Looking back through the filmographies of several of our favorite celebrity actors, it occurred to us that many of the most memorable performances come from playing previous celebrities. Here are 15 of our favorite celebrities who became famous in part by playing other famous people.
Jamie Foxx went from noteworthy comedian to superstar dramatic actor after playing world famous R&B legend Ray Charles. Ray (2004) won Jamie Foxx an Academy Award for Best Actor. Unfortunately, the real-life Charles was unable to experience Foxx’s performance—Charles died of liver disease before the premiere.
Leonardo DiCaprio collaborated with Martin Scorsese when he took the role of real life aviation pioneer and film producer Howard Hughes in The Aviator (2005). DiCaprio tapped into his own history as a person living with OCD when portraying Hughes’ private deterioration at the hands of the disease. He got an Academy Award nomination for his efforts.
Cate Blanchett would also play a celebrity in The Aviator, actress Katharine Hepburn. Her execution of Hepburn’s iconic, warbling voice and mannerisms would garner her an Academy Award win for Best Actress. She would gain a later nomination in 2007 when she played Jude Quinn, an altar ego of musician Bob Dylan, in the arthouse biography I’m Not There.
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Woody Harrelson took the controversial role of p0rnographer and anti-censorship activist Larry Flynt in Milos Forman’s The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996). Both the director and Harrelson would be nominated Academy Awards for the film.
Photo: Arnold Wells/WENN.com
Another actor to collaborate with Oliver Stone to bring a celebrity’s life story to the big screen is Val Kilmer. The actor played Jim Morrison in The Doors biopic. The film would garner mixed reviews, but Kilmer would be widely acclaimed for the film.
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Yet another actor who collaborated on a biopic with Oliver Stone, Anthony Hopkins delivered an Academy Award nominated performance as President Richard M. Nixon in Nixon (1995). He’s also currently in theaters getting rave reviews for Hitchcock, where he portrays the iconic director Alfred Hitchcock. Playing the role under several layers of latex make-up, the actor’s performance is currently getting a lot of Oscar buzz.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman
Phillip Seymour Hoffman won an Academy Award and Golden Globe for his performance as writer and television personality Truman Capote in Capote. His co-star, Catherine Keener, would gain nominations for her portrayal of a more reclusive celebrity in the film—To Kill A Mockingbird writer Harper Lee.
Photo: Joseph Marzullo/WENN.com
Jesse Eisenberg’s star would rise after portraying Facebook co-founder Marc Zuckerberg in David Fincher’s The Social Network. Though the real life Zuckerberg would publicly express a distaste for his portrayal in the film, he would be a good enough sport to “confront” Jesse Eisenberg in a scripted encounter on Saturday Night Live. When asked what he thought about the film in the opening monologue, the real-life Zuckerberg described it as “interesting.”
Photo: Supplied by WENN.com
Michelle Williams won a Golden Globe last year for her portrayal of Marilyn Monroe in My Week With Marilyn. The actress did six months of research on Monroe’s letters, diaries, and films and even gained weight for the role. She would also work with a choreographer for a period simply to perfect Monroe’s iconic walk.
Josh Brolin is one of the few actors to play a president in a biopic while they still held office. W., a biopic of President George W. Bush, was released in theaters October 17, 2008—roughly a month before President Barack Obama would win the 2008 election. Brolin would receive a lot of critical acclaim for his take on President Bush. After the film's release, the actor would report that, through former President Bill Clinton, the real-life Bush had received a copy of the film and supposedly approved of it.
Meryl Streep has dedicated a great deal of her career to playing real-life celebrities. Among the famous figures she’s garnered award nominations for are Union activist Karen Silkwood in Silkwood (1983), journalist Susan Orlean in Adaptation (2002), Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady (2010) and chef Julia Child in Julie and Julia (2009).
Brad Pitt garnered acclaim for his straight-faced portrayal of real-life Oakland Athletics baseball team manager Billy Beane in Moneyball. He was nominated for an Academy Award for the part last year.
Photo: C. Smih/WENN.com
AnnaSophia Robb scored a breakout role last year as shark attack surviving surfer Bethany Hamilton in Soul Surfer. The film would receive bad to mixed reviews, but Robb’s performance as amputee Hamilton has been praised by most critics.
Photo: Dominic Chan/WENN.com
Though Gary Oldman may be best known to mainstream audiences as Sirius Black or Commissioner Gordon, the actor got first stepped into the Hollywood spotlight in Sid and Nancy, playing Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious. The actor delivers an intense, vitriolic performance as the heroin addicted musician. His performance was praised by Sex Pistols lead singer John Lydell as accurate to Vicious’ stage persona, though he dismissed the rest of the film as inaccurate outright.
Lindsay Lohan is, admittedly, an exception on this list. The actress has garnered a great deal of publicity for portraying actress Elizabeth Taylor in the Lifetime movie Liz & package. Unfortunately, the majority of it has been due to the fact critics have torn her acting apart. However, a handful have pointed out that perhaps Lohan was a reasonable enough choice, given Elizabeth Taylor’s own history of sometimes subpar performances.