Movie Article

Making History

Actors as historical figures -- who pulled it off? It takes more than mimickry to truly captured the essence of real-life people

Anthony Hopkins, Nixon | TRICKY DICK Hopkins never quite nailed Nixon
TRICKY DICK Hopkins never quite nailed Nixon

Actors as historical figures -- who pulled it off?

Which actor has portrayed a historical figure most convincingly -- and least? -- Joe McLaughlin, Pittsburgh

A fine time to ask, when 9 out of 10 scholars would agree that Jesus probably didn’t look much like Jim Caviezel. But that’s the point, isn’t it: Cate Blanchett gives a dandy performance in ''Elizabeth,'' and I’m sold on Ben Kingsley as Gandhi, but how would we know what a 16th-century English queen was really like -- or even a 20th-century Indian leader? I’m ''convinced'' by portrayals that make me forget, after a while, the physical mimicry involved and get at a psychological truth about the person portrayed. Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford in ''Mommie Dearest'' does it; Jane Fonda as Lillian Hellman in ''Julia'' doesn’t. George C. Scott morphs believably into an Army general in ''Patton.'' And Anthony Hopkins, who has mimicked (without capturing) Richard Nixon, Pablo Picasso, and Adolf Hitler, has done his most convincing work bringing to life a fictional psychopath with a taste for fava beans, Chianti, and human flesh.

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Originally posted Mar 12, 2004 Published in issue #755 Mar 12, 2004 Order article reprints