It Took Gary Oldman Over a Year to Commit to Playing Winston Churchill

Gary Oldman Joe Wright Darkest Hour Premiere - Getty - H 2017
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"At the end of the day, it was like turning down Falstaff or King Lear," the actor explained.

The Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills was transformed into 1940s England on Wednesday night for the premiere of Darkest Hour, a film that centers around Winston Churchill as he becomes Prime Minister of England and leads his nation into war against Adoly Hitler and the Nazis. The film is a penetrating portrait of a man who must rally his nation at a time when the German army is nearly on its shores and features a tour de force performance by Gary Oldman.

While playing Churchill may prove to be a career-defining role for Oldman, it took over a year to get him to commit to the part, according to the film's producer Doug Urbanski.

Oldman told The Hollywood Reporter why he finally decided to accept the role: “As an actor, you want great roles to come your way. To me, at the end of the day, it was like turning down Falstaff or King Lear — to have the opportunity to stand in a room and with 600 people and to say, ‘We shall fight you on the beaches,” to speak some of those great words — that’s what tipped me over the edge.”

Ben Mendelsohn plays King George VI in Darkest Hour, and he spoke to how working with Oldman brought out the best in him as an actor. “There’s something about being with someone that hears everything you’re doing and responds to everything you’re doing that makes things easier. Some of it actually is easier because of the caliber of the person you’re working with,” he said. 

Director Joe Wright, who will likely be on several awards-season shortlists (in addition to Oldman), spoke about the challenge of directing Oldman, whom he referred to as the greatest actor of his generation.

“I was terrified when I first met him, because he had been a hero of mine since I was 14, 15, years old. I couldn’t believe I was in the same room with him,” said Wright. “But once my nerves had calmed down, I realized that he was an actor, and like all actors he needed support, he needed love and appreciation and he needed direction. He needed a collaborator and he needed to feel safe.”

When the final credits rolled, the response to the film was overwhelming love and enthusiasm, and its message on the importance of resilience, determination and courage in the face of incredible danger clearly resonated with the audience.

Darkest Hour, which also stars Kristin Scott Thomas and Lily James, will have a national release on Thanksgiving Day.