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12 Actors Who Look Exactly Like the Real People They Played

Hair and makeup helped, but these stars were already halfway there.

A star doesn't need to look exactly like whoever they're playing, but it certainly helps the audience when watching a biopic of a famous person we're already all familiar with. Sometimes, it takes makeup, wigs, and prosthetics to turn an actor into the subject at hand, but when it comes to the celebrities below, they became their character without needing too much help. (Of course, some hair dye or a pair of glasses can do wonders.) The actors below aren't all on the same level when it comes to naturally looking like the real people they played, but the resemblances are pretty incredible. Read on to see just how alike they were, long before sitting down in the hair and makeup chair.

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Joan Jett

Joan Jett outside of her family home in 1976
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Joan Jett is a musician known both for her solo career and the music she made with her band Joan Jett & the Blackhearts. Her biggest hits include "I Love Rock 'n Roll," "Bad Reputation," and "I Hate Myself for Loving You." Early on in her career, she was the singer and guitarist for the band The Runaways, who had a huge hit with "Cherry Bomb."

Kristen Stewart

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Kristen Stewart played Jett in the 2010 film The Runaways about the band. Of meeting with Stewart during the film's production, Jett told Interview, "I found Kristen to be through and through totally professional and just great to be around. I found us to be really, scarily similar, just in our physicality, the way we move through space." She also said Stewart studied her mannerisms. "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. It was just great—and it wasn't creepy," Jett explained. "It was wonderfully special."

Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali at the San Antonio, Texas airport in 1979
Scott Woodham Photography /

It goes without saying that Muhammad Ali is widely recognized as the best boxer of all time—his nickname is The Greatest. His life has been documented in movies numerous times, but an actor in a recent film particularly resembles him.

Eli Goree

Eli Goree at Brightlight Pictures' VIFF Red Carpet Party in 2016
Andrew Chin/Getty Images

Eli Goree played Ali in One Night in Miami, which was released in 2020. It imagines what happened during the real-life meetup of Ali, Malcolm X, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke following Ali's win against Sonny Liston in 1964. "People had often said, 'Oh, you resemble a young Cassius Clay,'" Goree told Esquire. "So I was like, 'That's cool, maybe there'll be an opportunity one day.'" When he got cast for the film, he further transformed into Ali by working with a dialect coach and training as a boxer.

Princess Diana

Lady Diana Spencer and Prince Charles announcing their engagement in February 1981
Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

Princess Diana is another public figure who's been fictionalized many times in the media. Formerly Lady Diana Spencer, she became the Princess of Wales upon her marriage to Prince Charles and died in a car accident a year after their divorce in 1997. One of the most recent portrayals was on The Crown, in which Emma Corrin played Diana in her 20s.

Emma Corrin

Emma Corrin at the premiere of "Pennyworth" in July 2019
DFree /

Learning Diana's mannerisms and using hairstyling, makeup, and costumes definitely helped Corrin look more like the royal on The Crown, but there is already a significant resemblance. In fact, their mother also looks like Diana to the point that it once caused a scene. Corrin told Interview that hours after Diana's death, their mother walked into a café and caused multiple customers to faint because she looked so much like her. "I hesitate to tell that story because it almost sounds too insane to be true," the actor explained.

Tupac Shakur

Tupac at Club Amazon in New York City in 1993
Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Tupac Shakur is a hip-hop icon and was the face of West Coast rap in the '90s. He was also an actor, with his best known role being alongside Janet Jackson in 1993's Poetic Justice. Tupac was killed at the age of 25 in 1996.

Demetrius Shipp Jr.

Demetrius Shipp Jr. at the MTV Movie & TV Awards in 2017
Kathy Hutchins /

Demetrius Shipp Jr. played Tupac in the 2017 biopic All Eyez on Me, named after one of the rapper's albums. In an interview on The Tonight Show, Shipp said that he was working in retail and wasn't interested in being an actor, but was encouraged to audition for the film by a friend, because he looks so much like Tupac. He also shared that his dad, a music producer, actually did work with Tupac on one of his singles.

Truman Capote

Truman Capote in Milan in 1966
Keystone/Getty Images

Truman Capote wrote acclaimed books including In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany's. Like many of the people on this list, he has been portrayed by multiple actors, but it was late actor Philip Seymour Hoffman in 2005's Capote who really made a mark.

Philip Seymour Hoffman

Philip Seymour Hoffman at the 2006 Oscars
Featureflash Photo Agency /

Capote follows the writer during the time that he was writing In Cold Blood, and Hoffman won the Best Actor Oscar for the role. Hoffman often wore a beard and longer hair, but with him clean-shaven and with a shorter haircut, you can see a resemblance. But the resemblance stopped there.

Capote director Bennett Miller told IndieWire of the casting, "When I think back on it, I think it was totally insane. Capote was 5′ 2", Phil was 5'10″1/2, he weighed about 240 lbs, and had a deep voice, thick wrists like a wrestler or a football player—like a jock. He did have the right color hair, though. But he was an amazing actor."

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Malcolm X

Malcolm X in 1964
Truman Moore/Getty Images

Malcolm X was a leader during the civil rights movement in the 1960s and was also involved with the Nation of Islam. He was assassinated in 1965.

Denzel Washington

Denzel Washington in Canada in 1995
Richard Lautens/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Denzel Washington played the activist in the 1992 film Malcolm X. Putting on the glasses helped, but that isn't the only step Washington had to take. As reported by the New York Times, he also lost weight and dyed his hair red. "It was a nightmare," Washington said. "I must have had my hair fried 30 times, dyed 30 times, or some kind of patchwork, streaks, tips. We'd test this, then that."

Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin campaigning for John McCain in Arizona in 2010
Christopher Halloran /

Politician Sarah Palin came to national attention as John McCain's running mate during the 2008 Presidential election. She was also the governor of Alaska from 2006 to 2009.

Tina Fey

Tina Fey at the 2008 Screen Actors Guild Awards
Featureflash Photo Agency /

Of course, Palin had to be portrayed on Saturday Night Live during the campaign, and the natural choice was former head writer Tina Fey, who returned to the show because she looks so much like Palin. During an interview with Howard Stern, Fey explained that SNL creator Lorne Michaels knew he needed to consider Fey's return when both his doorman and Robert De Niro mentioned the likeness to him within a five-minute span.

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Ice Cube

Ice Cube at the premiere of "Straight Outta Compton" in 2015
Tinseltown /

Ice Cube is an actor himself and has starred in the movies Friday, Boyz in the Hood, Anaconda, and many more. He's also a rapper and was in the group N.W.A., who came to fame with their debut album Straight Outta Compton in 1988. It was his son who played him in the biopic about the group.

O'Shea Jackson Jr.

O'Shea Jackson Jr. at the premiere of "Straight Outta Compton" in 2015
Tinseltown /

Twenty-seven years after the album's release, Straight Outta Compton also became the title of a film about the hip-hop group with Ice Cube as one of the executive producers. The role of Ice Cube went to his lookalike son O'Shea Jackson Jr. in his debut movie. In an interview with, Jackson Jr. said of director F. Gary Gray, "He knew that this movie had to be authentic and nobody is going to handle this role as passionately as I would because it's my family's legacy. He wanted me to make it work so he got me acting coaches—it was a lot of hard work."

Abraham Lincoln

A photograph of Abraham Lincoln from 1860 or 1861
Bettmann / Getty Images

Obviously, the 16th president of the United States has been brought to life on TV and in movies many times. One of the most famous films about Abraham Lincoln's life is Lincoln from director Steven Spielberg and starring Daniel Day-Lewis. The film dramatizes the final months of Lincoln's life prior to his 1865 assassination.

Daniel Day-Lewis

Daniel Day-Lewis at the 2008 Oscars
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Day-Lewis, who's known for his dedication, stayed in character throughout the shoot and kept using the unique voice he came up with for Lincoln. The Oscar-winner for the role told the New York Times that to prepare he read a lot about Lincoln and studied photos of him. "I looked at them the way you sometimes look at your own reflection in a mirror and wonder who that person is looking back at you," he said.

Che Guevara

Cover of "The Motorcycle Diaries" book by Che Guevara
Ocean Press

Ernesto "Che" Guevara was one of the leaders of the Cuban Revolution. But, before that, he was a medical student who went on a motorcycle trip throughout South America starting in his native Argentina with his friend Alberto Granado. He wrote a book about it called The Motorcycle Diaries.

Gael García Bernal

Gael García Bernal at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival
Denis Makarenko /

The Motorcycle Diaries was adapted into a film in 2004 starring Gael García Bernal. While Bernal does not look like the older Guevara, he does look similar to the revolutionary when he was young. Bernal explained how he got into character, telling MTV, "And [we were] preparing physically with the motorcycles. [We were] reading what they were reading at the time, from Faulkner to Camus to Sartre, and then listening to music that they were listening to. [We met] Alberto Granado, speaking endless hours with him and a bottle of rum in front."

Ray Charles

Ray Charles leaning on his piano in 1956
Gilles Petard/Redferns via Getty Images

Ray Charles is one of the most influential musicians of all time, with iconic songs including "Georgia on My Mind," "Hit the Road Jack,", and "I Got a Woman." His life story was told in the 2004 movie Ray.

Jamie Foxx

Jamie Foxx at the 2019 Vanity Fair Oscar Party
Joe Seer /

For his performance as Charles, Jamie Foxx won the Academy Award for Best Actor. Foxx practically morphed into Charles, and the fact that he resembled him after putting on his sunglasses and adopting his haircut only helped. To really get into character, Foxx wore prosthetic eyelids during filming for 12 hours each day. "When you're living blind, everything you hear is intensified. When I'm moving like this [sways], it's really that music moving you because everything was so heightened," he told SF Gate.

Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor in a studio portrait in 1955
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Legendary actor Elizabeth Taylor had a lengthy career, starring in movies including National Velvet, Cleopatra, and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Taylor won two Best Actress Oscars during her career—one for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and one for Butterfield8.

Lindsay Lohan

Lindsay Lohan at the GQ Man of the Year Awards in 2006
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Lindsay Lohan played Taylor in the 2012 Lifetime movie Liz & Dick, which is about Taylor's relationship with Richard Burton. While Lohan is usually a redhead, her resemblance to Taylor really comes out when she's a brunette. Lohan told The Hollywood Reporter that she felt she could relate to Taylor, too.

"I think we have a lot of similarities, with growing up famous her whole life and living your life in the public eye," she said. "It's hard, but there are certain people—I look to her because she got through it."

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Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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