Gary Oldman’s Lesson for Actors: Talk About the Movie!

In the midst of his inflammatory remarks to Playboy and his subsequent apology tour that included “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” Gary Oldman actually stumbled upon an inherent truth, and a helpful lesson to actors. Translated into Bill Clinton campaign terms, it would read as follows: Just talk about the movie, stupid.

“I stepped out of my area of expertise,” Oldman told Kimmel, adding that his detour into politics “derailed what my initial purpose was.”

That purpose, of course, was to promote the upcoming movie “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” in which Oldman co-stars. And lest anyone forget, actors are trotted out to handle those chores not necessarily for their insights, but because the broad TV-watching and movie-going public won’t tune in to see what the producer, writer or director of cinematography has to say.

This is not to suggest that actors have no place discussing politics or expressing opinions beyond their craft. In fact, critics (usually on the right, but also on the left) generally brand themselves hypocrites when they tell actors to shut up and focus on the work (or sing, in the case of the Dixie Chicks), since they invariably have no problem with those who share their ideology holding forth on similar topics. Sean Hannity might bash Alec Baldwin’s liberalism, for example, but treats Ted Nugent like an international scholar.

No, the issue is that there’s a time and place for everything, and that Oldman — despite being such a gifted actor — behaved as if he didn’t grasp the requirements of this current off-screen role. Because while it’s always interesting when someone goes on a rant that strays into political minefields, the task at hand was reminding people they can see chimps firing machine guns in their local multiplex beginning July 11.

If you actually read the Playboy interview, what jumps out is that Oldman was hardly prodded to address these matters. Instead, he sort of veered outside his lane just to bring them up. In baseball terms, it was a classic unforced error.

Again, this was an interview timed to the release of a summer blockbuster. And while Playboy interviews are more wide-ranging than most, for the most part under these circumstances people just want a few anecdotes, a couple of stories, then cut to commercial.

So the next time someone asks Oldman what he thinks about Mel Gibson’s experiences, he could easily answer by saying, “Mel’s a good-looking guy. A lot like Christian Bale. I remember him flubbing a line when we were doing ‘Batman Begins’ together. We both just laughed and laughed.” Or something like that.

For actors, Oldman’s latest variation on unplanned adventures into controversy is a reminder that in these situations, you’re just part of the traveling circus. And whatever his politics, when he told Kimmel he “should know better,” Oldman should at least have been at it long enough to recognize when you deviate from the scripted routine, it’s not hard to wind up slipping on a banana peel.

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