Entertainment
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People With Real-Life Connections To The Characters They Portrayed

August 31, 2020 5.4k votes 824 voters 40.6k views13 items

List RulesVote up the most surprising real-life connections to historical movies and shows.

When you watch your favorite actors onscreen, you often see them transform. They become the characters they portray, adopting mannerisms and characteristics of individuals who lived long ago. What you may not realize is actors may actually be tapping into an unknown connection between their own history and that of the character they play. 

Actors who played their ancestors may know it going into a role, or they may discover it in their preparations to portray someone onscreen. It's possible an actor may learn about a relationship or link with a character after the fact, offering another layer of involvement in storytelling. Regardless of how it comes to light, real-life connections between actors and the characters they portray make movie and TV watching that much more fun. 

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    Tom Hanks Found Out He’s A Distant Cousin Of Mr. Rogers

    Photo: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood / Sony Pictures Releasing

    Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood aired for 33 years, entertaining audiences with songs, special guests, and puppet friends from "The Neighborhood of Make-Believe." Admittedly not much of a Mr. Rogers viewer as a boy, Tom Hanks took on the role of the iconic creator and host of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood in 2019.

    Once cast as Fred Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Hanks revisited the children's show, marveling at how Rogers's ability to be "just so wonderfully gentle and present [with] someone who normally would make [most people] feel uncomfortable... made me bawl my eyes out... It was just so [amazing]. It’s one of the reasons why I’m in the movie.”

    To some observers, the casting of Hanks may have been influenced by then-unknown circumstances. In the lead-up to the release of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Hanks learned he was actually related to Fred Rogers. As sixth cousins, according to Ancestry.com, Hanks and Rogers shared "the same 5x great-grandfather [Johannes Meffert]... who immigrated from Germany to America in the 18th century."

    When Hanks later discovered he was related to Fred Rogers, he commented, "It all just comes together, you see."

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  • 2

    Kit Harington Plays His Own Ancestor In The Guy Fawkes Series ‘Gunpowder’

    Photo: BBC One

    When Kit Harington appeared as Robert Catesby in the BBC miniseries Gunpowder in 2017, he was telling the story of the man who led the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. He was also representing a member of his own family, having an ancestral link to the conspirator through his mother's lineage. According to the actor, "Mum used to say, 'Robert Catesby was the leader of the Gunpowder Plot,' and not many people know that.' She was right; most people attribute the conspiracy to Guy Fawkes - the man at the ready to strike the proverbial match."

    Born in Warwickshire, educated at Oxford, and staunchly Catholic, Catesby opposed the government of Queen Elizabeth I, first attempting to instigate an uprising against the crown in 1601. After Elizabeth's passing in 1603, he had little hope for the religious toleration promised by King James I and began plotting to blow up Parliament. Catesby enlisted Guy Fawkes and others, but when their plan was discovered in November 1605, he fled London. He was later slain while trying to evade detention.

    Harington revealed his mother's maiden name was Catesby, as was his own middle name, calling the connection "a family curiosity for as long as I can remember." After researching his ancestor, the actor opined, "I think in some ways he’s on some kind of death wish, and he draws some innocent people in with him into this plot." Harington continued, "I don’t have particularly fond feelings towards him."

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  • 3

    Geraldine Chaplin Played Her Own Grandmother In ‘Chaplin’

    Geraldine Chaplin, a well-established actor who'd appeared in Doctor Zhivago in 1965 and Nashville in 1976, played her own grandmother, Hannah, in the 1992 biopic of her father, aptly named Chaplin. Geraldine was the daughter of Charlie Chaplin and his fourth wife, Oona O'Neill. Hannah was a former actor who raised her children amid the emergence of mental health problems.

    Geraldine Chaplin earned a Golden Globe nomination for her appearance as Hannah Chaplin, the third in her decades-long career.

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  • 4

    Anna Chancellor Acted In 'Pride and Prejudice,' And Jane Austen Is Her Great-Aunt

    Photo: BBC

    Anna Chancellor's film and television credits include from appearances in comedies like Four Weddings and a Funeral in 1994, teen flicks such as 2003's What a Girl Wants, and the action-drama series Pennyworth in 2019. As a recognizable character actor, Chancellor has also played roles in adaptations of classics like Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice - a unique opportunity for a distant relative of the author herself. 

    Chancellor played Caroline Bingley in the BBC's Pride and Prejudice miniseries from 1995 alongside Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy and Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet. Although Jane Austen is Chancellor's six-times great-aunt, she's not the lone well-known relative of the actor. Chancellor is also related to actress Helena Bonham Carter, Henry VIII's paramour Mary Boleyn, and several other British nobles. 

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