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Dr. Larry Arnn’s Hillsdale Dialogue on His Visit with Darkest Hour’s Gary Oldman

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HH: That music means it is the last radio hour of the week, and indeed the last live conversation I have with Dr. Larry Arnn, although you’ll be hearing a lot of the Hillsdale Dialogue on Monday and Friday next, and the following Monday, as we always end our year with some of the greatest hits of the Hillsdale Dialogue. Dr. Arnn, Merry Christmas in advance. I hope you have a great one.

LA: Merry Christmas. Yeah, the kids are coming home. We’re going to be happy.

HH: That is going to be a wonderful thing. You also had a great and distinguished visitor to the campus of Hillsdale College. Gary Oldman, the star of Darkest Hour, was there. How was that festivity?

LA: Well, I can explain the character of Gary Oldman with a photograph that I can’t however show you. But it’s a photograph of him rolling on the floor with one of our dogs.

HH: (laughing)

LA: (laughing)

HH: Really?

LA: Oh, he’s a really great guy. And the dog has chewed a hole in his bathrobe, because it misses him. (laughing)

HH: Oh, my goodness. Oh, my goodness. Well, how did the students like him? And how did the movie go over?

LA: Oh, it was a riot. I went over with Doug Urbanski, who is his sort of manager/producer and partner, and they’ve been, you know, they’ve been together, they’ve been working together for thirty years now. And I’ve known Urbanski for a long time. Well, I went over with Urbanski, and we sat and watched the movie. And we didn’t intend to, because we thought we’ve got to go back to the house and take care of Gary Oldman and his wife. But they went to bed. So it was just electric in the room. And then there was an enormous ovation. We had 900 people. We converted our big, pretty Searle Center dining room. We blacked out all the windows, and we turned it into a movie theater. And it was great, and it, you know, so it’s, Churchill’s, sorry, Churchill is not the title of this book. Darkest Hour is the rage at Hillsdale College now.

HH: Oh, my goodness, and so standing O at the end?

LA: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. And they, you know, he is, see, the thing about him is he’s a nice man. And you know, a serious man full of fun, and not full of himself. So you know, it’s just a, he’s just a really good guy.

HH: Well, let’s play, he then sat down and had a conversation with you, and Generalissimo has listened to it all. I want our audience to hear some of the conversation you had with Gary Oldman. Here is his first cut about sitting on a chair in the Churchill war rooms, cut number two:

GO: In the war room, there is the chair that the great man occupied. And on the arm, the left arm of the chair, are these sort of divots and deep scratches which he had made with his fingernails. And on the right hand arm of the chair are the scratches which he made from the tapping of his ring. And for an actor, you know, there’s a point where you can read the books, and you can study the man, but there is a point when you have to sort of put that away, and it becomes less about an intellectual exercise and more about a sensation or a feeling that you have to have. And it was a real privilege and a wonderful revelation to sit in the chair, because there now in this piece of furniture is behavior, is the anxiety and the stress and all of that that he was under. And you can trace it with your hand and actually touch history.

LA: I was noticing that. So people play Churchill this way. Churchill is a character of himself, and he talks like this and he growls all the time, and he walks really slow. Churchill was lightning quick, mentally and physically. He was a fencer in college. He played polo until he was well into his 50s. And so to meet him was to meet a man who was electric. And Doug and I were sitting back there watching the movie last night, and they zoomed in on the hand, and it was going like that, and I said that’s right. He burned really hot all the time, see? And you got that. Nobody else has ever got that.

HH: Larry Arnn, did he accept the compliment as one should gracefully and acknowledgement of its truth?

LA: He did. I want to say that I’m reluctant to say anything this morning, because the tyrant, Duane, has already congratulated me on this whole thing, because he says I didn’t say much, and that made it better.

HH: (laughing)

LA: (laughing)

HH: The tyrant, Duane. That’s his new name for 2018, because that’s true.

LA: (laughing) That’s exactly what he’s like.

HH: He is a Tyrant Duane.

LA: Anyway, yeah, he, Gary Oldman is interested, and so you know, he, I don’t know if you’ve seen the Fifth Element, so I became a Gary Oldman fan before I knew anything about him, or him. And partly, I did that because of the very great movie, The Fifth Element, where he plays Zorg. And he relates about that physical thing, he said, you know…

HH: Yeah.

LA: …where you become like somebody, he says he built the character, Zorg, and if you haven’t seen the movie, you should see it.

HH: I haven’t. I have not.

LA: He built the character, Zorg, by watching two people – Ross Perot and Bugs Bunny.

HH: (laughing)

LA: (laughing) Here, I want to play before the break, talking about the unseen advantage of having to do three hours of makeup every day, cut number four.

GO: There was an added advantage to this job that it was, that we didn’t, that we couldn’t foresee when we started. I was dressed and ready as Churchill when the director arrived and the other actors for rehearsal. They never saw me as Gary for three months. They only met me as Winston, which was, now it’s very, it’s a strange thing. Ealing Studios, the famous Ealing Studios of the great old Ealing comedies and you know, Sir Alec Guinness and all those great, you know, great and wonderful actors – Olivier and all those people that have passed through it. They kindly gave me dressing room number one. So I was, I finally, I thought, I made it. I’m in dressing room number one. I was in dressing room number one, and you turn left to go into the studio, or you walk the corridor to go through the other studio door, depending which set or side you were on in the mornings. And the background artists and extras and various people who were secretaries in the typing pool, the various soldiers that were there in the war room, they would line the corridor waiting to go onto the set. And I would emerge from the dressing room and walk down the corridor, and I would emerge obviously made up completely as Churchill. And the reaction that was there, some of the women, some of the women curtsied, the men would come to attention and stand back and salute, and it was a very strange, it was, because you forget that you’re wearing all of this. That’s the thing. So that people are reacting to you as Winston Churchill, and that was, it was a lot of fun. It was great to be PM for a while.

HH: Well, isn’t that amazing, Larry Arnn? That’s really a good insight to what it’s like to be an actor in this kind of a role.

LA: Yeah, I don’t know if Duane’s going to play it, but I’ll anticipate it a little. So I went there, and Christmas holiday, we went to see my wife’s family. And my family, excuse me, and we spent the day on the set. And you know, he gets up at the crack of dawn and day after day after day. One of the reasons he was reluctant to do the role was he knew what it would take to do that much makeup. And it’s, you know, it adds five hours to the workday, and the workday’s already long. So I made a thing of that up there on that, and he said, and this is really, you know, this is the sign of good nature, good character. He said think what Winston Churchill went through. More, think what the soldiers went through. What am I doing, just working a long day? And so…

HH: Yeah.

LA: It was really great. And he, yeah, he did look terribly…you know, Winston Churchill had reddish hair, very fine, not much of it by this age in the movie. And they got that right. And you know, you can hardly see it on the film, but close to him, it is Winston Churchill’s hair.

HH: How interesting.

LA: And just really remarkable.

HH: When we come back from break, we’ll continue with more excerpts from Dr. Larry Arnn’s conversation with Gary Oldman. This and all Hillsdale Dialogues collected at All things Hillsdale are collected at, including all of their amazing online courses. I would encourage everyone to close out their year with a gift to Hillsdale College. Dr. Arnn did not ask me to do that, but if you are in the giving business, and you wish to support the lighthouse of freedom up north, the lantern of freedom in the north, I call it, then go to and find a way to contribute. And sign up for Imprimis. I will remind you one more time, it’s the perfect Christmas gift if you’re Scrooge. You don’t have to pay a nickel for it. You can sign other people up for Imprimis, and they’ll get the speech digest of the wonderful college in the north, that state up north, for free, forever if you put them on the Imprimis list, and they will thank you for it. More when I return with Dr. Larry Ann of Gary Oldman here on the Hugh Hewitt Show.

— – – —

HH: I want to play for you, the audience, an exchange he had with Dr. Arnn about diving into this most complexive characters, Winston Churchill, cut number three.

GO: You know, what happens is when, on the, at the very beginning of the journey, if one closes one’s eyes and tries to imagine Winston Churchill, you, I’m thinking to myself am I remembering footage that I’ve seen of him? And it wasn’t something I had been watching recently. It would, it was a distant memory. Or am I remembering Robert Hardy playing Churchill or Albert Finney? You get an ‘am I contaminated by that’. So what you do is you try and not go there and tune out all of that noise…

HH: All right, stop right there. Dr. Arnn, that’s why I don’t listen to other talk show hosts, and do very little listening to talk radio, because you don’t want to do somebody else’s show.

LA: Yeah, he, he’s a disciplined, so you know, I happen to know him, and I’ve gotten to know him better in the last two or three years, really. And so you hear him talk, you know, not, he doesn’t, by the way, like, he doesn’t want to sit around and talk about show business all the time. He wants to talk about something else. But having said that, conversation he has with Urbanski and other people, you hear them talk about the work, right? And you know, the work is in some ways impressive. They need a break. They haven’t had one for months and months. But when they get to talking about the craft of it, he likes to prepare. And he wants to do a good job every time. And every job is different. And that means, you remember, did you notice he called it a job, right?

HH: Yup.

LA: He’s got a job. And so he’s not playing Gary Oldman playing somebody or Robert Hardy, who I happen to have known and admire very much, he passed away lately. He’s playing the somebody, and that’s one reason why he’s a good actor, why you enjoy him, why you wonder how he does, those so many different, weird things. And that’s art, by the way. Art is either a representation of you, in which everything you do will be the same, or else art is a representation of some object. And it gets its dignity from that second thing if it has any.

HH: We will come back to the Gary Oldman conversation in a moment. But the president of the United States has tweeted, courtesy of Rockin’ Robin, Bobby Day. At some point, writes the President, and for the good of the country, I predict we will start working with the Democrats in a bipartisan fashion. Infrastructure would be a perfect place to start. After having foolishly spent $7 trillion in the Middle East, it is time to start rebuilding our country! Dr. Arnn, not a day goes by that I don’t get to play that music.

LA: It’s something, you know? We were talking in the break, you know. We, what are going to be the big issues next year? And the answer is he’s going to have a lot to do with that, whatever he wants.

HH: And apparently, infrastructure is it, which by the way, is a pretty good objective in an election year if it is done right via the federal system, meaning push the money down to the local governments and let them decide what to build.

LA: If he keeps up the themes that are going on here, you know, he, look at what, Mick Mulvaney is going to be one of the heroes of this era of American politics running the OMB and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He has laid out a comprehensive plan to get the regulatory state under control. And the Congress should cooperate with that plan this year. That’s a big thing that can be done. But in general, there’s a kind of a consistency here, and if he develops it and continues it, it’ll be remarkable.

HH: I’ll be right back with Dr. Larry Arnn. The Hillsdale Dialogue continues right after this.

— — – –

HH: Hillsdale has a special place in the world of Churchill, because it collects papers there. Why does it do that, Dr. Arnn? Would you remind people?

LA: Well, it’s from the papers that you can know the past. And so we have Martin Gilbert’s archive here at the college. And that permits us to finish the publishing of the document volumes, which are the largest part of the largest biography ever written, official biography of Winston Churchill. And we are publishing right now, I’m by the end of the holidays, I have to have proofread and finish the editing of the documents that go up to the end of the Second World War. So in order to do that work, you see, that’s, this biography’s been underway, really, since Churchill began his adult life, because he kept all his paper. But the biography was officially launched in 1962.

HH: Geez.

LA: It was a huge collection of stuff. I mean, Volume 21, that we’re working on right now, is going to be 2,800 pages long, which is the biggest book you can bind and have it be any quality. And it’s going to have 4,000 footnotes in it. So it’s, you know, and there are going to eventually be 23 of those volumes. So it’s a huge task.

HH: Did you show Gary Oldman, did you show him the archive?

LA: Oh, yeah. And he was agog.

HH: (laughing) I would guess.

LA: You know, there’s a person connected to the film, whoever he was, and he told me that he had been researching Churchill for four months. And everybody else in the room laughed, you know, thought it was a joke.

HH: (laughing)

LA: (laughing) So you know, it turns out there’s a fair amount to do. So yeah, it’s, that’s why we do that.

HH: You know, I’m going to have the writer of the movie on next week. I’m going to tape an interview with Andrew McCarten later today, because he did a fine job writing. The scene on the subway, which is constructed, is nevertheless authentic. Unlike the scene injected into Nixon/Frost where Nixon is drunkenly talking to David Frost late at night, wholly invented, Ron Howard, I asked him about it on air, he said I needed it to move the script along. But it was not true. The scene on the subway is not true, either, but it’s not inauthentic.

LA: Well, the reason is, the reason the story is noble in my little opinion, the reason contriving scenes on a subway passes muster with me, Martin Gilbert might be spinning in his grave, is that Churchill makes a point in his account of the war that this is a noble story, because the people saved their own freedom. They were brave. And he uses the expression, he uses many expressions like this. They were the lion. I was only called upon to give the roar. And so on the subway, these five citizens that Churchill talked to, they suggest phrases that Churchill made famous. Never, they say once, you know, make peace with Hitler, right? And at the end of the subway scene, Churchill is inspired by these people talking to him. He’s counseling with them about how to, whether they should make a peace or not, which is really what the movie is about. And there’s a West Indian subject of the Queen, and at the end, Churchill is muttering to her, speaking softly to himself, one of this favorite things, which is gracious at the gate, from Macaulay’s Lays of Ancient Rome, because Churchill memorized famously when he was a kid in school. And he’s muttering, he’s, you know, announced, “brave Horatius, The Captain of the Gate: ‘To every man born upon this earth Death cometh soon or late.’ How can men die better than facing fearful odds for the ashes of their fathers and the temples of their gods?” And this West Indian is in the background, and he is saying the words, too. So it’s a chorus.

HH: Yeah.

LA: …you see, of the British people whose record in the Second World War is very remarkable.

HH: It is.

LA: So the movie is about that, and that is the story that Churchill has to tell through, and later about the war. That’s why it’s authentic.

HH: Let me go back to the Oldman interview you conducted and play Gary Oldman talking with you about the rigors of the filming schedule, cut number five:

GO: Yes, Lucy Sibbick and David Malinowski, who were the people on the day to day basis, were applying and painting me, and looking after me. And their hours were ridiculous, because they have to come in. If my alarm, if I’m getting in a car at 1:45 am, Dave had to be there an hour before to set up. So it’s a quite sort of, my only, really, the concern was stamina, you know, if one could have the stamina. But I used to just, once I was, even if on those morning I was a little groggy, but the time, two hours forty-five minutes into the makeup, and you start to see the sort of spirit of him in the mirror, then I would get, that’s what got me through. I would get excited. I couldn’t wait, could I? I couldn’t wait to get on the set. And there I was in the makeup chair, and as the makeup, as we went further in, you know, and then I’d start to mumble.

LA: So, you know, right, so we watched you all day long that day, and you were cheerful and courteous to everybody you saw, and who saw you, including us, all day long. So you could see why actors would be mean. It’s harder to see why you’re not.

GO: Well, it’s, look, I mean, I’m telling you, oh, you know, oh, don’t I have to work a long day, you know? And that sound you can hear is the smallest violin playing. You know, I figured if you’re going, if you know, if Winston Churchill could take on Adolf Hitler at 65, I can sit in a makeup chair for three and a half hours.

HH: (laughing) You made that point, Larry Arnn. You know that one of my favorite lines in the essays of Montaigne is constant cheerfulness is the surest sign of wisdom. And so that is something about which to know about people, that they are constantly cheerful.

LA: It’s, there’s a thing parallel to that by Dr. Johnson about how if you see a man of good character, he pays attention to one. And I struggle with that. I’m busy, and I’m a multitasker and all that. But it reminds me, being around him, being around Gary Oldman, whom I admire, it reminds me that you know, you’re supposed to work really hard, and you’re supposed to keep your attention on the things, on the places where it should be. And that includes the other people around you.

HH: Always.

LA: Right.

HH: One more, you have to practice it to get into the habit of it. One more Gary Oldman cut on self-doubt while playing Churchill, cut number six:

GO: Yeah, I mean, when I was, when I, you know, it wasn’t all, I would have three days of working on this role, and then I would go wobbly. And I’d say to Doug, or Gisele, God, what have I let myself in for? You know, I can’t do it. I won’t be, you know, this is awful. I won’t be any good. I don’t know what I’m doing. You know, and I’d see people in the street and say look, he should play Churchill. He’s (crowd laughter), you know what I mean? This is true. And then I’d have, and then the work would, I’ve had a few days that were working, and then I would say I feel better about this. This is going well. I’d listen, I’d work on a speech, or work on something, or, and I’d feel more confident. And then another day would go by, and I would say, you know, in the middle of the night, I would sit up in a sweat and say I don’t know what I’m doing. What have I let myself in for? You know, so you go, you go, you go through this, and really, it was both, it was Douglas and Gisele separately, but who said to me what’s the worst thing that could happen? The worst thing that could happen is you could be really awful. And you know, and they’re not going to get a van and carry me away, or shoot me. You know, they will, with the critics, will with their pen. But no, so this is the worst thing that could happen. You had a go at it, and you failed. But, in the process, you got to stand in a room with 600 people and say I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. I get to stand in a room and say we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans. So it was, you know, that was the pep talk that I needed, and it still didn’t mean that I didn’t have those wobbly days. But it really, it, sometimes, you just need someone to say, and it makes sense, that’s very obvious. Hey, I get, you know, I’m playing Hamlet. I get to say to be or not to be. But sometimes, you need someone to remind you.

HH: Last minute to you, Dr. Arnn. What a great performance by him, and he obviously brought the right attitude and the right people around him to deliver.

LA: Oh, yeah. We advised students, I was talking to a kid last night, about what he picks to write his doctoral thesis about. And I said it’s like getting married, you know. You’re going to know it for the rest of your life. I wrote mine on Winston Churchill. Here am I, right, an old man now still talking about it. And one of the points that he’s making there is he’s played some really great roles, and they’re very worthy roles. And then you play the role, and then you go around for months, and you’re sort of in the role while you promote the movie. You live with that person. Well, who are you going to pick? Winston Churchill. He’s saying it’s a different kind of life when you’re doing that than when you’re playing some other person.

HH: Yeah.

LA: So that’s why he decided to do it finally. He just said I’m going to live like that for a while.

HH: And I think we can say with confidence as the last thing of 2017 live, that people who go to see the Darkest Hour are going to be very, very happy that they did. People are enjoying The Crown for one reason. They’re getting a lot of good history and a lot of true history. But it began, I think, a look backwards at some of what went on in the 20th Century that was so remarkable. And at the middle of it all is Winston Churchill, and Gary Oldman has delivered.

LA: Very much so. Very much so. People should see the movie.

HH: Merry Christmas to you, Dr. Arnn, and to everyone at Hillsdale College. I will talk to you in 2018. Meanwhile, we will be replaying our march through history on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, and three hours of Churchill on Monday for people to enjoy their Christmas day with, so don’t miss that. Dr. Larry Arnn, Hillsdale College, all things Hillsdale collected at All of our conversations from 2013 to today, every single one of them, and with other members of the faculty and staff at Hillsdale, are found at

End of interview.


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