Gary Oldman on Getting Sober and Playing an Alcoholic in Mank: 'I Used to Sweat Vodka'
Gary Oldman's role as screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz in Mank earned him a Golden Globe nomination for best actor in a motion picture — drama this year
Gary Oldman tapped into his past struggle with alcohol abuse for his latest acting performance.
In a new interview with the Los Angeles Times, the 62-year-old star reflected on grappling with alcoholism before getting sober 24 years ago and how it impacted his approach to his role as alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz in the Golden Globe-nominated film Mank.
"I used to sweat vodka," Oldman recalled. "It becomes such a part of you. My tongue would be black in the morning. I blamed it on the shampoo. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy, to be in the grip of it. It's hell. And that self-effacing humor? That's just there to mask the inadequacy."
Directed by David Fincher, Mank tells the story of Mankiewicz and his relationship with director Orson Welles as they co-wrote the script for the iconic film, Citizen Kane.
Tom Burke plays Welles and Amanada Seyfried plays Marion Davies, a Broadway actress who was a mistress to the newspaper giant William Randolph Heart.
Prior to getting sober after two stints in rehab, Oldman said he was a functioning alcoholic for the first two decades of his adult life — just like his character in the film, who eventually died of uremic poisoning at age 55 in 1953.
"When I was drinking, I was working and I was remembering lines, so you feel you're getting away with it, though, deep down, beneath the denial, you know," said Oldman to the Times. "Herman, with that self-effacing humor, he was at lunch, drinking with a friend, who said, 'Why don't you go home sober for once?' And he answered, 'What? And have [wife] Sara throw me out as an impostor?' "
"I did the same thing," The Dark Knight star added. "I would sit down and tell the waiter, 'I'll have a large vodka tonic. And can you bring it now because I'm an alcoholic. I need it quicker.' "
Oldman went on to say to the Times that "people romanticize" alcoholism, adding, "even I romanticized it."
"All my heroes were drinkers or opium addicts, and you get all misty-eyed about these poets and playwrights and actors who were big drinkers," he explained. "That great line, Dorothy Parker: 'I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.' I think it may have been Brendan Behan who said, 'I'm an alcoholic with a writing problem.' Now that's witty. Great lines. But you can't separate the two. Scott Fitzgerald said, 'You take the first drink, and the drink takes you.' "
Mank, which also stars Lily Collins, Tuppence Middleton, Arliss Howard and Charles Dance, is based on a script Fincher's late father, Jack, wrote before his death in 2003.
The film received six nominations at the 2021 Golden Globes, including best actor in a motion picture — drama for Oldman and best motion picture — drama.
Mank is streaming on Netflix now.