Gary Oldman On The Firm

Film & TV / January 5, 2015
by Richard Luck

These days, if you ask Gary Oldman to name his favourite film role, he’ll say George Smiley in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. But before he played John Le Carre’s espionage ace in 2011, New Cross’s favourite son was always quick to say that the part he was proudest to have played was Bex Bissell, estate agent, menace to society and the key figure in Alan Clarke’s football hooliganism expose The Firm.

Already something of a star thanks to Sid And Nancy and Prick Up Your Ears, Leonard Gary Oldman was so determined to play a man who, in his words “says everything about the Thatcher years” that he instructed his agent to bully Clarke into giving him an audition. As the actor remembers, “I was really keen to work with Alan Clarke. His body of work is tremendous. You see a movie of his like [Borstal drama] Scum and it’s thrilling. Before I even became an actor, I wanted to work with Alan. And fortunately, we hit it off.”

Besides the chance to work with his idol, The Firm also gave Oldman the opportunity to play one of the more compelling villains of modern times. “With Bex,” he continues, “Alan and I put something up there on screen that no one had really done before yet everyone secretly knew about. Bex was a monster, but he was a monster everyone knew. He was like a British American Psycho – he had money and he was greedy but he was still angry. Alan was responding to what he saw as the Tories’ total misunderstanding of the society they’d created.”

And what about the incandescent rage behind Bissell’s superficial white-collar respectability? “Oh, I loved playing Bex,” Oldman laughs. “I didn’t need to summon up the anger because I was already angry. We were all angry. All those actors like Phil Davis and Patrick Murray, all those fight scenes – it wasn’t difficult for us. There was a hell of a lot of anger about.”

Since the violence in The Firm all but comes through the screen, it was no great surprise when the BBC grew a bit iffy about the picture. Explains Oldman, “The BBC wanted to cut it quite heavily and that really annoyed Alan – he’d seen them cut other films of his before.”

Remade – not badly but superfluously – by Nick Love in 2009, The Firm is still in a league of its own as far as getting to the core of ‘the British disease’ is concerned. The picture is also very useful in helping you root out people you want nothing to do with. For if upon mentioning The Firm someone starts talking about how much they love Tom Cruise, you know they’re cruising for a Bex special.

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