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15 February 2014

TopGear talks cars with Gary Oldman

Porsches, driving in LA and nearly being run over by a Prius: we chat to a screen legend

Vijay Pattni
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To some, he will be immortalised as Count Dracula. To others, Sid Vicious. For many it might be Norman Stansfield, for a few it could well be Lee Harvey Oswald, and to an entirely new generation, Lieutenant James Gordon.

To TopGear, however, on this day, he is Man Who Likes Engine Noises.

"Cars to me have to make a proper noise," he says, as though reciting for stage. "You've got a Porsche, OK. You turn the key, you feel that frequency of the engine. I suppose I'm a bit old fashioned like that. I love the whole relationship you have with a vehicle."

Delivered in exactly the manner you expect of someone with the gravitas of Gary Oldman; the hushed, staccato, almost tortured musings of a deep soul. What comes next then, takes TopGear a little by surprise.

"I mean, I nearly got hit the other day by a Prius backing up because I couldn't hear the f****** thing," he says, as loud and proud as any Sarf Landaner can be.

Seeing as Oldman loves his cars, would he consider doing a proper car film?

So there we have it. Likes cars, loves a good noise, hates Priuses. Welcome to the automotive world of Gary Oldman, a man once described by Colin Firth as "candidate for the world's best living actor" and, it turns out, a man who really loves his Porsches.

"I've got a 550 Spyder at home. It's been... completely restored. Totally redone. It's not a cheap car to run, I must say, but..." Oldman trails off. He does this a lot.

But still, a Porsche 550 Spyder, that's... one helluva car: Porsche's purpose built ‘50s racer that helped build the brand's success in sportscar racing. The possessor of sub-zero levels of cool, the target of many replicas across the globe. James Dean used to own one too, and he called his ‘little b*****d'. Fitting.

Not that Oldman would enjoy pootling around his now-native Los Angeles in the old Porsche. "LA is such a police state," he says. "It's the worst place in the world to drive. First of all, the test is ridiculous. It's like ‘answer a few questions and drive around the car park'."

He laughs. "I always joke that the American driving test is like [puts on American accent] ‘you see that car over there, you think you could drive that? Right, you've passed then'". He laughs some more, but his face twitches straight back into solemnity.

"Everybody is doing everything but driving. They're looking at their headshots, they're putting on their make-up, they don't signal. All these traffic problems are because of bad driving. It's just a terrible place."

Perfect time, then, to segue seamlessly into Oldman's new film, RoboCop. It's a remake of the 1987 Paul Verhoeven classic about a Detroit police officer injured in the line of duty and brought back to life as a cyborg. For fans of the original, the remake is considered sacrilege, but either way, Oldman's turn in the new film as the doctor who brings the police officer back to life is superb.

The film touches on the role of machines in our everyday lives: autonomous cars that drive themselves and avoid accidents; cars that could allow people in LA to continue looking at their headshots without fear of their cars climbing the nearest tree. What does Oldman think of an autonomous automotive future?

"I'm a bit, old fashioned. OK you have these cars that drive and stop by themselves, but there's something about having control over a car. Choice and free will..." Oldman trails off. Like we said, he does this a lot.

"It's funny because I've just taught my son who's 16 to drive a stick shift, because I always believed it's safer. I mean I love the 911 Carrera and even the Cayenne, and the automatic shift on that is just fantastic, especially for the city because you don't have a clutch. But there's something about a manual and having control. I'd be happy for my son's first car to be a manual, because at least I know he won't be texting in his car. He'd be too busy driving the car."

He ruminates for a moment, then stares at TopGear. "I mean, automatic and self-driving cars in general... we're putting chauffeurs out of business. Why can't we just pay the bloody chauffeurs?"

Quite. All this talk about driving, though, has piqued TG's interest. Oldman's co-star in RoboCop - Michael Keaton - recently played a starring role in a car film, the videogame-to-movie Need for Speed. Seeing as Oldman loves his cars, would he consider doing a proper car film?

"I dunno... I mean yes, if it came in and it's a good story. A good story, you know? I mean I get a little tired of the... what is it, the Fast & Furious 5, 6, Tokyo Drift? I've never really sat through any of them. I don't know how Rush was received over here in the UK, but for me - for someone who's into Formula One - you've got Senna. You've got the real thing there in that film. So I would love to do one.

"Plus, all those guys back then used to do those films. Steve McQueen, he did a racing movie, James Dean probably would have done one eventually had he lived..." he trails off again, and we're interrupted by an over-zealous PR man. Goes with the territory. But, talking about cars on camera, it transpires Gary's a bit of a TopGear fan.

"I sit down sometimes with the TV and let's say I want to TIVO a show, I click on it and it says ‘no space'. I look through the recordings and notice my kids have recorded something like THIRTY FOUR EPISODES of TopGear to watch. I mean, I love the show. What's the Reasonably Priced Car these days anyway?"

I politely inform Gary Oldman - Count Dracula himself - that we've now got a Vauxhall Astra. This, it seems, is enough to send Gary into a laughing fit. "Oh my god!" Cue credits...

RoboCop is out now in cinemas

Tags: hardware. interview, robocop, gary oldman

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