It’s one thing for an actor to take on the role of a completely fictional character in a movie. It’s a totally different challenge, however, to have to portray an iconic personality from real life, because the actor then needs to bring their own dramatic twist to the role while keeping it faithful to history. Usually, they even have to live up to the expectations of millions of people, too. These 20 celebrities needn’t have worried, however, because their portrayals of some of history’s greats have been scarily accurate, if at least from a physical point of view.
20. Aileen Wuornos played by Charlize Theron – Monster (2003)
Charlize Theron is so beautiful that even a shaved head and grime-covered face couldn’t hide it – see Mad Max for proof. Nevertheless, the South African actress was almost beyond recognition as serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster. And while make-up played its part in the transformation, Theron also had to gain 30 pounds for the role. It was all worth it in the end, though, as her performance was convincing enough to nab her an Oscar.
19. Mahatma Gandhi played by Ben Kingsley – Gandhi (1982)
If you go so far as to change the ethnicity of an actor for a movie role, you better hope that they can deliver a powerful performance. Otherwise, it could all look rather silly and, well, a little bit racist, too. Thankfully, however, Ben Kingsley’s Oscar-winning turn as inspirational Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi was sensational, from his uncanny appearance to his soothing voice. And perhaps the actor’s natural fit for the role was helped by the fact that his father was actually of Indian descent, too.
18. David Frost played by Michael Sheen – Frost/Nixon (2006)
Welsh actor Michael Sheen has put in some bravura performances as real-life historical figures, having expertly played everyone from former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to outspoken soccer manager Brian Clough. But Sheen’s turn as journalist David Frost in the tense, dueling drama Frost/Nixon tops them all: from that ’70s hairstyle to that old-school, clipped British accent, everything is totally nailed down.
17. General George S. Patton played by George C. Scott – Patton (1970)
It takes a certain big-chested, broad-shouldered boldness to play one of the most formidable generals in military history, and George C. Scott delivered with gusto when he played General Patton. That’s the proud, unfaltering look of a man with a huge mission – to inspire and lead U.S. forces to victory in World War II. No big deal…
16. Oscar Wilde played by Stephen Fry – Wilde (1997)
Looking at these two side by side, you can imagine no one other than Stephen Fry in the role of Irish playwright Oscar Wilde. And not only are both men troubled, charming and icons of the LGBT movement, but with their burly figures and faces, they look like they were separated at birth… albeit 150 years apart.
15. Malcolm X played by Denzel Washington – Malcolm X (1992)
Love him or hate him, controversial black rights activist Malcolm X was a powerful, intense character, and Denzel Washington does a great job of capturing just that in the movie Malcolm X. In fact, this picture shows him throwing a cold, thoughtful gaze at the camera that seems to say, “You may not like what I have to say, but you’ll sure as hell listen anyway.”
14. Jerry Lee Lewis played by Dennis Quaid – Great Balls of Fire! (1989)
Jerry Lee Lewis, one of the first musicians to live a well-documented and controversial “rock and roll” lifestyle, is brilliantly portrayed in all his rockabilly glory by Dennis Quaid in the biopic Great Balls of Fire. And while the movie was far from perfect, Quaid’s wavy-haired look was considerably closer to flawless.
13. Cate Blanchett played by Bob Dylan – I’m Not There (2007)
A total of six different actors were used to play Bob Dylan in Todd Haynes’ experimental biopic I’m Not There. The idea was that each actor would be used to depict different aspects of Dylan’s persona. Ironically, however, the best physical match for the musical pioneer turned out to be actress Cate Blanchett, with her ethereal frame and shaggy mop. And she actually sounded like him, too!
12. Frida Kahlo played by Salma Hayek – Frida (2002)
Salma Hayek was almost unknown when she was cast in the role of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, but she shot to fame soon afterwards. And it’s little wonder, too: from the elegant, soft-eyed appearance to the distinctive mono-brow that both the painter and actress both somehow manage to pull off, Hayek truly made the role her own.
11. Jim Morrison played by Val Kilmer – The Doors (1991)
There’s nothing conventional or easily replicable about Jim “Lizard King” Morrison of The Doors, but ’90s icon Val Kilmer somehow managed to embody him perfectly. In fact, in Oliver Stone’s psychedelic biography The Doors, Kilmer not only looks the part, but he even does some of the singing, too! A very talented guy, is that Val.
10. Che Guevara played by Benicio Del Toro – Che (2008)
The global commercialization of Che Guevara’s face across T-shirts, posters and mugs has made him one of the most recognizable people in the world. Benicio Del Toro, then, must have felt the pressure when he was cast to play the guerrilla leader in the two-part movie Che in 2008. As it turned out, however, he pulled it off brilliantly and looked every bit the revolutionary poster boy.
9. Truman Capote played by Philip Seymour Hoffman – Capote (2005)
American author and playwright Truman Capote was a unique character; flamboyant in both appearance and manner. And so what better person to play him in Capote than than one of the most unique and talented actors of this generation? Yes, Philip Seymour Hoffman perfectly captured Capote’s mix of elegance and oddness, even ending up winning an Oscar for his efforts.
8. Sarah Palin played by Julianne Moore – Game Change (2012)
You can question whether former Alaska governor and one-time Republican running mate Sarah Palin even deserved a movie of her own, but you can’t question the decision to cast Julianne Moore to play her in Game Change. Physically, in fact, you can barely tell the two apart; Moore is the spitting image of Palin, right down to that undeniably charming smile.
7. Sid Vicious played by Gary Oldman – Sid and Nancy (1986)
Gary Oldman is an actor of many distinct faces, and one of those is the grimacing, gray-faced visage of late Sex Pistols bass guitarist Sid Vicious. And while Oldman was actually a bit older than Vicious – who died at the age of 21 – when he was cast in the role, he still managed to capture the punk legend’s grimy, rebellious energy brilliantly.
6. Steve Jobs played by Ashton Kutcher – Jobs (2013)
Ashton Kutcher’s turn as prodigious tech entrepreneur and Apple founder Steve Jobs may be inferior to Michael Fassbender’s more recent 2015 effort, but, in terms of looks at least, Kutcher had Jobs down pat. For one thing, that sharp, intelligent gaze he perfected on the set of Jobs is unnervingly similar: nerdy, yet somehow also confident and cool.
5. Lee Harvey Oswald played by Gary Oldman – JFK (1991)
Gary Oldman is at it again, only this time in the decidedly less rock-and-roll role as Lee Harvey Oswald, the man accused of assassinating President Kennedy. Fittingly, Oldman looks awful, bruised and mentally unstable in the movie JFK – all attributes of the doomed Oswald, who continues to be at the centre of JFK assassination conspiracy theories to this day.
4. Stephen Hawking and Jane Wilde played by Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones – The Theory of Everything (2015)
British actor Eddie Redmayne caught the world’s attention with his excellent performance in Les Miserables, but he became a global sensation when he portrayed the great scientist Stephen Hawking in Oscar-winning biography The Theory of Everything. And in this wedding scene the actor and co-star Felicity Jones are almost a mirror image of Hawking and his first wife Jane Wilde – right down, in fact, to Hawking’s skewed smile and pained posture, caused by the early stages of motor neurone disease.
3. Selena Quintanilla played by Jennifer Lopez – Selena (1997)
Beautiful, talented and Latino is a fair description of both J-Lo and singer Selena Quintanilla, and so for the former to play the latter seems like a logical fit. However, some in the Mexican community weren’t all that happy that J-Lo, of Puerto Rican descent, got the role. Looking at these pictures, however, it’s clear that the filmmakers made the right choice.
2. Edith Piaf played by Marion Cotillard – La Vie en Rose (2007)
French actress Mario Cotillard shot to fame with her turn as the legendary singer Edith Piaf. And, incredibly, Cotillard manages to pull off playing Piaf all the way from her early days as a singer up until her death at the age of 47, with the actress’ gradually receding hairline, drawn-on eyebrows and tortured look captured the troubled Piaf remarkably.
1. Alfred Hitchcock played by Anthony Hopkins – Hitchcock (2012)
If you’re wondering how Anthony Hopkins managed to obtain that famously chubby neck of Alfred Hitchcock in this movie about the filming of Psycho, that’s down to the make-up department, which dolloped over $66,000 worth of the stuff on Hopkins just to get the fleshy look just right. Although perhaps it wasn’t the wisest investment, given that the film wasn’t a huge box office hit…