What do Sid Vicious, Lee Harvey Oswald, and Winston Churchill have in common? If you’d have said bad hair you would have only be partially right. As aside from some dubious hair-dos, each of these men also share the honour of having been immortalised in film by Gary Oldman.
Yes, Sirius Black is set to take on the role of one of Britain’s second favourite Churchill (the nodding dog from those car insurance advert just edges it, sorry Winny) in Joe Wright’s latest venture Darkest Hour. Set to hit the cinemas on the 29th of December, you’re probably wondering why this is such important news? Well, just take a look at the physical transformation that Oldman has undergone to fill Churchill’s imposing boots:
Yep, that’s Gary Oldman. Actual Gary Oldman. No, they haven’t gone and built a time-machine to recover Winston from beyond the grave. It’s just good-ol’ Hollywood magic. Oldman himself is also no stranger to these physical transformations, having even played the role of a dwarf before alongside Matthew McConaughey in the romantic comedy Tiptoes in which the dreamy double M is the only member of his family who isn't a dwarf. High-jinks ensue as McConaughey falls in love and has to reveal the dark secret of his dwarf family to his pregnant lover played by Kate Beckingsale. No, I’m not joking. And yes, it’s as fuck-awful as it sounds. It’s even got Tyrion Lannister in it. Check out the trailer if you don’t believe me.
Now although Oldman definitely looks the part of Churchill much more than he does the part of a dwarf, we can’t be certain as of yet whether he will be able to truly successfully capture the enigmatic persona of the former PM, which brings us onto the question of verisimilitude in biopics, and just how important it is that an actor looks like the real-life figure they are portraying.
Take Steve Jobs for example, with both Ashton Kutcher and Michael Fassbender having competed in recent years with their differing portrayals of the iconic apple magnate. There’s no doubt that Kutcher definitely looked more like Jobs, but there’s also no denying that it was Fassbender who managed to do a better job (har-har!) in his performance. Kutcher would admittedly fare better on the competitive doppelgänger circuit, however, Fassbender’s performance was so impressive that he managed to successfully convince audience members to ignore the physical dissimilarities and simply get lost in his magnanimous performance.
The same can be said for Leonardo DiCaprio and the multitude of real-life figures he’s emulated over the years. From Frank Abagnale Jr. to Howard Hughes to Jordan Belfort to J. Edgar Hoover (fuck me, DiCaprio loves a biopic, doesn’t he?), DiCaprio has never been an exact dead-ringer for the men he’s represented, but his commitment to their mannerisms and his complete immersion in character is what has won movie goers over.
That being said, a jarring physical appearance can often take one out of the film’s carefully crafted realm of reality. Angelina Jolie’s performance in A Mighty Heart, for example, is a little hard to take seriously when we are constantly aware that we’re watching a white woman play the role of a woman who was definitely not white. I mean, sure it wasn’t Robert Downey Jr. in Tropic Thunder levels of offensive, but it also wasn’t self-aware in the same manner as Downey’s performance was. Which made it all the more painfully ignorant.
Oldman’s Churchill certainly demonstrates that a weight change and the aid of prosthetics can make a sizeable (har-har!) difference, with Phillip Seymour Hoffman having undergone a similarly drastic transformation back in 2005 when he lost over 40lbs to portray the peculiar figure of Truman Capote in Bennett Miller’s extraordinary Capote. There can sometimes be a danger in these radical transformations, however, with Foxcatcher (another film from Miller’s ever-expanding oeuvre) suffering somewhat from the over-use of prosthetic via the horribly fake honker they attached to Steve Carrell’s face in order to make him greater resemble the eccentric John du Pont. I mean, just look at it:
It’s like what you’d get if Gonzo from the Muppets had a love child with Adrien Brody. With said child then being microwaved for about 30 seconds till every feature was sort of melted a little bit like under-cooked porridge. Thankfully, Carrell’s false hooter was the only dampener on an otherwise captivating performance, but I can’t help but feel that without it he would have likely delivered a better and more believable performance, despite looking less like the real man he was attempting to chameleon.
All that being said, we do have to give the Darkest Hour’s crack team of make-up and costume specialist their due in their astounding transformation of our good friend, Gary. We can only hope that his performance matches his transformation. Do Britain proud, mate. We know you've got it in you.