Old­man

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He ex­plained: “Re­ally the big­gest road­block was the phys­i­cal­ity. If some­one had said ‘We’re mak­ing a film about (Churchill’s ail­ing po­lit­i­cal foe Neville) Cham­ber­lain,’ I would say OK, I could drop 10 pounds or what­ever.”

But Churchill was dif­fer­ent be­cause “not only are you play­ing prob­a­bly the great­est Bri­ton who ever lived — who has been played by many great actors be­fore you — above and be­yond that, he was a great pro­moter. He knew what he was do­ing, self-brand­ing with those funny Vic­to­rian clothes and his Hom­burg hat and scarf,” a for­mal cos­tume that gave Churchill the look of a Dick­en­sian char­ac­ter.

“It’s that sil­hou­ette. It’s so iconic. How do I do that? How do I get there?”

There were prac­ti­cal is­sues to con­sider, too.

“I’m 59, nearly 60. I knew I was not go­ing to put on 50 pounds. I would have eas­ily been able to put on 50 pounds, but I would never have taken it off. I just didn’t want to mess with my me­tab­o­lism.”

To avoid threat­en­ing his health, he re­cruited spe­cial­ef­fects makeup artist Kazuhiro Tsuji out of his five-year re­tire­ment. His Os­car-nom­i­nated work on chal­leng­ing films in­clud­ing “Planet of the Apes” (2001), “Hell­boy” (2004) and “The Cu­ri­ous Case of Ben­jamin But­ton” (2008) con­vinced Old­man “he’s the man.”

Nar­row fo­cus helped

The film cov­ers six weeks of Churchill’s life, with war against Ger­many loom­ing and Bri­tain un­pre­pared for com­bat.

“My job was made a lit­tle eas­ier be­cause I wasn’t play­ing a whole life, just that crit­i­cal time, which made the load a lit­tle lighter,” Old­man said.

He took pains to en­sure that his mem­ory of Churchill wasn’t “con­tam­i­nated by other peo- ple’s per­for­mance of Churchill. You know, some­times you watch these things and see some­one who was born in a bad mood, a cur­mud­geon, a grumpy man put­ter­ing around with a cigar.”

He found a Churchill scholar to get read­ing ma­te­rial from the plethora avail­able “be­cause it’s so vo­lu­mi­nous you would need an­other life­time to read it. I watched a great deal of news­reel footage and lis­tened to the record­ings to put him to­gether. It was a year of sur­ren­der­ing to Win­ston.

“What I was amazed to dis­cover was that he was a dy­namic char­ac­ter who had this spark, this fire. He was en­er­gized. That was a rev­e­la­tion to me. It was the be­gin­ning of think­ing, ‘Yeah, I could play this guy.’ If he wasn’t an ac­tor, he cer­tainly had a sense of the­ater. When you’re in the House of Par­lia­ment and you’re in front of 600 peo­ple, and you have that won­der­ful sense of or­a­tory, you’re go­ing to de­liver your speeches with pas­sion and em­pha­sis.”

Show­ing his soft side

A sim­i­lar ar­dor emerges in scenes Old­man shares with Kristin Scott Thomas as Churchill’s wife, Cle­men­tine. It’s un­usual for Old­man. Rarely cast in ro­mances (he killed his lover in “Sid & Nancy,” was killed by his lover in “Prick Up Your Ears” and re­peat­edly sucked fe­male necks as Fran­cis Ford Cop­pola’s “Drac­ula”), Old­man fi­nally had a chance to dis­play com­mit­ted, if com­i­cally bick­er­ing, adult af­fec­tion.

“She says at one point, ‘Are we very old?’ And I say, ‘Yes, I think you are.’ Which was in fact an ad-lib I threw in at re­hearsal one af­ter­noon. We tried to make it as lovely and play­ful as pos­si­ble.”

When work on the movie started, “Brexit and Trump had not hap­pened,” he said. Al­though “we didn’t set out to make a top­i­cal film,” he feels its por­trait of po­lit­i­cal games­man­ship at a time of cri­sis is rel­e­vant to to­day’s world.

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