Gary Oldman on his alcoholism: ‘I used to sweat vodka, my tongue would be black’

Gary Oldman at 76th Venice Film Festival

I finally got around to watching Mank after putting it off for months. It was okay. I understood, before I watched it, what the story would be about: the Hollywood Golden Age and a notorious and well-connected alcoholic, Herman Mankiewicz. I hoped to see more of Orson Welles, but Orson-as-a-character was barely in it. Instead, it’s a two hour and 11 minute movie which honestly feels like a four-hour bender. Mank drinks and drinks and drinks. Sometimes he’s a mensch and sometimes he’s awful. I guess we were supposed to have sympathy for him or think that he was some kind of unsung hero? He wasn’t. He screwed over friends and foes and he nurtured stupid grievances. Anyway, Amanda Seyfried is good in it and I honestly enjoyed Charles Dance as William Randolph Hearst. But it looks like all of the money and energy is going into Gary Oldman’s best actor campaign for playing Mank. He’s actively campaigning too. Check out his interview with the LA Times:

His thought when he saw the assembled Mank cast: “God … and I’m going to be the one to come and f— it up. I tell you, the rubbish that goes through your head. I know what kicked in my insecurity initially — it would have kicked in eventually anyway — but I’m reading this script, and Mank has all these one-liners he throws out, and you have to infuse them with enough charm to make them palatable. How do you make this guy likable and not this grump, snarky drunk? That was the challenge.”

He’s been sober for nearly 24 years: “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. 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. 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.’”

Romanticizing alcoholism: “People romanticize it, and 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. 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.’ I used to sweat vodka. 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.”

Remembering his friend David Bowie: “Having been in recovery, one of the most profound lines is ‘planet Earth is blue, and there’s nothing I can do.’ That is it right there for me. There’s nothing I can do. That’s the thing where you sometimes drink because you need something habitually. You’ve got to clear the fog. And finally you go, ‘There’s nothing I can do about that. No matter what I feel, a drink’s not going to do it.’ Such a wonderful, simple line. David was a poet. Not a day goes by when I don’t miss him.”

[From The LA Times]

As far as Oscar campaign interviews go, this is a pretty good one. He strikes the right tone, he’s self-effacing and confessional about the darkness of his own addiction, and acknowledging that Mank is a guy with demons and deep inadequacy. While the film shows Mank in all his flaws… there is still such romanticism to the film and to the character. The screenplay constantly reminds us that the poor guy isn’t living up to his potential, that he supports good causes, that he’s loyal to a couple of his friends, that he has a heart of gold and a demon on his back. But at some point, it’s just exhausting to give that much depth and nuance to a guy who f–ked over people close to him and who seemed like a f–king monster while he was drinking, and he was always drinking. It came across as navel-gazing. But sure, I bet Oldman is a top Oscar contender, even though he just won an Oscar a few years ago.

Gary Oldman during the Red carpet of film ' The laundromat ' at the 76th Venice Film Festival, Venice, ITALY-01-09-2019

Photos courtesy of Avalon Red.

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17 Responses to “Gary Oldman on his alcoholism: ‘I used to sweat vodka, my tongue would be black’”

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  1. Gruey says:

    Been sober for over a year. Never got close to this level of drinking, but it was bad enough and I could see this kind of hell in the distance clearly enough.

    His words resonate with me. People drink because they are searching for something more (soothing at the end of a day, a treat, a feeling of sexiness and elegance after a day of being puked on by toddlers). Technically what most are looking for is more dopamine. But there’s really only so much a day can give you. And then you just gotta go to sleep and start over. Humans are not made to be perfectly content, but there is a lot to be grateful for every day, particularly in sobriety.

    • Lemon8 says:

      Congratulations. That’s beautifully put.

    • Savannah says:

      Oh wow, I really love the way you put it. Thanks for sharing your story, it resonated with me.

    • Ann says:

      That’s what made me start drinking, in my thirties. I would drink before that, at parties and such, maybe a beer with dinner, but I wasn’t what you would call a drinker. Then they started selling wine in my local grocery store, and I started having wine with dinner at the end of a long day with kids and the rest, and I started having too much. No, I never got this bad and I still do drink alcohol, but more like I used to do, before it became a problem.

    • Sankay says:

      As said already, this beautifully put. I have this problem but it’s with food, unfortunately.

    • Call_me_al says:

      This is a beautiful and simple line!

      “There is only so much a day can give you.”

      Thanks, Gruey, and congratulations.

  2. TeamMeg says:

    Might give Mank another chance after reading this. Couldn’t get past the first 15 minutes when I tried watching it the first time, but on the bright side discovered YouTube has a great selection of classic and pre-code noir that you can watch for free!

  3. Courtney B says:

    He’s not really a contender this year. Chadwick Boseman (rightfully) has this one locked up.

  4. Blues says:

    Is every man in Hollywood a drunk, pediphile, or drug addict?

  5. Andrea says:

    Didn’t he and Uma split because of his drinking??

  6. Andrea says:

    Society glamorizes drinking. I cannot tell you how looked down I have been for not drinking amongst my peers/friends and that peer pressure has gotten worse with age (especially now living in Toronto). My friends in NC have all toned down or stopped their drinking with age, but my friends in Toronto have increased as they got older and had kids etc. I will never forget my friend at 3pm having a double vodka with two toddlers running around and I thought, if this woman was poor and black, they’d have social services after her, but because she is rich and white, it is a pass.

  7. Commonwealthy says:

    Hugs to the sober and not sober. Keep trying, I wish you and your families healing.

    On a more gossipy note:

    I’m annoyed that they cast a young actress as Sara when Mank and his wife were the same age. So should have been either older actress, or younger actor – tired of Hollywood letting men age but switching up leading women after 35.

    He should have never played Sirius Black in the Harry Potter movies. Sirius was supposed to be handsome, even after his years in Azkaban. Clive Owen or someone else, but not Gary Oldman. I resent him greatly for this. I imagine him volunteering and everyone respecting his career too much to tell him no.

    • Anne Call says:

      Mank, his wife and Marion Davies were all the same age, around 40, at the time the movie takes places. Really bugged me how the director hired an actor in his 60’s to play Mank and of course the two women actors were in their early 30’s.

  8. Brubs says:

    He can campaign all he wants, Chadwick will get that oscar

    If Mank doesn’t go home empty handed they will probably get one or two oscars in the craft categories

  9. Emily_C says:

    I am so tired of all the movies about alcoholic assholes we’re supposed to feel for. When will we get movies that focus on the children and wives (because these movies are always about men) whose lives they wrecked? All we get there are Lifetime movies, and those are no good because they act like the alcoholic is an inhuman monster, and so the actions of the people around them who love them make no sense.

    • Call_me_al says:

      Alcoholism can make people act like assholes who are not. I do agree though that movies, shows, and books about addicts are way more abundant and compelling than those about the journeys of their loved ones. You want to see some hard core badasses? Go to an al-anon meeting and hear some little old ladies talk about finding Serenity while their child or grandchild careens in and out of rehab, jail, and recovery.