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When Actors Portray Other Actors & Musicians!

Written by Katie Marzullo. Published: January 02 2024


If there's one thing Hollywood loves, it's being self-referential. It's frequently not enough to enjoy the work of actors and musicians -- sometimes we gotta make movies about them too! For any actor, stepping into the shoes of another well-known actor or musician is oftentimes a ticket to Oscar Land (if the impersonation is good enough). Oftentimes it can feel like cosplay, but if we're lucky, we get a genuine captivating performance that transcends mere imitation.


Here is a (non)definitive list of actors who stepped into the well-documented shoes of other artists and totally nailed it -- or at least left quite an impression (no pun intended)!


1. Austin Butler as Elvis Presley in Elvis (2022)

As we know now, Austin Butler's performance as the King of Rock & Roll in Baz Luhrmann's Elvis was not only transformative for his career but for himself personally, as spending days/weeks/months affecting the perfect Elvis drawl changed his voice permanently. He was awarded for his efforts with a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination.


Stream on Max.


2. Jacob Elordi as Elvis Presley in Priscilla (2023)

"Euphoria" star Jacob Elordi is the most recent actor to take on the role of Elvis, though in not as flattering a light, in Sofia Coppola's Priscilla, based on Priscilla Presley's eye-opening memoir Elvis & Me.


Available on VOD/Digital.


3. Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe in My Week With Marilyn (2011)

Michelle Williams received her third Oscar nomination for her performance as one of the most iconic women of all time, Marilyn Monroe, in My Week With Marilyn. She won the Golden Globe for the role.


Stream on Peacock, Tubi, Pluto TV, Tubi, and YouTube.


4. Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe in Blonde (2022)

Many actresses have taken on Marilyn in projects over the decades since the movie star's death, but only a handful have remained truly memorable. While the movie Blonde itself was not well-received, many could not deny the powerful performance of Ana de Armas, who was truly uncanny. Like Michelle Williams, Ana was also nominated for an Oscar for this role.


Stream on Netflix.


5. Robert Downey Jr. as Charlie Chaplin in Chaplin (1992)

Even if you don't know much about Charlie Chaplin, his image is as The Little Tramp is an iconic piece of Hollywood culture. Before Robert Downey Jr. became Iron Man, he took on the role of the silent movie star and received an Oscar nomination for his efforts.


Stream on Prime Video and Paramount+.


6. Kevin Kline as Douglas Fairbanks in Chaplin (1992)

Co-starring with RDJ in the same movie was Kevin Kline as Chaplin's close pal, and mega movie star in his own right at the time, Douglas Fairbanks. Though, if you ask me, Kline looked more like Errol Flynn than Fairbanks...


Stream on Prime Video and Paramount+.


7. Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator (2004)

Cate Blancett took home an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her performance as the legendary 4-time Oscar-winning actress Katharine Hepburn in Martin Scorsese's The Aviator. This was the first time an actor won an Academy Award for playing another Academy Award winner.


Stream on Paramount+, Pluto TV, Plex, and YouTube.


8. Amanda Seyfried as Marion Davies in Mank (2020)

Marion Davies was one of the biggest starlets of the 1920s and her life was even crazier than her movie roles! Actress Amanda Seyfried took on the role of Davies in the movie Mank, which is about the writing of the classic movie Citizen Kane, which was famously based on Davies's lover at the time, William Randolph Hearst. Seyfried was nominated for an Oscar for her performance.


Stream on Netflix.


9. Kirsten Dunst as Marion Davis in The Cat's Meow (2001)

Two decades before Seyfriend played Marion Davies, Kirsten Dunst took on the same role in a movie focusing on the death of filmmaker Thomas Ince in 1924, who died under mysterious circumstances on William Randolph Hearst's yacht. Dunst seemed to slip seamlessly into the image of a Silent Era starlet!


Stream on Prime Video, Tubi, and YouTube.


10. Jason Isaacs as Cary Grant in "Archie" (2023)

One of the more recent buzzy actor-becomes-an-actor turns is the unexpected casting of Harry Potter actor Jason Isaacs as the legendary Cary Grant in the British miniseries "Archie" (the title refers to Grant's real name). The series is based on the memoir of Grant's fourth wife Dyan Cannon, whom he married later in his life.


Stream on BritBox.


11. Renée Zellweger as Judy Garland in Judy (2019)

Renée Zellweger nabbed her second Oscar (her first for Lead Actress) for her portrayal of the iconic and famously troubled star Judy Garland. The film focuses on Garland's series of live shows in London in 1968, the year before her death.


Stream on MGM+.


12. Judy Davis as Judy Garland in "Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows" (2001)

For my money, though, in terms of utter uncanniness, Judy Davis's performance as Judy Garland in this 2001 miniseries is incredible, and also covers Garland's entire life. Seeing this performance you would think Davis was made for this role. The Emmys and Golden Globes agreed, as Davis took home both awards for her work.


Available on VOD/Digital.


13. Kenneth Branagh as Laurence Olivier in My Week With Marilyn (2011)

While you may have had to squint and tilt your head a little to fully buy Kenneth Branagh as the prestigeous Sir Laurence Olivier, there was a certain spark about Branagh that allowed him to fully embody the vibe of one of the most celebrated Actors™ of all time, whose unfailing professionalism naturally clashed with the troubled and unpredictable personality of his The Prince and The Showgirl co-star Marilyn Monroe.


Stream on Peacock, Tubi, Pluto TV, Tubi, and YouTube.


14. Susan Sarandon as Bette Davis in "Feud" (2017)

This role seems inevitable, as Susan Sarandon could have easily played the iconic Bette Davis decades earlier and still pulled it off. Well, better late than never, as Sarandon finally got to step into Davis's shoes for the first season of Ryan Murphy's anthology series "Feud". You had me at Baby Jane, Susan... 


Stream on Hulu.


15. Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford in "Feud" (2017)

Starring alongside Susan Sarandon as the other half of the titular feud was Jessica Lange as movie star -- and Bette Davis's longtime rival -- Joan Crawford. Though it's hard to say that Lange looked the part, she effortlessly embodied Crawford's regal grace and barely-controlled fury. Echoing the 1963 Oscars, both Sarandon and Lange were nominated for their roles (just as both Davis and Crawford were nominated for their roles in Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?), and history repeated itself when neither of them won.


Stream on Hulu.


16. Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest (1981)

Joan Crawford's image was never quite the same after Faye Dunaway stepped into her designer shoes for this adapatation of Crawford's adopted daughter Christina's memoir Mommie Dearest, which recalls the abuse Christina says she endured at the hands of her movie star mom. Considered a camp classic today, Dunaway captures Crawford in a way that is both captivating and unsettling, and neither actress came out of it unscathed.


Stream on Max.


17. Jessica Lange as Frances Farmer in Frances (1982)

Decades before Jessica Lange took on the role of a legend, she took on the role of a lesser-known but no-less notorious 1930s/40s actress by the name of Frances Farmer. Basically, Farmer was a starlet who didn't play by the studios' rules and had mental health issues, and instead of supporting her, they smeared her name and had her committed. Typical. Lange was nominated for an Oscar for her performance.


Available on VOD/Digital.


18. Nicole Kidman as Lucille Ball in Being the Ricardos (2021)

Nicole Kidman surprised just about everyone when she portrayed one of greatest female comedians of all time, Lucille Ball. Kidman, known for her icy grace, was able to transform herself into a slapstick comedy queen for this role, and she received her fifth Oscar nomination for her efforts.


Stream on Prime Video.


19. Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock in Hitchcock (2012)

Whether you have ever seen an Alfred Hitchcock movie in your life or not, you could probably pick the director himself out of a lineup if you had to. Hitchcock, in addition to being a brilliant filmmaker, is also a cultural icon, so you just need an actor of Anthony Hopkins's caliber to pull it off -- and he did. But Hopkins's performance is memorable more for the humanity he gave to the often mysterious director than a straight-up impersonation. 


Available on VOD/Digital.


20. James D'Arcy as Anthony Perkins in Hitchcock (2012)

A great many well-known actors from the late-'50s/early-'60s were portrayed in Hitchcock, but the the one that stands out the most for me is James D'Arcy as the star of one of Hitchcock's greatest films, Psycho, Anthony Perkins. While the characterization of Perkins as depicted in this movie wasn't quite accurate, D'Arcy's embodiment of the man was spot-on, right down to his posture and mannerisms. 


Available on VOD/Digital


21. Halle Berry as Dorothy Dandridge in "Introducing Dorothy Dandridge" (1999)

Halle Berry received an Emmy and a Golden Globe for her performance as the legendary singer-actress Dorothy Dandridge, who was the first African-American woman to be nominated for a Best Actress Oscar (Berry would go on to become the first African-American woman to win it). Though she'd been working steadily since the early-'90s, this project officially put Halle on the map as a Serious Actress™, and rightly so!


Stream on Max.


22. James Franco as James Dean in "James Dean" (2001)

Although relatively known thanks to his role on the short-lived series "Freaks & Geeks", James Franco didn't really enter into pop culture consciousness until he took on the role of one of the most iconic pop culture figures of the 20th Century, actor James Dean. In addition to being the spitting image of Dean, Franco delivered a thoughtful and sensitive performance of the troubled actor, and received Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for it.


Available on VOD/Digital.


23. Ben Affleck as George Reeves in Hollywoodland (2006)

A decade before Ben Affleck would go on to play Batman on the big screen, he took on the role of Superman -- well, kinda. In the true crime drama Hollywoodland, Affleck plays George Reeves, the actor best known for being the first to bring Superman to the screen in the 1950s TV series "Adventures of Superman" and who died under myserious circumstances in 1959. Affleck is surprisingly effective and convincing as the strong-jawed Reeves.


Available on VOD/Digital.


24. Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate in Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood (2019)

Unfortunately, most folks remember actress Sharon Tate not for her film roles but for her gruesome death in 1969 at the hands of the Manson Family. Quentin Tarantino set out to change that in his movie Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood, which imagines a world in which Tate's killers were thwarted. Tate herself is played by Margot Robbie, who perfectly embodies the late actress's beauty, charm, and star quality.


Stream on Hulu.


25. Aaron Taylor-Johnson as John Lennon in Nowhere Boy (2009)

Before he entered the MCU, Aaron Taylor-Johnson entered Beatlemania. In 2009, he played a young, pre-fame John Lennon in a biopic about Lennon's life in Liverpool. England, before he became one of the most influential musical artists of all time. ATJ did a great job not only capturing Lennon's look but also his introspective, somewhat troubled nature.


Stream on Pluto TV.


26. Tom Hanks as Walt Disney in Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

Tom Hanks's reputation for being the nicest guy in Hollywood was put to use in his casting as the man, the myth, the legend himself, Walt Disney. Saving Mr. Banks focuses on Disney's tenuous relationship with P.L. Travers, the author of Mary Poppins, whose work he is trying to adapt to the screen. Hanks's natural charm makes him an effective choice for portraying the purveyor of all of our childhood dreams.


Stream on Disney+.


27. Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers in A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood (2019)

Hanks took the concept of playing Disney even a step further by stepping into the shoes of a man who is probably even more beloved than he is -- Mr. Rogers. Hanks successfully made us fall in love with Mr. Rogers all over again in this sweet semi-biopic, and it earned him his sixth Oscar nomination.


Stream on Starz.


28. Johnny Depp as Edward D. Wood Jr. in Ed Wood (1994)

We know a little about the infamous Edward D. Wood Jr., who is best known for his super low-budget (some would say "terrible") sci-fi films from the 1950s, but Johnny Depp took the role and made it his own in Tim Burton's Ed Wood, leaning into the campy reputation of the notorious director, and it perfectly captures the tongue-in-cheek movie as whole, which celebrates Wood's questionable creativity in a humorous and loving way.


Available on VOD/Digital.


29. Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood (1994)

Alongside Depp in Ed Wood was Martin Landau as the iconic Bela Lugosi, who famously portrayed Count Dracula and created what is now considered the definitive image of the character. Following Dracula, Lugosi ran on some hard times but had a career resurrection, of sorts, when Ed Wood cast him in his movies to give them some extra cred. Ed and Bela became close friends, and Ed Wood examines their relationship. Landau was so convincing and moving as the aging Hollywood icon that he received an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.


Available on VOD/Digital.


30. Lindsay Lohan as Elizabeth Taylor in "Liz & Dick" (2012)

Lindsay Lohan may not have been the most convincing Elizabeth Taylor, but her portrayal of the Hollywood star in the TV movie "Liz & Dick" sure left an impression! Though mostly remembered now in the form of memes, there was just something about Lohan portraying one of the most decadent movie stars of all time which had a certain syngery about it.


Stream on Tubi.


31. Helena Bonham Carter as Elizabeth Taylor in "Burton and Taylor" (2013)

Not long after Lindsay's turn came Helena Bonham Carter to try her hand in the role of Elizabeth Taylor in the slightly more conservatively-titled "Burton and Taylor". 2012-13 was The Battle of the Lizes!


Stream on Tubi.


32. Steve Coogan as Stan Laurel and John C. Reilly as Oliver Hardy in Stan & Ollie (2018)

A two-for-one deal, since one can't really discuss one without the other. Actors Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly did a great job stepping into the clown shoes of iconic comedy duo Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy (aka Laurel & Hardy). Known as comedic actors in their own right, Coogan and Reilly did a great job channeling their comedic chops into one of the most legendary comedy teams in Hollywood history.


Stream on Max.


33. Chris Diamantopoulos as Moe, Sean Hayes as Larry, and Will Sasso as Curly in The Three Stooges (2012)

In the same vein as above, you can't really separate a powerhouse team. Though, in this case, this movie wasn't so much a biopic as it was just another adventure of the wacky slapstick trio from the 1930s, The Three Stooges. Still, Chris Diamantopoulos, Sean Hayes, and Will Sasso perfectly embodied the real-life Moe Howard, Larry Fine, and Curly Howard, respectively, so I think it counts!


Available on VOD/Digital.


34. Amanda Seyfried as Linda Lovelace in Lovelace (2013)

Count on Amanda Seyfried if you want to bring a real-life person to the big screen! In this case, Seyfried won rave reviews for her portrayal of notorious '70s adult film star Linda Lovelace. While, admittedly, Seyfried didn't look much like the real-life Lovelace, she made the role her own, to great success.


Stream on Freevee, Tubi, and YouTube.


35. Jason Scott Lee as Bruce Lee in Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (1993)

Contrary to popular belief, Jason Scott Lee is not related to legendary actor and martial artist Bruce Lee, but he certainly made a case for himself with his fantastic performance as the late actor in this thrilling biopic. 


Available on VOD/Digital.


36. O'Shea Jackson Jr. as Ice Cube in Straight Outta Compton (2015)

Okay, I know it feels a bit like cheating when you are cast to play your own father in a movie, but it's not always a guaranteed success. And it definitely was a success when O'Shea Jackson Jr. got the chance to portray his father, rap star Ice Cube, in a biopic about the rise of Cube's groundbreaking hip-hop group, N.W.A., in the '80s. Jackson turned out a truly amazing performance -- the fact that he is the spitting image of his dad was honestly just a happy bonus.


Stream on Peacock and Tubi.


37. Jim Carrey as Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon (1999)

Both Jim Carrey and Andy Kaufman are notorious for their slavish dedication to a bit, so this casting was truly inevitable. Carrey transformed himself -- physically and psychologically -- to portray the late comedian who was known for his weird standup routines and wacky publicity stunts. Carrey is so iconic in his own right that it is often hard not to separate the man from the character he is playing, but in this case, he truly loses himself in this role. He won the Golden Globe for his efforts.


Stream on Peacock.


38. Angela Bassett as Tina Turner in What's Love Got To Do With It? (1993)

Angela Bassett absolutely did the thing when she turned out an Oscar-nominated performance as the legendary singer Tina Turner in this biopic adaptation of Turner's memoir about her rise to fame and life with her abusive husband Ike Turner. Bassett totally channeled Turner's larger-than-life presense while also giving the woman behind the stage persona a humanity we didn't really get to see very often.


Available on VOD/Digital.


39. Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

Honestly the entire cast could be included in this list because the casting department 1000% nailed it when it came to choosing actors to portray the members of the classic British band Queen. Front and center, though, was Rami Malek in his transcendent performance as flamboyent frontman Freddie Mercury, which won him an Oscar.


Stream on Hulu.


40. Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles in Ray (2004)

Jamie Foxx also took home an Oscar for playing an iconic musician, this one being vision-impaired singer Ray Charles. It's no wonder too, considering the work and dedication he put into the role, such as wearing eye prosthetics, learning Braille, and even playing the piano himself on-screen.


Stream on Peacock.


41. Lily James as Pamela Anderson and Sebastian Stan as Tommy Lee in "Pam & Tommy" (2022)

Another dynamic duo -- the miniseries "Pam & Tommy" received some backlash for underplaying the devastating effects the events of the story had on Pamela Anderson in real-life, but just looking at the performances alone, Lily James and Sebastian Stan really went balls-to-the-wall (no pun intended,.. I think) as the notorious twosome of model/actress Pam Anderson and rock star Tommy Lee


Stream on Hulu.


42. Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash in Walk The Line (2005)

Joaquin Phoenix received his second Oscar nomination for his performance as country singer-songwriter Johnny Cash. Phoenix did all of the singing himself and also learned to play the guitar for the role.


Stream on Max.


43. Daniel Radcliffe as "Weird Al" Yankovic in Weird: The Al Yankovic Story (2022)

Though not a straight biopic in the traditional sense, Weird: The Al YankovicStory takes a tongue-in-cheek look at the rise of satirical musician "Weird Al" Yankovic. In true Weird Al style, the movie itself is a satire on musician biopics. The unusual casting of Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe as Weird Al raised some eyebrows, but he honestly nailed it. He has been nominated for an Emmy for his performance but for some reason didn't make the cut for the Golden Globes, which is a shame.


Available on VOD/Digital.


44. Evan Rachel Wood as Madonna in Weird: The Al Yankovic Story (2022)

Evan Rachel Wood played a fictionalized version of '80s-era Madonna, but she totally nailed the look and the attitude. Not many actors are bold enough to step into the shoes of the unimitable Queen of Pop (even a biopic about Madonna starring Julia Garner is no longer happening), but ERW was up for the challenge and came through, and, for the time being at least, remains the definitive portrayal of the Material Girl on-screen.


Available on VOD/Digital.


45. Taron Egerton as Elton John in Rocketman (2019)

Taron Egerton completely transformed himself into the iconic Sir Elton John -- including doing all of his own singing -- in this biopic about the singer's rise to fame and notoriety. He got the nod of approval from Elton John himself, who was an executive producer on the film. The movie received praise for being an honest, unsanitized portrayal of the singer's life, and Egerton himself won the Golden Globe for his performance. Many expected to see him on the lists of Oscar nominations that year but he sadly (and weirdly) just missed the cut. 


Available on VOD/Digital.