Gary Oldman, Dustin Hoffman, and the Mystery of Hollywood Bias Against Conservatives

There’s been a lot of talk about Chris Heath’s long profile of Gary Oldman that came out in the most recent issue of GQ. Even more than the story itself, the buzz has been over a preface to the piece that explains why it was held from its original planned release date of 2009. It turns out the piece got pulled in a fairly routine process, and then Heath had trouble updating it because Oldman’s manager, who is himself fairly conservative, became convinced that the piece would paint Oldman as holding political views that would make it harder for him to work in Hollywood. As it turns out, the piece has absolutely no details about Oldman’s political views, and it doesn’t actually evaluate one of the claims that Heath makes: “The suggestion that [Oldman’s political views or the perception of them as extremely right-wing] cost him an Oscar nomination for The Contender seems plausible.”

Heath describes a call Oldman received from Dustin Hoffman after The Contender came out where Hoffman told him:

“I was at a card game the other night, and there was this big Hollywood exec’ “—Hoffman named him to Oldman, though Oldman does not do so to me—” ‘and he was saying that Gary Oldman is extreme right wing, and he’s a fascist.’ ” Hoffman told Oldman that his response was “Gary Oldman’s a fascist and extreme right? I can’t imagine that that is true,” but nonetheless, the conversation had clearly prompted this phone call. [Hoffman, contacted in 2012, recalled telephoning Oldman and commending his performance in The Contender, but stated that he did not remember the rest of this conversation.] “And he said,” Oldman continues, ” ‘Just be careful, because I said some stuff years ago…I said it to someone who was very powerful who made sure that I didn’t work for a long, long time.’ He was being quite cryptic. And then he reminded me that there was a gap—I think it was a gap between Tootsie and the next thing he did. He said, ‘Just a word to the wise, you’ve got to be very careful; there’s this thing out there that you’re this… I don’t know what you’ve been saying, but you’ve got to be very careful.’ All very strange.”

Tracing the path of rumors, particularly old ones, is difficult. And it would be pretty hard to get people to say on the record that they declined to hire Dustin Hoffman or Gary Oldman, two of the most talented actors of their generations, because they’re not orthodox liberals. But even if Heath reported out that speculation and got a bunch of denials or anxious reactions, that seems like it would have been worth reporting as well.

No one piece is going to resolve the tendentious relationship between conservatives and Hollywood, of course. But it would be really useful to get above the level of insinuation and speculation, even on a case-by-case basis. If people shunned Oldman or prevented him from being recognized for performing his job in an exemplary fashion because of his views of American politics (as a British citizen he can’t vote and he hasn’t given money to any campaign since 1990, so those views aren’t even having an impact), which have no bearing on his ability to do his work, that’s something that should be revealed because it’s ridiculous and has denied us more of Gary Oldman’s greatness. And if the impression that Oldman was denied work or recognition because of his politics is mistaken, it’s worthwhile to debunk that, too.