Did You Know These Actors Played Real-Life Music Legends?

With the whole Bohemian Rapsody fever going on, music biopics have come back to the spotlight and they’re all people talk about. However, you should know that musical biopics have been a thing for decades, since the lives of the greatest musical legends have been brought to the big screen ever since the 60s. Finding actors who are perfect for the role and who can imitate the musicians’ voice and mannerisms is harder than you’d think, but the ones who made it to this list did it to perfection. So here are 27 talented actors and actresses who’ve transformed themselves into history’s greatest music legends. Music fans and movie buffs, you’re in for a fascinating ride!

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#27. Jennifer Lopez Transformed Into Selena

Jennifer Lopez may be one of the most famous and well-paid pop singers and actresses of this day, but she was just taking her first steps into the Hollywood world when she took on the lead role in the 1997 biopic Selena.

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Selena was a Tejano singer from Texas who became famous worldwide, having several chart-topping albums on the Latin music charts. The actress had to practice Selena’s dialect, and as she said in an interview: “This is someone who’s fresh in the public’s mind, so you need to do your homework on this gig“.

#26. Chadwick Boseman Transformed Into James Brown

You probably know Chadwick Boseman for his recent role in Marvel’s superhero film Black Panther, but did you know he also played soul and funk legend James Brown in the 2014 film Get on Up?

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Each day, the actor would have to spend over 3 hours in the makeup chair, not only for his makeup but also for his full-body prosthetics. To practice for the role, he was trained by a vocal coach, a choreographer, and even by some of Brown’s relatives.

#25. Jason Mitchell Transformed Into Eazy-E

In 2015, actor Jason Mitchell took on the role of the late NWA rapper Eazy-E for the drama biopic Straight Outta Compton. The film narrates the formation of the famous band and the way it revolutionized the Hip Hop world.

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To perform the role, Mitchell had to gain several pounds, practice his Southern accent, and – of course – learn how to rap! According to The New York Times, Mitchell “consistently out-acts the rest of the performers“.

#24. David Carradine Transformed Into Woody Guthrie

In 1976, David Carradine played the role of the famous vagabond folk singer Woody Guthrie in the drama film Bound for Glory. Technically, this wasn’t a biopic, as the events are only loosely based on Guthrie’s life. In fact, other than Guthrie himself and his wife Mary, most characters are completely made up.

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Carradine really nailed it and the film was a major success. It received a whopping 6 Academy Award nominations, of which it won 2: for Best Music and Best Cinematography. Wow!

#23. Kurt Russell Transformed Into Elvis Presley

Did you know that the Star Wars actor Kurt Russell once played Elvis Presley? Yeah, you got that right, cause in 1979, he portrayed the “King of Rock” in the 1979 TV movie, titled Elvis.

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A few months before the movie was released, Russel said: “I know one thing, there’s no in-between. It’s either really going to be great or really horrible, just stinking“. But guess what? The film was a major hit and it helped the actor rise to fame.

#22. Aaron Taylor Johnson Transformed Into John Lennon

The 2009 drama film Nowhere Boy is based on the biography of the Beatles legend John Lennon written by her sister Julia Briar. Actor Aaron Taylor Johnson played the lead role, and he sure nailed it!

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The film centers on Lennon’s childhood and adolescence, his relationship with his mother and aunt, as well as the formation of the Quarrymen, his first band which would later evolve to The Beatles. Here’s a fun fact you probably didn’t know: the actor began dating the director of the film, Sam Taylor-Wood, and the two tied the knot in 2012.

#21. Daniel Webber Played Vince Neil

This year, Netflix released the comedy-drama biopic The Dirt, based on the bestselling autobiography of the American heavy metal band Mötley CrüeDaniel Webber played the role of Vince Neil, the band’s lead singer.

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When asked about Webber’s performance, singer Vince Neal said the following:

“It wasn’t me that was nervous; it was actually the guy that played me who was nervous. He wanted to make sure he did a really good job. And he did. I think each guy that played each of the band members pulled it off — I mean, exact. You get everybody’s personalities right there on film. It’s pretty neat to watch“.

#20. Paul Dano Transformed Into Brian Wilson

Did you know that Paul Dano played a younger version of the leader of the Beach Boys Brian Wilson in the 2014 biopic Love & Mercy? What’s more, Dano nailed it, receiving a Golden Globe nomination for his performance.

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This was probably one of the most challenging roles in Dano’s career, as he had to learn how to play both the piano and the bass. As Wilson himself said to Chicago Tribune:

He looked a little bit like me at age 24. But the way he portrayed me producing records — you know? — was very factual, accurate, stimulating”.

#19. Gary Oldman Transformed Into Sid Vicious

In 1986, famous actor Gary Oldman put himself in the shoes of Sid Vicious, the late bassist of the legendary punk group Sex Pistols, for the drama film Sid and Nancy: Love Kills. The movie centers on the musician’s strained relationship with his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen.

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Goldman had to lose quite a lot of weight in order to imitate Vicious’ skeletal body. Allegedly, the actor once collapsed in his car just because of how little he was eating. Apparently, he wasn’t too satisfied with his performance. “I don’t think I played Sid Vicious very well”, he told Playboy.

#18. Don Cheadle Transformed Into Miles Davis

Very few people know that actor Don Cheadle transformed into the famous jazz trumpeter Miles Davis for the 2015 drama biopic Miles Ahead. But not only did he play the lead role, but he also directed the film and co-wrote the script.

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The actor spent nearly 3 years working to make this movie.

I wanted to make sure that we created something that wasn’t just for the three percent of people that knew Miles Davis intimately. I wanted everyone to be able to come in and have an experience where they hopefully would walk out of the theatre wanting to know more and wanting to hear that music and find their own entry point to Miles Davis“, Cheadle said.

#17. Zoe Saldana Transformed Into Nina Simone

Everyone knows and loves Zoe Saldana for her role as Gamorah in the Marvel films, but very few people know that she also played jazz and blues singer Nina Simone in the 2016 film Nina.

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The film was quite controversial, as the makeup artists darkened her skin and added a lot of prosthetics to her body. Even though Simone’s daughter defended Saldana from the backlash she received, she did speak out against the film:

The project has been tainted from the very beginning. Clearly, it is not the truth about my mother’s life and everyone now knows that”, she said.

#16. Kristen Stewart Transformed Into Joan Jett

Actress Kristen Stewart will always be remembered for her role as rock star Joan Jett in the famous coming-of-age biopic The Runaways. Stewart and Jett met before the movie was shot because the actress wanted to learn about the rock legend in first person.

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The thing that came through to me was that it was important to her to capture it. She really wanted to nail it, so I gave her all The Runaways music that I could find; I gave her tapes of me talking…And she really soaked it in. When we were hanging out together on set, it was like I had a mirror image. Even just sitting around, we’d do the same thing at the same time.”, Jett told Magazine.

#15. Jennifer Hudson Transformed Into Aretha Franklin

Did you know that American Idol finalist and actress Jennifer Hudson will soon star as soul legend Aretha Franklin in the film named Respect? The movie will hit the theaters in 2020 and it is said that Franklin herself asked Hudson to portray her before passing away.

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It’s a huge job. I’m terrified, to be honest … but I’m excited it’s such an honor to do that“, Hudson told Huff Post. “I just hope I make her proud [and]do her justice“, she then added.

#14. Gary Busey Transformed Into Buddy Holly

Actor and guitarist Gary Busey received his only Academy Award nomination thanks to his brilliant portrayal of rock legend Buddy Holly in the 1978 biopic The Buddy Holly Story.

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Even though the actor already knew how to play the guitar, he recorded many of the musician’s songs and lost over 30 pounds for the role. “I was channeling Buddy Holly when I sang“, he once said in an interview.

#13. Jamal Woolard Transformed Into The Notorious B.I.G.

Jamal Woolard made his acting debut in the 2009 drama biopic Notorious, where he played the late rapper Christopher Wallace, aka Notorious B.I.G. Later, in 2017, he reprised the role of Notorious in Tupac’s biopic, All Eyez on Me.

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The rapper’s mother, Voletta Wallace, worked as a producer on Notorious, and allegedly, she was the one who picked Woolard for the role. “He came in the room, and I said, ‘That’s my son“, she told MTV News.

#12. Renée Zellweger Transformed Into Judy Garland

Judy Garland is most famous for her role as Dorothy in the 1939 musical film The Wizard of Oz, but she then pursued a career in the music industry. This year, Renée Zellweger played the role of Garland in the biopic, Judy.

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The film centers on the actress and singer’s final concerts in London in 1968, exactly one year before her death. In the words of director Rupert Goold:

I wanted to capture the joy and the innocence and the wit and the quirkiness that’s essential in Garland. Renée has all that.

#11. Sissy Spacek Transformed Into Loretta Lynn

Actress Sissy Spacek earned her first and only Academy Award thanks to her portrayal of American country singer Loretta Lynn in the 1969 drama film Coal Miner’s Daughter. The film depicts the singer’s rise from poverty to worldwide fame.

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Apparently, Lynn herself chose Spacek to play her in the film because of a photo she saw of the actress. Spacek traveled with the singer for a whole year to learn how to mimic the way she spoke and sang. Believe it or not, she did all the singing in the film.

#10. Angela Bassett Transformed Into Tina Turner

Angela Bassett gave the performance of her life playing soul legend Tina Turner in the 1993 biopic What’s Love Got to Do with ItBasset not only received an Academy Award nomination but also won a Golden Globe for her performance.

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Allegedly, Bassett was given the part after performing Proud Mary. His co-star Laurence Fishburn, who plays Turner’s abusive husband Ike, also received an Academy Award nomination.

#9. Michael Douglas Transformed Into Liberace

Did you know that Michael Douglas received an Emmy for his portrayal of the pianist Liberace in the 2013 drama film Behind the Candelabra? The film is about the musician’s 6-year romance with Scott Thorson and is based on Thorson’s memoir, Behind the Candelabra: My Life with Liberace.

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Even though Douglas didn’t really play the piano during the film, he definitely nailed it!

The nice thing about this part is that I am playing a nice guy. I don’t get to play nice guys that often. He was so generous. He was such a nice fellow“, the actor said.

#8. Machine Gun Kelly Transformed Into Tommy Lee

Just as Daniel Webber took on the role of Vince Neil (go back to #21), Machine Gun Kelly played Tommy Lee, Mötley Crüe’s drummer. “Kells” is most famous as a rapper but recently pursued a career in acting. Without a doubt, playing another famous musician suited him well.

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The actor had to practice his drumming skills for the part.

I had that damn drumstick in my hand for four months straight, dude,” he said. “I have giant calluses in between my middle finger and my index finger just spinning that damn stick. So I hope you enjoy the stick twirls in that movie“, he told USA Today.

#7. Jamie Foxx Transformed Into Ray Charles

Jamie Foxx is one of the most talented actors out there, but he really conquered the audience after playing Ray Charles in the 2005 drama biopic, Ray. The actor had to lose nearly 30 pounds to play the famous pianist, but this is not all!

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Ray was blind ever since he was a little kid, and in order to make his performance more believable, Foxx glued his eyes shut every day during the shooting. The actor won an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, a BAFTA Award, and a Screen Actors Guild Award for his performance.

#6. Val Kilmer Transformed Into Jim Morrison

In 1991, Van Kilmer took on the role of Jim Morrison, the lead singer of the iconic 60s band The Doors. The film follows Morrison’s steps from his early childhood until his tragic death at the age of 27.

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When casting for the role, Kilmer recorded an 8-minute video where he proved his singing abilities dressing like Morrison. Once he was given the part, he spent half a year rehearsing all his songs and lost a few pounds. He was also trained by Paul Rothchild, the producer of most of the band’s albums.

#5. Marion Cotillard Transformed Into Édith Piaf

In 2007, French actress Marion Cotillard delivered the performance of a lifetime in the drama biopic La Vie en Rose, where she played the late French singer Édith Piaf. Curiously enough, she wasn’t even considered for the role at first, but what made director Olivier Dahan change his mind?

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Allegedly, the moment the director first saw her, he was surprised at how the actress’s eyes resembled that of Piaf’s in one of her teenage photos. We’re glad he went for Cotillard since she nailed it and went on to win the Academy Award for Best Actress.

#4. Rami Malek Transformed Into Freddie Mercury

Rami Malek rose to stardom after playing the lead role of Elliot Alderson in the crime drama TV series Mr. Robot, but he left a mark in the history of the cinema after playing Freddie Mercury in the critically acclaimed biopic Bohemian Rhapsody.

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The film follows 15 years of the rock legend’s life, from his adolescence all the way to the Live Aid concert. Malek won his first Academy Award, as well as a Golden Globe and a SAG Award. What a great year for Rami!

#3. Joaquin Phoenix Transformed Into Johnny Cash

In 2005, Joaquin Phoenix earned his first Academy Award nomination for his role as country singer Johnny Cash in the drama biopic Walk the Line. Reese Witherspoon played Cash’s wife, June Carter, and earned her first Oscar for Best Actress.

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Did you know that he actually sang all the songs featured in the film? “Music is always part of how John communicates what he’s feeling and seeing. And that couldn’t be faked“, the actor told ABC News.

#2. Taron Egerton Transformed Into Elton John

Just a few months after the release of Bohemian RhapsodyElton John‘s biopic Rocketman was released. Taron Egerton played the lead role, and he received a Golden Globe nomination for his brilliant performance.

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The film represents Elton’s rise to stardom, beginning with his early years at the British Royal Academy of Music. “I’ve never poured so much of myself into something. I’ve never felt so devoted to something over such a protracted period of time“, the actor said.

#1. Demetrius Shipp Jr. Transformed Into Tupac

Believe it or not, All Eyez on Me was 28-year-old Demetrius Shipp’s acting debut. For this film, he had to portray hip-hop legend, actor, and activist Tupac Shakur, and he did it to perfection.

Photo: Courtesy of PopSugar

To practice for his role, Shipp Jr. would watch videos of the musician all day.

If I was about to eat, I would turn on Tupac. When I was going to sleep, I would turn on Tupac and watch that until I fell asleep. Throughout the night, it would just be playing so that if I woke up in the morning, the first thing I would do was watch Tupac“, the actor said.

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    Hernán Tamargo

    Teacher. Political Scientist. Writer. Feminist... and much more!

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