When actors in historical films/biopics convinced you they were the real thing (or not)

Someone mentioned a new John Lennon bio, which made me think of another from a few years ago, where the actor completely failed to convince me he was John (completely lacked the original’s charm or wit), which made me think of other examples.

In Control, a film about Joy Division, Sam Riley was Ian Curtis-no two ways about it. Likewise Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison in The Doors, even if that movie as a whole didn’t quite work.

On the other hand, neither Leelee Sobieski or Milla Jovovich convinced me, at all, that I was seeing Joan of Arc on the screen-the former was a lightweight lacking the necessary charisma, while the director (and squeeze!) of the latter made her play the role as a near-psychotic. I doubt that either actress, if dropped/replaced via time machine into the position of the real thing would be able to lead a platoon of latrine cleaners, much less an entire country. Perhaps it’s an impossible role, given our expectations of the genuine article.

Meryl Steep did Julia Child so well that I honestly forgot who she was.

Ben Kingsley as Gandhi.

Denzel Washington as Malcolm X.

Toby Jones was 100% convincing as Truman Capote in Infamous. I was never overwhelmed by Philip Seymour Hoffmann in Capote and didn’t understand his Oscar win.

Keith Mitchell’s Henry VIII in the BBC miniseries of the 1970s and Glenda Jackson’s Elizabeth I remain to this day, in my opinion of course, the most definitive and convincing portrayals of either monarch.

When I hear a tape of the real Patton speaking, I’m surprised he doesn’t sound like George C. Scott.

Judy Davis as Judy Garland (Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows)
Prunella Scales as QE II ( A Question of Attribution)
Helen Mirren as QE II (The Queen)
Geoffrey Rush as Peter Sellers (The Life & Death of Peter Sellers)

I don’t think there’s anybody who doesn’t picture Charleton Heston as Moses.

Kenneth Branagh in Conspiracy, a movie about the Wahnsee Conference.

He was playing Reinhard Heydrich, a man I would personally nominate for most evil individual of the 20th century, if you define evil as (evil intent * inherent ability to carry out said evil intent).

I’ve listened to Heydrich’s voice in speeches, and yet I still hear Branagh’s voice when I read stuff Heydrich wrote.

Jamie Foxx nailed Ray Charles in Ray.

The guy who plays Hitler in those youtube videos is pretty damned impressive. Bruno Ganz in Downfall.

And perhaps Michael Sheen’s multiple portrayals of Tony Blair should be mentioned.

Toby Jones was more physically like Capote, of course, being a much smaller man – what impressed me about Hoffmann was that he got past the physical differences and inhabited the role so thoroughly that I completely accepted him as Capote. I think he deserved the win.

Another person who made you forget the relatively slim physical likeness: Anthony Hopkins as Nixon.

A Night to Remember:

The movie seems to be an actual filmed record of the Titanic sinking. Amazing piece of cinema magic.

Sorry, Mr. Cameron, but your version wasn’t even close.

Hal Holbrook seems to morph into Mark Twain.
How close he is to tawin is hard to say-the last person who knew Mark Twain died years ago.

That was mine, too. When I see other movies with Hitler in them, I think “Hey, that’s not Hitler! Bruno Ganz is Hitler!”

A day or two after seeing Coal Miner’s Daughter, I wandered into a remote part of my office where a radio was playing country music. The vocalist sounded exactly like Sissy Spacek (who had done her own singing in the film). I asked, “Is there a Coal Miner’s Daughter soundtrack album?” No one knew. Then the song ended, and the DJ said it was Loretta Lynn who’d been singing. Bravo Ms. Spacek!

Edward G. Robinson in The Ten Commandments. Brought the film to a complete stop with this ludicrous miscasting (though I loves me some EGR in more appropriate films).

Joaquin Phoenix in Walk the Line and Will Smith in Ali both seemed perfect.

Man, that’s like a weird nightmare I had once.

Ditto when I see a tape of the real Patton.

James Whitmore was nominated for a Golden Globe and an Oscar for his portrayal of Truman in “Give 'Em Hell Harry.”

I generally loathe Jim Carry, at least as far as the few talk show appearances (Jay Leno, Conan, etc.) I have seen him on over the years, as he seems to be constantly “on”, always mugging for the camera, and trying much too hard to be outrageous. He sickens me as a person, someone who seems to think he is actually entertaining, when in reality he is an overgrown class-clown, someone who would pull down his pants, spread his cheeks and show his asshole to a famine-ravaged African village.

That said, he seemed to actually be channeling the spirit of Andy Kaufman, so incredibly impressive was his work on the Kaufman bio-pic “Man On The Moon”. He actually BECAME Andy Kaufman, and apparently Kaufman’s real-life friends, (Danny DeVito, Judd Hirsch, etc.) seemed to feel the same way about his excellent dramatic portrayal. One of the most impressive performances that I have ever seen.

To this day, it’s the only Jim Carry movie I have ever watched.