Creating a biopic is no easy feat, and huge amounts of research, costuming, and fact-checking is involved in the process. The most vital part of the creative method is casting the right actors to suit the roles, which is made all the more difficult since the characters are or were actual people who exist in the course of history.
History and movie buffs are always keen to see who would make the cut to play their idols on screen — sometimes it’s necessary to nail the look of the character, but sometimes their appearance doesn’t play a big part in the story of their lives. In biopics about extremely popular people like Queen Elizabeth II and Freddie Mercury, the need to achieve the same look is non-negotiable, whereas lesser-known personalities often get a Hollywood do-over in their silver screen lives.
10 Looks Alike: Ashton Kutcher In Jobs (2013)
Image (Steve): Tony Korody
The story of Steve Jobs’ adolescent life and inspirations made its way to big screens in Joshua Michael Stern’s Jobs. The computer whiz’s contentious journey at Apple and his renegade ways of functioning in the company were also documented, and Ashton Kutcher took the mantle as the lead character.
Kutcher was transformed to look shockingly like the young Steve Jobs, down to the Sixties hairstyle, Lennon spectacles, and clothes. His performance as the entrepreneur was also appreciated, despite the movie getting poor reviews.
9 Looks Different: Benedict Cumberbatch In The Imitation Game (2014)
Image (Alan): The Turing Digital Archive
Morton Tyldon’s The Imitation Game traced a short part of mathematician and inventor extraordinaire Alan Turing’s life. The movie revolved around the important work that Turing did towards decoding the messages sent on Germany’s Enigma machine, and despite his contributions, he was punished for being gay.
Benedict Cumberbatch was cast in the lead role, and a quick look at the real Alan Turing’s photos reveals that Cumberbatch looks very little like the man he played. The story of Turing’s enduring genius and unfairly tumultuous life was more important than his looks, and nobody could have imbued the emotion into the role that Cumberbatch did in the prestige biopic.
8 Looks Alike: Meryl Streep In The Iron Lady (2011)
Image (Margaret): David Montgomery
The Iron Lady began with Margaret Thatcher in her twilight years, sifting through her late husband Denis’ belongings. Her musings take audiences down Thatcher’s hallowed political career before her crashing downfall, with Meryl Streep playing the role of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
Thatcher’s appearance was carefully curated to reflect her leadership style, so it was necessary to get it right in the movie. Cast by Nina Gold, Streep was made to look like a spitting image of Thatcher, replete with the high hairline, the bouffant known as ‘the Thatch’, and the skirt suits the leader was famous for.
7 Looks Different: Sandra Bullock In The Blind Side (2009)
Image (Leigh Anne): Facebook
The biographical film which told the tale of Michael Oher’s triumphant rise from being homeless to becoming a Super Bowl winner took a few liberties with the story (which was disliked by the subject of the biopic), and with the matriarch of the Tuohy family, Leigh Anne, as well.
Sandra Bullock performed the role with nuance and flair, earning her an Oscar, but the fictionalized Tuohy still didn’t look quite like the real one. Details like her hair and nail polish were achieved, but Sandra’s taller stature and angular facial features didn’t match Leigh Anne’s diminutive figure and rounder features.
6 Looks Alike: Rami Malek In Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
Image Courtesy (Freddie): Getty Images
The much anticipated musical biopic about rock ‘n’ roll heavyweight Freddy Mercury delivered on all accounts — the music, the visuals, Freddie’s larger-than-life personality, and especially the way he looked.
Rami Malek looked less like himself and more like the gifted vocalist in the movie, helped by a set of carefully made dentures to mimic Mercury’s teeth, a prosthetic nose which brought his eyes together like the musician’s, and several wigs and mustaches to bring the look together. Malek’s acting chops coupled with the makeup really brought Mercury to life.
5 Looks Different: Leonardo DiCaprio In The Wolf Of Wall Street (2013)
Image Courtesy (Jordan): Rex/Shutterstock
White collar criminal and financial defrauder Jordan Belfort got the Hollywood treatment by Martin Scorsese, no less, and with Leonardo DiCaprio playing his role. The drug-induced antics and daylight debauchery was accurate in The Wolf of Wall Street, but DiCaprio didn’t look much like the titular “wolf.”
Belfort isn’t remarkable looking, but he is stockier with rugged features and very light grey eyes. DiCaprio looked thinner, with noticeably darker eyes in the movie. He looked mostly like himself in formal Nineties clothing. In fact, the real Belfort made a cameo at the end of the movie, and the two standing side by side didn’t look any more alike than two white men would.
4 Looks Alike: Jesse Eisenberg In The Social Network (2010)
Image (Mark): Elena Dorfman
Fans loved to watch the beginnings of social media as we know it in Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher’s biopic The Social Network, and were pleasantly surprised to see how naturally Jesse Eisenberg fit into the shoes of college-going Mark Zuckerberg.
The mop of curly brown hair, the omnipresent hoodies, and introverted spirit of the magnate’s early days came to life in the movie pretty well. Eisenberg’s body language, and his ruthless portrayal of the Facebook creator, combined with a solid screenplay made this biopic universally acclaimed.
3 Looks Different: Colin Firth In The King’s Speech (2010)
Image Courtesy (King George VI): National Portrait Gallery
A stellar narration of the unwilling monarch, King George VI, and his lifelong speech impediment, The King’s Speech won several Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director (Hooper), Best Actor (Firth), and Best Original Screenplay. Firth’s stunning acting prowess more than made up for the fact that he looked nothing like the subject of the film.
The real King George VI was blonde-haired, blue-eyed, extremely tall and thin, with a thin face. Colin Firth was much the opposite: Brown-haired with dark eyes and a wider built than the monarch, but his superior acting more than made up for the physical difference.
2 Looks Alike: Dame Hellen Mirren In The Queen (2006)
Image Courtesy (Queen Elizabeth): Shutterstock
Queen Elizabeth II has been the subject of countless television shows like The Crown, but this movie very specifically dealt with the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death on her life and career as a royal. Dame Hellen Mirren’s transformation into the real Queen of England was almost shocking, since she looked unrecognizable as her own self.
As always, viewers loved the behind-the-curtain glimpse of the royal family that the movie provided, and Mirren’s inspired performance was a treat to watch.
1 Looks Different: Melissa McCarthy In Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)
Image (Lee): Andrew Hendersen
The tale of the notorious literary forger and criminal Lee Israel came to light with this biopic that starred Melissa McCarthy. A great writer herself, Israel edged towards forging and stealing letters written by famous people like Noël Coward, Ernest Hemmingway, and Fanny Brice when she ran out of money.
McCarthy’s performance as the biographer-turned-forger was exemplary, but the actress didn’t look like Israel at all. Besides her short and wide build, the two women had completely different features and hair. The magnitude of the crimes Israel had committed were the focus of the film, rather than what she looked like.