Menu Join now Search

On-Screen Depictions of Famous People That Totally Had Us Fooled

It's one thing for an actor to impress moviegoers with their portrayal of a fictional character, but it can be even more challenging to play a real person on film, especially if the role is an icon like Ray Charles or Julia Child. These talented actors have all depicted a real person so convincingly that they made the audience forget it was just a performance.

Robert Downey Jr. as Charles Chaplin

1 / 16

VIEW ALL

The most memorable thing about the 1992 biopic Chaplin was Robert Downey Jr.'s uncanny portrayal of the silent film legend. While still in his twenties, Downey played the unique and complex Charles Chaplin from ages 19 to 83.

Photo: Imaginechina/Corbis

Meryl Streep as Julia Child

2 / 16

VIEW ALL

Meryl Streep may be the only actress on earth who could play Julia Child without making it look like a zany caricature. Streep surpassed expectations in her spot-on depiction of the famous chef in 2009's Julie & Julia.

Photo: NCNA/RameyPix/Corbis

Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash

3 / 16

VIEW ALL

The role of brooding and troubled country music star Johnny Cash would be difficult for any actor to take on, but Joaquin Phoenix made it look easy in the acclaimed 2005 biopic Walk the Line.

Photo: Phil Ramey/RameyPix/Corbis

Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth I

4 / 16

VIEW ALL

While modern audiences obviously don't remember 16th-century monarch Elizabeth I of England, Cate Blanchett's Oscar-winning depiction of the Virgin Queen more than lived up to our idea of her, even if they are based on history book accounts and oil paintings.

Photo: Rodrigo Reyes Marin/AFLO/Nippon News/Corbis

Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking

5 / 16

VIEW ALL

Eddie Redmayne is acquiring a reputation for his ability to play challenging characters, beginning with renowned physicist Stephen Hawking in 2014's The Theory of Everything. Redmayne won an Oscar for his compelling portrayal of the ALS inflicted Hawking.

Photo: Jenna Blake/Corbis

Barbra Streisand as Fanny Brice

6 / 16

VIEW ALL

Barbra Streisand's feature film debut as vaudeville entertainer Fanny Brice in 1968's Funny Girl wasn't just impressive; it was a career-making performance and is still, arguably, one of Streisand's most popular movie role.

Photo: Bettmann/CORBIS

Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock

7 / 16

VIEW ALL

Alfred Hitchcock was as famous as any of the celebrities in his films. The exceptionally talented Anthony Hopkins is one of the few actors who could convincingly depict the iconic director, which he did in 2012's Hitchcock.

Photo: J. Emilio Flores/Corbis

Angela Bassett as Tina Turner

8 / 16

VIEW ALL

With her best-known film role to date, Angela Bassett's inspired performance in 1993's What's Love Got to Do with It? wowed critics and audiences alike. Her role as the abused, but ultimately victorious, rock star Tina Turner was career defining.

Photo: Hubert Boesl/dpa/Corbis

John Goodman as Babe Ruth

9 / 16

VIEW ALL

It was hard to see where Babe Ruth ended and John Goodman began when the actor starred in the 1992 biopic The Babe. It seemed as though Goodman was born to portray the colorful and unsettled baseball legend.

Photo: LAN/Corbis

Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford

10 / 16

VIEW ALL

In the hit film adaptation of Christina Crawford's memoir Mommie Dearest, Faye Dunaway transformed herself into classic movie star Joan Crawford. Dunaway gave an amazingly authentic performance as the enormously popular Crawford, who was accused of child abuse.

Photo: Corbis

Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles

11 / 16

VIEW ALL

Known for years as a comedic actor, Jamie Foxx proved to be equally gifted at drama with his Oscar-winning performance as the incomparable singer/songwriter/musician Ray Charles in the hugely successful 2004 biopic Ray.

Photo: Phil Ramey /L/RameyPix/Corbis

Sally Field as Norma Rae

12 / 16

VIEW ALL

Sally Field won her first Oscar for her compelling performance as a small town textile worker who struggles to unionize a cotton mill in Norma Rae. The part also helped Field transition from fluff to serious roles.

Photo: Bettmann/CORBIS

Ben Kingsley as Gandhi

13 / 16

VIEW ALL

In the 1982 biographical epic Gandhi, Ben Kingsley delivered the performance of his career as Indian activist and leader Mahatma Gandhi. Kingsley's Oscar for Best Actor was one of the many awards this critical and commercial hit earned.

Photo: Jenna Blake/Corbis

Sissy Spacek as Loretta Lynn

14 / 16

VIEW ALL

When country music legend Loretta Lynn penned her bestselling memoir Coal Miner's Daughter, she was eager for actress Sissy Spacek to play her in the 1980 film adaptation. Lynn's instincts were proven right when Spacek's Oscar-winning performance captivated moviegoers.

Photo: Byron Purvis/ZUMA Press/Corbis

Helen Mirren as Elizabeth II

15 / 16

VIEW ALL

She got her start playing sexy characters like Cora in 1969's Age of Consent, but among Helen Mirren's most highly-acclaimed performances is her Oscar-winning turn as the prim and proper Elizabeth II in 2006 hit The Queen.

Photo: Hubert Boesl/dpa/Corbis

Johnny Depp as James "Whitey" Bulger

16 / 16

VIEW ALL

Johnny Depp's portrayal of mobster James "Whitey" Bulger in popular movie Black Mass impressed a lot of people, including former Bulger associate Eric Schneider who said: "No one could really play Whitey, but Johnny Depp did a spectacular job."

Photo: Jenna Blake/Corbis

More You'll Love

Close