There’s been no shortage of memorable characters throughout Gary Oldman’s three-decade-long career. He seamlessly transforms into nearly any part he puts himself into, whether it be Commissioner Gordon in The Dark Knight trilogy, his Oscar-nominated role in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, or one of the many villains he’s played throughout the years, such as Stansfield from Leon: The Professional. Oldman has a way of picking the unique characters that are outsiders and embodying every minute detail of their personality. Out of all the roles he’s played, one of his most memorable — and certainly my favorite — is that of the brutal Drexl Spivey from True Romance. Dammit, is Drexl ever fun to watch.
The character couldn’t be more opposite from Oldman in every way possible: A white Jamaican pimp with a wonky eye and twisted demeanor that could turn violent at any second. Drexl isn’t even onscreen for 10 minutes in Quentin Tarantino and Tony Scott’s bloody romantic tale, but he stands out as the most unforgettable character in a movie filled with them. It’s been 22 years since Drexl deservedly had his family jewels blown off, and in honor of Gary Oldman’s birthday this weekend — he’s 58 — I thought it only appropriate to look back at this most viciously satisfying character.
Drexl wouldn’t say ‘titties’
Selling Oldman on True Romance was rather easy as he recalled from a 2008 interview, Tony Scott merely glossed over the plot and told the actor he’d be playing a white pimp who thinks he’s black. “That was all I needed to hear,” Oldman said.
To get Drexl’s mannerisms and way of speaking the way he wanted, Oldman drew upon an unlikely source. While shooting the movie, Romeo is Bleeding, the actor was in his trailer in Brooklyn when he overheard some teenagers outside talking and joking around, the actor pulled one of the kids aside and asked him look over his lines and what did and didn’t work. Particularly, how Drexl would refer to a woman’s breasts:
“I showed this kid my lines and said, ‘Does this seem authentic?’ He changed some words. He said, ‘That don’t fly. Drexl wouldn’t say ‘titties’; he’d say ‘breasteses.’”
From Dracula to Drexl
Aside from Drexl’s Jamaican accent and unfiltered penchant for violence, Oldman set out to make the white pimp’s physical appearance incredibly unique. Dreadlocks, a leather Kangol cap, cheetah print jacket, gold teeth — a real-life Drexl should really have considered dressing a bit more inconspicuous if he was going to be involved in illegal activity. A police sketch artist would have no problem drawing up such a distinctive individual.
Oldman developed Drexl’s colorful appearance primarily because he knew he had a such a short amount of screen-time and wanted to make a statement with the character. After getting the OK from Tony Scott, the actor set out to piece together Drexl’s look borrowing from previous films he’d worked on:
“I had to kind of put him together, I had to work on him while I was doing something else. Because there just wasn’t the time to meet with Tony (Scott). I wrote him a letter, sent him a note, saying, ‘I would like dreadlocks. What do you think?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, great.’ So I knew Stuart (Artingstall), who had been the wigmaker on Dracula, so he made me that wig in about 48 hours. And I went to a dentist – I was working here in New York – who made the gold teeth, and I got the eye from the prop department at the…well, it was one of the eyes I wore for Dracula! And I put ‘em all together and walked on the set and hoped Tony liked it.”
Approval from mom
I don’t know if this is standard practice for how Gary Oldman works, but while shooting True Romance he would bring his 70-year-old mother to the set each day to make sure he was nailing the character correctly. When it came time for Drexl to meet his demise at the hands of Clarence, Oldman wore a metal cup even thought the gun of course was loaded with blanks. As Oldman recalled, his mother approved of the scene, “She said, ‘Yeah, I thought that was really good.'”
It’s been rumored that at one time the actor had expressed interest in doing a spin-off of True Romance centered around Drexl’s development on how he came to be an associate of Blue Lou Boyle. As much fun as it would be to see some backstory on how Drexl’s eye got so messed up, Oldman is likely past the point of being able to convincingly play such a young character, and we’ll just have to be satisfied with Drexl’s seven minutes of cinematic glory.