Gary Oldman takes on daunting Churchill role in Darkest Hour

Gary Oldman has played Beethoven, Lee Harvey Oswald, Sid Vicious and Pontius Pilate in his 35-year acting career, but he said taking on Winston Churchill was by far the most daunting.

He was initially hesitant to take the role but eventually "came around".

Said Oldman: "I thought, what is the worst that could happen? I could be really awful in it. That is the worst that could happen. So I jumped off the cliff."

Months of research, four hours for make-up and costumes daily, and capturing the famous voice of Britain's wartime prime minister - who has been portrayed by the likes of Albert Finney, Richard Burton, Robert Hardy, Brendan Gleeson and John Lithgow - were just some of the challenges the 59-year-old English actor faced in the movie Darkest Hour, which opens here tomorrow.

Stamina was another.

"Churchill is arguably the greatest Briton who ever lived to many people and he has been portrayed many times before. You just have to slay the dragon and put it aside," Oldman said.

"It fills you with fear, but maybe that is what gives you the best work," he added.

"I am in almost every scene and I had long work days and hours in the make-up chair. I hoped I could get through it."

Directed by Joe Wright, the war biopic focuses on May and June 1940, when Britain appeared on the brink of defeat 
in World War II and Churchill faced deep divisions in his own government, the military and the monarchy.

Oldman's risk appeared to have paid off. He is tipped by awards watchers as a front runner for what could be his first Oscar.

Getting there took six months of research, watching and listening to documentary footage of Churchill and a total face prosthetic for Oldman, who bears little resemblance to the stooping, bow-tied leader.

"Two hours and 45 minutes into the make-up, you sort of start seeing the spirit, at least, of Winston looking back at you," Oldman said.

The plethora of recorded Churchill speeches made the task of capturing his voice harder rather than easier.

"Finding those cadences and those rhythms in his speech - they were more prominent when he was publicly speaking. It is how we think he sounded, but he didn't."

Churchill's gift for rhetoric is not only central to the movie, it was a crucial element in Britain's response to the threat of defeat by Germany in 1940, Wright said.

"It is a movie about words and the power of words to change the world and change the course of history," he said.- REUTERS