The 18 Best Biopic Transformations

1
James Franco as James Dean (James Dean)
James Franco as James Dean (James Dean)
Warner Bros/Turner Network Television
James Franco won a Golden Globe for playing James Dean in this 2001 TV movie. The resemblance was already there – no makeup needed – and Franco’s performance was uncanny. He got so into the role that he took up Dean’s smoking habit during filming, and learned how to play the bongos and ride a motorcycle.
2
Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln (Lincoln)
Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln (Lincoln)
Getty Images/20th Century Fox via Everett Collection
Daniel Day Lewis won his third Oscar for playing the formidable 16th President of the United States. The Method actor spent a year studying Lincoln and paid close attention to every detail about the man – including his voice. There was historical evidence that Lincoln spoke in a high-pitched voice, so naturally Lewis incorporated this into the character. He reportedly spoke in “Lincoln’s voice” between takes and even after filming was over.
3
Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe (My Week with Marilyn)
Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe (My Week with Marilyn)
Everett Collection/The Weinstein Company via Everett Collection
To fully embody the iconic blonde bombshell’s trademark “wiggle” in My Week with Marilyn, Michelle Williams practiced walking with her knees tied to together. Thanks to this trick, Williams got Marilyn’s walk just right, she also hit all the right notes playing both Marilyn’s undeniable charm and her crippling insecurities.
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4
Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking (The Theory of Everything)
Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking (The Theory of Everything)
Getty Images/Focus Features via Everett Collection
Eddie Redmayne is getting major awards buzz for his portrayal of scientific genius Stephen Hawking. He spent four months studying Hawking’s life – a process that required a physics tutor and a choreographer to get Hawking’s movements just right. Redmayne also frequently visited a neurology clinic and interviewed patients to make sure he was portraying Hawking’s ALS accurately.
5
Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote (Capote)
Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote (Capote)
Getty Images/Sony Pictures Classics via Everett Collection
Truman Capote was a very small, diminutive man with a distinct way of speaking. Somehow Philip Seymour Hoffman made you believe you were watching the author up on the screen. He reportedly lost over 40 pounds to play the role and mastered Capote’s unique voice and mannerisms. The performance scored him Oscar gold.
6
Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles (Ray)
Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles (Ray)
Getty Images/Universal Pictures via Everett Collection
Jamie Foxx really took things to the extreme when embodying musician Ray Charles for the movie Ray. He had his eyes glued shut to mimic blindness, and endured panic attacks because of it. But all of that dedication was worth it – people finally acknowledged Foxx as a serious actor and he won the Oscar for the role.
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7
Salma Hayek as Frida Kahlo (Frida)
Salma Hayek as Frida Kahlo (Frida)
Everett Collection/Miramax Films
Unibrow on fleek! Salma Hayek put down the tweezers to play Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, but she also did so much more for the film. As co-producer, she personally secured the rights to some of Kahlo’s paintings, and even recruited some of the film’s supporting cast. She received a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her efforts.
8
Leonardo DiCaprio as J. Edgar Hoover (J. Edgar)
Leonardo DiCaprio as J. Edgar Hoover (J. Edgar)
Getty Images/Warner Bros. Pictures
We admit, this transformation wasn’t exactly “the best.” The makeup and prosthetics Leonardo DiCaprio had to wear were criticized by many for being too distracting. But hey, they had to age him 50 years and make him all jowl-y. No easy task!
9
Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock (Hitchcock)
Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock (Hitchcock)
Getty Images/Fox Searchlight Pictures via Everett Collection
Prosthetics, a fat suit, and more prosthetics. That’s how you turn Anthony Hopkins into the larger-than-life Master of Suspense. It took makeup artists an hour and a half to get Hopkins camera ready every day. Which is really not that long when you consider all the extra skin he needed.
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10
Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher (The Iron Lady)
Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher (The Iron Lady)
Getty Images/Weinstein Company via Everett Collection
Meryl Streep spent months watching broadcasts of Margaret Thatcher to learn her mannerisms and speech patterns. She wore prosthetic face and necks pieces, and a set of fake teeth so she’d look like the former British Prime Minister. Add to that Streep’s unparalleled acting chops and you have a guaranteed Oscar win.
11
Chadwick Boseman as James Brown (Get On Up)
Chadwick Boseman as James Brown (Get On Up)
Getty Images/Universal Pictures via Everett Collection
It took Chadwick Boseman three hours in the makeup chair to complete his head-to-toe James Brown transformation – which included full-body prosthetics and various wigs (gotta get that James Brown hair right!). Boseman had to play the Godfather of Soul from age 16 to 60 and he absolutely nailed it.
12
Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos (Monster)
Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos (Monster)
Getty Images/Newmarket via Everett Collection
Get ugly, get an Oscar. It worked for Charlize Theron when she transformed herself to play serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster. She famously packed on 30 pounds for the role, wore brown contacts and fake teeth, and had makeup applied to give the appearance of bad skin.
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13
Cate Blanchett as Bob Dylan (I'm Not There)
Cate Blanchett as Bob Dylan (I'm Not There)
Getty Images/Weinstein Company via Everett Collection
If you’re not already convinced that Cate Blanchett is queen, consider this: She played Bob Dylan. Or rather, a version of Bob Dylan. But she looked, sounded and acted like the folk singer. She even scored an Oscar nomination for a role that in lesser hands would have simply been an experiment in cross-dressing.
14
Ben Kingsley as Mahatma Gandhi (Gandhi)
Ben Kingsley as Mahatma Gandhi (Gandhi)
Getty Images/Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
This should tell you something: Ben Kinglsey looked so much like Gandhi while filming, that many Indian natives were convinced he was Gandhi’s ghost. Kingsley, who was relatively unknown at the time, shaved his head and lost 20 pounds on Gandhi’s own vegetarian diet for the role. He nabbed an Oscar, and so did the film.
15
Jennifer Lopez as Selena (Selena)
Jennifer Lopez as Selena (Selena)
Getty Images/Warner Bros. Pictures via Everett Collection
With just a little makeup and a change of hairstyle, the resemblance between Jennifer Lopez and Selena is startling. She was able to mimic Selena’s performance style in the star-making turn, and even credited the film with inspiring her to launch her own music career.
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16
Robert Downey Jr. as Charlie Chaplin (Chaplin)
Robert Downey Jr. as Charlie Chaplin (Chaplin)
Getty Images/TriStar Pictures via Everett Collection
It’s amazing what a well-placed mustache and a bowler hat can do! Robert Downey Jr. looked just like the silent film star and was able to capture his vaudevillian spirit from ages 19 to 83. The role landed him a Best Actor Oscar nomination.
17
Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf (La Vie En Rose)
Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf (La Vie En Rose)
Getty Images/Picturehouse via Everett Collection
Marion Cotillard shot to stardom – and won an Oscar – after her stunning portrayal of French opera singer Edith Piaf. She shaved off her eyebrows and pushed back her hairline in order to look the part.
18
Angelina Jolie as Mariane Pearl (A Mighty Heart)
Angelina Jolie as Mariane Pearl (A Mighty Heart)
Getty Images/Paramount Vantage via Everett Collection
Angelina Jolie and Mariane Pearl were already good friends before the movie was made and Pearl personally picked Jolie to play her. There was criticism about Jolie playing the bi-racial Pearl, but ultimately her brilliant performance received positive attention.

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