Actors Who Looked Just Like the Historical Figures They Played in Biopics

By Jake Schroeder
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Photo Courtesy: Pete Still/Redferns

Hollywood knows audiences love a biopic that shares the secret life of a beloved celebrity. Whether it’s Marilyn Monroe, Queen Elizabeth II, Stephen Hawking or Abraham Lincoln, film lovers can’t get enough of watching these true stories come to life on screen. Take a look at 30 actors who look remarkably similar to the person they were cast to portray. The resemblance is uncanny.

Robert Downey Jr. as Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin was an icon of Hollywood’s silent film era, so it’s no surprise that Hollywood made a biopic about him. The 1992 film Chaplin needed a star who had the same charisma and sense of physical comedy as Chaplin, and that person was Robert Downey Jr.

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Photo Courtesy: TriStar Pictures/IMDb

Downey’s portrayal of Chaplin was impressive. His costume and makeup appearance transformed him into Chaplin, and he perfectly imitated the actor’s signature walk. He was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance.

Hilary Swank as Amelia Earhart

Amelia Earhart’s story continues to fascinate and puzzle people even more than 80 years after her disappearance. The 2009 biopic Amelia depicted Earhart’s journey as an aviatrix. She attempted to become the first woman to circumnavigate the globe by airplane, but she never returned.

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Photo Courtesy: Fox Searchlight Pictures/IMDb

Hilary Swank was perfectly cast as the legendary pilot. She already resembled Earhart without the period costume and flight gear, but once she strapped on the helmet, she truly became the aviatrix and expertly depicted her life for film fans.

Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy

The 2016 historical drama Jackie depicts what happened to First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy after the assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy. Traumatized, Jackie realized the next seven days would determine how history defined her husband’s legacy.

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Photo Courtesy: Fox Searchlight Pictures/IMDb

Natalie Portman beautifully portrayed the first lady. She easily assumed her classic 1960’s haircut and her memorable pink Chanel suit and made them her own. You can take one look at Portman in the film and know that she’s Jackie.

Bruno Ganz as Adolf Hitler

Bruno Ganz had the difficult task of portraying the notorious Nazi Germany dictator Adolf Hitler in the 2004 historical drama Downfall. In the film, Traudl Junge (Alexandra Maria Lara) landed her dream job as secretary to Hitler at the peak of his power. The real-life Junge narrated Hitler’s final days and his ultimate downfall.

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Photo Courtesy: Constantin Film/IMDb

Ganz eerily resembled Hitler in the film down to his hair and his trademark mustache. It couldn’t have been easy for him to play such a repugnant historical figure, but someone had to do it, and Ganz lived up to the challenge.

Tom Hiddleston as F. Scott Fitzgerald

In the 2011 fantasy romance Midnight in Paris, Tom Hiddleston didn’t get much screen time, but he had an important role: Scott Fitzgerald. As one of the most influential voices in literary modernism, Fitzgerald is no easy person to impersonate.

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Photo Courtesy: Sony Pictures Classics/IMDb

However, once Hiddleston was dressed in his 1920's clothes and makeup, he looked remarkably like the author. He even brought the same charm and attitude that so many readers attribute to Fitzgerald. Isn’t that right, old sport?

Hannah Taylor-Gordon as Anne Frank

Everyone has seen a picture of Anne Frank, which makes casting her in film all the more challenging. However, the 2001 biopic mini-series Anne Frank: The Whole Story found the perfect person to play the tragic girl. Hannah Taylor-Gordon not only beautifully performed Frank’s story, but she also closely resembled the historical figure.

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Photo Courtesy: RadioMassoret/YouTube

People have loved Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl since its original publication in 1947. By giving such a moving and convincing performance as Frank, Taylor-Gordon helped keep her story alive for new generations.

James Franco as James Dean

James Dean was just 24 years old when he died tragically in a car accident, but he managed to capture viewers’ attention before his untimely death with classic movies like Rebel Without a Cause. In 2001, James Franco attempted to recreate the Hollywood heartthrob’s appeal in the made-for-TV biopic James Dean.

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Photo Courtesy: Time Warner/IMDb

Franco bore a striking resemblance to the iconic actor. From the hair to his half-smile, Franco made audiences sit up and take notice of his performance. He channeled the same energy that made Dean a Hollywood star, earning him a Golden Globe.

Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett

In 2010, Kristen Stewart tried to shed some of that Twilight sparkle by starring in The Runaways, the coming-of-age biographical film about the 1970s all-girl rock band of the same name. In the film, Stewart plays legendary rocker Joan Jett — and she did more than just pull on a wig to do so.

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Photo Courtesy: Apparition/Amazon Prime; Doorstepsnail/Wikimedia Commons

To make things as convincing as possible, Stewart does all her own singing — and she learned how to play the guitar from Jett herself. Keen on being authentic, the actor even writes with her left hand in the film, despite being right handed. “She'd listen to my accent and watch my body language,” Jett recalled of Stewart. “She's an actress of weight, honesty, integrity and depth.” 

Adrien Brody as Salvador Dali

Woody Allen’s 2011 fantasy romance, Midnight in Paris, featured many famed figures from the 1920s: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein and many more. For one brief scene in the film, Adrien Brody stepped in as the Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dali.

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Photo Courtesy: Sony Pictures Classic/IMDb

Even those with just a passing knowledge of Dali can appreciate how much Brody resembled the famous artist. If Hollywood ever decides to make a biopic on just Dali, they know who they should cast.

Ashton Kutcher as Steve Jobs

In 2013, Hollywood decided to make a biopic, Jobs, about tech mogul Steve Jobs and how he founded Apple Inc. Portrayed by Ashton Kutcher, the film received fair reviews. Not everyone was impressed with the quality of the film, but they had nothing but nice words to say about Kutcher’s performance.

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Photo Courtesy: Ted Thai/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

The film accurately transformed Kutcher into Jobs, especially in his younger years when he designed the Apple 1 in his parents’ garage. Kutcher doesn’t look like a tech engineer, but you wouldn’t know that while watching him in this film.

Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock was one of the most successful and talented directors of all time. The 2012 biopic Hitchcock followed the director’s success with his memorable film North by Northwest and how he made the daring choice to create his next project, Psycho.

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Photo Courtesy: Fox Searchlight Pictures/IMDb

Anthony Hopkins skillfully portrayed the famed director. It’s hard to believe that Hitchcock wasn’t playing himself in the movie. Hopkins made himself look so much like the director that you’d think the pair were cousins or even brothers.

Andre 3000 as Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix was one of the greatest rock musicians of the 1960s and all time. The 2013 biopic Jimi: All Is By My Side showcased how Hendrix evolved from an unknown guitarist to become an influential rock sensation.

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Photo Courtesy: XLrator Media/IMDb

It’s only fitting that one musician should be played by another. Andre "Andre 3000" Benjamin, best known for the hip hop band Outkast, looked strikingly similar to Hendrix in the film, and he did his best to capture the rockstar’s attitude and swagger.

Sean Penn as Harvey Milk

Sean Penn already resembled politician Harvey Milk without the assistance of a wig or makeup. In 2008, he was cast in the biopic Milk, which depicted the rise of California’s first openly gay man elected to public office.

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Photo Courtesy: Focus Features/IMDb

It’s no wonder Penn won the Academy Award for his performance. Not only did he accurately showcase Milk’s personality, but he also looks just like him. By playing the California, Penn brought American history to life for a new generation of moviegoers.

Salma Hayek as Frida Kahlo

It didn’t take much for Salma Hayek to transform herself into famed Mexican artist Frida Kahlo in the 2002 biopic Frida. She already looks pretty similar to Kahlo, but the additional makeup — and of course, the artist’s trademark unibrow — made her nearly identical.

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Photo Courtesy: Miramax Films/IMDb

The film depicts the bold and controversial life of one of the most visually evocative artists of all time. Because of that, it was all the more important for Hayek to capture the visual presence of Kahlo. She expertly pulled it off.

Jennifer Lopez as Selena

Despite decades passing since her death, fans still love Selena Quintanilla. She was known as "The Queen of Tejano Music," and two years after her murder in 1995, another music queen, Jennifer Lopez, set about recreating her life in Selena.

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Photo Courtesy: Arlene Richie/Media Sources/Media Sources/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images/Getty Images

Everyone knew that Lopez could sing, but critics weren’t initially sure if she had the acting chops to pull off the role. Thankfully, Lopez crushed the performance and was even nominated for a Golden Globe. It didn’t hurt that she captured Quintanilla’s look, too.

Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II

Helen Mirren can play any role thrown her way, including Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. In 2006, Mirren starred in the historical drama The Queen, which explored how the royal family (and Queen Elizabeth II) coped with the passing of the late Princess Diana.

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Photo Courtesy: Pathé Distribution/IMDb

Playing this role could not have been an easy task for Mirren, but she handled it like a pro. She closely resembled the Queen on the screen, and her measured performance earned her an Academy Award. It makes you wonder how the queen herself felt about Mirren’s imitation of her.

Taron Egerton as Elton John

Taron Egerton bravely stepped into Elton John’s shoes for the 2019 biopic Rocketman. It’s rare for a biopic to be produced while the subject is still living, but John’s legendary musical career gave it the needed gravitas to make it feel appropriate.

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Photo Courtesy: Paramount Pictures/IMDb

Thanks to loud and stylish costumes and a dedicated attempt to capture John’s persona, Egerton was able to bring the musician’s past to life. It’s no wonder he received a Golden Globe for his tribute to one of music’s greatest acts.

Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe

It has to be intimidating for anyone to take on the role of the one and only Marilyn Monroe, but Michelle Williams made it look easy. One of Hollywood’s most iconic and beautiful actresses of all time, Monroe’s story came to life in the 2011 historical drama My Week With Marilyn.

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Williams nailed Monroe’s classic blond hair, and she was meticulous in copying her mannerisms, which earned her a Golden Globe. While no one can perfectly live up to the late icon’s image, Williams came as close as probably anyone could.

Denzel Washington as Malcolm X

In 1992, Denzel Washington portrayed Malcolm X in a biopic of the same name. The film depicted the activist’s struggle for black liberation and how he left a legacy of self-determination and racial pride despite his assassination in 1965.

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Photo Courtesy: Warner Bros./IMDb

Washington captured not only the late civil rights leader’s look, but also the fire and determination that led to him to fight for his people’s equality. Because of Washington’s efforts, audiences have a new opportunity to understand the history of this important American.

Renée Zellweger as Judy Garland

It’s hard to replicate Judy Garland. The American Sweetheart has been loved by fans ever since she starred as Dorothy in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. Even so, in 2019, Hollywood celebrated her legacy with a biopic, Judy, about the final years of her life.

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Photo Courtesy: Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Starring Renée Zellweger, the film went to great lengths to pay tribute to Garland. Zellweger looked uncannily like the Hollywood icon, and she perfectly captured the personality that brought Garland to fame in the first place. It’s no surprise that she won a Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild Award and Oscar for her remarkable performance.

Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher

Meryl Streep is one of the best actresses of her generation, so, it shouldn’t be too surprising that she mastered her performance as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the 2011 historical drama The Iron Lady. It was just another day at the office for the actress.

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Photo Courtesy: 20th Century Fox/IMDb

Streep’s resemblance to Thatcher was uncanny. From the same hairstyle and tooth gap to the same no-nonsense attitude, Streep truly became Thatcher in the film. Streep of course won an Academy Award for the portrayal.

Cate Blanchett as Bob Dylan

You wouldn’t expect a woman to portray Bob Dylan in a movie, but Cate Blanchett’s gender-bending performance in the 2007 film I’m Not There is one that stands out from the crowd. In the movie, several actors portray the musician, but none of them captures his look as well as Blanchett.

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Photo Courtesy: The Weinstein Company/IMDb

Not only did Blanchett already have the same facial structure as the musical genius, but once she put on his signature black sunglasses and donned his curly brown hair, she effectively became him, earning her a Golden Globe.

Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison

On a normal day, the blonde Val Kilmer wouldn’t look anything like The Doors’ legendary lead singer Jim Morrison. However, with the help of long, dark and wavy hair, he effortlessly transformed into the music legend in the 1991 biopic The Doors.

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Photo Courtesy: Tri-Star Pictures/IMDb

For the film, Kilmer went above and beyond simply donning the same makeup and hair as Morrison. He studied everything about the musician, even asking The Doors’ producer Paul Rothchild on what Morrison would do in most situations. It was evident in his brilliant performance.

Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill

While portraying Winston Churchill in the 2018 historical drama Darkest Hour, Gary Oldman disappeared into the role. He spent three hours in the makeup chair every day to become the British Prime Minister.

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Photo Courtesy: Focus Features/IMDb

Oldman was unrecognizable as Churchill. He was committed to nailing the historical figure’s looks and mannerisms, and his hard work earned him an Academy Award. In addition, the film’s hair and makeup crew also earned an Oscar for their role in Churchill’s recreation.

Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote

Philip Seymour Hoffman was no doubt the best choice to portray novelist Truman Capote in the 2005 biopic Capote. Focusing on Capote’s journey while writing his 1965 true crime novel, In Cold Blood, Hoffman nailed the beloved author’s hair, complexion and fleshy face.

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Photo Courtesy: Keystone/Getty Images

Hoffman didn’t stop there. While he closely resembled the author, he also imitated Capote’s voice and mannerisms, which helped him earn an Academy Award for his performance. However, Hoffman was never fully satisfied with his portrayal. He commented, "I don’t think it’s just right." Well, audiences have a different opinion on that.

Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles

Hollywood loves to make biopics about famous musicians. This was evident in 2004 with the feature film Ray, starring Jamie Foxx. The external similarities between the actor and the blind musician were already obvious, and Foxx lost 30 pounds to match Charles’s young frame.

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Photo Courtesy: Universal Pictures/IMDb

He even wore prosthetics over his eyes to know how Ray felt as a blind man. That’s dedication, which is also why Foxx received an Oscar for his portrayal. Once he wore Charles’s signature sunglasses and sat down in front of a piano, he was Ray Charles.

Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury

Bohemian Rhapsody told the story of Freddie Mercury and the band Queen’s revolutionary rise in the 1970s. Even by the high standard of musical biopics, the 2018 movie was a success.

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Photo Courtesy: 20th Century Fox/IMDb

Fans were impressed by Rami Malek’s portrayal and uncanny resemblance to Mercury. Malek matched everything, even wearing a set of false teeth to mirror Mercury’s appearance. The spot-on dance moves and mannerisms added to the overall look, earning Malek an Academy Award for the brilliant performance.

Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking

It would be intimidating to portray English theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, but Eddie Redmayne handled the role like a pro in the 2014 biopic The Theory of Everything. The actor worked his body to play the paralyzed Hawking. He explained, "I had to train my body like a dancer but learn to shorten my muscles instead of stretch them."

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Photo Courtesy: Santi Visalli/Getty Images

Redmayne also impressed viewers with his close resemblance to Hawking. Not only did his outward features mirror the physicist’s, but he also acted physically debilitated. His performance won him an Oscar for his role.

Ben Kingsley as Gandhi

Sir Ben Kingsley has had a long and successful film career, but his defining role was undoubtedly playing Indian activist Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in the 1982 historical drama, Gandhi. Kingsley looked just like Gandhi. Not only did he shave his head, but he also went on a strict vegetarian diet to drop to Gandhi’s weight.

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Photo Courtesy: Columbia Pictures/IMDb

Director and producer Richard Attenborough commended Kingsley’s performance, commenting, "From the moment Ben came on the screen, he was absolutely mesmeric." It shouldn’t be too surprising that Kingsley received an Oscar for his performance. He was Gandhi in every essence.

Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln

Actors have played President Abraham Lincoln for decades, but few captured Lincoln quite like Daniel Day-Lewis in the 2012 historical drama Lincoln. The Irish-English actor became the American president in every respect thanks to the film’s makeup artists.

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Photo Courtesy: 20th Century Fox/IMDb

Moreover, Day-Lewis took his usual method-acting approach to the role by practicing Lincoln’s voice even when they weren’t filming. Screenwriter Tony Kushner said, "It was one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen." Day-Lewis’s brilliance as Lincoln awarded him his third Academy Award.