Art imitating life. Leonardo DiCaprio, Meryl Streep, Sarah Paulson and more stars made their marks playing real people in movies and TV shows.
Many won awards for their onscreen depictions of both beloved and controversial figures throughout history.
The American Horror Story actress earned an Emmy for her portrayal of famous prosecutor Marcia Clark in September 2016. Paulson won Best Actress in a Limited Series or Television Movie for her role on The People v O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.
The actress dedicated the win to the “whip-smart, giant-hearted” attorney. Clark later exclusively told Us Weekly how it felt to see Paulson take home the trophy.
“To have someone as phenomenal as Sarah play me and then win?” she said. “It feels pretty great.”
Three years later, Rami Malek won his first Academy Award for playing late musician Freddie Mercury in the Queen biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody.
“Thank you, Queen. Thank you … for allowing me to be the tiniest part of your phenomenal, extraordinary legacy. I am forever in your debt,” he said during his 2019 Oscars speech after winning Best Actor in a Leading Role.
Margot Robbie has a history of taking on real-life characters, having portrayed figure skater Tonya Harding in 2017’s I, Tonya and Queen Elizabeth I in 2018’s Mary Queen of Scots. The following year, Robbie played the late Sharon Tate in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
American Idol alum Jennifer Hudson transformed into music legend Aretha Franklin in Respect, which hits theaters in August 2021. Ahead of her death in August 2018, Franklin handpicked Hudson to fill her shoes in the film.
“I am just taking it one step at a time, one day at a time,” the Dreamgirls actress told Sunday Today in December 2019 of the big role. “All I want to do is pay tribute to her and meet her requests, you know? Like, ‘Aretha said do this?’ — ‘Yes, ma’am.’”
Scroll to revisit some of the most iconic onscreen portrayals of real people over the years — including Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers and Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles.