Acting is a wonderful thing. To be able to inhabit the soul of a character and bring them to life is amazing, and a talent not granted not many. Sometimes, on very special occasions, that wonderful phenomenon occurs two times over when an actor or actress gets a chance to portray a fellow actor or actress.
These performances are often a lot of fun; and when done right, they can be stunning in how similar they are to the person being portrayed, such as when Renée Zellweger transformed herself into Judy Garland or when James Franco showed general audiences the mysterious charisma of Tommy Wiseau.
Channeling the Unseen – Cate Blanchett as Katherine Hepburn in ‘The Aviator’ (2004)
Martin Scorsese‘s Oscar-nominated The Aviator depicts the early life and career of legendary millionaire, aviator, and filmmaker Howard Hughesplayed by Leonardo DiCaprio. Renowned actress Katherine Hepburn plays an important part in the story, and in the film she was played by Cate Blanchett.
Hepburn was a very private person known only by those closest to her, so attempting to play her and not fall into caricature was daunting, but Blanchett nailed her role. She channels Hepburn’s onscreen persona and injects some heartfelt humanity into it.
When Batman Played Superman – Ben Affleck as George Reeves in ‘Hollywoodland’ (2006)
Despite being one of the most famous actors currently working in Hollywood, Ben Affleck is not often praised for his skills as a thespian. So, it is understandable that one of his greatest performances is as George Reeveswho played Superman in the TV show Adventures of Supermanin the neo-noir thriller Hollywoodland about a detective (Adrien Brody) investigating Reeves’s mysterious death.
What he lacked in acting talent, Reeves made up for with charisma and a strong screen presence. Affleck beautifully plays a man plagued by dissatisfaction and self-doubt, slowly peeling the layers of such a complex and fascinating figure.
They Never Forgot Her – Renée Zellweger as Judy Garland in ‘Judy’ (2019)
The bittersweet biopic Judy follows Judy Garland, played beautifully by Renée Zellweger in one of her best performances, in a trip to England to perform a series of sold-out shows during 1968, a year before the star’s tragic death at 47 years old.
Although Zellweger nailed Garland’s demeanor and personality, hers is far from a simple imitation. She brings a commendable emotional intensity to the role, not precisely disappearing into the shoes of Judy but rather capturing and transmitting what the actress was feeling during her last few days on Earth. It’s a performance as tender as it is heartbreaking.
The Rising Star – Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate in ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ (2019)
Some say that this film is filmmaker Quentin Tarantino‘s love letter to cinema. In it, the decline of washed-up Hollywood star Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) is contrasted with some scenes of rising star. Sharon Tate (played by Margot Robbie), who was a real actress married to the infamous Roman Polanski at the time in which the movie takes place.
Robbie perfectly portrays the innocence and youthful energy of a young actress like Tate, resulting in a magnificent performance that relies much more on gestures and facial expressions than dialogue.
She’s Worth All the Trouble – Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe in ‘My Week With Marilyn’ (2011)
In My Week With Marilynyoung film student Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) lands a dream job on the set of Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) ‘s latest film, where star Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) invites him into her fascinating inner world.
Although the movie itself is not generally regarded as being particularly good, Williams’s role as the legendary Marilyn has been lauded throughout the years. Though the role would have been easy to approach as a superficial imitation, Williams plays Monroe with refinement and realism, so mesmerizingly that she single-handedly makes the film worth watching.
The Legend’s Wild Side – Robert Downey Jr. as Charles Chaplin in ‘Chaplin’ (1992)
Robert Downey Jr. obtained his first Oscar nomination for playing the master of slapstick comedy, Charles Chaplinin Sir Richard Attenborough‘s biopic Chaplin.
It’s arguably the greatest performance of Downey’s career, an intricately complex and profoundly human portrait of a true movie legend. The actor wonderfully pulls off the fun and energetic side of Chaplin’s personality while also shining in the more dramatic and melancholic parts.
Oh Hi, James – James Franco as Tommy Wiseau in ‘The Disaster Artist’ (2017)
The Room is popular for being widely considered one of the absolute worst films ever made, giving its director, writer, producer, and star, Tommy Wiseau, a similar kind of notoriety for … well, not particularly his talent. James Franco starred and directed in The Disaster Artista film about the making of The Room.
The dramedy is about as funny and insightful as you’d expect, and that’s largely thanks to Franco’s chameleonic performance as Wiseau. He takes the filmmaker’s ludicrous and larger-than-life personality, and then adds to it layers of mystery, emotion, and poignancy.
Planning on Dying Soon – Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi ‘Ed Wood’ (1994)
The late Martin Landau is best remembered for his role in Tim Burton‘s Ed Wood, about the filmmaker of the same name who is often regarded as the absolute worst to ever do it. In it, Landau plays the mythical Bela Lugosibest known for portraying Dracula in the 1931 classic monster film.
Landau won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role, and for good reason. His take on Lugosi is equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking, as he lovingly constructs the character of this endearing but tragic figure.
Talk About Disappearing Into a Role! – Jim Carrey as Andy Kaufman in ‘Man on the Moon’ (1999)
Milos Forman‘s Man on the Moon tells the story of the life of legendary comedian and actor Andy Kaufmanwho was played by Jim Carrey in one of the most controversial performances in cinema history.
During production of the film, Carrey’s commitment to the role was immense — much, some would say. He insisted on being dealt with as Andy Kaufman both on and off set, refusing to break character and even going so far as to claim that he had been possessed by Kaufman’s spirit. Carrey pretty much becomes the famous comedian, succeeding at bringing out the more empathetic side of an eccentric man.
The Best at Making the Worst – Johnny Depp as Ed Wood in ‘Ed Wood’ (1994)
Some say that Ed Wood is Tim Burton’s best film, and that Johnny Depp‘s performance as the actor-director is the best of his career. It’s not hard to see why. Depp brings a warmth and charm to the character that’s hard picturing any other actor achieving.
Wood was a fascinating figure, and Depp plays the part wonderfully. You truly believe that he is a man absolutely delighted to make movies, even if he is not able to see that he is completely incompetent at it. Depp manages to be funny, endearing, sweet, and jovial, often all at once. By the time the credits roll, you’ll want to see what the fuzz about Wood is all about.
KEEP READING: From ‘Jail Bait’ to ‘Glen or Glenda’: The Best Worst Films of Ed Wood