Real People, Film Portrayals, and Responsibility

Most actors spend their careers playing fictional characters. However, many actors are chosen to star in biopics, Biblical epics, or similar films at least once. When an actor makes the switch from playing a character to portraying a real person, the gravitas factor goes through the roof, and while most actors will try to play real people respectfully and responsibly, there are some who arguably do it "better" than others. Just for one example, look at the many actors who have played Jesus Christ over the years.

In your opinion, what does it take to play a certain real role responsibly and respectfully? How much of a production team’s choice is based on "casting type" and how much is based on say, personality or lived experience? What are some of the best biopic portrayals you’ve seen, of whom and by whom, and why? Discuss.

  • An example of Jesus Christ would be Robert Powell from Jesus of Nazareth. He is so committed in his role that 99% of the time he does not blink. Of course, his line delivery is convincing. In fact, whenever I think of a live-action Jesus now, I think of Powell's performance. To play a real role responsibly and respectfully, you would need to study that character's life and habits and replicate them to the best of your abilities. Experience in, say, boxing would help if you are playing Muhammad Ali, and having an authentic accent would help if you are playing someone of another race. A good example of how Hollywood casting ruined a character (and actually disgruntled her real-life counterpart) is Ingrid Bergman as Gladys Aylward in The Inn of the Sixth Happiness. The look was wrong (Gladys had dark hair and was short), the accent was wrong (she had a Cockney accent), and her story was portrayed inaccurately (most of the details were correct, but Hollywood added a love story). Maybe include a rant of sorts of how Hollywood likes to add (or used to add) unnecessary love stories, even if there was no hard evidence for it in real life. – OkaNaimo0819 3 years ago
  • This is an amazing topic! I wonder if the responsibilities change depending on the fact that the character of portrayal is still alive or not. As great as both movies were, Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman, I have to admit that I was more invested in Rami Malek's performance as Mercury as opposed to Egerton's because I knew that Elton John is still around. – kpfong83 3 years ago
  • I think it takes a lot of research, first and foremost as well as passion to get to understand the person you're portraying to such a level where you almost morph into them. Recently I really loved Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly in Stan & Ollie, particularly Coogan, who went beyond the well-known image of Stan. He could have played him as a caricature. Instead he made him human and relatable to the point where, even though we don't know that much about Stanley Laurel as a person beyond his performances, we believe him to have been as sensitive and complex as he was portrayed by Steve Coogan. On the other hand we have Renee Zellweger, who although did her research very well, didn't go beyond the caricature level. I know I'm in minority when I say this, given all the accolades, but I wasn't as invested in her Judy as I wished I could have been. I wanted to sympathise with her, instead I found myself noticing the pout and the way she talked thinking "okay, she studied her quite a lot". – danivilu 3 years ago

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