20 Celebs Who Portrayed Real-Life People & Nailed It

Bethany Quinn | Aug 22, 2019 Celebrities
20 Celebs Who Portrayed Real-Life People & Nailed It

Tom Hanks in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Lacey Terrell/Sony Pictures Entertainment

Actors are supposed to fully immerse themselves in whatever role they are playing, we know that for sure. Whether they're playing hardened criminals or a mythical creatures, it's up to them to make us believe that what we're seeing on the big screen is the real thing! In fact, some of the most memorable performances by actors are when they're playing real-life people! Who could forget Rami Malek's portrayal of Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody, or Taron Egerton's amazing take on Elton John in the film Rocketman?!

Those are some recent examples, but actors have been portraying icons for quite some time! Can anyone imagine someone else playing Abraham Lincoln rather than Daniel Day Lewis? No way! Hollywood has blessed us with a ton of amazing biopics over the years that not only give us a glimpse into the lives of famous musicians and historical figures we love, but it's also given us some incredible acting.

We expect nothing less than a masterpiece with Tom Hanks portraying Fred Rogers in the upcoming biopic A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. It looks really good and could help set a precedent for future biopics to come!

In honor of all the memorable films we've seen (and to come), here are 20 celebs who nailed playing real-life icons.

  • Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly


    The new trailer for the film Bombshell, a movie about Roger Ailes and the scandals that went down at Fox News, and it's hard to believe Charlize Theron is actually Charlize Theron. She looks exactly like Megyn Kelly -- so much so, we had to do a double take!

  • Angela Bassett as Tina Turner


    Talk about a transformation!

    Angela Bassett famously played international superstar Tina Turner in the biopic What's Love Got To Do With It back in 1993. Bassett chanelled her inner diva and was "simply the best" playing Ms. Turner -- so much so, that her performance earned her an Oscar nomination. Many fans have expressed they felt she was robbed of the award.

  • Tom Hanks as Mister Rogers


    As previously mentioned, fans of the PBS kids show Mister Rogers' Neighborhood are eagerly awaiting Tom Hanks' portrayal of the beloved man and television show creator. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a film based on the friendship that developed between Rogers and a journalist tasked with interviewing him.

    Be sure to bring plenty of tissues!

  • Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles


    This was a memorable performance to say the least. It's actually hard to tell that Ray Charles in the film is not actually Ray Charles but rather Jamie Foxx in the film Ray. Foxx went to great lengths to get the essence of Charles just right, including gluing his eyes shut for 14 hours a day while filming. He used his comedic background to help start him off on the right foot.

    "Coming from comedy, I could grasp a Ray Charles impersonation easily," he said in an interview with the New York Times. "The difficult thing was capturing his nuances."

  • Ben Kingsley as Gandhi


    Ben Kingsley is most known for his performance as Mahatma Gandhi in the film Gandhi, and despite filming the movie more than 35 years ago, the association doesn't bother him one bit. "I hope I am always associated with that film," he told Firstpost. "Gandhi was my first major feature film, my first leading role on screen, and I was surrounded by passionate people. I was surrounded by Indians who were passionate that this story should be told correctly and beautifully. It was humbling and an enormous responsibility."

  • Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash


    Fans were captivated not only by Joaquin Pheonix's ability to channel Johnny Cash in the film Walk the Line, but buy his similar singing voice, too! He and co-star Reese Witherspoon famously did all their own singing for the movie -- which was definitely a challenge as Cash and his wife June Carter recorded many popular songs together.

  • O'Shea Jackson Jr. as Ice Cube


    At first glance it would appear that some amazing CGI was used in the film Straight Outta Compton to make Ice Cube appear as his younger self. But that's really just his son O'Shea Jackson Jr., who not only looks just like his famous dad, but as serious acting chops to boot!

  • Madonna as Evita


    While there was a bit of controversy surround the casting of Madonna as Eva Peron in the 1996 film Evita, her co-star, Antonio Banderas, claims the megastar was totally committed to her role. "She was totally into this character. It was actually great working with her," he told People TV.

    Madonna's performance earned her a Golden Globe award, so her portrayal wasn't too shabby.

  • Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett


    Kristen Stewart wowed as rocker Joan Jett, but it took a little convincing on Kristen's part. During a rehearsal, in which Jett was present, Stewart did not fully commit to performing one of the songs -- because, well, it was a rehearsal. But Jett looked peeved, so she had to quickly reassure the rocker.

    "I saw her face kind of go like, 'what the [expletive]?.... I was like crying. I was like, 'trust me, I swear to you I can do this,'" she told Vanity Fair.

  • Andre Benjamin as Jimi Hendrix


    Andre Benjamin (or Andre 3000 as he's also known), seemed like an obvious choice to play the late rocker Jimi Hendrix. After all, he is a talented musician and singer! But he he didn't rely solely on his talent when preparing for the role.

    "Just watching a lot of footage, listening to a lot of tape, watching him in interviews, watching how he walked on stage, doing research to know that he had bad shoes since he was a kid so his feet were really bad,"  Andre told Time magazine about what he focused on to play Jimi.

  • Penelope Cruz as Donatella Versace


    It was certainly hard to tell the difference between Donatella Versace and Penelope Cruz when the actress played the fashion designer in Ryan Murphy's Versace: American Crime Story. From the hair to the clothes, to Penelope's dedication to getting every aspect of the Italian designer just right, this is one of the most impressive on screen transformations we've seen!

  • Will Smith as Muhammad Ali


    This knockout performance of legendary boxer Muhammad Ali, played by Will Smith, was truly an epic transformation. Smith worked tirelessly to honor the legend in the film, Ali, and lucky for him, Ali gave his "nod" of approval.

    "The champ looked at me and gave me the nod that I did a good job. I worked as hard as I could possibly have worked," he told Oprah Winfrey in an interview.

  • Ginnifer Goodwin as Jackie Kennedy


    Ginnifer Goodwin was tasked with playing Jackie Kennedy during one of the most famous and tragic points in the first lady's life -- so she had a doubly hard job! Killing Kennedy depicts the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the aftermath. Goodwin learned a lot about the woman she was playing and was able to get past all the preconceived notions of this iconic figure.

    "I wanted to take her away from the more dramatic broad strokes of the politics and the philandering and the things we usually define her by, and I wanted to play her the way she described herself.  And that opened up a world of possibilities," she told Collider.

  • Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort


    Leonardo DiCaprio is known for completely throwing himself into his roles, but there was one aspect of playing Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street that he needed help with, and he got it straight from Belfort himself.

    "Leo had never done drugs, so I showed him what it looks and feels like when you are high on quaaludes," Belfort told The New York Post. "I ... started crawling around. We were both on the floor, drooling. His father walked into the room and asked us what the [expletive] we were doing."

  • Jennifer Hudson as Winnie Mandela


    Sure, many of us know the impact of Nelson Mandela, but not many of us know the story and impact of his wife, Winnie. Jennifer Hudson, who played Winnie Mandela, didn't take her role lightly. "It was very intimidating for me, actually," she explained Reuters. "This is something they [the people of South Africa] clearly treasure and take very seriously. I thought if I am going to do this I have to be all in. I thought maybe I should go home. And then I thought, this is a story that I would want to be a part of and tell."

  • Usher Raymond as Sugar Ray Leonard

    "I didn't prepare like it was an acting role. I prepared like a boxer," Usher revealed to The Today Show while promoting the film Hands of Stone in which he played boxing phenom Sugar Ray Leonard. Looks like the singer's ability to learn choreography and be light on his feet dancing served him when he played one of the best boxers of all time!
  • Ashton Kutcher as Steve Jobs

    While on the promotional trail for the film Jobs, Ashton Kutcher, who played the titular role of Steve Jobs, tweeted a split screen photo of himself and the Apple founder.

    The resemblance is uncanny!
  • Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe


    We can only imagine how hard it is for an actor to portray a different person in a film, but when that person is a legend -- and perhaps the biggest Hollywood star of all time -- the pressure is really on. Such was the case for Michelle Williams in the film My Week with Marilyn. She portrayed the starlet and did such a great job, it won her an Academy Award.

  • Amanda Seyfried as Linda Lovelace

    Despite doing a fantastic job of portraying adult film star, Linda Lovelace, Amanda Seyfried did not immediately connect to the character. "I didn't identify with her right off the bat," she told Vanity Fair.  "I think that I just felt an intense amount of empathy. Her story is insane and tragic and overall just very depressing."

    Still, she pulled off the transformation and even got the the stamp of approval from Lovelace's family and friends. 
  • Nicole Kidman as Grace Kelly


    Nicole Kidman was a fitting choice to play the ever-glamorous and classy actress-turned-princess, Grace Kelly. The film, Grace of Monaco, follows Kelly in the years after marrying Monaco's Prince Rainier III. She struggles to come to terms with her new identity, fit in to her new culture, and deal with her powerful husband. She's also wrestling with the idea of returning to Hollywood, which would we considered quite controversial given her royal duties!

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