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Why only Gary Oldman could play Winston Churchill, according to the ‘Darkest Hour’ director

Joe Wright knew the Oscar favorite had the perfect essence, even if he didn’t look like the legendary Prime Minister.
Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour
[Image: Focus Features]

When it was announced that Gary Oldman was going to portray Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour movie fans were not just somewhat surprised by the decision but they legitimately struggled to imagine him in the role

While, at 59, Oldman was the right age for the part, the fact that the actor is so slender in comparison to Churchill’s famously portly frame was seen by many to be too big an obstacle to hurdle.

But movie magic is a beautiful thing, and “Darkest Hour” director Joe Wright was insistent that only Gary Oldman could find the “manic energy” required to do Churchill justice, something that Wright admitted to me when I sat down to talk to the director about the film.

“Casting is obviously the most important decision a director can make. You have a choice. You can either cast someone who looks like the character. Or you can try and find some who has the essence of the character. And I think the essence is harder to cheat than the look."

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“Gary has this amazing dynamic intense energy. And what I saw in Churchill in my research was someone who had this borderline manic energy. Who came up with a 100 ideas a day, 4 of which might be good. 96 of which might be dreadful. But he was always moving and so I wanted someone who could convey that essence.”

Wright admitted that it took some time to make Oldman look like Churchill, though. In fact, at first the make-up team actually made Oldman look too much like Churchill, which meant his performance was completely overwhelmed. Before they then went the complete opposite way.

“We developed the make-up over a period of 5 months, and worked to try and find the sweet spot. At first we went too far towards Churchill and lost Gary. Then we went too far to Gary and lost Churchill. We needed to find the sweet spot where Churchill and Gary could co-exist.”

This process ultimately worked wonders, though, because just one still photograph of Oldman as Churchill went on to inspire composer Dario Marianelli’s work on “Darkest Hour.”

“When we were doing the make-up tests early in the prep we took a photograph of Gary walking. And it was that energy, that photograph, that I then gave to the composer and that is what he started working on for the music, as he was trying to convey that energy.”

Oldman’s performance as Churchill is so transformative that he is already regarded as the front-runner for the Best Actor Academy Award. You can see it for yourself now that “Darkest Hour” is in cinemas in New York, while its release will be extended across the U.S. over the next weeks. 

 
 
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