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Darkest Hour trailer: Joe Wright breaks down Gary Oldman's incredible transformation into Winston Churchill

'He was it as far as I was concerned'

Jacob Stolworthy
Thursday 28 September 2017 16:29 BST
Trailer: Darkest Hour

Darkest Hour is not only a new film centred on Winston Churchill but the latest from Joe Wright, the acclaimed filmmaker behind Pride and Prejudice and Atonement.

The film follows the PM's early days as Hitler closes in on Britain during World War II and stars Best Actor frontrunner Gary Oldman in a role which saw him spend more than 200 hours in the makeup chair over 58 days of shooting to transform into the British Prime Minister.

You can see Oldman in action - as well as Kristin Scott Thomas and Ben Mendelsohn who play Clementine Churchill and King George VI - in the film's brand new trailer above.

Ahead of its release, we spoke with Wright - who directs from a screenplay written by Anthony McCarten (The Theory of Everything) - about Oldman's transformation, the film's Oscars chances and how the film differs from his previous credits as well as the passing of John Hurt who was set to appear as Neville Chamberlain before passing away in January.

What surprises me most about the film is how funny it is...

Yes, despite being called Darkest Hour, there’s a lot of humour in there. One of the things that surprised me about Churchill was his humour and how he used it to get through life. Through the most difficult of situations, there was always a twinkle of humour behind his eyes.

Was the transformation of Gary Oldman into Churchill everything you envisioned?

Absolutely. I grew up in London in the 80s and 90s loving Gary Oldman and thinking he was the greatest actor to ever come out of [the city]. He has this weird magical ability to totally transform himself for each and every role. We spent months working on the prosthetics makeup for this film but really the prosthetics would count for nothing were it not for his ability to transform eternally by sheer force of known imagination. It’s almost like his imagination is so powerful it creates a spell on the audience.

Did you consider any other actor?

No, he was it as far as I was concerned. He was a very big reason for me wanting to do the movie.

Even Ben Mendelsohn as King George VI is unrecognisable...

...which is weird because he’s not wearing any makeup at all! The day they first started working together was very exciting. They both had immense respect for each other. It’s great to be in a room with two titans, almost being a ref really and allowing them space to really show what they’re capable of.

The film has a real cinematic feel - in what way were you most able to put your own directorial imprint on the film?

It’s difficult to say because I tried to become invisible with this movie and to allow the story, firstly, and then the actors to express themselves. But at the same time, I don’t really think there’s a frame of the movie that isn’t somehow a representation of my own feelings and imagination. The movie, as it were, became a kind of extension of oneself. in the final analysis, it's difficult to ever separate from the film and to consider what is mine and what is other people’s.

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In what way would you say this is different to any of your previous films?

I tried to get myself out of the way quite a lot and so it’s probably the most naturalistic movie I've done for a long time.

It touches on Dunkirk which made me recall the standout long-take in Atonement - can cinemagoers expect such thrilling takes in Darkest Hour?

Well, there aren't any very long steady cam shots but the film has the energy of a political thriller so hopefully it’ll be as engaging. Less romantic but still humanistic.

Is there truth to the reports that Oldman spent 200 + hours in makeup to transform into Churchill?

I haven’t done the arithmetic but he spent four hours a day in the makeup chair every morning multiplied by 58 days so yeah, I guess so [232 hours, by our calculations].

I'm sure it was more frustrating for Gary but was there ever an element of "Come on, I want to get going!"?

No, Gary showed up four hours before everyone else. It was an extraordinary commitment that he made and amazingly he didn’t complain about it once. I know I certainly would have had a moan about it. But no, he committed. He knew what he was getting into going into it and so he committed to that process and let it happen. But it was weird because I didn’t see Gary as Gary for three months - I’d arrive and he’d already be in makeup and emerge as Churchill and I’d leave and he’d be getting out of makeup so I didn’t see Gary for three months. It was quite weird. And when I finally did see Gary at the end of shooting at the wrap party, I was like, "Who are you? You’ve lost a lot of weight - are you alright?"

You mentioned at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) how you and Gary bonded over a vape - how did that conversation go?

I came over to LA to meet him and we sat in his garden and talked. It’s important for me to - obviously I want to work with the best actors available if possible but also it’s important that I’m able to talk to them and get to know them because directing is about talking to someone, about a very long conversation, and so you have to want to be in that conversation with that person. So it was really about discovering whether we were able to talk to each other and quite quickly that afternoon we found we could.

You mentioned the words 'best actor' - I hate to be that guy but every scene feels like it could be Gary's 'Oscar scene.' As the man behind the camera, did you ever get that sense?

It’s funny, I find that stuff quite… debilitating, really. When I made Pride and Prejudice, there was no thought of that kind. We were just making a little British movie. Then with Atonement, still it didn’t really come into the equation. It’s not really about that. The greatest happiness for me is being on set and if you see something happen that totally exceeds your wildest dreams or your own imagination and you see an actor give something that is so revealing of the truth behind that character and behind that moment, that’s the reward and award all in one. Anything that comes after that is all about marketing to be honest with you and that is not something I try to engage with while I'm making the movie. The competitive nature of the industry now is quite difficult. I was at Telluride recently with the movie - no press, no publicity, no red carpets, no competition - and it was just such a joy to be among other filmmakers rooting for each other, talking about the art, the craft that we love to the point of having dedicated our lives to. That’s the joy of it, really.

Am I right in hearing the late John Hurt was originally slated to appear?

He was. He was going to play Chamberlain. Tragically, he had a fall at home as we were beginning rehearsals that he never recovered from and complications led to him passing. That was really sad.

A few unrelated Darkest Hour questions: would you ever consider a return to the world of Black Mirror? [Wright directed season three episode 'Nosedive']

Yeah, I’d love to. I think Charlie Brooker is a proper genius and I’d love to work with him more. I don’t know when. I’ve got my next film lined up which is an adaptation of new John Williams novel Stoner.

Also, what do you think they're going to bring to the confirmed TV adaptation of Hanna that you didn't already int eh film?

I don’t know. I’d be interested to see what they do with it. I have no idea what they’re gonna do. It will be interesting. We’ll see.

Darkest Hour is released in the UK on 12 January

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