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The darkest star; If you need an evil villain for your latest blockbuster who are you going to call? Gary Oldman, of course.

Tom Cruise gets more romantic leads, Jim Carrey gets more laughs and Bruce Willis gets more action ... but no-one gets more evil than Gary Oldman.

He's been a monstrous Dracula, a space-age assassin in Fifth Element, a ruthless terrorist in Air Force One and now a mutating spy in Lost In Space.

Oldman is the first to admit he's played more than his fair share of weird and twisted characters, but he insists scheming villain Dr Zachary Smith in the new interplanetary blockbuster is different.

He said: ``Making this movie gave me an opportunity to be in a film that my kids could go and see. That was the clincher for me.

"This was finally something that I could take my son to."

Up until now, the actor's prolific film career hasn't included many child- friendly titles. "None, in fact," he grinned. "I have made a few romantic films, but the others are violent, so my son has not seen any of that.

"When this script arrived, I thought that it might be nice to do a kids' movie.''

Slim, impeccably polite and fresh-faced at 40, Oldman looks nothing like a man who was once engulfed by his own two- bottles-of-vodka-a-day hell.

He's been sober for four years - these days, coffee is his only tipple. As well as gaining control of his life, he also seems to have avoided the physical and mental ravages that blight those who have viewed life from the inside of a bottle.

The talented actor is happy with the directions in which his career and, more importantly, his private life, are headed.

The trauma of two divorces - from British actress Lesley Manville, to whom he has a 10-year-old son, Alfie, and Hollywood sex symbol Uma Thurman - are far behind him.

Now Gary is happily married to 30-year-old photographer Donya Fiorentino, whom he met and fell for at his first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

The couple live in an idyllic Californian beach home with their 11-month- old son, Gulliver. Oldman's second child is still far too young for the cinema experience - even when dad is enjoying the rarity of starring in a PG certificated film. But the baby has got his teeth into dad's new role ... literally.

He got his hands on the doll-sized version of dad - well the Dr Zachary Smith doll to be more accurate - which is part of the movie's merchandising. "He bites the head off the doll," said Oldman, who is slightly embarrassed by the notion of toy shop shelves packed with miniature versions of himself.

He added: "The Gary Oldman doll just looks like the William Hurt doll or the Matt LeBlanc doll, with some fuzz painted on the face."

Gary's first outing in the kiddy-end of the movie market seems to have opened up a whole new world of opportunities for him. He's even prepared to do a sequel to Lost In Space.

But taking on those sorts of roles is not the only career change he's considering. He has also decided that it's time to jettison his big- screen bad guy image.

"I'm done playing villains," he said. "You won't see me as a bad guy for a while - no more villains."

Another reason Oldman wants to play Mr Nice Guy is because he's afraid of being stereotyped, even although he's only played the outright villain in a handful of films.

He doesn't blame anyone for that, though, and freely concedes that big- screen villainy has been quite lucrative.

"They pay better ... so if I do villains, I only do expensive ones," he laughed, before adding: "So, in a sense, you typecast yourself because there is no-one twisting your arm or holding a gun to your head to make you sign a contract.

"But I'm a little tired of playing villains because I think that there is a limit to it. After that it can start to hurt a career.

"That is why I'm looking for a change," he said, smiling that wolfish grin that didn't exactly sit well with his nice guy image.

Starring in Lost In Space reminded Gary of his childhood dreams of rocketing towards the stars.

He explained: "I really wanted to be a spaceman when I was a kid. I was obsessed with space. Not sci-fi, but the real thing - NASA and the moon landings.

"But when my mother put me on the draining board - in our working-class family you were washed in the sink - she discovered I was scared of heights."

And so the scrubbed-clean schoolboy's space dreams crash-landed.

NOWADAYS, Oldman couldn't be bothered with the idea of space travel. He said: "I'm sure the experience of looking back at the Earth must be mind- blowing, but I'm having a pretty good time down here at the moment."

You can understand why. Hollywood continues to beat a path to his door and he's establishing a reputation as one of Britain's most exciting new directors.

His first film, the uncompromising drama about violence and drunkenness, Nil By Mouth, won Baftas for Best Original Screenplay and Best British Film. It was also hailed at the Cannes Film Festival, where its star, Kathy Burke, won the Best Actress Award.

That overwhelming success was almost too much for Oldman to absorb. Particularly since he never imagined that Nil By Mouth - which he made with pounds 2.5 million of his own money - would be a hit.

"I made Nil By Mouth for me and a couple of mates ... and the world liked it," he said, eyes bulging in amazement.

"It is a great bonus when people come along and like what you do. But all that success of Nil By Mouth got in the way when I started writing my next film - which will be another dark drama. But I've finally got it done and hope to begin filming next year."

Oldman says he strives to live his life as honestly as possible. That shows in the kind of films he has chosen to write and direct.

It's probably - despite those wild boozing days and the villainous image - what makes him so incredibly likeable.
COPYRIGHT 1998 Scottish Daily Record & Sunday
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Copyright 1998 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Millar, John
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jul 31, 1998
Previous Article:BRITS WE LOVE TO HATE.
Next Article:Take a trip into the spaced-out world of William Hurt.

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