Oscar voters have proven over and over that they love actors who portray historic people. Maybe it’s because they can make easy comparisons. Or maybe it’s because they are often heroic figures. Whatever the reason, it’s been happening since the very beginning. Tour our photo gallery of every single man who has won the Best Actor category at the Academy Awards for playing a true life character.
The very first person to win the illustrious prize for stepping into a real person’s shoes was George Arliss, who portrayed former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli in the biopic “Disraeli” (1929). Arliss was only the third Best Actor winner in history, and in those early days of the Oscars, Academy rules allowed performers to be nominated for more than one film in the same category. This allowed the actor to contend for his role as the Raja in “The Green Goddess” as well. Luckily for him, he wasn’t a victim of vote-splitting.
Since then, actors as diverse as Rami Malek (“Bohemian Rhapsody”), Gary Oldman (“Darkest Hour”), Leonardo DiCaprio (“The Revenant” in 2015), Eddie Redmayne (“The Theory of Everything” in 2013), Daniel Day-Lewis (“Lincoln,” 2012), Sean Penn (“Milk” in 2008), Forest Whitaker (“The Last King of Scotland” in 2006), Philip Seymour Hoffman (“Capote” in 2005), and Jamie Foxx (“Ray” in 2004) have all triumphed for effortlessly becoming a recognizable figure.
This year, Jonathan Pryce could become the latest person to triumph for portraying a true life figure for his performance as Pope Francis in “The Two Popes.” In fact, he’s the only nominee this year from a biographical drama, which could give him a leg-up over his fellow nominees.
Find out what other performers have taken the Best Actor Oscar for transforming into a real person.