Actors and crews go through a number of steps to perfect their imitations of these historical figures. Hair dyeing and styling and makeup are just the beginning. Actors will also wear prosthetics to create new face shapes and smiles. They”ll also study the motions, body language, and speaking habits of their subjects extensively to capture them on screen. Of course, they”re different people, so at the end of the day, the role is successful or not depending on the actors” skills.
Here are some of our favorite screen transformations. Some required little effort, while others demanded all kinds of adjustments. The actors are all shown on the right.
James Franco as James Dean in James Dean
This is pretty spot on! Bonus points for matching first names.
Meryl Streep as Julia Child in Julie & Julia
Streep captured Child”s wild on-set energy pretty well. The turkey was well-cast, too.
Angelina Jolie as Mariane Pearl in A Mighty Heart
The casting of Jolie, a white actress, as the multi-racial Pearl drew some criticism from the African-American community, but Pearl herself actually chose Jolie for the role.
Jennifer Lopez as Selena Quintanilla Perez in Selena
Her role as the late singer helped launch Lopez”s own acting and singing career.
Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela in Invictus
There”s some resemblance between the two, thanks especially to the hairstyling, but Freeman seems like the perfect choice to capture the gravitas of Mandela.
Liam Neeson as Oskar Schindler in Schindler”s List
There”s very little resemblance here, actually. They got the striped shirt right, though.
Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote in Capote
The resemblance here is pretty good, but Hoffman”s portrayal of Capote”s unique speech habits were really what drove the role home.
Stephen Fry as Oscar Wilde in Wilde
Though the filmmakers all agreed that Fry was an excellent choice for the role, in 1997, Fry was not as well-known as he is today, which made funding the film more difficult.
Anthony Hopkins as Pablo Picasso in Surviving Picasso
Hopkins” portrayal of the notoriously misanthropic artist had to be even more front and center in this movie, as the filmmakers were not granted permission to use any images of Picasso”s actual work.
Robert Downey, Jr. as Charlie Chaplin in Chaplin
While the film generated some controversy because of some fictionalization of the subject”s life, Downey”s performance was met with acclaim. His portrayal was considered so strong that footage of the actual Chaplin was included at the end.
Kirk Douglas as Vincent Van Gogh in Lust for Life
To prepare for the scenes of Van Gogh painting, Douglas practiced painting crows so he could look more natural at the easel.
Adrien Brody as Salvador Dali in Midnight in Paris
Brody played the surrealist painter in this movie about a time-traveling writer, although in this picture he looks considerably more lighthearted than the real Dali.
Gary Oldman as Sid Vicious in Sid and Nancy
Dedicated to his craft, Oldman dropped a lot of weight to play the emaciated Vicious, eating nothing but melon and steamed fish, by his own account. He lost so much weight that he was actually hospitalized. Even so, Oldman didn”t think he did a very good job.
Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles in Ray
Not only did he also lose weight for the role, but Foxx performed wearing prosthetics of Charles” damaged eyelids, rendering him actually blind on set, up to 14 hours a day. The new lack of a sense gave him a few panic attacks, but he got used to it, and his performance received acclaim.
Andre “3000” Benjamin as Jimi Hendrix in All Is By My Side
During filming, Benjamin, who did not hear Hendrix”s music until he was an adult, regretted taking the role for a moment. Why? He didn”t think he could ever cool enough to portray the rock legend.
Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison in The Doors
For this role, Kilmer actually learned 50 Doors songs, and performed 15 of them himself for the film, and did such a convincing impression that even the actual members of The Doors had trouble distinguishing his voice from Morrison”s. He also worked with the band”s former producer to get the stage persona right.
Audrey Tautou as Gabrille “Coco” Chanel in Coco Before Chanel
Tautou had her reservations about playing the famous designer, who is known for her anti-Semitism, homophobia, and Nazi sympathizing as much as she”s known for her contributions to the fashion world, going so far as to call her a “liar.” But she also wanted to portray her as a complete person, flaws and all.
Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network
Zuckerberg himself was most impressed with the wardrobe choices in this film, stating that he was genuinely surprised at how accurate it was. He didn”t like that the movie portrayed his development of Facebook as a means to popularity with women, though.
Cate Blanchette as Bob Dylan in I”m Not There
Blanchett was one of six actors to play Dylan”s various public personae in this film. Hers was during his “electric Dylan” controversy, and, even though she”s quite an accomplished actor, Blanchett stated that the role “terrified” her.
Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe in My Week With Marilyn
Williams spent six months studying Monroe”s letters and journals, gained weight for the role, and worked with a choreographer to perfect the sultry star”s signature walk.
Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos in Monster
Theron dove into the role of the mentally unstable serial killer by gaining 30 pounds and wearing prosthetic teeth, and also damaged her own hair by over-bleaching it. All of the sun damage and wear to the skin was applied by hand with makeup.
Denzel Washington as Malcom X in Malcom X
Washington researched the civil rights leader thoroughly, maybe even obsessively, but that”s nothing new for the actor, who does this with most if not all of his roles.
Gretchen Mol as Bettie Page in The Notorious Bettie Page
While Page is known for her pin-up photos, Mol was cast for her more demure nature, which was more in line with Page”s actual personality.
Thandie Newton as Condoleezza Rice in W.
Because of the heat where they were filming, prosthetics were out of the question, so Newton”s portrayal of Rice”s fuller face was achieved solely through makeup.
Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady
Streep sat through a session at the House of Commons in 2011 so that she could get a sense of how real MPs behaved in action.
Don Cheadle as Sammy Davis, Jr. in The Rat Pack
Cheadle initially turned this role down, saying that the script didn”t show enough of Davis” emotional struggles or development or the realities of racism. The script was rewritten for him.
James Franco as Allen Ginsberg in Howl
Franco was praised for playing the role of the beat poet with “restraint.”
Salma Hayek as Frida Kahlo in Frida
Hayek tried to grow her own facial hair for the role, but it didn”t work out, so cosmetics were applied (a little too much for the unibrow maybe?). She also wore a shoe with a thicker sole than the other so she could imitate the artist”s limping walk.
Jim Carrey as Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon
Carrey was so dedicated to his role that he asked Kaufman”s real-life rival, Jerry Lawler, to perform a piledriver on him, the same move that put Kaufman in the hospital with a (faked) neck injury. Lawler refused, and Carrey was furious.
So how do you think they did? Portraying a fictional character is hard enough, but to get the subtleties of an actual human being and try to keep things historically accurate has to be even harder.