Gary Oldman in the DARKEST HOUR and what he told me…

In December last year, with all the film screenings for awards season, there was one performance I had to see twice. It was both inspirational and so inconceivably wonderful; that of Gary Oldman’s as Winston Churchill.

Mr. Oldman was at the second screening I attended and he described to us all his year long journey to capture this portrayal. (see link below for  details of his research and actor preparation)

It involved much preparation and care: he had hired a dialect coach to rid himself of his Americanized accent, having lived in the US for so long. He hired a singing teacher to help him lower his natural tenor to achieve some of Churchill’s baritone notes. He worked closely with a make up artist he trusted, who came out of retirement for this film, to create a believable look that would transform the slight Mr. Oldman into the paunchy, round Mr. Churchill.

He first read for 2 months all he could about Churchill at this historic time, before he touched the screenplay. Before shooting started, he memorized all his script dialogue and Churchill’s most  famous speeches from this time.

He carried an App on his phone with all Churchill’s recorded speeches. He sat in Churchill’s chair in the British “War Room” and observed the anxious marks and scratches left on the arm rails by his antecedent in that chair.

He asked for and was given Winston’s brand of cigars (smoking 12 a day, he ended up with nicotine poisoning and stomach problems halfway through the shoot). He arrived at the very first table read of the screenplay, with the assembled cast, in full Churchill costume and makeup.

I thoroughly believe Gary Oldman will win the Oscar for this performance ( I am not so prescient – the Golden Gloves, the SAG Awards, BAFTA and BIFA have already agreed and given him their highest best male performance in a film this year)

Because he did his homework!  Thus the detail, passion, self doubt and the glory of the Winston Churchill are all there. And I suspect Mr. Oldman loved every scary moment diving into this part.

Speaking to Gary Oldman after DARKEST HOUR screening

After the SAG Sponsored screening and Q&A,  I fought my adopted pose of jadedness and waited to say a few words to him.  I found myself very emotional for variety of reasons and thanked him for detailing how much work truly goes into such a performance.

Because I struggle to inspire young actors now to go the extra step and do the RESEARCH and see how it pays off in work such as his. We talked about formal training. He bemoaned the 2 year actor programs and said he preferred 3 year one as he had ! (As did I in a MFA program. Those 3 years in school, become a blissful, uninterrupted 3 years to purely concentrate on voice, dance, movement, singing, dialects and craft. )

For my money, Mr. Oldman’s effort in this part was just a rigorous and sublime as Lindsey Vonn’s to come back from knee and leg surgery and race in her third Olympics. An Olympic Acting Feat.

I hope you see THE DARKEST HOUR. It is a portrait of an imperfect leader who withstood doubt and overwhelming odds to give his nation the courage to stand up to a bully (Hitler), whom everyone else was trying to placate. The future of Europe, as we still knew it, hung in the balance. Thank God Mr. Churchill inspired a nation to resist.

This is artistry at its best; to inspire us to do similar things in our own lives.

*more on Mr. Oldman’s preparation

Caryn West is an veteran acting teacher, director and coach who auditions and acts. She has taught many gifted and well known actors both in LA and NYC and is the only teacher cited on both coasts by Backstage polls and one of the “BEST AUDITION COACHES”. She has run Caryn’s Space for Actors since 1999   Facebook   @CarynWestSFA   West Hollywood / NYC

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Posted in Acting Technique, Actor Advice
3 comments on “Gary Oldman in the DARKEST HOUR and what he told me…
  1. Elizabeth Sung says:

    what a wonderful article Caryn. I also feel the same after attending one Darkest Hour screening and listened to Gary Oldman’s openness and his sharing of his process. In particular the 8 months of trial and error with Kazuhiro to find the right look without being buried with the pieces that Kazuhiro created. Then 4 hours daily application during the shoot. (I think that was another 3 months) that is true dedication and commitment.

    • Caryn West says:

      So Happy for him. Hope you are well!

    • Caryn West says:

      I just discovered today May 30, this lovely comment on my acting blog from Elizabeth and I am stunned as I am sure you are at her passing a such a young age.
      It is so bittersweet to see her caring and artistic note and appreciation here. The loveliest person, so true and sensitive and too soon gone.
      My deepest sympathies to you, Caryn West ( AFI DWW 1996)

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