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Gary Oldman Adds Winston Churchill to His List of Iconic Roles

December 8, 2017

In 1986, Gary Oldman burst on the world of cinema like a supernova with his no-holds-barred portrayal of the doomed punk-rock superstar Sid Vicious in Alex Cox’s Sid and Nancy. Oldman’s commitment to the self-destructive bassist’s life story and confounding legacy is still considered a performance for the ages and a career tour de force. In fact, according to IMDb, Gary lived on a diet of steamed fish and melon to play the emaciated, heroin-addicted Sid Vicious, and he was briefly hospitalized due to complications from malnutrition. Oldman’s dedication to such a grueling and harrowing role paid off as he won the Most Promising Newcomer award by the British Film Awards, and his career as an actor effectively jettisoned. Not bad for a guy who initially didn’t like the script and didn’t want to play the part!

Oldman went on to show the same level of commitment and tenacity in other dramatic roles including Prick up Your Ears, Track 29, and most notably as the out-of-control Irish gangster, Jackie Flannery, in the underrated crime thriller State of Grace. Gary absolutely embodies the sociopathic Jackie as he drinks beer, laughs like a libertine, bullies his peers, and blows people away for sport. In True Romance, Gary’s uncanny commitment is clear to see as he portrays the terrifying and hilarious dreadlocked pimp, Drexl. And he portrays the arrogant yet sympathetic painter Albert Milo in Julian Schnabel’s Basquiat to such a convincing degree you’d think the London-born actor was raised on the streets of Manhattan.

And now, at sixty-years-old, it seems Gary Oldman’s commitment to the craft has not waned one bit. In this year’s Darkest Hour, he plays the indomitable Winston Churchill as the great man struggles with the prospect of a peace treaty with Adolf Hitler. Oldman eschews the idea of Churchill as a curmudgeon and elects to play him as “a dynamo who moved through space with such a fixed purpose, a man on a mission, and indeed he was.” Oldman states emphatically, “That’s the character I wanted to play.”

The film’s director, Joe Wright said that Gary “spent four or five months preparing for the role every day.” Oldman delved into the vast quantity of books and film footage of the historic Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and visited war rooms. “It’s like a stew, you know what I mean? The ingredients go in, and then you start cooking,” Gary said. Prior to filming, Wright recalled, “I received a voice memo from Gary delivering one of Churchill’s speeches and it was extraordinary; I wasn’t sure whether I was listening to Churchill or to Gary. I had to text him and ask for an explanation.”

While shooting, it took four hours for Oldman to get into makeup and costume as well as 45 minutes to take it all off at the end of each day. “It’s like a mindset that you have like running a marathon or something. You just focus.” Regarding his remarkable transformation into the character, Gary simply and humbly states, “It is what it is.”

After so many iconic performances over the span of more than thirty years, Darkest Hour is being hailed as the best performance of Gary Oldman’s career.

In theaters now.