, those planes really are up there flying in the sky.
The new villain, Bane, is one scary dude.
This is the first time that you really feel that Batman has a real opponent. The previous villain, The Joker, was more psychological threat and he obviously couldn’t match Batman in terms of strength. Now Batman has finally met someone who is his match.
What do you think is next for the Batman franchise?
My guess would be that they retire Batman for a while, put him away in a drawer. Maybe Chris will come back as a story consultant or an executive producer for the next reboot.
How has your life changed since you got the Oscar nod for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy?
It’s kinda strange. I was out of work when I got the nomination so it was a weird thing where you’re having all this glory and praise heaped upon you and you’re unemployed. Where it’s changed is now when I’m introduced they say Academy Award nominee! [laughs] So it hasn’t changed my life that much—but now I am working.
And what about for you? More good-guy roles—or do you prefer playing the bad guys?
I’m back to playing a gangster in Lawless (out August 29). But I had a 10 or 12-year run as a good guy with Sirius Black and Jim Gordon. There’s a whole generation of people who only know me through those films and have not even seen a lot of the other parts I’ve played. I’ve enjoyed playing the good guy, that’s for sure. Let the younger lads—you know, the Tom Hardy’s—chew the scenery and climb the walls.
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