They’re Hollywood stars because they have a certain something – Simon Cowell calls it an X-Factor. These brighter than bright people are also stars because they become other people easily. Biography films – or biopics – are fun. Afterall, who doesn’t enjoy a nice movie on George Washington or Christopher Columbus? However, it’s particuarly enjoyable when a role forces a star to become another star. It was recently announced Lindsay Lohan will portray Elizabeth Taylor in a biopic. In that spirit, here are film examples where a star we know so well, becomes another star.
Michelle Williams – “My Week With Marilyn” (2011)
Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe still weaves a mystique that’s as umatched as her old school sex symbol and pin-up girl status. In this British drama, based on a true story, Michelle Williams fully transforms herself into Monroe, who’s in England filming a comedy with Laurence Oliver, played by an excellent Kenneth Brannagh. Dismiss all thoughts that Michelle Williams can’t pull off a morph into Monroe, because her Oscar nominated performance engages as few biopic acting portrayals ever do.
Diana Ross – “Lady Sings The Blues” (1972)
When you’re lead singer of an iconic pop band, you need a role to fit your elevated musician status. For Diana Ross, lead vocalist of Motown’s The Supremes, the role was the life story of jazz singer Billie Holiday. Ross scored an Oscar nom as Best Actress for her turn, and acted opposite Billy Dee Williams (The Empire Strikes Back) in the film. They reunited for 1975’s “Mahogany” – it spawned a hit song, “Do You Know Where You’re Going To”, which snagged an Oscar nom for Best Song.
Faye Dunaway – “Mommie Dearest” (1981)
Joan Crawford may have ended her Hollywood career in B movies, and as Pepsi spokeswoman, but with Christina Crawford’s sizzling tell all which became a movie, she became more identified with wire hangers more than anything else. Faye Dunaway is simply outstanding – some may say outrageous – as the legendary actress, but reliable sources say the actress refuses to talk about the role. It may be because her portrayal is so disturbingly powerful, that some people mix and merge the two talented actresses into one person. Despite all the charges of camp, the movie entertains and informs better than most run of the mill biopics.
Dustin Hoffman – “Lenny” (1974)
Dustin Hoffman would go on to play a struggling actor resorting to drag in “Tootsie” and a mentally disabled man in “Rain Man”, opposite Tom Cruise, but here he’d bring to life one of the most controversial, though influential comedians in all of Hollywood history – Lenny Bruce. The film is so universally acclaimed for its top notch quality, that on the movie review site Rotten Tomatoes, it gets a 100% “Fresh” rating.
Gary Busey – The Buddy Holly Story (1978)
Many would say The Beatles means Rock and Roll for them, but if you ask Paul McCartney, he’d probably say that Buddy Holly was the motivating force behind his own rock and roll music journey. Busey earned an Oscar nom for this electric performance as the pioneer who proved that no matter what you look like physicall, it’s the vocal talent that matters in the end.
Kurt Russell – “Elvis” (1979)
Directed by John Carpenter (Halloween), this TV movie was so good and scored such high TV ratings – beating a TV airing of “Gone With The Wind” and “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” on competing networks, it was later shown theatrically in Europe. Russell actually worked with the King as a kid – in, “It Happened At The World’s Fair”, where Elvis pays Russell’s character to kick him in the shins, so he’ll need medical attention from the fairground’s attractive nurse played by Joan O’Brien.
Jamie Fox – “Ray” (2004)
Who knew funny man Jamie Fox could sing? He can and does so wonderfully in this rollicking biopic for which he earned the Best Actor Oscar. Ray Charles is brought vividly to life by Fox. Although the legendary singer’s life was hard as a blind man, amid forging a career in a racially intolerant America, there’s a hopefulness and spark in the movie elevates this story to a real treat for the eyes and ears.
Jim Carrey – “Man On The Moon” (1999)
Andy Kaufman lived to only 35, yet his comedy legacy spans the decades. From his weird stand-up routines, to his even weirder live appearances on NBC’s, “Saturday Night Live’, Kaufman was a true original. Carrey played up that originality to the hilt for the biopic, which co-starred real life “Taxi” castmates like Danny DeVito, Judd Hirsch and Marilu Henner. Though the movie itself garnered mixed reviews, most viewers agree on Carrey’s excellent portrayal, which earned him a Golden Globe.
Greg Kinnear – “Auto Focus” (2002)
The classic sitcom “Hogan’s Heroes” was a laugh riot, about a serious subject, World War II prisoner of war camps. The star of that TV show, Bob Crane, also had a dark side to his recreational life. Crane was obsessed with pornography. So much so, that he more than dabbled in it – he reveled in it every chance he got. Kinnear has been praised at portraying the tortured soul of Crane sympathetically, and co-star Willem Dafoe has equally been lauded for his part in fleshing out his buddy, John Henry Carpenter, who was charged, though finally acquitted of Crane’s murder.