Gary Oldman was particularly thankful to his makeup artist Kazuhiro Tsuji at the Los Angeles premiere of “Darkest Hour” on Wednesday at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills.
Oldman admitted on the red carpet that looking like Winston Churchill was essential for the role to work, since Churchill has such worldwide renown. So he was willing to spend several hundred hours in makeup during shooting, rather than using prosthetics.
“I wasn’t going to put on 50 or 60 pounds and put my health at risk so it was contingent on getting Kazuhiro to see if this thing was going to work,” he recalled. “You could control the other component — the energy, how he used his hands, the way he moved. But if you look ridiculous, it’s not going to work. So you surrender to it.”
Churchill was 65 at the time of the events in the film in 1940, during the opening weeks of his election as prime minister, while the Nazis conquered much of Europe and pinned down Allied troops at Dunkirk.
“I read a lot and watched a lot and was amazed by Churchill’s energy and vitality,” Oldman said.
Ben Mendelsohn, who plays King George VI, said he was caught up in the moment during the premiere.
“Doing movies is sort of an act of faith, but here we are at the Academy,” he said. “For actors, Gary Oldman is it.”
Director Joe Wright said it was helpful to have Oldman to interpret his requests: “Whatever suggestion you make, he amplifies it by 1000%. Gary is the greatest actor of his generation.”
Wright said he was particularly pleased about achieving an honesty with the portrayals. He cited a small scene between Oldman and Lily James, who portrays Churchill’s personal secretary Elizabeth Layton.
“It’s not a big dramatic moment — he stops and looks at Lily James and she says ‘what’ and he says ‘I’m just looking at you,'” Wright recalled. “There’s an intimacy that feels very true to life.”
Focus Features opens “Darkest Hour” on Nov. 22.
(Pictured: Gary Oldman and Ben Mendelsohn)