12 of the Most Memorable On-Screen Impersonations

Last week, we took a look at a few of Hollywood’s stranger casting decisions for previous (and upcoming) biographical films. But with the Oscar-winning Iron Lady out today on DVD and Blu-ray, we thought we might also take a look at some of the more successful actor/biographical subject match-ups—with a particular eye on those that most convincingly embodied the figures they were playing.

Playing a well-known and well-documented actor, musician, or public figure can’t be easy, even for the best of actors — they not only have to assemble a serviceable performance in the conventional sense, but must also work up a convincing impersonation. They’re playing people that we’re used to seeing, whose look and speech have become familiar and distinctive, and must thus be replicated. The great performances in biographical movies must also then transcend the mere imitation, and create a compelling character beyond that. After the jump, we’ve assembled a dozen of the actors who memorably got into someone else’s skin; add your own in the comments.

Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher, The Iron Lady

AWARDS: Academy Award, BAFTA award, SAG award nomination, Golden Globe
THE CRITICS SAY: “Streep’s performance is so true and so uncannily accurate, so full and so complete in its understanding, that she is fascinating every second she is onscreen… Through meticulous study, Streep gets every external detail of Thatcher’s expression and movement and then, through some profound gift of intuition, she gets everything else, the thoughts, the inner life, the strengths and limitations, even the unconscious motivations of the character.” –Mick LaSalle, The San Francisco Chronicle
WE SAY: Streep’s studiousness and skill at mimicry has become so renowned as to provoke something of a backlash these days from those who say she’s all technique and no soul. And though she is technically magnificent here — her accent is sharp, her physicality is flawless, and she’s equally convincing in middle and old age — she also gives a welcome bit of humanity and insight into the personality of a particularly divisive figure.