Actors who won Oscars for portraying real people

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Last year’s Best Actress gong went to Renee Zellweger for her role as the late great Judy Garland – and looking at the list of Oscar winners who have won for playing real people, we weren’t surprised!

MiNDFOOD takes a look at all the other Oscar winners who have impersonated historical figures in the last 20 years.


Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury

American actor Malek donned fake teeth and a British accent to play the late Queen frontman. He was fitted with the teeth a whole year before filming on Bohemian Rhapsody began so he could get used to talking and singing with them in.

Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf

Cotillard shaved off her eyebrows and shaved back her hairline to better represent the legendary French singer from the age of 20 until her death at 47 in La Vie en Rose (La Mome).

Reese Witherspoon as June Carter Cash

Witherspoon performed the vocals herself in her portrayal of Johnny Cash’s longtime love in Walk the Line. She also learned how to play the autoharp for the role.

Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles

Charles himself gave his blessing for Foxx to play him in Ray after the singer-songwriter and the actor met in person.

Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn

To prepare to play four-time Oscar winner Hepburn in The Aviator, Blanchett learned to play tennis and golf. She also took cold showers – something Hepburn was known to do.

Political/royal figures

Olivia Colman as Queen Anne

Before her Golden Globe Award-winning turn as Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown, Colman piled on weight to play Queen Anne in The Favourite.

Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill

It took Oldman more than three hours to put on make-up, a wig and prosthetics to transform into the great British leader in The Darkest Hour.

Mark Rylance as Rudolf Abel

While preparing to play Newcastle-born soviet intelligence officer Abel in Bridge of Spies, Rylance said he struggled to get the accent perfect and even took on some advice from Sting.

Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln

During filming of Lincoln, the notorious method actor texted his co-star Sally Field in character, signing off with “Yours, A.”

Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher

The acclaimed actress said playing the divisive British prime minister in The Iron Lady was “extremely daunting”.

Colin Firth as King George VI

Firth was the third choice to play the stammering father of Queen Elizabeth II in The King’s Speech. The film’s writer wanted Paul Bettany for the role, while the director had Hugh Grant in mind.

Sean Penn as Harvey Milk

To get into character in Milk, Penn watched documentaries, news and archival footage of the gay rights pioneer.

Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin

Whitaker gained 25kg, learned Swahili, and even took accordion lessons to play dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland.

Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II

Mirren won an Oscar for her role in The Queen, but she’s also won a Tony Award for her portrayal of the monarch.

REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni


Mahershala Ali as Don Shirley

Ali worked with the Green Book composer to ensure he embodied a masterful jazz pianist even while he wasn’t sitting at a piano.

Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote

Hoffman, who naturally had a very deep voice, stayed in character as the writer for much of Capote’s shoot to be able to maintain the character’s high pitch and tricky physicality.

Adrien Brody as Władysław Szpilman

Adrien Brody’s acceptance of his Oscar for The Pianist went down in history when he grabbed presenter Halle Berry for a passionate kiss.

Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf

Kidman’s transformation into Woolf for The Hours took three hours a day, and came complete with a fake nose.

Jim Broadbent as John Bayley

Broadbent said playing Bayley, a literary scholar and wife of novelist Iris Murdoch, in Iris was “very moving”.

Marcia Gay Harden as Lee Krasner

Harden consulted with friends and family of the artist and visited the Brooklyn neighbourhood where she grew up to prepare to play Krasner in Pollock.


These actors also won Oscars for their portrayals as various real people from throughout history:

Allison Janney as LaVona Golden in I, Tonya

Alicia Vikander as Gerda Wegener in The Danish Girl

Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything

Lupita Nyong’o as Patsey in 12 Years a Slave

Christian Bale as Dicky Eklund in The Fighter

Melissa Leo as Alice Eklund-Ward in The Fighter

Sandra Bullock as Leigh Anne Tuohy in The Blind Side

Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos in Monster

Chris Cooper as John Laroche in Adaptation

Jennifer Connelly as Alicia Nash in A Beautiful Mind

Julia Roberts as Erin Brockovich in Erin Brockovich

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