Norman Stansfield (billed as Stansfield) is the main antagonist of Luc Besson's 1994 film Léon: The Professional. Portrayed by Gary Oldman, the corrupt and mentally unhinged Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent has been named as one of cinema's greatest villains.
Stansfield is a DEA agent who employs a holder to store cocaine in his residence. When Stansfield learns that the holder has been stealing some of the drugs for himself, he and his henchmen gun down the man's entire family, with the exception of 12-year-old Mathilda, who is able to find refuge with neighbor and professional hitman, Léon. As the film progresses, Mathilda implores Léon to teach her his trade in order to kill Stansfield and avenge the murder of her younger brother.
Stansfield wears a beige suit, and is unshaven with often unkempt hair. He has been described as a psychopath, and as having an unhinged, unpredictable personality; he has also been cited for his charm, however. He is a classical music purist who likens his killings to the works of Ludwig van Beethoven. Throughout the film, he takes an unidentified drug in capsule form, which causes exaggerated physical contortions and heavy breathing, and apparent feelings of blissfulness.
Creation and legacy Edit
Stansfield is noted for Oldman's over-the-top portrayal of the character. Given the austere manner of the film's title character, actor Jean Reno had "no room to play", according to director Luc Besson, and Stansfield was devised as a contrasting character with whom "anything was possible. Anything." Although the antagonist of the film, Stansfield was intended to offer a measure of comic relief. Besson stated: "A movie without humor somewhere, is not a movie. A movie needs humor" (one writer described Stansfield as "menacing but so full of whimsical tics you can't help but let out a guilty chuckle"). Oldman said of Besson's direction: "You share ideas, and if you come up with an idea that he likes, you can bet your bottom dollar that it'll go in the movie. I liked working with Luc so much that if I actually never worked with another director again, it wouldn't worry me." In a later interview, however, Oldman alluded to some conflict with Besson on-set: "He tells you how to move, how to speak, where to stand. He tried that with me [laughs], not always with the greatest success. You have to be open to ideas, and it's okay if someone has a better idea than you. You can't nest and be so closed off. You act and direct with an open hand. It's about collaboration." Oldman concluded, however: "There's one vision, ultimately. I am there to serve the director's vision, and I respect that. I'm not just going to stamp my foot and demand my own way. I'm going to go with the flow." Oldman and Besson's professional relationship would be an ongoing one: Besson cast Oldman as the primary antagonist of his next project, 1997 blockbuster The Fifth Element, and co-produced Oldman's directorial debut Nil by Mouth, released the same year.
Oldman's overstated approach lent itself to the exaggerated delivery of notable lines such as: "I haven't got time for this Mickey Mouse bullshit!"; "Death is whimsical today"; "EV-ERY-ONE!!" (a now-classic scene that was originally intended as a joke by Oldman) and "I take no pleasure in taking life if it's from a person who doesn't care about it" (extended dialogue for the scenes in which these lines appear can be found at wikiquote). The last of those occurs in an intense scene with Natalie Portman's female protagonist, Mathilda, where Stansfield prepares to kill the young girl. Portman said of the scene: "Working with Gary Oldman was probably the easiest acting experience of my life...I don't think I had to act at all in that scene. I mean, it was really simple, because he really does what he does well...It's pretty amazing to get to see it that close, but it was also a gift to me." Another important scene is where Stansfield, who has "a talent for sniffing out a lie", interrogates Mathilda's father, played by Michael Badalucco. Stansfield has been paying him to store cocaine in his residence, but suspects that he has been stealing some of the drugs for himself. The sniffing and invasion of Badalucco's personal space was improvised by Oldman, resulting in the genuine expression of unease on Badalucco's face during the scene. Reflecting on his days at drama school, actor Tom Hardy recalled how myriad students "used to do their impressions of [Oldman] in Léon".
Léon: The Professional was critically well received. The character of Stansfield – like Jack Nicholson's portrayal of Jack Torrance in 1980 horror film The Shining, a character to which parallels have been drawn – was applauded by many critics, but it alienated some. In a five-star review of the film, Mark Salisbury of Empire magazine described Oldman's performance as "astonishingly histrionic"; Richard Schickel of Time magazine, in a positive review, characterized it as "divinely psychotic." Conversely, other reviewers cast aspersions on the character's sense of realism in negative reviews: Chris Hicks of the Deseret News considered it "utterly ridiculous"; The New York Times's Janet Maslin "preposterous." Mark Deming of AllMovie, in a positive review, adopted a neutral stance, calling it a "love-it-or-hate-it, over-the-top turn". George Wales of Total Film admitted that "corrupt cop Stansfield might be a little too OTT for some tastes", but argued that "you couldn't ask for a better portrayal of batshit craziness than Oldman turns in here." Besson said of Stansfield: "So many people have told me they love that character, and I'm very proud of what [Gary] and I achieved with it." He added that while viewers are "free to like or dislike [his] work", he feels that the character's "ironies" and "campiness" may have been lost on some viewers, who anticipated a stoic authority figure.
In recent years, Stansfield has been ranked as one of cinema's greatest villains. Daniel Bettridge of MSN Movies wrote: "Gary Oldman's arguably at his best as the crooked cop in Luc Besson's Leon. The English actor is pitch perfect...perhaps what’s most memorable about the movie’s villain is his charm; so much so that it’s easy to find yourself actually rooting for the charismatic crackpot as the action unfolds." Filmsite included Stansfield's unique demise in its "Greatest Movie Death Scenes".
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