11 times actors bodied their biopic roles

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Biopics are one of the cornerstones of the film industry. They tell the life stories of some of the world's most celebrated and diverse figures, including world-famous singers like Whitney Houston or civil rights icons like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Biopics are also one of the hardest roles to pull off because they require nuance and a certain skill level to show the subject as truthfully as possible while still maintaining respect and care for their essence.

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When done right, these roles often become breakout or defining moments for actors, such as Jennifer Lopez who portrayed slain Tejano singer Selena, or Denzel Washington who electrified audiences as Malcolm X in Spike Lee's titular 1992 film. Below, dive into 11 actors who bodied their biopic movie roles.

1. Denzel Washington as Malcolm X in Malcolm X


Taking on the role of one of the most prolific leaders of all time was no easy task, but Denzel Washington delivered a poignant portrayal of civil rights icon Malcolm X in the eponymous film directed by Spike Lee.

Washington completely embodied Malcolm’s ideology, passion and evolution, as he prepared for the role by studying his speeches and mannerisms. The result of the actor’s portrayal included critically acclaimed reviews and even garnered Washington an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

2. Jennifer Lopez as Selena Quintanilla-Pérez in Selena

Jennifer Lopez’s portrayal of Tejano musical star Selena is considered, by many, as her breakthrough role. She captured Selena’s spirit, vulnerability and stage presence in an earnest way that endeared J. Lo to the public and helped jumpstart her Hollywood career. The film itself was a commercial success and is widely considered a cultural classic for its celebration of Selena’s life and legacy.

3. Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles in Ray

Jamie Foxx fully immersed himself visually and sonically in his portrayal of musician Ray Charles for the Ray film. He underwent extensive training to learn to play the piano like Charles and even wore prosthetic eyelids to emulate his blindness.

His hard work in the role paid off and earned him an Oscar for Best Actor. The film is regarded as one of his career-defining moments that cemented him as a world-class actor and musician in Hollywood.

4. Angela Bassett as Tina Turner in What's Love Got to Do with It


Before Stella got her groove back, timeless actress Angela Bassett delivered a gut-wrenching portrayal of Tina Turner in What’s Love Got to Do with It. With only one month to prepare for the role, she dove deep into the life of Tina -- so much so, many thought she was the rock star.

Though much of Tina’s life story was tough and riddled with strenuous circumstances, Bassett was able to shine a light on her strength and determination and inspire many. The movie was critically acclaimed and history-making for Bassett, who won a Golden Globe for the portrayal.

5. Will Smith as Muhammad Ali in Ali


Will Smith spent more than a year prepping to be Muhammad Ali, one of the greatest heavyweight boxers of all time. The prep included boxing for hours a day, studying Islam, putting on weight to resemble the famous fighter and even working with dialect coaches to mimic his speech pattern. His sacrifice would prove to pay off because the film was universally well-received, and Smith was nominated for his first Academy Award for Best Actor.

6. Halle Berry as Dorothy Dandridge in Introducing Dorothy Dandridge



Halle Berry's portrayal of the title role in Introducing Dorothy Dandridge was critically acclaimed for its depth, sensitivity and emotional authenticity. Her performance captured the difficulties of Dandridge's life as a pioneering African American actress in Hollywood as well as the personal challenges she faced.

For the role, Berry underwent significant physical transformation, including mastering Dorothy's mannerisms, vocal inflections and singing style. The performance earned many awards -- including a Primetime Emmy and Golden Globe -- and remains an illustrious moment in Berry’s career.

7. David Oyelowo as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma

David Oyelowo's portrayal of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma resonated with audiences and critics alike for its depth and authenticity. Oyelowo immersed himself in the role by studying Dr. King's speeches and personal struggles to fully embody the civil rights icon. He also humanized the leader by showing his moments of doubts and grief.

8. Yaya DaCosta as Whitney Houston in Whitney


Taking on the role of Whitney Houston, one of the greatest vocalists of all time, would be a daunting challenge for even the most revered actress, but Yaya DaCosta handled the task with grace. She was generally praised for her vocal performances and portrayal of Houston's vulnerability during her meteoric rise to stardom despite grappling with personal issues. Altogether, DaCosta’s performance showed her commitment to embodying Houston in all aspects.

9. Laurence Fishburne as Ike Turner in What's Love Got to Do with It

Laurence Fishburne delivered a riveting portrayal of the manipulative and abusive Ike Turner in What's Love Got to Do with It alongside Bassett. His role as the musical partner and husband of Tina in her early career was so authentic that it villainized him to many who couldn't separate his portrayal from real life. Fishburne’s raw performance in the film garnered him widespread acclaim and led to an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

10. Elijah Kelley, Woody McClain, Algee Smith, Bryshere Y. Gray, Keith Powers and Luke James as New Edition in The New Edition Story

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The six actors tasked to play New Edition in “The New Edition Story” aced their roles. Not only did their musical performances reflect the group's peak artistry, but they also went deep into the challenges each of the members faced, including drug addiction, management issues and the pressures of fame. Ultimately, the biographical miniseries was regarded as a compelling and entertaining look into one of the most influential groups in R&B history.

11. Keke Palmer, Drew Sidora and Lil’ Mama as TLC in CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story

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CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story saw actresses Keke Palmer, Drew Sidora and Lil’ Mama fully take on the roles of the members of TLC, one of the most successful girl groups in history. The story followed T-Boz, Chilli and Left Eye during their humble beginnings in Atlanta, Georgia, as their group rose to success in the ‘90s. However, their path wasn't linear. As they dealt with health crises, management issues and real-life drama, the group could have ended before it even started.

The film was well-received critically and a hit ratings-wise. It generated 4.5 million viewers on premiere night, making it the highest-rated cable television film premiere of 2013 as well as the highest-rated original film premiere in VH1 history.

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