50 Best Portrayals Of Real People

Forest Whitaker is Idi Amin

The Real Person: Idi Amin was President of Uganda for most of the 1970s after seizing power in a coup. His reign of terror became the focus of Giles Foden's novel The Last King Of Scotland and its 2006 film adaptation directed by Kevin MacDonald.

The Actor: Forest Whitaker first proved his ability to play a real-life character with his acclaimed portrayal of Charlie Parker in Bird . He played Amin fresh off a startling guest role on The Shield , and won the Best Actor Oscar for his efforts.

Most Stunning Element: Whitaker learned to play the accordion for the role.

Bruno Ganz is Adolf Hitler

The Real Person: Leader of the Nazi Party. Architect of the Second World War. Murderer of millions. Sadly, probably the single most influential figure of the 20th Century.

The Actor: Bruno Ganz, the veteran Swiss actor best known for Wings Of Desire , took on the controversial task of showing Hitler as a three-dimensional person rather than the cartoonish bogeyman of so many films, in Oliver Hirschbiegel's account of Hitler's final days, Downfall . And then, of course, Internet immortality awaited.

Most Stunning Element: Ganz was given access to a 1942 recording made secretly by Finnish intelligence agents - the only known recording of Hitler having a private conversation, rather than shouting at a Nazi rally.

Hilary Swank is Brandon Teena

The Real Person: Teena Brandon was a female-to-male transgender man living as Brandon Teena, who was raped and murdered after her biological identity was discovered in 1993.

The Actor: Director Kimberley Peirce had spent years trying to cast the role for biopic Boys Don't Cry , when Hilary Swank - hitherto best known for being The Next Karate Kid - turned up. Swank won Best Actress at the Oscars, and repeated the feat five years later for Million Dollar Baby .

Most Stunning Element: Swank's dedication to the role was so total she lived as a man for a month to prove she could pull off the role.

John Hurt is John Merrick

The Real Person: Joseph Merrick was an English man born in the 19th century with severe cranial deformities, whose appearance as the so-called "Elephant Man" made him an object of mockery and curiosity.

The Actor: John Hurt had achieved international fame as the host to the titular Alien in 1979, but was cast by David Lynch as Merrick (now renamed John) based on his sterling TV career which included real-life portrayals of Caligula and Quentin Crisp. He was Oscar nominated for Best Actor.

Most Stunning Element: Hurt's make-up was based on casts of Merrick's face, and took seven to eight hours a day to apply, forcing a change to the schedule so that Hurt only worked alternate days.

Falconetti is Joan of Arc

The Real Person: Joan of Arc was a 13th century peasant girl who led the French army during several battles during the Hundred Years' War. However, her claims she was guided directly by God put her in conflict with the Church, and they burned her at the stake… although she was subsequently reclaimed as a martyr and hero.

The Actor: Stage actress Falconetti (her first name was variously credited as Renée Jeanne or Maria) was chosen by Carl Theodor Dreyer in his silent dramatisation of Joan's trial, The Passion Of Joan Of Arc . It was her second and final film role, but remains lauded as one of the greatest ever for its soulful intensity.

Most Stunning Element: Dreyer famously forced Falconetti to kneel on a hard stone floor all day so that he could capture the look of suffering in her face.

Peter O'Toole is T.E. Lawrence

The Real Person: Thomas Edward Lawrence was a British officer stationed in the Middle East during WWI, whose success in persuading warring Arab tribes to join the war effort led to his nickname, Lawrence of Arabia.

The Actor: David Lean assumed he'd cast Albert Finney in his 1962 epic Lawrence Of Arabia , until Finney turned him down. Instead, Lean gambled on virtual unknown Peter O'Toole, whose effete manner and sparkling eyes captured Lawrence's mercurial nature and earned the actor his first Oscar nomination.

Most Stunning Element: O'Toole placed foam rubber under his saddle to make the arduous nature of riding a camel more comfortable. The Bedouin extras copied the idea, and the method is still used today.

Daniel Day-Lewis is Abraham Lincoln

The Real Person: Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, who led the victorious North of his divided nation through the Civil War and abolished slavery before his assassination in 1865.

The Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis had form in real-life portrayals, having won an Oscar for My Left Foot and been nominated again for In The Name Of The Father . His Lincoln - skilled raconteur and wily politician - in Steven Spielberg's 2012 biopic was the crowning glory, earning the actor a record third Oscar for Best Actor.

Most Stunning Element: Day-Lewis initially turned down Spielberg, because (as he wrote in a letter to the director) "as fascinated as I was by 'Abe,' it was the fascination of a grateful spectator who longed to see a story told rather than that of a participant."

Charlize Theron is Aileen Wuornos

The Real Person: Prostitute Aileen Wuornos was convicted as a serial killer for murdering seven men, despite claims she killed them in self-defence. She became an unlikely celebrity on Death Row thanks to two documentaries made by Nick Broomfield prior to her execution in 2002.

The Actor: Charlize Theron was a model-turned-actress whose on-screen roles didn't match her complex real life story (which included watching her mother shoot her abusive father dead). That changed when she underwent an extraordinary physical and emotional transformation to play Wuornos in 2003's Monster , winning the Best Actress Oscar.

Most Stunning Element: Theron read the script and declared her interest in the role before she realised that Wuornos was a real person.

Ben Kingsley is Mahatma Gandhi

The Real Person: Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi preached non-violent dissent against British colonial rule and proved hugely influential in securing independence for his nation. Known as 'Mahatma' (meaning 'venerable') he was assassinated in 1948.

The Actor: Director Richard Attenborough spent two decades getting his dream biopic, Gandhi , off the ground; long enough for half-Indian Ben Kingsley (nee Krishna Bhanji) to be right for the role. Both Kingsley and Attenborough won Oscars.

Most Stunning Element: According to legend, extras were so convinced by Kingsley they thought they were seeing the real Gandhi's ghost.

Robert De Niro is Jake LaMotta

The Real Person: Nicknamed the 'Raging Bull,' New Yorker Jake LaMotta became world champion middleweight boxer in 1949, but his temperament caused trouble outside the ring - his later career includes prison time and bit-parts in Hollywood movies like The Hustler .

The Actor: Robert De Niro was obsessed about playing LaMotta and convinced regular collaborator Martin Scorsese to direct bleak biopic Raging Bull . De Niro's unflinching, transformative role won the Oscar and has remained the benchmark for real-life portrayals ever since.

Most Stunning Element: The works. Not only did De Niro famous "eat his way across Italy" to put on 70 pounds for the film's later sequences, but he trained with LaMotta as a boxer, actually winning two of three real fights.