Gary Oldman came down with a case of nicotine poisoning while portraying Winston Churchill in the biopic Darkest Hour. Believed to be one of the year’s top awards contenders, director Joe Wright’s World War II drama has attracted a considerable amount of attention due to Oldman’s performance. As demonstrated in trailers and still images, the actor truly transformed himself into the former prime minister, establishing himself as the frontrunner in the Best Actor race.
As impressive as Oldman’s turn is, it apparently came with some health risks. It’s widely known Churchill had an affinity for smoking cigars, and that aspect of the historical figure is very present in Darkest Hour. However, Oldman and Wright may have taken things a bit too far in their striving for accuracy.
In a feature about Darkest Hour in THR, Oldman revealed he suffered from nicotine poisoning during filming, due to the sheer number of cigars he went through in his scenes. The Darkest Hour production team spent approximately $20,000 of the $30 million budget on Romeo y Julieta Cubans, Churchill’s preferred brand:
“I got serious nicotine poisoning. You’d have a cigar that was three-quarters smoked and you’d light it up, and then over the course of a couple of takes, it would go down, and then the prop man would replenish me with a new cigar — we were doing that for 10 or 12 takes a scene.”
Wright defended his creative choice, telling the outlet, “You can’t have Winston Churchill without a cigar.” One does have to admire the filmmakers’ commitment to detail, but it’s worth wondering if there was another way to go about this. Nicotine poisoning, while rarely fatal, can still have serious effects on a patient. Perhaps Wright would have been better-served using herbal cigars as a healthier replacement or bypassing the smoking aspect of Churchill’s character altogether. While some historians may have nitpicked if the world leader wasn’t making his way through boxes of Cubans at a time, odds are many viewers wouldn’t have had any issue with it. Darkest Hour‘s fact-based story is compelling enough that cigars wouldn’t make or break the picture.
Oldman has always been supremely dedicated to his craft, as evidenced by his numerous chameleon-like performances that range from punk rocker Sid Vicious to Batman ally Commissioner Gordon. In that respect, it isn’t surprising he was willing to smoke actual Cubans for Churchill, wanting to bring as much authenticity to the part as he could. Fortunately, Oldman seems to have made his way through the ordeal relatively unscathed, which ultimately is what’s most important. As for his Oscar chances, this anecdote could go a long way in helping him snag that elusive Academy Award.
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