50 Movie Characters You Won't Believe Are Real People

Johnny Fontane

The Character: 1940s singer, played by Al Martino in The Godfather , whose Hollywood career gets off to a flying start when the Corleone family leaves a horse's head in a movie producer's bed.

The Inspiration: Frank Sinatra, whose career took a nosedive in the early 1950s before his Oscar-winning performance in From Here Til Eternity reignited his popularity. Rumour has it Sinatra's friends in the Mafia had a quiet word to win him the role.

Artistic Licence: No equine decapitation was necessary in real life.

Adam Lerner

The Character: Twentysomething played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt in 50/50 , who discovers he has spinal cancer and has to adjust to life-threatening reality.

The Inspiration: Adam's experience actually happened to the film's screenwriter, Will Reiser.

Artistic Licence: Pretty close - Reiser's friends include Seth Rogen, who plays the role of Adam's confidante in the film.

Sally Bowles

The Character: As played by Liza Minnelli in Cabaret , Sally is an American dancer at Berlin's Kit Kat Klub who becomes embroiled in Germany's growing Nazi threat.

The Inspiration: Bowles was created by Christopher Isherwood in homage to Jean Ross, an acquaintance of the author when he lived in Berlin during the early 1930s.

Artistic Licence: While the character is reportedly close to the real thing, there's been a change of nationality in translation, as Ross (and Bowles, as written by Isherwod) was British.

Dorian Gray

The Character: Debonair, debauched Victorian gent - played by, amongst others, Hurd Hatfield and Ben Barnes - whose eternal good looks are explained when people catch sight of his possessed portrait.

The Inspiration: Dorian was the most back-handed of compliments from Oscar Wilde to his lover, the poet John Gray. He didn't even bother changing the surname!

Artistic Licence: Whatever dark side Wilde saw in the real-life Gray took on tangible, supernatural form in the shape of that painting.

Laurel Hedare

The Character: Sharon Stone's villainess in Catwoman , a cosmetics tycoon involved in the creation of a lethal anti-ageing cream.

The Inspiration: Is it a coincidence that, at the time Catwoman was entering production, a glamorous, blonde businesswoman called Heather Bird was launching an innovative anti-ageing cream?

Artistic Licence: To the best of our knowledge, at no point has Bird been plagued by the feline-powered vengeance of an employee she tried to kill.


The Character: Masked outlaw - played by everyone from Douglas Fairbanks to Anthony Hopkins - whose telltale 'Z' is a warning to oppressors they can't escape justice for long.

The Inspiration: Joaquin Murrieta, a Mexican bandit who got rich after attacking well-stocked wagon trains during the Californian Gold Rush.

Artistic Licence: The fictional Zorro is the non-de-plume of nobleman Don Diego de la Vega, whose quest is sparked by his social conscience.

Abel Turner

The Character: Samuel L. Jackson's embittered cop in Lakeview Terrace , who takes out his frustrations on the couple next door (Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington).

The Inspiration: Irsie Henry was a real-life African-American LAPD officer who, like Turner, waged a racially-motivated war on his mixed-race neighbours.

Artistic Licence: Movie logic requires escalation to the point where Turner is shot dead. Henry was merely kicked out of the force.

Ben Campbell

The Character: Maths whizz played by Jim Sturgess in 21 , whose card-counting abilities make him a key player in an MIT blackjack team who make a killing at the casinos.

The Inspiration: Jeff Ma, a member of the MIT team during the 1990s whose adventures were adapted into the book Bringing Down The House .

Artistic Licence: Ma is Asian-American; Sturgess is white Irish. The change did not go unnoticed, with many accusing the film of racism by omission.

Brandon Shaw and Phillip Morgan

The Characters: Intellectually-minded killers in Hitchcock's Rope (played by John Dall and Farley Granger) who dare to hold a party in the same room as their victim's corpse.

The Inspiration: 1920s murder duo Leopold and Loeb who - like their fictional counterparts - attempted to carry out the perfect crime to prove their superiority. Alas, they got caught; not so perfect, then.

Artistic Licence: Not only Hitchcock was attracted to Leopold and Loeb's story. Other films to borrow its basic outline include Compulsion (1959) and Murder By Numbers (2002). None is a direct biopic.

Lucy Whitmore

The Character: Sufferer of anterograde amnesia, played by Drew Barrymore in 50 First Dates , who cannot remember anything in her life after a certain point, and for whom each day is a clean slate.

The Inspiration: Michelle Philpots, a Lincolnshire woman who has suffered short-term memory loss since two car accidents; she cannot recall anything since 1994, including the fact that she is married.

Artistic Licence: The film ends with the revelation that Lucy has had a daughter with Henry Roth (Adam Sandler), something that seems unlikely in real-life.