Actors playing politicians: the 8 best
Sceptical of Kenneth Branagh being cast as Boris Johnson? Don't worry, magic can happen. Here's our pick of the best times an actor absolutely nailed playing a politician.
It’ll take more than a hairdryer and hydroxide to transform Kenneth Branagh into Boris Johnson, but we’re on tenterhooks to see how he does it.
Announced in 2020 and now officially commissioned by Sky, Branagh is set to play BoJo in next year’s TV drama about the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, This Sceptred Isle. Coming in five parts, the show will cover the emergence of Covid, the flight to contain it, Johnson’s hospitalisation, and the birth of Wilfred, his son with partner Carrie Symonds.
Other actors taking on meaty political roles in 2021 include Rupert Friend, who takes a lead role alongside Siena Miller in Anatomy of a Scandal, currently being filmed in London. Based on the book of the same name, it tackles issues of sexual consent and political power. Then there’s a long-awaited Theodore Roosevelt biopic with Leonardo DiCaprio as Teddy. Mystery surrounds the project, which was first touted four years ago, but with Martin Scorsese and Jennifer Davisson among the many producers, it’s sure to be an epic.
How will DiCaprio style out the pince-nez specs? Will we buy Sir Kenneth as Boris? It’s a tall order to mimic the man who at one point graced our TV screens daily for his 5pm briefing. (And, frankly, the question is: can it ever live up to Matt Lucas?). It’s all about the make up and the mannerisms as far as we’re concerned, and with that in mind, here’s our pick of the actors who absolutely nailed it.
CHRISTIAN BALE AS DICK CHENEY
If you didn’t know that it was Christian Bale in 2018’s darkly satirical comedy about Dick Cheney’s rise to prominence, you certainly wouldn’t guess. Now streaming on a range of platforms, Vice delivers a frighteningly plausible impersonation of one of the most unpopular politicians in the history of the US. This writer personally had to triple check the above wasn’t just two pictures of Dick Cheney.
GILLIAN ANDERSON AS MARGARET THATCHER
Full hair poof and all. Anderson is uncannily good at Thatcher’s mannerisms in the latest season of Netflix’s smash hit The Crown – slight tilt of the head, deep ponderous voice, constant carrying of handbag. And — as we’ve come to expect — the show’s attention to costume detail is impressive, with Anderson clad in tailored suits, pussy bows and every shade of blue. It’s Tory power dressing to a Mrs T.
MORGAN FREEMAN AS NELSON MANDELA
The 2009 film Invictus , which tells the story of the 1995 rugby World Cup in post-apartheid South Africa, saw Morgan Freeman delivering a careful and astute impersonation of Mandela, despite their distinct difference in facial features.
GARY OLDMAN AS WINSTON CHURCHILL
2017’s Darkest Hour had Gary Oldman chewing on his cigar and grumbling with all the iconic character of Churchill himself. He looks astonishingly different in real life, and carries himself in a very different stance, so it’s no wonder he won an Academy Award, BAFTA, and Golden Globe for the role.
ALAN RICKMAN AS RONALD REAGAN
Though one of a series of presidents seen in 2013’s much-aclaimed The Butler, Alan Rickman’s Ronald Reagan stands out from the bunch. He’s hardly recognisable as the same man we adored in Harry Potter and Love Actually.
JASON WATKINS AS HAROLD WILSON
Another gem from The Crown, Jason Watkins made a highly believable Harold Wilson — bringing the 60s and 70s Prime Minister into our 21st century sitting rooms with uncanny effect.
MICHAEL SHEEN AS TONY BLAIR
You know it’s a good impersonation when you’re cast in the same role not once, not twice, but three times. 2003’s The Deal, 2006’s The Queen, and 2010’sThe Special Relationship all saw Michael Sheen impressing viewers with his studied portrayal of Tony Blair’s voice and movements. He’s since made quite a name for himself as an impersonator, most recently as Chris Tarrant in ITV’s Quiz, but Tony Blair remains one of the most iconic. Sheen even said that, having spent so much time getting into Blair’s head, to this day he sees a little of himself in the politician.
HELEN MIRREN AS THE QUEEN
Although not a politician, the Queen is head of the British government, and Helen Mirren gave an eerily good portrayal in 2006’s The Queen. As well as extensive voice coaching, much care was taken with mimicking Her Majesty’s unique walk. In the end, despite being taller and younger, Mirren was so convincingly regal that slouching crew members would straighten out of respect as she passed.
WHO WOULD THEY CHOOSE?
Given the choice, who would the politicians choose? They can’t all have George Clooney or Angelina Jolie, so it was with some surprise, then, that David Cameron picked Michael Sheen, saying he can play anybody. Hardly original – we think a better choice would be Hugh Bonneville, who would nail that considered body language and Etonian charm.
Leonardo DiCaprio has said he likes the idea of playing Vladimir Putin, but we reckon the Russian President would plump for Arnold Schwarzenegger, or perhaps Tom Hardy. Both have the right pec credentials for the bare-chested horse riding scenes that would, no doubt, be prolific in his biopic.