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Sunday, September 7, 1997

From the mouth of a recovering addict

By BRUCE KIRKLAND -- Toronto Sun

Gary Oldman, the alcoholic, the actor, the emerging filmmaker, introduced his directorial debut Nil By Mouth to Toronto on the same weekend the British royal family buried a princess.
 The film, which made its North American debut at the Toronto film fest, chronicles the lives of a severely dysfunctional family and their friends in South London. Nil By Mouth, written as well as directed by Oldman, is a thinly disguised autobiographical meditation on his life amongst sometimes violent and abusive alcoholics.
 Princess Diana, as the world now knows, died in a car driven at high speeds through Paris by a drunken chauffeur. Do not take the connection lightly, advises Oldman, who is clean and sober now but still haunted by his demons.
 "I can get angry about films -- like Trainspotting -- that take the subject and make fun of drug addiction and alcoholism because it's touched my life," says Oldman, a quietly intense man who now exhibits an enormous clarity.
 "I know people it's destroyed and killed," he continues about addictions. "It killed Princess Diana, actually. Now that dysfunctional family is having a funeral because of someone who had too much to drink. So it's a serious subject! When I see it glamorized, I don't care for it at all."
 There is little glamorous about Nil By Mouth, a harrowing account of a working class neighborhood in which husbands hit wives and
 everyone drinks to excess. At the same time, the film is not angry or judgmental about the people it depicts, says Oldman.
 While he changed names and invented some characters and does not in any way give specific information about the members of his immediate family, Oldman told a `truth' about what life was like for him. He would like to correct a misunderstanding that started at the Cannes film festival, however. The man who beat his wife in the movie is not based on his own father. "That's not my mom and dad."
 At the same time, says Oldman, "I tried desperately hard not to be patronizing in the film because I love those people. It's a love letter. You'd have to be blind not to see that I love them and I don't point at them and make fun of them because they have the wrong wallpaper.
 "But, without being too preachy, I just wanted to try and highlight the animalness of alcoholism."
 Films may have power to transform people, Oldman said, adding that seeing Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange was "a life changing" moment in his adolescence. It inspired him to become an actor.
 So Nil By Mouth may inspire alcoholics to face reality, he says. "I know that it affects alcoholics and recovering alcoholics, not that I set out to do that." This is not a training film for an AA recovery program, he says. The characters in the film are often beyond recovery or chose not to try.
 "Yet it could literally inspire people simply because I'm a drunk," says Oldman with forceful conviction, "and I got my act together, you know!"

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