Photo Credit: John Lamparski/WireImage; Courtesy of Open Road Films
In Ashton Kutcher's upcoming film Jobs (in theaters Aug. 16), the actor tells the inspirational story of how Steve Jobs went from college dropout to co-founder and CEO of Apple.
While Kutcher already shared Jobs' tech obsession, nailing the innovation icon's voice, mannerisms and appearance was no easy task. It never is for any actor attempting to embody another real-life person, but these 12 stars were up to the challenge in their respective biopic roles.
Ashton Kutcher as Steve Jobs
John Lamparski/WireImage; Courtesy of Open Road Films
Kutcher spent three months studying for the coveted role of Jobs by listening to tapes and watching video of the tech guru. "I just compiled them and listened to them while I was sleeping and driving in my car 24 hours a day, just trying to understand the themes of his ethos and the themes of his persona," Kutcher told CNBC. He even adopted Jobs' fruitarian diet -- and briefly landed in the hospital because of it. "Because he's so well-documented I kind of couldn't afford to not resemble him," Kutcher said. "I started studying the entrepreneurs that he admired and listening to the music he listened to and eating the food he ate and walking the way he walked."
Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth
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No one could play Queen Elizabeth better than the Queen of Hollywood -- Helen Mirren! The actress portrayed the royal's struggle with how to react after Princess Diana's fatal car crash in the 2006 film, The Queen. "It's a fascinating thing about [Queen Elizabeth]: she won't perform or act something she doesn't feel," said Mirren, who watched hours of footage on the royal in preparation for the role. "I don't think she feels that's part of her job. Her job is to be dignified, gracious, but above all serious." Mirren's portrayal of the queen won her a Golden Globe and Academy Award for best actress.
Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash
Steve Granitz/WireImage; FOX 2000/20TH CENTURY FOX/THE KOBAL COLLECTION/TENNER, SUZANNEJoaquin Phoenix spent months at rock 'n' roll boot camp to perfect the role of Johnny Cash in the 2005 flick, Walk the Line. Out of all his preparations for the role, singing was the hardest. "I was surprised just to get through a song! I never sang before, but if I had tried to sing along to something it was to John Lennon and David Bowie, who both sing quite high," he told CNN. "So to suddenly go to John was so odd to me. ... It was very strange to have to use a part of my voice that I didn't know existed."
Hilary Swank as Brandon Teena
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Is that Hilary Swank?! The actress was unrecognizable when she chopped off her hair and sported men's attire to play transgender teenager Brandon Teena in the 1999 film, Boys Don't Cry. "I went into the Astor Place Barber Shop in New York City. ... I asked them to please cut my hair off, and they wouldn't do it," Swank said. "They kept saying, 'Is this for a student film? Are you sure you want to cut your hair off? What are you doing? What are you doing?' and the first person wouldn't do it. Finally, we got someone who would do it, and it was probably the most physical part of the kind of transformation." The actress' critically acclaimed performance snagged her a Golden Globe and Academy Award for best actress.
Will Smith as Muhammad Ali
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It took eight years for Will Smith to agree to play the role of Muhammad Ali in the 2001 film Ali because he didn't think he was up to the job! "Intellectually, I didn't feel that I possessed what it took to become Muhammad Ali," he told Primetime's Tavis Smiley. "I absolutely, positively did not want to be the dude that messed up the Muhammad Ali story." The actor dedicated two years to working out, learning Ali's voice, and trying to understand the spiritual aspects of the boxer.
Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln
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Daniel Day-Lewis is one of the greatest actors in Hollywood thanks to his uncanny ability to transform into the character he is playing. In the 2012 film Lincoln, Day-Lewis portrayed the 16th president. “Without sounding unhinged, I know I’m not Abraham Lincoln," the actor told The New York Times. "I’m aware of that. But the truth is the entire game is about creating an illusion, and for whatever reason, and mad as it may sound, some part of me can allow myself to believe for a period for time without questioning, and that’s the trick.” The well-received performance won Day-Lewis his third Oscar.
Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher
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In the 2011 drama The Iron Lady, Meryl Streep delivered an Oscar-winning performance as the first female prime minister of the United Kingdom, Margaret Thatcher. “You have to imagine yourself as a 62-year-old actress getting a phone call asking you to play the first female leader in the Western world elected on her own merits and not on the coattails of her husband,” she told The New York Times. “To say, ‘No, I’m not interested’ would just be ridiculous. There is no other opportunity like it.”
Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles
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Jamie Foxx took on the role of legendary R&B singer Ray Charles in the 2004 film Ray. Foxx's ability to depict the singer's loss of eyesight, struggle with drugs and musical talent won him a best actor Oscar. "Actually capturing the nuance of Ray -- not the impersonation, but the way he talks, the way he's quiet -- I would say this: How we act on Sunday at 6:30 when there's really nothing to do, that's how you capture a person's soul. It's those moments," Jamie told People. "Obviously, the preparation and losing the weight and doing the impersonation is one thing, but the nuances are what really make the spirit come to life."
Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe
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Michelle Williams nails Marilyn Monroe's appearance, sexuality and vulnerability in the 2011 film My Week with Marilyn. Williams prepared for the role by watching videos of the late icon. "I saw her experimenting and forming Marilyn Monroe over time," the actress told Deadline Hollywood. "In her early work, her face doesn’t have the same kind of agility that it does in her more famous roles. Early on, she hasn’t mastered how she positions her mouth or raises her eyebrows, but you see it gestate over time. Her voice is much lower, the sexy husky thing is in a lower register and it became breathier and higher as she developed her persona. So I could actually see it being built and follow her steps."
Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes
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Leonardo DiCaprio transformed himself in mind and appearance when he took on the role of eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes in the 2004 flick, The Aviator. Not only did DiCaprio have to nail the pilot's accent and mannerisms, but also his severe struggle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It even reawakened a mild form of OCD that the actor had as a child. “I had the thing where I would walk to school and have to walk, you know, go back a block because I didn't step on a crack," he told Katie Couric. "And I felt like something was going to go wrong if I didn't do that. And I wanted to sort of reawaken that throughout the course of the film. So sometimes, you know, it would take me a while to get to set. And I would have to be doing things in my trailer. And it literally drove me nuts a lot of the time. And it lasted for a couple months after filming and still is -- there's trails of it here and there.”
Robert Downey Jr. as Charlie Chaplin
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In the 1992 biopic Chaplin, Robert Downey Jr. portrayed the life of silent film actor/filmmaker Charlie Chaplin. He spent a year preparing for the role by reading narratives, watching Chaplin’s films, and working with voice and movement coaches. "It was challenge on top of challenge and frustration on top of frustration," he told The Los Angeles Times.
Denzel Washington as Malcolm X
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In the 1992 film Malcolm X, Denzel Washington brought the civil rights leader to life as he flawlessly acted out Malcolm X's rise to become one of the most influential and controversial speakers in history. "I looked at all the footage that there was," Washington said of his preparation for the role. "I will say that the Schaumburg Library [in New York City], when I first started working on the part, was just the best place. It became my home away from home." This memorial biopic earned Washington an Oscar nomination.
Teresa Roca is an iVillage contributing writer. Follow her on Google+.