Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Collecting trivia: actors and real-life characters

Just realised that Jesse Eisenberg, who plays Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, is a few months older than Zuckerberg in real life. Can anyone think of other instances of actors playing real-life characters who were younger than them? I have a niggling feeling that there have been a few such cases (and possibly a couple that are very obvious), but I can't put my finger on many.

The ones I have so far:

- Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford were both several years older than their real-life characters, reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, in the film about the Watergate expose, All the President's Men.

- Gary Cooper as baseball star Lou Gehrig in The Pride of the Yankees.

- In The Great Dictator, Charles Chaplin played Adenoid Hynkel, a barely disguised version of Adolf Hitler (who was a mere four days younger than Chaplin in real life).

- In The Boys From Brazil (an adaptation of Ira Levin's excellent novel), Laurence Olivier played a Nazi-hunter modelled on Simon Wiesenthal - who was a year younger than Olivier - but the character had a different name.

As you'd expect, there are a few close contenders from biographical movies about sportspeople and musicians who achieved a lot at a young age: in Fear Strikes Out, Anthony Perkins played Jimmy Piersall, who was just two years older than him. Then there's James Stewart in The Glenn Miller Story (four years) and Paul Newman as the boxer Rocky Graziano in Somebody Up There Likes Me (six years).

Any additions to this list? Movie buffs?

Update: just to clarify what I mean, I'm talking about actors who were born before the real-life people they portrayed.


  1. The first name that comes to my mind is Sean Penn playing Harvey Milk.

    The second name that comes to my mind is John Hurt playing at most the 28 year old Elephant Man when he was 40 years old.

    well, these two are the names that come to my mind.

  2. I think you probably ought to broaden the criterion a little to get more comments! Though perhaps it'll make the task much too easy.
    How about listing all those instances where the actor's age is greater than that of the real life character at the time of the
    incidents depicted in the film.

    Going by this admittedly easier criterion, I can readily think of two instances. Renee Falconetti playing the teenager Joan of Arc in Dreyer's film.
    Henry Fonda playing the 33 year old Wyatt Earp in My Darling Clementine (during the OK Corral fight)

  3. Arvind: I think you misunderstood the question, or maybe I should have been clearer (though I thought the Social Network example made it clear enough). I'm talking about actors who are actually older than (as in, born before) the real-life characters they played in a film.

    How about listing all those instances where the actor's age is greater than that of the real life character at the time of the
    incidents depicted in the film.

    Shrikanth: you're right, this would be too broad (and this is the question that Arvind answered in his comment).

    More to the point, it would be a tedious exercise, requiring us to trawl Wikipedia at great length. Besides, most biographical films cover a wide span in the lives off their subjects, so this couldn't be done with much accuracy.

    Also, just to clarify why I asked the particular question I did: I thought the answers would throw up some interesting examples of films about real-life people, made when those people were still relatively young.

  4. Okay, here's one more: in Dog Day Afternoon Al Pacino played a character based very closely on John Wojtowicz. Pacino was born in 1940, Wojtowicz in 1945.

    Further research tells me that John Cazale was around 18 years (!) older than the real-life guy he played in the same film (see the cast list here). That has to be the record, surely.

  5. Here's one.

    The Stratton Story starring Jimmy Stewart.

    Stewart was 4 years older than Monty Stratton. Haven't seen the film by the way.

  6. Shrikanth: Stewart did do this sort of thing a lot, didn't he? He played Lindbergh too, and was just a few years younger than him.

  7. Jennifer Lopez was born two years before Selena.

  8. Jai: yes he did. Also, going by the "easier" criteria, in Ford's Cheyenne Autumn, he played a 30ish Wyatt Earp (set in the 1870s) though he was well past 50.

    By the way, do you regard Scarface as an Al Capone biopic? If you do, then it qualifies. Muni was about 4 years older than Al.

  9. Jai,

    can you please review The Social Network.


  10. In the recent American football movie The Blind Side, Quinton Aaron plays Michael Oher of the Baltimore Ravens, who in real life is a couple of years younger.

    Also in David Lynch's The Straight Story, Richard Farnsworth was a month & half older than the real life character he played (Alvin Straight).

    Chloe Webb plays Sid Viciou's girlfriend Nancy Spungen in Sid & Nancy. She was a couple of years older than Nancy. Gary Oldman, who played Sid, was a year younger than him in real life.

  11. Abhishek Bacchan in Guru,
    Ben Kingsley in Gandhi?

  12. Back home
    Ajay Devgan played Bhagat Singh (24 at the time of his death) when he was 33 years old.
    Bobby Deol was 35 years old when he played Bhagat Singh in Shaheed. Sunny Deol was 46 while playing Chandrasekhar Azad (25 at the time of his death) in the same movie.
    Aamir Khan was 40 while playing Mangal Pandey (30).

  13. Feanor, Tipu: thanks for those additions.

    Vijay: you've got the question wrong - do look at the update on the post, or my first comment addressed to Arvind. Ajay Devgan is not more than a hundred years old as far as I know :)

  14. Pulicat: Abhishek Bachchan played which real-life character in Guru? (Don't say Ambani, I'm not counting "loosely based on" biopics.)

    Also, Ben Kingsley is definitely not 140-plus years old. He's still alive and acting, last I checked!

    H: not reviewing The Social Network but I've written something for Business Standard about its connections with David Fincher's other work. Might put that up here sometime.

  15. And don't forget Audie Murphy & Jackie Robinson in 'To Hell & Back' & 'The Jackie Robinson Story' - they played themselves :-)

  16. How abt Rajini playing Chitti in Robo? :) does it count?

  17. Ah...
    Seema Biswas (Phoolan Devi) and Kevin Spacey (Jack Abramoff) come close but not quite. This has been an interesting exercise. :)

  18. Abhishek Bacchan : Playing Dhirubhai Ambani ,

    DeCaprio :playing Howard Hughes

  19. *Deep sigh*

    Prashant: no and no! Read the post (including the Update) properly, understand the question, then try again.

    Vijay: now you're talking. Yes, according to Wikipedia there's an age difference of just a year or two between those actors and their characters.

    AJ: it would take a braver man than I to exclude the mighty Rajini from any list, even if he doesn't fit the criteria!

  20. That WWII film The Longest Day, I thought, should provide sure fodder, but after going through the cast list, I see that John Wayne is the only one meeting your criterion - he was 10 years older than his character, Lt Col. Benjamin Vanderwoort.

  21. Hey how bout that? Julia Roberts was born 1967, Elizabeth Gilbert in 1969. Not strictly a biopic, but still.

  22. Did a search and got a few ones that meet this criteria..

    Al Pacino - Lowell Bergman in The Insider
    Al Pacino - Tony Montana in Scarface
    Jack Warden - Harry M Rosenfeld in All the President's Men
    Martin Balsam - Howard Simons in All the President's Men
    Lynn Redgrave - Xaviera Hollander in The Happy Hooker

  23. Helen Hunt - Pamela Smart - Murder in New Hampshire.

  24. Fëanor: I can't believe you actually went through the cast/character list of that film - I would never have had the courage to do it!

    Vidya: oh Roberts and Gilbert definitely counts, thanks. The film doesn't have to be a straight biopic.

    I think Roberts was also just a few years younger than Erin Brockovich, but guess that isn't a surprise.

  25. Sri: thanks - that's a nice, obscure one I never would have found.

    E Pradeep: good list, except that Tony Montana wasn't a real person as far as I know - even though Wikipedia does have a page for him, complete with a date of birth and a "biography" that seems real. The others are fine.

  26. OK will you accept this one? Meryl Streep supposedly played Anna Wintour in The Devil Wears Prada. Both were born in 1949, Streep a few months the older.

  27. Vidya: perhaps we could give that an honorary mention - the book's author Lauren Weisberger said the character wasn't meant to be Wintour, but there are strong similarities.

    Your comment also leads me to the Wikipedia page on Streep. In Adaptation she played a fictionalised version of a real-life person, Susan Orlean, who is six years younger than her. Streep has also played Karen Silkwood and Lindy Chamberlain, who were both very close to her age.

  28. Charlton Heston and Moses!!


  29. Sorry for posting an out of context reply, but knowing your love for Scorsese, thought you might like this :)


  30. Some others fairly close in age:

    Julie Powell (1973) - Amy Adams (1974) - Julie and Julia
    Geoffrey Bowers (1954) - Tom Hanks (1956) - Philadelphia
    David Helfgott (1947) - Geoffrey Rush (1951) - Shine
    Brandon Teena (1970) - Hilary Swank (1974) - Boys Don't Cry
    Patch Adams (1945) - Robin Williams (1951)
    Basquiat (1960) - Jeffrey Wright (1965)

    Now I should really stop goofing off at work.

  31. A couple more...

    Isaac Feau'nati as Jonah Lomu in Invictus

    Christian Clemenson as Tom Burnett in United 93

    Are there any Indian movies that meet this criterion? Looks like Bandit Quen and maybe Godmother are possibly near.

  32. A few that are fairly close in age:

    Julie Powell (1973) - Amy Adams (1974) - Julie and Julia
    Patch Adams (45) - Robin Williams (51)
    David Helfgott (47) - Geoffrey Rush (51) - Shine
    Brandon Teena (70) - Hilary Swank (74) - Boys Don't Cry
    Geoffrey Bowers (54) - Tom Hanks (56) - Philadelphia
    Basquiat (60) - Jeffrey Wright (65)

    Now I really have to stop goofing off at work.

  33. Aron Ralston (75) - James Franco (78) - 127 Hours

    And I'm done.

  34. Vidya: mighty impressed by these contributions! I didn't even realise there were this many examples - guess it shows that I'm not so familiar with contemporary/recent cinema.

  35. Vidya, nice list. In fact I had looked up all the ones you mentioned except Patch Adams, J&J & Philadelphia. There were also Rogue Trader (Ewan McGregor/ Nick Leeson), Fair Game (Naomi Watts/ Valerie Plame), Into The Wild (Emile Hirsch) & A Mighty Heart (Futterman & Jolie) in that category. There must also be movies where kids or teens play real life kids that meet Jai's rules, but I can't think of any right now.

  36. Whoa. How ever did you come up with this. I can't even think of one!

    Film ctors playing people who are younger than themselves means that the latter is usually a person born after 1896 achieving fame/notoriety at a young age. My guess is that there would be a bunch of serial killers in the list then. As for achievers, may be some Vietnam/WW2 vets, music legends who died young. But that's just about it.

    But man, to see a Hollywood biopic on yourself when you're 29 is just something!

  37. JAFB: did you go through the comments, especially Vidya's and Tipu's? There are more such cases than I'd ever imagined - though a lot of it has to do with contemporary Hollywood's tendency to make feature films out of any halfway-interesting real-life story as quickly as possible!

  38. on the lighter side, The Beatles in 'A Hard Day's Night'. They were just about the same age as themselves.

  39. I know one case of an actor having been born at exactly the same time as the character he plays :). Wonder if that counts.

    Being John Malkovich :)