It took a lot of work to get Gary Oldman to embody Winston Churchill for the biopic Darkest Hour. The actor had to convince prosthetics artist Kazuhiro Tsuji to come out of retirement just to make a convincing enough fat suit. Oldman desired the suit because he didn’t want to risk his health by actually putting on the weight. Ironically, he ended up putting his body in danger anyway by chomping down on nearly $20,000 worth of cigars during filming.
Churchill was rarely seen without a Romeo y Julieta Cuban cigar in his mouth, and Oldman wasn’t going to play the character any differently. During the 48-day shoot, he puffed on some 400 cigars, enough to make him physically ill.
“I got serious nicotine poisoning,” Oldman told The Hollywood Reporter. “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.”
Director Joe Wright said a little nicotine-induced illness and smoking away a paltry 0.06% of the film’s $30 million budget was worth it, though. “It’s Winston Churchill,” he said. “You can’t have Winston Churchill without a cigar.”
It all paid off in the end, as Oldman’s portrayal of Churchill is one of the high points of his career. You can witness it for yourself when Darkest Hour opens wide on December 22nd. Watch the trailer below.