Actors in true-story films that looked exactly like the real-life person

To be an actor is to convince the audience that you really are another person altogether, but what if that person you're trying to portray actually is, or was, a real-life figure? Worse yet, what if that person's real-life appearance is well-known to almost everyone on the planet? In that case, you'd better get it right.

When creating biographical movies, it certainly helps if the lead actor already looks like their subject, but if not, well, that's what makeup was invented for. Here are the best instances where the actors fooled us all—and where their character and real-life inspiration are nearly indiscernible.

Andre 3000 as Jimi Hendrix (Jimi: All Is by My Side)

André Benjamin—better known as André 3000 from the American hip-hop duo Outkast—certainly looks the part of American guitar god Jimi Hendrix in the 2013 biopic Jimi: All Is by My SideStill, really nailing the look of the lanky legend wasn't easy, as Benjamin actually forced himself to lose 20 pounds. "To get that gait, to move in that way, I had to feel that way," the multi-talented artist explained to Rolling Stone. "I worked out twice a week and ate just enough calories to keep myself going."

In addition to slimming down, Benjamin also studied Hendrix's unique and recognizable speech patterns, which he practiced by mimicking the Hannah-Barbara cartoon character Snagglepuss. He also had to learn how to play the guitar left-handed, which is no easy feat. "Guitar training was strenuous because I'm a right-handed guitar player," Benjamin explained. "Left-handed is completely opposite. It's like walking backwards."

Though the film ultimately didn't blow people away—with a noted lack of any original Hendrix compositions and a questionable-at-best level of historical accuracy—Benjamin's physical portrayal of Hendrix is spot-on. According to director John Ridley, casting the rock icon was about "trying to attract the right person who embodies a certain spirit." Mission accomplished, baby.

Sienna Miller as Edie Sedgwick (Factory Girl)

You'd be hard-pressed to find a better Edie Sedgwick than English-American actress, model, and fashion designer Sienna Miller.

In the 2006 American biographical film Factory Girl, Miller looks almost exactly like Andy Warhol's famous It Girl and Youthquaker thanks to her blonde hair, soft features, and radiant smile. However, Sedgwick was almost impossibly slim, and Miller wasn't willing to starve herself for the role. "See, I love my food, and I can't work eight-hour days and not eat," Miller explained to IndieLondon, "So I was a little bit more curvy than Edie." Still, the actress made some sacrifices, like switching from drinking wine to vodka.

The film was unfortunately slaughtered by critics when it released in 2007 but certainly not because of Miller's appearance. (We're not sure the same can be said about Hayden Christensen's Bob Dylan though.)

Cate Blanchett as Bob Dylan (I'm Not There)

Speaking of Bob Dylan … 

Undoubtedly the most visually similar (and best) portrayal of the American singer-songwriter, painter, Nobel Prize winner, and "Jokerman" comes from an unexpected source. Of course, we're not talking about Christensen but rather Cate Blanchett's gender-bending performance in 2007's Dylan-inspired drama I'm Not There.

In a film—which also stars the likes of Christian Bale, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, and Ben Whishaw as Dylan—Blanchett's performance stands out from the crowd. Not only does her facial structure lend itself well to his signature black sunglasses, but the accomplished actress perfectly nails the sound, movements, and aura surrounding Dylan's amphetamine-fueled, post-"Maggie's Farm" boo-fest of a tour through the United Kingdom. "He was a creature," Blanchett explained to The Guardian. "You see him jumping around in Don't Look Back [the 1967 documentary] and he's completely androgynous … If a man played the role, people would have assessed it in a different way, whereas they've been able to get into the strangeness of what Dylan must have been like in that period by the very fact that I'm a woman."

Her outstanding portrayal was indeed assessed, and it earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress in 2008. However, some tabloids jumped on her significant weight loss to match the "spiderlike" Dylan of the period—but Blanchett shrugged it off. "Because I'd made a film," she explained. "Who. Cares. There's a lot more going on in the world than me losing weight for a role."

Daniel Day-Lewis as Abe Lincoln (Lincoln)

Putting Honest Abe on the big screen is certainly nothing new, but nobody has ever portrayed the 16th President of the United States better than Daniel Day-Lewis in Steven Spielberg's 2012 epic historical drama Lincoln.

Portraying Day-Lewis as an altogether different individual from an altogether different time period with altogether different health issues was no easy feat for the film's talented makeup artists, who successfully managed to transform the Irish-English actor into the famous figure. But makeup alone isn't enough to convince audiences that they're actually seeing Lincoln. The accomplished actor took his usual brand of method-acting to the extreme, retaining his practiced Lincoln voice even when discussing Mad Men in the car. He read virtually everything there is to read about the great president and spent hours staring at famous portraits of Lincoln as if staring at himself in the mirror.

Day-Lewis' intense preparation paid off, as witnessed in one of the film's most iconic scenes wherein Lincoln demands his cabinet procure him the requisite votes to pass the 13th Amendment. "Everyone's jaw was on the floor," scriptwriter Tony Kushner told The New York Times. "It was one of the great things I've ever seen. To do that, you have to be there, in that moment. It's not psychosis; it's sustained concentration." His brilliance was also recognized by the Academy, which awarded Day-Lewis his third Oscar for Best Actor in 2013.

Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles (Ray)

In 2004's biographical film Ray, the external similarities between the award-winning actor and musician Jamie Foxx and blind American pianist Ray Charles are obvious. Just stick some sunglasses on Foxx, put him in front of a piano, and half the job is already done! The other half, however, was not so easy.

First and foremost, Foxx had to drop nearly 30 pounds to better match Brother Ray's young (and once heroine-addicted) frame. Taking on a strict diet was much easier, however, than enduring self-inflicted blindness over the duration of the filming process. Instead of simply wearing opaque sunglasses, Foxx actually wore prosthetics over his eyes, and even suffered panic attacks for two weeks, until he acclimated to the lack of sight. "Imagine having your eyes glued shut for 14 hours a day," Foxx explained to The New York Times, "That's your jail sentence."

Foxx served his time, and his intense dedication to the role paid off when the Academy awarded him the Oscar for Best Actor.

Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking (The Theory of Everything)

There are perhaps few roles are as intimidating as portraying English theoretical physicist, cosmologist, author, and academic legend Stephen Hawking in the biographical drama The Theory of Everything. The Presidential Medal of Freedom winner was diagnosed with a rare, early onset, slow-progressing form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which has gradually paralyzed him. Long confined to a wheelchair, Hawking can only speak with a speech-generating device. 

For English actor Eddie Redmayne, the experience was particularly challenging. While it might not seem that physically taxing to play a paralyzed character, the role was hard on Redmayne's body. "I had to train my body like a dancer but learn to shorten muscles instead of stretch them," the actor explained to The Guardian. Of course, acting physically debilitated is also mentally draining, but director James Marsh pushed Redmayne as far as his mind and body could take him, explaining, "It was often quite uncomfortable to see what he had to do. He internalised the part. It took its toll physically, he was inhabiting an illness, which is a complicated thing to do."

Redmayne ultimately met the monumental challenge and pulled off an exceptional performance—which was recognized by the Academy with the Oscar for Best Actor.

Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote (Capote)

There's no denying that the late American actor, director, and producer Philip Seymour Hoffman pulled off one convincing Capote in 2005's biographical film of the same name.

In fact, Hoffman himself saw the physical similarities from the get-go. "When I started seeing pictures of him in his personal environment, not his public one, his hair and his complexion were very similar to mine," Hoffman told The TelegraphStill, Hoffman needed to slim up a bit to really look the part. "I lost a lot of weight," he explained, "and I got as thin as I could, but I still had a fleshy face; but because he had a very fleshy face, that helped a lot."

Of course, Hoffman's performance isn't just outstanding because of facial similarities. He also nailed Capote's voice, which helped the actor rake in the awards—including the Academy Award for Best Actor. Still, he's a bit critical of his own performance, telling NPR, "I don't think it's just right. I mean, 'cause I didn't worry about having it be just right. I knew that it had to be true, which sounds kind of corny, but I knew it had to be honest, and then I knew it had to express the vitality and the nuances of Truman Capote."

Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash (Walk the Line)

Johnny Cash always had a dark look about him, so who better to play the country music legend than the brooding Joaquin Phoenix? Side-by-side comparisons are indeed similar, and the actor even managed to sound just like the baritone on stage.

Even Cash himself agreed that Phoenix was the right choice. "He was thrilled," director Walk The Line director James Mangold told MTV, after explaining how Gladiator was one of the famous musician's favorite movies. "John was a very trusting man. He was very easy going, a very cool guy. When you've got someone like Joaquin who, frankly, is very similar, a very cool actor, John knew that we were moving in the right direction." Unfortunately, the pair never got to meet before Cash passed away in 2003.

Walk the Line was widely praised as one of 2005's top picks and even though Reese Witherspoon garnered most of the attention after taking home top honors with an Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of June Carter, it's hard to deny that anybody could have done Cash better than Phoenix.

Ben Kingsley as Gandhi (Gandhi)

Sir Ben Kingsley has enjoyed a long and successful acting career, but his defining role is undoubtedly that of Indian activist and champion of civil disobedience Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in 1982's British-Indian historical drama film Gandhi.

Not only did Kingsley shave his head and go on a vegetarian diet in preparation for his monumental role, he also practiced yoga, incorporated meditation into his life, and—like his character—spun cotton thread on a wooden wheel. ”When I have totally immersed myself in the mechanical, logical preparation of a part, if I and my craft are totally bonded and fully exploited, something else in me is awakened and begins to inform my work,” he told The New York Times. ”The preparation is entirely systematic, practical, and scientific, but when I play the role … some other kind of information comes to the forefront, a certain energy is released."

That energy was felt from the get-go. According to director and producer Richard Attenborough, "From the moment Ben came on the screen, he was absolutely mesmeric. There was no question he was the one.” That energy was also felt by the Academy, who awarded Kingsley the Oscar for Best Actor in 1982.

Ashton Kutcher as Steve Jobs (Jobs)

Most people don't look Ashton Kutcher and think "genius"—it's more likely they think along the lines of Punk'd or maybe "guy from one sitcom who replaced other guy on another sitcom." Thus, molding the recognizable actor into Apple co-founder Steve Jobs wasn't easy for Jobs. It required both heaps of research and a flawless execution, and, for makeup lead Louis Lazzara, it's all about studying the smallest things that make the subject's face one-of-a-kind. "I'm looking for the similarities and the differences, and going toward the similarities," Lazzara told Time. "Ashton's nose was going the right way, but the shape was wrong. His eyebrows I had to completely redo."

Making Kutcher look like a young Steve Jobs couldn't have been that difficult though, as everyone knows, the actor is well-suited for a 1970s aesthetic. Portraying the aging tech innovator, however, was an entirely different animal—and, in spite of a false nose, bald cap, and all of Kutcher's efforts, the film was not particularly well received

Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison (The Doors)

Normally, the blonde Val Kilmer doesn't look much like The Doors' legendary frontman Jim Morrison, but give the American actor some long, dark, and wavy hair, and you'd think The Lizard King himself has risen from his Parisian grave.

For 1991's Oliver Stone biopic, simply donning some makeup and looking like Morrison wasn't enough for Kilmer. He was determined to actually be the famed peyote eater and thus spent hundreds of hours interrogating The Doors' producer Paul Rothchild on what Morrison would do in even the most mundane situations. According to Rothchild, "[Kilmer] knows Jim Morrison better than Jim ever knew himself."

Kilmer also dedicated himself to learning some 50 of the band's songs, resulting in a voice and sound almost indistinguishable from the real deal. His covers are so good, in fact, they're used almost exclusively throughout Oliver Stone's film—even The Doors themselves had a hard time guessing who was who. "Early on," Rothschild told The Washington Post, "I'd bring them into a recording studio, and I randomly switched Val and Jim and they guessed wrong 80 percent of the time.”