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16 Classic Performances That Were Inspired By Famous Celebrities

Updated July 28, 2021 113 votes 15 voters 1.7k views16 items

List RulesVote up the most surprising celebrity inspirations for famous performances.

Actors have the difficult task of making fictional characters feel real and, more importantly, interesting. They often take inspiration from real people, as these performances modeled on other celebrities will show. In each case, a well-established star adopted some kind of quality from another famous person to fuel their work. Some went for a vocal imitation, others borrowed mannerisms, and a few did both. 

What's most intriguing about this choice is that you may or may not be able to tell what the actor is doing. When Pirates of the Caribbean came out, for example, a lot of people commented on how Jack Sparrow reminded them an awful lot of Keith Richards. But in other instances, it's not at all readily apparent. Did you know that Tom Hulce was channeling tennis star John McEnroe when he starred in Amadeus? This list will break down notable examples of both types, explaining the similarities between a real person and a fictional character, and digging into why the other celebrities were a perfect source of inspiration.

Which of these famous performances that were based on famous celebrities is the most surprising? Vote for your picks. 

  • Bringing a beloved superhero to life on the big screen is a daunting task for any actor. That's especially true when it's Wolverine. The member of the X-Men is known for a no-nonsense attitude, along with kind of a short fuse at times. He doesn't speak a whole lot yet says something important when he does.

    With those traits, it makes total sense that Hugh Jackman found inspiration from Clint Eastwood, an actor whose onscreen persona is comprised of the exact same qualities. In particular, Jackman was inspired by Eastwood's work as Harry Callahan in the Dirty Harry pictures. Neither character takes any flak from anybody, and both are willing to bend or break a few rules when necessary. One may be a cop and the other a mutant, but they are clearly cut from the same cloth.

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  • In what has to be one of the coolest pieces of trivia related to The Lord of the Rings, actor Ian McKellen based his performance as the wizard Gandalf on J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of the books on which Peter Jackson's trilogy was based. Of course, Gandalf is the wise leader who has experienced a lot and therefore is able to administer good advice or guidance. Figuring out how to play a character like that in a new way must have been a challenge for McKellen.

    Until he hit on the idea of playing Tolkien, that is. According to Jackson, "We listened to audio recordings from Tolkien and read clips from Lord of the Rings. We saw interviews with him for the BBC and Ian started acting based on a Tolkien imitation. He literally based Gandalf on Tolkien. It sounds the same, it uses the same language patterns. Tolkien would recognize himself in Ian's performance."

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  • In the Oscar-winning Amadeus, the famous composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is depicted as being a bawdy, immature young man. No one ever knows how he will react to any given situation, although it's obvious that the potential for fireworks is always right there. At the same time, Mozart is prodigiously talented. His ability to compose is mature in a way his personality is not.

    Tom Hulce vividly brings those qualities to life in the film. He makes the character a loose cannon whose behavior is as erratic as his brilliance is consistent. Hulce's performance was inspired by tennis player John McEnroe. During his career, McEnroe was known for being a massively gifted athlete. The likes of his abilities had rarely been seen on the court. He was also known for a short fuse, being prone to temper tantrums and profane rants when something didn't go his way. Hulce apparently knew that using one temperamental genius as the basis for another was the way to make the role work.

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  • Melissa McCarthy earned a richly deserved Oscar nomination for her work in Bridesmaids. Her character, Megan Price, is not the most traditionally feminine character in the story. Unlike the other characters, she wears pants and button-down shirts rather than dresses, and she often has a Kangol cap perched on her head. Personality-wise, she's very brash, saying what's on her mind, usually in the loudest voice possible. Comedy comes from the fact that she's so different from everyone else.

    A larger-than-life character needs a larger-than-life inspiration, and Megan had one. McCarthy told Conan O'Brien, "When I first read [the script], the first person that I thought of was Guy Fieri from the Food Network. I wanted to do the shirt, the Kangol. Every scene I would have my glasses on the back of my head." The actor initially wanted Megan to have Fieri-like spiky white hair, too, but the producers nixed that idea.

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