How an un­recog­nis­able Gary Old­man be­came Win­ston Churchill in Dark­est Hour

Empire (Australasia) - - Preview - WORDS IAN NATHAN

IT SOUNDS IR­RE­SISTIBLE. Gary Old­man, ar­guably Britain’s finest ac­tor, as Win­ston Churchill, widely re­garded as his­tory’s finest Brit. But Old­man’s first re­ac­tion was to laugh. “Not be­cause I didn’t think I could do it,” he says. “I knew I could play him, but the phys­i­cal­ity was crazy.”

This was about more than re­sem­blance, be­cause, at 59, Old­man re­mains trim. Months of pros­thetic tests went into per­suad­ing the ac­tor that he could be Churchill. Key was leav­ing room for the per­for­mance.

“We went full-on Churchill,” he says. “But the more I re­sem­bled him, the weirder it looked. You’ve lost me. So we had to pull it back.”

Di­rected by Joe Wright and writ­ten by The The­ory Of Ev­ery­thing’s An­thony Mccarten, Dark­est Hour con­cen­trates on the crit­i­cal pe­riod in 1940 when Churchill took power. Through three rous­ing speeches, backed by some canny pol­i­tick­ing, he in­spired a na­tion and pre­vented ca­pit­u­la­tion to that “blood­thirsty gut­ter­snipe” Hitler.

Old­man deems Churchill “es­sen­tial to his­tory”. The am­bi­tion of the film, how­ever, is to climb be­neath the jowls, words and self-pro­mo­tion to dis­cover the re­al­ity be­neath. “There are a lot of peo­ple who will go and see the movie who think they know him,” he says, “but I have had the chance to play some­one they don’t quite know.” Ex­actly the kind of big talk that, come Fe­bru­ary, could well rouse that other iconic baldy — Os­car.

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