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Crimes And Smithdemeanors

Gary Oldman's Dr. Smith Puts the "Danger, Will Robinson!" into New Line's "Lost in Space"

British, American, Southern, German, Black English Vernacular, Transylvanian: Gary Oldman's accents are as much a part of his memorable pantheon of characters as his intense, reach-out-of-the-screen-and-throttle-you energy. The complexly quirky Cockney actor, who has laughingly referred to himself as "the Meryl Streep of England," will have the opportunity to brandish his vocal versatility once again as he takes on the role of Dr. Smith in New Line's remake of the '60s TV series "Lost in Space." But he won't be given to tremulous bleating as the Jonathan Harris incarnation of Smith was; Oldman's version will be much more a force to be reckoned with.

"We've really played up the fact that not only is Dr. Smith a medical doctor, but he's also ex-military, and he fought in the Millennium Wars," Oldman tells BOXOFFICE. "So there's a sort of commando-type intensity and anarchy to it. He's a soldier as well as a doctor. It's a stronger, more masculine silhouette. We really had to make him a little bit more dangerous, someone that could be a physical threat to Don West and Professor Robinson.

"It was fun and challenging to take some of those famous lines, you know, 'We're doomed, we're doomed,' 'Oh, the pain, the pain,' and actually put a twist on them and make them unique and my own," says Oldman. "At one point, I say, 'We're doomed, we're doomed'-and I really mean it. It's not me running around camping it up. Although Jonathan Harris [portrayed] a wonderfully evil character-I think I raise my eyebrow once in a while and kind of tip my hat to him."

About the plot of "Lost in Space," Oldman reveals, "Well, we get lost! It pretty much follows what the pilot of the series set up, where [the Earth's resources are depleted] and there's this family and they're going to colonize. But there's another group of people that are in a race to colonize. And I'm basically very persuaded by money. And I go on to sabotage the ship and get off the ship. But I'm double-crossed. And then I unwittingly become a member of the space family Robinson."

Dr. Smith adds another magnetic, megalomanic madman to Oldman's compellingly indelible repertoire of performances. Oldman says he doesn't have a specific technique for getting a bead on his characters, though his approach would appear to be Method-based. "Sometimes you'll look at pictures, sometimes it's about the clothes. Sometimes it's about the way someone stands. I think the silhouette of Dr. Smith was interesting. It was kind of like a bullet head, with the goatee beard. I wanted the silhouette very clean and very precise." Oldman adds that he always gets involved with costuming and make-up for every role. Does that mean he came up with that goofy plastic hat for the bizarrely-coiffed would-be destroyer of the Earth in "The Fifth Element"? "No, that battle I lost," he claims. So what did he want for the character? "Well, I certainly didn't want that! In the end I just said, 'Oh look, I'll do it upside-down in a tutu if you want me to. I can't argue this anymore.' Not one of my favorites, that."

The "Lost in Space" experience was apparently far more agreeable for Oldman, who enthusiastically praises his fellow cast members and remarks that "it was amazing that we all enjoyed one another's company and really got on." Oldman was originally drawn to the project because of director Stephen Hopkins ("The Ghost and the Darkness") and writer/producer Akiva Goldsman (who scripted "Batman & Robin"), both of whom he describes as being "very funny and very smart." But the real reason he took the role, he says, is that he wanted to be in a film that Alfie, his nine-year-old son by first wife Lesley Manville, could see. "I've played some really weird, strange, twisted characters, and now I can play a weird, strange, twisted character that my kid can see."

Family life affects Oldman's film choices in other ways as well. After a brief marriage to Uma Thurman from 1990 to 1992 and a long courtship with Isabella Rossellini that eventually fizzled, Oldman has married 29-year-old photographer Donya Fiorentino (sister of actress Linda), with whom he has an infant son, Gulliver. "When you're single, that young 21-year-old actor, it's a little different. I'm 40 next birthday and I've got responsibility, and I'm not going to go off to some godforsaken part of the world in the winter for seven months [to be in a film]. I'm not going to do it!"

Having reached that plateau in the world of acting, Oldman has been experimenting in other endeavors. His directorial debut, the semi-autobiographical, critically acclaimed "Nil by Mouth," has just been released stateside through Sony Classics, and he's even tried his hand at singing, dueting with David Bowie on Bowie guitarist Reeves Gabrels' solo album.

"So there we are," says Oldman, "Director, actor, pop star. Father. That's the big one I'm concentrating on at the moment."

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