Side-By-Side Comparison Of Real-Life People And Their Movie Portrayals (12 Pics)
Most of us would likely agree that inspirational stories are impactful, especially if their basis is a true event. Witnessing the struggle someone has to overcome might end up as a tiny push to do something impactful as well, which creates a domino effect. All of that is perhaps even more impressive when we see it on a screen, since visual presentation is one of the most effective storytelling tools. However, movies based on real life are also some of the most difficult to properly represent because there's an established foundation that should be obeyed.
And one of the most important elements of a good interpretation is the right pick for the main character. The more visually similar the character is to the real-life person, the more likely the viewer will feel immersed in the movie. Of course, it's not a hard rule set in stone, but more often than not, directors are aiming to recreate and represent, not invent a new narrative.
In this article, we'll take a closer look at some of the real-life stories that were adapted to the silver screen, and the actors who played the leads with varying success.
Leonhard Seppala Played By Willem Dafoe In Togo (2019)
Togo (2019) tells the story of Leonhard Seppala and his sled dogs on their perilous journey to retrieve medication needed by their remote community.
Diphtheria broke out in the town of Nome, Alaska, and Seppala, with his lead dog Togo, set out to get the needed medication, as there was no other way to receive it. It should be noted that the retrieval was a huge team effort. More than 150 dogs and several mushers (drivers) took part in it, and many of the dogs unfortunately perished, mostly due to exposure to freezing temperatures. Seppala and Togo's sled actually traversed one of the most dangerous legs of the trip both forward and backwards, but unfortunately the 1925 Serum Run is often associated with Balto, another dog whose sled finished the last 55 miles to Nome and delivered the antitoxin.
Yossi Ghinsberg Played By Daniel Radcliffe In Jungle (2017)
The movie Jungle (2017) tells of the struggle Yosseph "Yossi" Ghinsberg had to overcome while stranded in the middle of the Amazon rainforest.
Yossi Ghinsberg's story is truly one for the movies. Survival in the wilderness left many marks on him, but Ghinsberg also recalls using nature to escape from the jungle: he was weak and starving, unable to go on, but he finished the last push of his escape using fire ants and their bites to give him enough of an adrenalin boost to carry on. In his attempts to survive, he even envisioned a woman that accompanied him (likely to offset the feeling of being stranded all alone).
Christopher Mccandless Played By Emil Hirsch In Into The Wild (2007)
The biographical movie Into the Wild (2007) was about the traveler Christopher McCandless and his last days living alone in the wilderness.
McCandless dedicated his life to journeying, traveling all over the country with little to no money, and ending up in Alaska, sheltering in an abandoned bus on the little-traveled trail. During his stay there, he wrote a manifesto under the name Alexander Supertramp. In the manifesto, he claimed to have engaged in a "climactic battle to kill the false being within and victoriously conclude the spiritual revolution." McCandless is a controversial figure, venerated by some for his ideals and criticized by others for self-destructive tendencies.
Cheryl Strayed Played By Reese Witherspoon In Wild (2014)
Wild (2014) is a movie adaptation of the book Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed, where she depicted her struggles and solo hiking journey.
Strayed hiked a total of 1,100 miles in 94 days. The trip was meant to help her cope with her mother's death and the subsequent drug use. And next to the self-discovery, Strayed gained some more practical knowledge, such as the fact that Recreational Equipment would send her replacement shoes if she lost her pair, so when one of her boots took a tumble down a cliff (after mangling six of her toes because the shoe size was too small), she ordered new boots immediately to mediate the damage done to her feet.
Don Shirley Played By Mahershala Ali In Green Book (2018)
The second protagonist in Green Book (2018), Don Shirley was a talented musician who, in 1962, set out to tour in the South despite the political and social tensions in the region.
The movie was based more on Vallelonga's recount, which caused some controversy with Shirley's remaining family. Shirley himself didn't want a movie about him to be made while he was still alive, and Vallelonga asked the writers to respect that. Until his death, Shirley was dedicated to music, performing in grand halls like La Scala in Milan.
Hugh Glass Played By Leonardo Dicaprio In The Revenant (2015)
The Revenant (2015) is a revenge story that's based on the novel about the life of an American frontiersman during the 19th century.
The movie certain embellished some parts of Glass's legacy, but one thing is true—he did cross a great distance, some 200–300 miles (322–483 km), while seriously injured. The bear attack is also true, but the movie leaned heavily on the revenge, while some sources suggest that the real Glass may have actually forgiven those who left him in the wilderness—after all, he was mortally wounded.
Tami Oldham Played By Shailene Woodley In Adrift (2018)
The movie Adrift (2018) depicts the survival story of Tami Oldham as she struggled to get herself and her fiancé to safety after their sailing trip was disturbed by a catastrophic hurricane.
Tami Oldham had some sailing experience under her belt, but a category-four hurricane wrecked her boat and she herself was unconscious for 27 hours. She then had to fix up a sinking boat, create a makeshift sail, and then rely only on a clock and a sextant to hopefully reach the nearest coast, which was Hawaii. All the while, she was battling with great loss and grief.
Frank Vallelonga Played By Viggo Mortensen In Green Book (2018)
Green Book (2018) is inspired by the true story of touring jazz pianist Don Shirley and his driver and bodyguard Frank "Tony Lip" Vallelonga during troubled times in the Deep South.
The story behind Green Book is, of course, a politically and socially charged one, but it suitably depicted how a work relationship transformed into a friendship. After nearly a year of traveling together, the two went on to pursue other ventures. Vallelonga even started an acting career, appearing in the shows like The Sopranos.
Nando Parrado Played By Ethan Hawke In Alive (1993)
Alive (1993) is a biographical survival drama about Fernando "Nando" Seler Parrado Dolgay, who survived a plane crash in the Andes and crossed the mountains to get help.
Parrado was on a plane with his mother and little sister when Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 crashed. He lost both of them during the disaster. For two months, the 16 survivors hoped for a rescue, and it was alluded that during this time, they consumed deceased victims in order to survive. Eventually, it was decided that a 10-day trek through the mountains was worth the risk—and Parrado and one other passenger volunteered, bringing help to the rest.
Aron Ralston Played By James Franco In 127 Hours (2010)
The movie 127 Hours (2010) depicts a tragic incident where, during his climbing trip, Aron Ralston was pushed towards drastic measures in order to survive.
Ralston's story is one of extraordinary control and desperation. The man himself said both logic and a manic state of mind helped him cut off his limb: he realized the boulder that trapped him could also break his bones in order to escape, but it was a moment of high emotion that helped him go through with the deed.
Donald Crowhurst Played By Colin Firth In The Mercy (2017)
The movie The Mercy (2017) tells the story of Donald Crowhurst, an amateur sailor who competes in a professional round-the-world yacht race in order to secure a financial future for his family.
Crowhurst's story seems to fascinate people even 50 years later, and for a good reason. He experienced several major business failures in his life, each time reinventing himself—and his last attempt was to sail around the world single-handed, despite having only amateur interest in the sport. And this was his great con—he lied about his sailing achievements, falsified his books and, by the end of his fake journey around the world, even managed to write a heated manifesto about merging with the cosmos. Not only did he not actually sail around the world, he never finished the race, and his boat was found abandoned not far from the finish.
Heinrich Harrer Played By Brad Pitt In Seven Years In Tibet (1997)
Seven Years in Tibet (1997) is a movie built around experiences in Tibet by Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer during the 7 years he spent in the country between 1939 and 1951.
The influence Tibet had on Harrer was evident in his life's work: Harrer wrote 20 books about his adventures. Some of them, including the photographs inside, are considered some of the best evidence of traditional Tibetan culture. He even founded a museum about Tibet in Austria, in addition to making about 40 documentary films.