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It's nice to be in a film my kids can go and see; Starring in a Harry Potter movie isn't a role many would have predicted for Gary Oldman. But,as Eileen Condon discovers,he's a changed man.

Byline: Eileen Condon

ASK most actors why they want to appear in a Harry Potter movie and they'll tell you it's because they're huge fans of the best-selling novels. Gary Oldman,on the other hand, is a bit more honest.

``I needed the work,''he says without hesitation.``I haven't worked for a while, a couple of years. So,I thought it would be nice to get back to work and earn some money. Pay the bills.''

However, the acclaimed actor also knows that if you're going to earn a few bob, what better way to do it than with a role in the phenomena that is Harry Potter?

``It's prestigious,''he says with some understatement.``You'renot just making a movie,it's joining a family of some kind of cinematic dynasty I suppose.It's interesting to be a part of that. The material was good and the director was interesting.''

Not only that but Gary is the eponymous star of the latest offering,Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban,opening on Monday. He plays enigmatic wizard Sirius Black, who may have been instrumental in the death of Harry's parents and is now on the run from Azkaban prison.

The 45-year oldLondon-born star is no stranger to dark and sinister roles.He's one of the few British stars to make it big in Hollywood, thanks to chilling parts in movies like Dracula, Hannibal,Leon and JFK,in which he played Lee Harvey Oswald.

But he admits these days he's deliberately trying to shed his hard-hittingimage.``I've got three kids who like Harry Potter, soit'snice to actually be in a movie that they can see as opposed to a job that takes me away for 12 hours a day.It's nice for them to go, `Oh that's what dad does'.

``They really want to see the movies. One of them has read all the books,but he's 15, the other two are too small but they like the films.''

Although he actually admits he's not the ``world's biggest Harry Potter fan'',Gary is full of praise for its creator JK Rowling.``I love the idea that a woman has invented this world and has got kids reading a gain. I applaud anything that can take a kid away from a PlayStation or a Gameboy, that is a miracle in itself,''he says. Hearing the devoted dad talking about his children,it's difficult to believe that this is the same man who has three failed marriages behind him -including one to Kill Bill star Uma Thurman -and been in and out of rehab battling drink and drug problems.

But these days he has mellowed and is determined that his kids will come first. He has three sons, 15-year oldAlfie by his first marriage to actress Lesley Manville,and six-year-oldGulliver and Charlie,five,by his third wife Donya Fiorentino.

And it's because of his boys that Los Angles-based Gary says he has chosen not to work in the past couple of years.``I don't want to travel. I don't want to be in a hotel room away from my family. I want to do a sitcom in Burbank. I want to do Friends,''he laughs.

``It's 10 minutes away and I can be home for tea.I'm 45 now,I don't want to go to Morocco with Oliver Stone. Certain things come along and 10 years ago I would have done them,but now I'd rather let someone else do it.

``Harry Potter was the first time I've been away from home in years and it was a long commitment. I was glad to get home. My project for the past few years has been being at home with my kids.''

It's understandable that Gary wants the best for his own kids since his own childhood wasn't exactly idyllic.

Born to a working-class family on a troubled New Cross estate -which he actually depicted in his harrowing semi-autobiographical film Nil By Mouth -his welder father walked out when he was seven,leaving him in a household of women,including his older sister Laila Morse who now stars as Mo Slater in EastEnders.

His acting career began when he won a scholarship to the Rose Bruford Drama college and he's since barely put a foot wrong with a string of acclaimed TV, theatre and movie roles.

But it's Harry Potter which should win him over to a new generation of filmgoers,and Gary says fans won't be disappointed by the third instalment.

``I think maybe this will be the best so far in the series because director Alfonso's Cuaron's heart is in the movie,''he says.``He had a lot of good ideas when I turned up and we tried all different variations of the prison uniform.

``Alfonso's image of the new characters -Peter Pettigrew, Professor Lupin,Sirius Black and James Potter -of those guys as friends as Hogwarts,is a bit like The Beatles -Sirius being a bit like John Lennon, who is the slightly maverick one, a stinging wit and a bit outspoken.

``But, thenagain,I might not be people's idea of who Sirius Black is. I met a kid recently who came to the set who was looking me up and down and said, `I thought you'd look a bit paler, your hair is a bit long'. I was obviously a huge disappointment,''he smiles.

Disappointment or not,Gary has definitely signed up for the fourth Harry Potter movie,but warns fans not to get too attached to the character after that.

``After the fourth book,it's not good for me. I thought: `Oooh, five, six, seven,I could earn a few quid here', soI was actually quite sad that day when I found out what happens to him.''

Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban opens on Friday

CAPTION(S):

At 45,Gary Oldman is now a devoted family man. `My project for the past few years has been being at home with my kids,' he says; Gary Oldman as Sirius Black in Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban. `You're not just making a movie,it's joining a family of some kind of cinematic dynasty I suppose,' he says of his decision to accept the part
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:May 29, 2004
Words:1037
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