50 Best Portrayals Of Real People

Immersive impersonators

Michael Sheen is Brian Clough

The Real Person: Brian Clough was the title-winning manager of Derby County when he took on an ill-fated assignment at Leeds United, lasting only 44 days. He bounced back by winning back-to-back European Cups with Nottingham Forest.

The Actor: Michael Sheen is the Mr Benn of British cinema, having specialised in playing iconic 20th Century personalities ranging from Kenneth Williams and David Frost to Tony Blair (twice). Tom Hooper's biopic about Clough's time at Leeds, The Damned United , is a rare solo lead.

Most Stunning Element: When Stephen Frears, the project's original director, broached the subject of playing Clough with Sheen, the actor instinctively launched into a perfect impersonation of Clough. Job won.

Geoffrey Rush is David Helfgott

The Real Person: Pianist David Helfgott was a child prodigy whose career was waylaid by mental health issues that saw him institutionalised for a decade; he eventually recovered sufficiently to resume playing concerts.

The Actor: Acclaimed Australian theatre actor Geoffrey Rush was largely unknown to cinema audiences when Scott Hicks cast him as Helfgott in 1996 film Shine . Unknown no longer: Rush won the Best Actor Oscar (and has been Oscar nominated three times since) and is an integral part of the Pirates Of The Caribbean franchise.

Most Stunning Element: Rush hadn't played piano since the age of 14, but picked it up again so quickly Hicks was able to show the actor perfoming without the use of a hand double.

Bruce Greenwood is John F. Kennedy

The Real Person: John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, had a short but vital presidency before his assassination, notably his handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 in which nuclear war was narrowly averted.

The Actor: 13 Days , Roger Donaldson's dramatisation of the Cuban Missile Crisis, favoured stalwart character actor Bruce Greenwood - an uncanny likeness for JFK - over A-listers to suit the film's sober, factual basis. No Oscar nod, but it raised Greenwood's profile; nowadays, he's in everything from Star Trek to Flight .

Most Stunning Element: Greenwood and Robert Culp (who played Robert Kennedy) argued in character off-screen to deepen the chemistry of their performances.

Nigel Hawthorne is King George III

The Real Person: George III was King of England from 1760 until 1820… although, in reality, the last ten years were effectively under the control of his son, the Prince Regent, on account of George's persistent mental illness.

The Actor: Nigel Hawthorne was a veteran of stage and screen in Britain, most famous for playing Sir Humphrey Appleby in Yes, Minister . His Oscar-nominated performance in The Madness Of King George was a repeat of his Olivier-winning turn in Alan Bennett's stage play.

Most Stunning Element: Hawthorne was so committed to reprising his stage role he only took the villain's role in Demolition Man to big up his Hollywood profile.

Mathieu Amalric is Jean-Dominique Bauby

The Real Person: Jean-Dominique Bauby was a French journalist who suffered locked-in syndrome after a stroke, but recited his entire memoir, The Diving Bell And The Butterfly , by blinking. He died three days after its publication.

The Actor: Mathieu Amalric was already a Cesar-winning actor and also familiar to mainstream audiences thanks to his role in Spielberg's Munich , when Julian Schnabel cast him as Bauby in his biopic, named after the author's memoir. Amalric won his second Cesar and was then cast as the Bond villain in Quantum Of Solace .

Most Stunning Element: Amalric was lucky to be in consideration at all. The film was originally conceived as an English-language project with Johnny Depp attached, until Schnabel decided it had to be done in Bauby's native language.

Sandra Bullock is Leigh Anne Tuohy

The Real Person: Leigh Anne Tuohy is an interior designer and all-American mom, best known for becoming legal guardian of troubled teenager Michael Oher and helping him become an NFL star.

The Actor: Since her breakthrough role in Speed , Sandra Bullock has been one of Hollywood's best-loved actresses. Usually specialising in comedy, playing Tuohy in 2009's The Blind Side was a rare dramatic role that won her Best Actress and led to her forthcoming role in Gravity .

Most Stunning Element: Bullock turned down the project three times because she had reservations about being able to convincingly play a devout Christian's beliefs on screen.

Marlene Dietrich is Catherine The Great

The Real Person: Catherine II was Empress of Russia from 1762 until 1796, forging what is known as the golden age of the Russian empire while gaining notoriety for her love of kinky sex.

The Actor: Who else would Josef von Sternberg cast in such a role than his regular muse, Marlene Dietrich? The sixth of their seven collaborations printed the legend when it came to Catherine, portraying Dietrich as more of a dominatrix than a ruler.

Most Stunning Element: At 33 years old, Dietrich was over twice the age of her character (16) at the beginning of the film.

Johnny Depp is Hunter S. Thompson

The Real Person: Hunter S. Thompson rewrote the rules of journalism by creating 'gonzo,' the confessional style where the subject was as much Thompson himself as whatever he was meant to be writing about. Case in point: Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas , his drug-fuelled jaunt to cover a race in Vegas.

The Actor: Johnny Depp had established his rep as Hollywood's weirdest A-lister when Thompson himself demanded the actor play 'Raoul Duke,' the not-quite-autobiographical version of the author in Terry Gilliam's adap of Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas . Bizarrely, the role has become one of Depp's signature roles, since he played another fictionalised version of Thompson in The Rum Diary .

Most Stunning Element: Depp swapped cars with Thompson prior to filming so that the actor could get into the author's mindset. Thompson, never one to miss an opportunity, wrote a gonzo account of his time driving Depp's car that was published in Time magazine.

Sissy Spacek is Loretta Lynn

The Real Person: Born Loretta Webb, country singer Lynn became a sensation for turning her troubled home life - not to mention wider subjects such as the Vietnam War.

The Actor: Sissy Spacek was already a star thanks to Badlands and Carrie . However, the real Loretta Lynn didn't realised that when she selected Spacek to play her based on a photograph. Best Actress duly followed for the resulting film, 1980's Coal Miner's Daughter .

Most Stunning Element: That really is Spacek singing.

Michael Douglas is Liberace

The Real Person: At his height, singer/pianist Wadzio Valentino Liberace was the highest paid entertainer in America thanks to his TV show, extensive touring and flamboyant costumes. Oh, and despite being gay, he would sue anybody who publically said so. He died of AIDS-related illnesses in 1987.

The Actor: Oscar-winning actor and producer Michael Douglas had been lined up to play Liberace by Steven Soderbergh since they worked together on Traffic . After over a decade of difficulties, Behind The Candelabra (based on the memoir by Liberace's lover, Scott Thorson) was greenlit as an HBO special… which rules Douglas out of contention in next year's Academy Awards.

Most Stunning Element: This was Douglas' first role since beating throat cancer; in fact, Soderbergh had cast the actor before he was diagnosed and waited for the actor to recover.

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