Gary Oldman, Sober Since 1995, Wins First SAG For “Darkest Hour”


By Staff Writer

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After a lifetime in film, Gary Oldman won his first major award this year: the Screen Actors’ Guild award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role. In accepting the SAG for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, Oldman became quite emotional. Despite his roles in genres from blockbusters like Harry Potter and The Dark Knight to character studies like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Professional, Oldman had not yet won a major acting award, even though he’d been nominated multiple times.

Eventually, every actor plays a role that feels a little autobiographical. For Gary Oldman, that role was in Nil by Mouth, an film he wrote and directed himself. But there was one more self-referential role, in one of the most minor bits he ever played. As Richard Crosby in the Friends episode “The One With Monica and Chandler’s Wedding,” Oldman delays a film’s production by showing up to work drunk. Although Oldman’s drinking never caused problems or delays on set, he told the Chicago Tribune in 1998 that “I could do this job drunk…a lot better than other people do it sober.”

It’s at least possible that Oldman might have had shelves of awards if he hadn’t been such a good father. When he gained custody of his sons after a divorce, he curtailed the projects he took on, choosing to spend as much time as possible at home with his kids. He turned down roles all over the world, telling his agent “I’d like to do the least amount of work for the most amount of money.” That means skipping edgy, boutique films that might have had a better shot at awards in favor of simpler roles with bigger payouts like Air Force One: “I’ve got some school fees to pay.”

Perhaps the most heartbreaking tidbit about Oldman’s drinking habits emerged in a GQ article: Oldman, who didn’t want to be drunk in front of his children, would actually make a plan to have a well-organized bender away from home — check into a hotel and, as he puts it “go through the fridge three, four, five, six times.” In an effort to keep the hotel staff from assuming that he was consuming so much alcohol alone, Oldman would “stage the scene,” placing glasses around the room, moving cushions, and turning on multiple TVs in the suite to create the illusion that other drinkers had just stepped out for a bit.

All of this eventually came to a head on the set of The Scarlet Letter, when Demi Moore expressed her concern about Oldman’s lifestyle and the effect it was having on him. In 1995, Oldman entered rehab, and he’s been sober since. He once said that “Getting sober was one of the three pivotal events in my life, along with becoming an actor and having a child. Of the three, finding sobriety was the hardest thing.”