Every once in a while — perhaps every couple of years — an actor or an actress comes around and portrays a real person in a movie. They almost always hit it out of the park and land themselves an Oscar in the process. (OK, they aren’t all perfect. We’re looking at you, Cate Blanchett as Bob Dylan in I’m Not There.)
But for the most part, sitting down in a dark theater with a fresh bucket of popcorn to watch a talented performer completely transform himself or herself into someone else, and do it well, is one of the best things about going to the movies. When I can no longer see the actor before me, but instead the person whose life they are living on screen, they’ve got me hook, line and sinker.
Christian Bale: Dick Cheney — Vice
You MUST check out this trailer if you haven’t already. This is the same actor who has gotten into top physical condition to play Batman. Here he transforms into a plump Dick Cheney. Yes, talented makeup artists had plenty to do with this character, but that can only go so far. Everything about Bale — from his walk to his posture, and especially his voice — brings us Dick Cheney’s mirror image. One could argue that Bale often plays with his voice for characters (and the one he uses here is slightly reminiscent of Batman’s…) but that’s no easy feat.
IN THEATERS NOW
Rami Malek: Freddie Mercury — Bohemian Rhapsody
Just last weekend, this gorgeous film was released and right before our very eyes, Rami Malek channeled the late Freddie Mercury. Some critics argue that the story of the film is less than perfect and doesn’t accurately portray what really happened behind closed doors. But if you look purely at Malek’s performance, it is near perfection. And whether or not you’re bothered by the “creative” storytelling, you can absolutely have a blast watching this film as all of our favorite Queen songs play throughout. It’s energetic and fun.
OLDIES BUT GOODIES
Jamie Foxx: Ray Charles — Ray
If Jamie Foxx could capture anything, it was Ray Charles’s charisma. There is a je ne sais quoi about his performance that goes beyond tangible skills, like his acting ability. (Despite being a musician and singer, Foxx doesn’t actually sing in this film.) There is something mildly transcendent about Foxx’s portrayal of the musical legend. You don’t see Foxx on the screen, you see Charles himself. The film as a whole can be a tad tedious, as it attempts to cover much of the singer’s life. But it is worth it for Foxx’s performance, which earned him an Oscar.
Daniel Day-Lewis: Abraham Lincoln — Lincoln
While we don’t exactly have video footage of Abraham Lincoln to compare Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance to, we have enough historical information to know that this actor nailed this role. It should come as no surprise that Day-Lewis took home the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of our gentle and intelligent former president. If you’ve read enough history books, the Lincoln on the screen was just about as close to what you hope the real Lincoln was like 160 years ago.
Ben Kingsley: Gandhi — Gandhi
In Kingsley’s case, we did have plenty of real footage to compare this performance to, and it was spot on. Looking at this film, which was released in 1982, it would be difficult to imagine any other actor playing this part. Kingsley tackled this incredibly complex character with grace, and he won an Oscar for doing so.