12 Times Actors Executed Perfectly In Portraying Another Actor On-Screen

Playing real people is arguably one of the most challenging and daunting roles an actor can take on. An actor usually has the creative freedom to create any mannerisms and incidental character features they deem fit when portraying a fictitious character. However, it can be more difficult for an actor to portray a real person, whether that person is alive or dead. Even the most skilled performers may find it challenging to successfully portray the numerous qualities of a person because there are so many of them. In addition, when actors portray actual people, our perceptions of those real-life people and their stories are sometimes influenced by the way the actors portray them.
And if you think playing a real person is hard enough, imagine what they have to go through when portraying their own fellow actors. The best performers in Hollywood have perfected the art of impersonating other actors. And they have frequently succeeded not only through innate talent but also through diligent study of the actors they are copying.

#1 In ‘Jumanji,’ Jack Black Discovered He Was Strangely Good At Playing A Teenage Girl

Source: Sony Pictures Releasing

In Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017), the board game takes a new form - as a video game. When a group of teenagers in detention boot up the video game, they get sucked into it and discover they’ve been transformed into their avatars. Armed with new abilities but not knowing how to escape, the quartet must figure out how to finish the game and get back to the real world.
Jack Black plays a brilliant professor named Shelly Oberon, the in-game mascot for 16-year-old Bethany Walker (Madison Iseman), which meant he had to portray the mannerisms of a teenage girl. Apparently, he had no difficulties channeling the teen, as he told Collider:
"In a weird way, I feel like it was the real life I was born to play. It was very easy to tap into my inner 16-year-old girl. I don’t know why. But just to have that power of attraction. It’s subtle, but when you know you’ve got it, you know you’ve got it. And it’s just a look, a subtle gesture, and you know you’ve got it."

#2 Josh Brolin Said Playing Young Tommy Lee Jones In ‘Men in Black 3’ Was ‘The Toughest Thing I’ll Ever Do’

Source: Sony Pictures Releasing

The Men in Black franchise's third film, released in 2012, was inspired by the past. In order to stop an alien baddie named Boris from killing Tommy Lee Jones's Agent K, Will Smith, reprising his role as Agent J, goes back in time to 1969. Josh Brolin, who termed it "the toughest thing I'll ever do," was cast by the directors to play the younger version of Agent K rather than attempting to age Jones.
In No Country for Old Men and In the Valley of Elah, where the two had previously collaborated, Brolin said the following to Entertainment Weekly:
"The ambiance that Tommy creates on a set is just unparalleled... The tension is f*cking amazing. I just found it fascinating. I grew up with a lot of cowboys, so it doesn’t affect me as deeply as it would the urban norm. I just laugh at it. But it’s still uncomfortable. That’s his genius: "How can I make this the most uncomfortable moment anybody has ever had in the world?" There’s no way he’s thinking it - it’s just intrinsic."

#3 Ewan McGregor Studied The Films Of Alec Guinness Before ‘Phantom Menace’ To Imagine How He’d Play Obi-Wan As A Younger Guy

Source: 20th Century Fox

Ewan McGregor bravely accepted the part of Obi-Wan in Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999), taking on the challenge of playing an enduring character in a cherished franchise and risking disappointing fans. Because the movie was a prequel, McGregor had to represent Obi-Wan Kenobi recognizably as a younger actor.
On The Graham Norton Show, McGregor mentioned that in addition to studying Alec Guinness' portrayal of Obi-Wan, he also watched a number of the veteran actor's earlier movies:
"The fun thing about doing them in the first place, when I was much younger, was trying to imagine Alec Guinness, how would he play these scenes as a younger guy. It led me to watch a lot of his early work, which I hadn't seen before. Brilliant movies, wonderful films that he'd been in, and I just had such a great time studying him in those movies."
He probably didn't anticipate that he would wind up playing the role again in his 50s, which is considerably closer to Alec Guinness's age of 63 in A New Hope.

#4 Robert Downey Jr. Idolized Charlie Chaplin But Said Mastering The Actor's Quirky Moves, Especially Miming, For 'Chaplin' Was 'Frustration Upon Frustration'

Source: TriStar Pictures

Robert Downey Jr. garnered a lot of accolades and an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of the iconic comedy film star in the 1992 Charlie Chaplin biopic Chaplin, despite the film's generally negative reviews. Downey said that Richard Attenborough, the film's director, supported him even though he wasn't the studio's first choice for the part. In addition, he added, "I know that I was intended to play this." Downey admired Chaplin as a performer and once moved into his former abode in a Hollywood mansion.
Although Downey had a similar appearance to Chaplin, that was the easy part; he still had to learn how to portray the actor throughout a significant portion of his life and perfect Chaplin's accent, posture, miming, and other peculiar gestures. "It was difficulty atop difficulty and irritability atop irritability," Downey added. The hardest thing I've ever tried to do, according to the author, is learned pantomime.
Over a year, Downey studied with voice and movement coaches in addition to reading about Chaplin and seeing his films in order to get ready for the part. He even picked up how to play the violin and tennis (with his left hand).
According to Attenborough, "Robert was focused on doing it well, much as Chaplin did."

#5 Rob Lowe Played A Young Robert Wagner In ‘Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.’ His voice was so accurate that the editors believed it to have been dub

Source: New Line Cinema

Rob Lowe may have played Number 2 in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999), but his Robert Wagner impersonation elevates him to Number 1. Because Lowe's portrayal of the first henchman in the sequel was so convincing, editors had trouble telling Wagner's voice from Lowe's. They assumed Wagner had provided the voiceover for the production of the video.
When they were out playing golf, Austin Powers actor Mike Myers, who plays Austin Powers, is said to have been captivated by Lowe's Wagner impression and wanted to incorporate Lowe in the movie. As a friend of the actor's daughter, Lowe had already met Wagner. And apparently, impressions are another of Lowe's talents, as he said in an interview:
"I'm a mimic. It's not a skill I've used in movies, just with friends. Mike likes my impressions. One of the people I do is Robert Wagner, who was in the first Austin Powers, but this time Mike needed a young Robert Wagner. "

#6 Jim Carrey Had Trouble Separating Himself From Andy Kaufman While Portraying The Comedian In ‘Man on the Moon’

Source: Universal Pictures

Jim Carrey, a fellow comic, faithfully recreates Andy Kaufman's greatest hits in the 1999 film Man on the Moon, a tribute to the late entertainer. But it wasn't until the 2017 documentary Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond was released that the extent to which he went in order to pass for Kaufman was fully realized. The movie shows how deeply Carrey embraced method acting and struggled to distinguish his real self from Kaufman's persona, even going so far as to disrespect the director while acting.
Carrey stated to the Los Angeles Times:
"I didn’t black out, but the balance was way in Andy’s corner. I broke a couple of times on weekends and stuff, but pretty much from when I woke up to when I went to bed, the choices were all his...Somewhere in the background, there’s a little piece of Jim going, "Oh, no, you’re not going to do that." But I was just along for the ride."

#7 In ‘Face/Off,’ John Travolta Studied The Facial Expressions Of Costar Nicolas Cage To Ensure Accuracy

Source: Paramount Pictures

FBI agent Sean Archer (John Travolta) and terrorist Castor Troy are at odds throughout the 1997 film Face/Off (Nicolas Cage). The situation becomes complicated when both characters must act as though they are locked inside the other's body when Archer decides to take Troy's identity in order to foil a hazardous conspiracy. Although the work was difficult, Travolta claimed in an interview that it was probably simpler for him than for Cage because the latter actor has distinctive mannerisms:
"I knew it was a very bold thing to try to pull off, us being each other. We don't look exactly alike and we don't behave at all like each other. But I had an easier time of it than Nic did because Nic has a very specific style of attributes... He had a harder time finding me."
On The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon in 2019, Travolta performed his Nicholas Cage impression once more, demonstrating that the actor still possesses traces of his co-star.

#8 Jamie Lee Curtis Learned To Actually Play The Guitar Solo In ‘Freaky Friday’ To Add Credibility To Lindsay Lohan’s Character

Source: Buena Vista Pictures

Jamie Lee Curtis portrays an orderly therapist in Freaky Friday (2003) who unexpectedly swaps places with Lindsay Lohan's character, Anna, a 15-year-old daughter. Because of the body-swapping plotline, both actresses had to imitate one another, but because Curtis had to imitate Lohan's character because she plays in a garage band, Curtis also had to master a guitar solo. (Lohan had to pick up the guitar as well.) To the New York Daily News, Curtis stated:
"I’m not sure most 40-year-old women get to play a rippin’ guitar solo. I didn’t end up playing it on the [soundtrack], but I could have if they had let me."

#9 To Play Katharine Hepburn In 'The Aviator,' Cate Blanchett Watched Films And Documentaries To Try To Understand The Private Actor's True Self

Source: Warner Bros. Pictures

For her portrayal of Katharine Hepburn in Martin Scorcese's historical drama The Aviator, which centers on the reclusive billionaire, aviator, and Hollywood tycoon Howard Hughes, Cate Blanchett won an Academy Award. As Blanchett noted, Hepburn's true identity was somewhat of a mystery, making it challenging to depict her. "Kate Hepburn was a highly private individual, so we were trying to unlock the human being while simultaneously watching her body of work and paying nods to particular performances," Blanchett said.
She viewed every one of Hepburn's initial 15 Movies,at director Scorcese's urging. Blanchett attempted to imitate Hepburn in any way she could, watching films about the actor instead of reading biographies:
"I was playing Kate from ages 28 to 40, so I took a lot of cold showers because she used to break the ice going swimming in her place in Upstate New York. I took up tennis again and I started playing golf. I felt the need to be athletic because if you look at her early films like Spitfire or Sylvia Scarlett, there’s such exuberance and energy, that then she learned how to harness."
Blanchett claimed that she particularly appreciated an interview Hepburn gave to Dick Cavett in 1973: "It was fascinating to watch how she behaved and how uncomfortable she was even though she was older, her voice had calcified, and her entire demeanor had turned into a burlesque. It's really amateur psychology 101, but you use that knowledge to attempt to get inside the young woman's head and voice."

#10 James Franco Said He Was Able To Portray Tommy Wiseau In 'The Disaster Artist' Because The Two Were So Alike In Real Life

Source: A24

In the 2019 film The Disaster Artist, James Franco underwent a dramatic transformation into the enigmatic Tommy Wiseau. Franco crafts a mockumentary on Wiseau's produced, written, and directed cult classic The Room in this meta-masterpiece.
Franco, who also served as the movie's director and won a Golden Globe for his performance, admitted to Vox that playing Wiseau didn't completely affect him because they had "direct crossovers" in their personal lives:
"I have no shame in saying it. It is a very personal story for me. I've quoted a few times what Tommy said at the premiere of The Room. He said, "This my story, this my life. Be cool." The Disaster Artist is my story and my life. I came to Hollywood, and I struggled to be an actor. I have made projects where I took big swings and other people didn't like them. They didn't turn into cult hits, but, you know."

#11 Michelle Williams Worried She Didn't Look Enough Like Marilyn Monroe For 'My Week With Marilyn' But Realized She Really Needed To Channel Norma Jeane

Source: The Weinstein Co.

In the 2011 biopic My Week with Marilyn, Laurence Olivier co-starred with Marilyn Monroe and directed the movie The Prince and the Showgirl, which was shot in 1957. Even with a definite offer from director Simon Curtis, the actress who played Monroe was hesitant to accept the position. Williams had a poster of Monroe on her bedroom wall that she glanced at every night while she was growing up.
She was particularly unsure of whether she could physically change into Monroe. Some holes couldn't be filled, she told The Hollywood Reporter. Williams said that despite gaining weight and using prosthetics and makeup, "I couldn't re-arrange my face and body to look like hers."
But Williams came to learn that the secret to portraying the actor was knowing who she really was inside the well-known shell:
"For me, the most crucial discovery - the flash - was that the widely accepted image of Marilyn Monroe was a character that Norma Jeane played. Unless you study her and understand her a bit better than the commonly accepted view, one could miss who she was underneath that. Marilyn was a part she played."

#12 Jon Hamm Ditched His Charming Persona To Perfectly Channel The Hilariously Annoying Larry David In ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’

Source: HBO

In the episode "Elizabeth, Margaret and Larry" of HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm, Jon Hamm plays himself given the challenge of portraying a Larry David-like character. He follows David to get a sense of who he is.
According to AV Club reviewer Danette Chavez, Hamm is initially put off by Larry's eccentricities as he starts following him about, but by the conclusion of the episode, he has his mentor down to a T:
"I do not know what kind of preparation Jon Hamm usually does for a role, but his research and dedication here make “Elizabeth, Margaret and Larry” one of the highlights of the season. He starts dressing like Larry, right down to the eyeglass frames... He throws out terms like “appetizer allotment” over lunch with Larry and Richard, which prompts Richard to remark that there are now “two Larry Davids.”
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