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9 Actors Who Transformed to Play Real People

AMC’s upcoming miniseries Quiz tells the riveting true story of a cheating scandal that rocked the U.K. edition of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Because it’s based on actual events that you definitely couldn’t make up, it gives a stellar cast including Matthew Macfadyen (Succession), Sian Clifford (Fleabag), Helen McCrory (Peaky Blinders), and Michael Sheen (Masters of Sex) the opportunity to portray some very intriguing real-life figures.

Sheen’s pitch-perfect portrayals of real people have become his calling card: He’s previously transformed into former Prime Minister Tony Blair, Richard Nixon-sleighing interviewer David Frost, and iconic British comedian Kenneth Williams. In Quiz, he gives another slam-dunk performance as Chris Tarrant, the cheesy but well-meaning host of British Millionaire. Sheen’s accent, mannerisms, and facial tics are all impeccably Tarrant-esque, proving once again that he’s an actor who really does his homework.

Read More: Meet the Real-Life People at the Heart of Quiz

To whet your appetite for the three-part limited event series, here’s a reminder of some great actors who transformed themselves to play real people –with memorable results.

1. Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill

When Oldman was cast as the U.K.’s portly wartime Prime Minister in 2017’s Darkest Hour, he ruled out a rapid weight gain for the role because it might affect his health. Instead, Oscar-winning prosthetics expert Kazu Hiro created a custom padded suit out of silicone, foam, and spandex, and made sure it only weighed 14 pounds so as not to restrict Oldman’s movements. The suit allowed Oldman to channel jowly, cigar-smoking Churchill so beautifully that he won an Oscar for his performance.

2. Christian Bale as Dick Cheney

Bale is known for his incredibly committed physical transformations – after shedding 60 pounds to play an emaciated insomniac in 2004’s The Machinist, he gained 45 pounds in just six months to play Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins. More recently, he gained 40 pounds to better resemble Dick Cheney in the acclaimed 2018 biopic Vice. Bale’s efforts didn’t go unnoticed during awards season: He won a Golden Globe and earned an Oscar nomination for his depiction of the scheming former Vice President.

3. Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking

Redmayne has said he trained his body “like a dancer” to play revered scientist Stephen Hawking in 2014’s The Theory of Everything. A choreographer taught him to shorten his muscles instead of stretching them in order to mimic the effects of Motor Neurone Disease, while an osteopath helped him to recreate the distinctive shape of Hawking’s spine. Redmayne’s efforts helped him to portray the brilliant scientist with a touching accuracy, resulting in an Oscar-winning performance.

4. Maggie Smith as Miss Shepherd

If you know Dame Maggie as Downton Abbey‘s grand Lady Violet, you might be shocked by her disheveled appearance in the 2016 biographical film The Lady in the Van. Smith turned herself into a very convincing bag lady to play Mary Shepherd, a strange homeless woman who lived in a dilapidated van on writer Alan Bennett’s London driveway for more than 15 years. Shooting the movie was pretty grueling for the 80-year-old actress, who said at the time: “It was not very easy being constricted in a van. There is no way you could live in a van, surely not for that length of time. The rest of the cast were in luxury in a real house.”

5. Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos

Theron’s masterful performance as serial killer Aileen Wuornos deservedly won her an Oscar, but making sure she looked the part wasn’t simply a matter of gaining weight. The actress wore two different sets of prosthetic teeth – one pair for long shots, the other for close-ups – had half of her eyebrows removed, and wore makeup designed to mimic Wuornos’s sun damage. She even had gelatin applied to her eyelids so they’d droop to make her look more tired. The result is a physical transformation that rivals any in screen history.

BONUS: Theron showed off her flair for transformation again last year when she wore prosthetics on her nose, cheeks, eyelids, and jaw to portray Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly with almost spooky accuracy in Bombshell.

6. Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury

Malek’s poignant performance as Queen’s frontman’s cleaned up during awards season – and the actor has said that prosthetic teeth were his gateway to portraying Mercury. “The first time I put them in my mouth I felt incredibly insecure,” Malek said of his dental transformation. “Then I found myself compensating, sitting straight, more elegant. You really start to think: ‘These are the reasons why he is who he is.'”

7. Michael Douglas as Liberace

Casting Douglas as flamboyant, piano-playing Liberace was a clever curveball – the actor looked so different from his usual down-to-earth characters that one critic even suggested he’d had a facelift! The secret, though, was the two-and-a-half hours he spent in hair and makeup every day, combined with Douglas’s sensitive performance as the fascinating showman.

8. John Hurt as John Merrick

Hurt’s iconic performance in 1980’sThe Elephant Man was a real labor of love. Makeup artist Christopher Tucker created a replica of Merrick’s facial disfigurations that comprised 17 different parts – the actor would arrive on set at 5.30 am each morning then spent eight hours being transformed before shooting could even begin. Once he was made up, he was unable to eat or even lie down for the rest of the day. Tucker’s work was so groundbreaking that the Academy felt compelled to create an award for Best Makeup and Hairstyling the following year.

9. Will Smith as Muhammad Ali

Playing a boxer always gives an actor an opportunity to transform – Robert De Niro’s bravura performance as Jake LaMotta in 1980’s Raging Bull set a memorable precedent. For his starring role in 2001’s Ali, Smith didn’t just pack on 35 pounds of muscle while doing seven hours of boxing training every day, but also studied Islam and undertook a course of dialect training. His hard work was duly rewarded with his first-ever Oscar nomination.

Quiz premieres Sunday, May 31 at 10/9c on AMC. For more news from AMC, sign up for the AMC Insiders Club.

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