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NewCityNet No More Villains

Gary Oldman cashes out in "Lost in Space."

By Ray Pride

APRIL 6, 1998:  The big-budget, big-screen "Lost in Space" is enjoyable for its rapid-fire special-effects razzle-dazzle and snappy dysfunctional-family patter, but a lot of moviegoers seem anxious for a pumped-up version of a kid-hood television favorite. I've never seen the show, but the strange, funny amalgam of all sorts of influences kept me grinning.

In particular, there's the diversity of acting styles, from William Hurt's distracted-dad scientist up against Mimi Rogers' loving-lusting Marie Robinson, to Gary Oldman's feathery Dr. Smith to "Party of Five"'s Lacey Chabert's sweetly chipmunky Penny, wide eyes glazed as if from a permanent sugar rush. Director Stephen Hopkins says that being hurled into space with his own family would be "like Thanksgiving dinner.... Forever.... and forever," and some of that dread comes through. Writer Akiva Goldsman's script is a few notches above his work on the past couple "Batman" movies, offering more conflict than camp, and even though 10-year-old Will Robinson seems to be the movie's true hero, narrative velocity is celebrated as much as innocence.

That's particularly true with Dr. Smith, Gary Oldman's latest archvillain. Hearing the word, Oldman smiles, then rolls it into several extra syllables. "The arch-villain. Well, think of our cultural heroes, like Scrooge. Then in America, you've got a day that celebrates kicking us out. That's why we always get cast in these roles. But no more villains. If they do a sequel, I'm signed up. But no more for me."

Oldman made his very personal directorial debut, "Nil by Mouth," then played the baddies in "The Fifth Element" and "Air Force One" before "Lost in Space." "Dr. Smith was the only role I was being offered," the 40-year-old actor says. "It was the only script that was half-decent. What you read out there, it's shocking." There was an article that said Oldman also found Dr. Smith closer to himself than other roles he's played. "Entertainment Weekly. Don't believe a word they say. Dreadful magazine," he says, rich blue eyes flaring. "All I meant was, I'm in a costume with my own hair and it doesn't involve all the fireworks I normally get asked to do, accents and makeup and wigs. That's what I meant. I'd just come on and throw those clothes on and I'd go to the set. It didn't require hours of makeup. I don't know if I've really played [a role like myself]. ŒRosencrantz and Guildenstern' is pretty close."

Oldman says he's never been able to show any of his work to his kids. "That was the clincher for it. My nine-year-old is going to see ŒLost in Space' next week. I spend six months of the year away and you can't show them the result. ŒWhat's this thing that's taken you away, this thing that you do?'" Oldman shrugs. "So next week I'll go to the Cinerama Dome, buy my popcorn, show him what I do. He likes the toys. I got these little action figures which he plays with. He's got an action figure of Dad. The youngest one is seven months, so he's teething. I gave him the toy, it went straight in his mouth and he chewed my head off!"

Oldman doesn't have any great passion for the series. "As I said, when this came in, it was the only role I liked. But he's the only one in the film who captures the spirit of the original. They've taken a lot of liberties, gone in many directions with the other characters. Smith is a part that's just made up of moments. He stands outside, he's not part of the family or the crew. So you stand back, they do their stuff, then you throw in a catty remark. You get a handful of great lines." While Oldman liked the characterization of Smith in the series, "they wouldn't let me take from Jonathan Harris. The voice, a little bit, I tip my hat to him. He must be the first queen in space." When he was offered the role, "I said, ŒDr. Smith, God, he was after Will, wasn't he?' It was questionable, their relationship. He got even campier when it got to color. It was, ŒOh the world's just my oyster!' But Stephen wanted it more sinister, which I think is interesting. You're standing there, the other actors are doing all the hard work, then I throw in the funny line. I guess you could just ask for the laugh every time, but he wanted to give it the illusion of reality. At the end of the movie, I come running in, We're doomed, we're doomed,' and I mean it that we're doomed, and I don't remember Jonathan Harris going..."­Oldman adopts a prissy voice­"Oh! We're doomed. We're doomed.' Like lunch didn't come!"


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