Cannes: Gary Oldman Talks 'Darkest Hour,' His Greatest Hits and Misses

Gary Oldman attends AARP's 17th Annual Movies For Grownups Gala -Getty-H 2018
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"It almost gave me a bloody nervous breakdown, I was so caught up in the fear," the Oscar winner said of his role in 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.'

“Insecurity is a good thing,” Gary Oldman told the audience at the Bunuel Theatre in Cannes during a masterclass conversation between the actor and Darkest Hour producer and frequent collaborator Douglas Urbanski. The Q&A took Oldman down memory lane, from his beginnings to his best work, but even while reminiscing about an illustrious career, the Oscar winner’s advice to an auditorium full of actors and filmmakers was to keep challenging yourself.

“I think it will be a sad day to be able to watch yourself and say, ‘I think I’m fantastic in this,’” he mused. “Having doubt and insecurity is a good thing, but you can’t let it paralyze you.”

Paralysis was, in fact, a state he nearly reached while preparing to play George Smiley in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011). “I had let it get to a point where it was going to crush me,” said Oldman of the role, originally played by Alec Guinness for TV. "It almost gave me a bloody nervous breakdown, I was so caught up in the fear of this.”

It wasn’t until he arrived on set that those doubts were eradicated. ”I did the first scene, and once I had opened my mouth and started doing it, I realized, ‘I know where I am. I’m on a set and I’m acting,’” he said.

He initially turned down the lead in 1986's Sid and Nancy, the punk movement having passed him by without making much of a mark. “I just thought it was a lot of noise, so I was concerned who would see Sid and Nancy? Who cares?” he says of the role that put him on the map. “But I rolled up my sleeves, studied the way I’ve always done. You immerse yourself. I lost a ton of weight and made myself very ill.” To this day, it is not one of his favorites. “I don’t think I’m very good in it,” he says.

Oldman had also turned down Dracula (1992), before the idea of working with Francis Ford Coppola piqued his interested. “He’d been a hero of mine. I thought Coppola might be able to do something very interesting with it. And ‘I’ve crossed oceans of time to find you’ – I thought it’s worth doing the movie just to say that line,” said Oldman, who worked with an opera singer to lower his voice an octave for the role. “It’s doable. It’s a muscle, like exercise. I wanted that sound in the voice,” he said.

“I thought it was pretty good,” he said, noncommittally, of seeing the finished product. “The only movie I’ve pinched myself and went, ‘Holy shit, I’m in this film!,’ is JFK (1991). I thought it was such a powerful film.”

There are a few others in his oeuvre that Oldman consider good, among them last year's Darkest Hour, for which he won the Academy Award for best actor, and 1990's State of Grace with Sean Penn.

Oldman, who recently turned 60, reflected on a four-decade career and how the real acting challenges now are few and far between. “Churchill was going to take every molecule of my being to pull off,” he said. “But you look for other stimulus. You’ve got to work, you’ve got to send the kids to college, you have bills to pay, you’ve got all those responsibilities. You can’t always sit around and wait for that great role to come along. You’ve got to work and you’re not always going to be hitting home runs."

always saw me as an unpredictable actor," the 'Pulp Fiction' star recalled. "He said, 'If I wanted predictability, I would have chosen someone different.'""]