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50 Best Portrayals Of Real People

Dustin Hoffman is Lenny Bruce

The Real Person: The godfather of modern comedy, Lenny Bruce was a New Yorker who based his increasingly profane, political freestyle stand-up on jazz, before succumbing to drugs and his eventual death by morphine addiction in 1966.

The Actor: Dustin Hoffman was one of the biggest stars of the 'new Hollywood' when Bob Fosse cast him in 1974 biopic Lenny , over the Tony-winning stage actor Cliff Gorman who had played the role on stage. Lenny secured Hoffman his third Academy Award nomination.

Most Stunning Element: Hoffman copied the one-take stand-up routine in which Bruce wears a raincoat verbatim from a tape recording sent in by a student.

Colin Firth is King George VI

The Real Person: George VI was the man who wasn't supposed to be king, until his elder brother Edward VIII abdicated, leaving the awkward George - who suffered a stammer - to lead his country into WWII.

The Actor: Colin Firth - a British institution ever since playing Mr Darcy in the TV version of Pride And Prejudice - wasn't the first choice to play George VI in The King's Speech . However, Paul Bettany's decision not to pursue the role gave Firth his second consecutive Best Actor nomination, except this time he won.

Most Stunning Element: Coincidentally, Firth's sister Katie is a speech therapist, who helped the actor to perfect his stammer.

Jamie Foxx is Ray Charles

The Real Person: Blind since childhood, Ray Charles proved a prodigious musical talent and rose to prominence during the 1950s as a pioneer in soul music, and the first African-American pop star.

The Actor: Jamie Foxx made his name as a comedian on TV show In Living Color before successfully making the transition to dramatic roles in On Any Given Sunday . Taylor Hackford cast him as Charles in the 2004 biopic Ray - not only did Foxx win Best Actor, but he was also nominated as Best Supporting Actor that year for his role in Collateral .

Most Stunning Element: Foxx achieved a #1 Billboard hit in character, after he supplied the vocals for the hook (based on Charles' I Got A Woman ) in Kanye West's Gold Digger .

Eric Bana is Mark "Chopper" Read

The Real Person: Chopper Read was a violent petty criminal and habitual guest of Australia's prisons who used his larrikin personality to write a series of best-selling autobiographies and become an unlikely celebrity.

The Actor: Eric Bana was a stand-up comedian when Andrew Dominik's biopic Chopper changed the direction of his career. He won Best Actor at the Australian Film Institute Awards, then Hollywood came knocking. He's since played roles as diverse as Greek legend Hector and geek legend the Hulk.

Most Stunning Element: It was Chopper himself who recommended Bana after seeing the actor in Aussie TV comedy Full Frontal .

Judi Dench is Queen Victoria

The Real Person: The monarch of Great Britain defined a nation during its colonial pomp so much that the 19th Century is nicknamed Victorian despite her only coming to the throne in 1837.

The Actor: Judi Dench was regarded as one of the great actresses of her generation since the 1960s. Arguably, though, it wasn't until the 1990s that she became seen as a world-beater, and her delicate portrayal of a grieving Victoria in 1997's Mrs Brown saw the first of many Oscar nominations at an age most people are considering retirement.

Most Stunning Element: How's this for verisimilitude? Dench's real-life daughter, Finty Williams, was cast as Queen Victoria's daughter, Princess Helena.

Denzel Washington is Malcolm X

The Real Person: Born Malcolm Little, the Nation of Islam preacher became a leader of America's civil rights struggle during the 1960s, famous for shunning Martin Luther King's policy of non-violent protest in favour of direct action.

The Actor: Denzel Washington had already been cast by original director Norma Jewison when Spike Lee came on board. Still, Washington was a good fit - the leading dramatic African-American actor of his generation, he already had an Oscar and scored a second nomination for Malcolm X .

Most Stunning Element: Washington had already played Malcolm X in an off-Broadway play.

Gary Oldman is Sid Vicious

The Real Person: Born John Simon Ritchie, Sid Vicious was the infamous "attitude of punk" who became a member of the Sex Pistols despite not being able to play. His torrid romance with American Nancy Spungen led to heroin addiction, Spungen's suspicious death and Sid's own fatal overdose in 1979.

The Actor: Fast-rising theatrical star Gary Oldman was lured into film to play Vicious in Sid And Nancy despite not caring for the script. His immersive performance established him as an uncanny impersonator - he'd go on to play real-life figures Joe Orton, Lee Harvey Oswald and Ludwig van Beethoven.

Most Stunning Element: Oldman was hospitalised after losing too much weight while eating "only steamed fish and lots of melons" to portray the skeletal, drug-addicted Vicious.

Meryl Streep is Margaret Thatcher

The Real Person: Britain's first female Prime Minister led the country for the longest period of any PM during the 20th Century, giving her plenty of time to divide a nation thanks to her free-market policies.

The Actor: Meryl Streep was already legendary for her chameleonic ability to inhabit real people as diverse as Karen Silkwood, Lindy Chamberlain and Julia Child. As soon as she was cast as Thatcher in The Iron Lady , Oscar #3 was pretty much in the bag.

Most Stunning Element: Amongst the people Streep spoke to while researching the role was Thatcher's political foe during the 1980s, Labour leader Neil Kinnock.

Sean Penn is Harvey Milk

The Real Person: Harvey Milk was the first openly gay politician to be elected to public office in California, as a Public Supervisor in San Francisco. His outspoken activism helped to improve gay rights, before he was assassinated in 1978.

The Actor: Sean Penn had survived his 1980s bad boy image (and marriage to Madonna!) to become one of the finest actors of his generation. He already had one Oscar under his belt for Mystic River when he played Harvey Milk in the Gus Van Sant film Milk; that role brought him a second.

Most Stunning Element: It seems Penn and Madonna are still on good terms, as he was compelled to text her following his on-set kiss with co-star James Franco. "I just broke my cherry kissing a guy," Penn wrote. Madonna's reply: "congratulations."

Robert Downey, Jr is Charlie Chaplin

The Real Person: Charles Chaplin was a British music hall comedian who arrived in Hollywood and transformed it by dressing as a tramp, becoming cinema's first global superstar and a hugely influential actor/director.

The Actor: Robert Downey, Jr was a promising but volatile young star in 1992 - perfect for Chaplin's mercurial persona. Richard Attenborough's biopic Chaplin earned Downey, Jr his first Oscar nomination. It would be another 16 years before his second, for Tropic Thunder .

Most Stunning Element: Attenborough vowed only to include footage of the real Chaplin if he felt Downey, Jr's performance was close enough to the mark for the transition not to be jarring. He included the footage.