Oscars: Meet the Real People Behind the Nominated Films

10:00 AM 2/24/2018

by Michael Waters

From Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill to Allison Janney as Tonya Harding's mother, these actors went to great lengths to embody their real-life counterparts.

LaVona Golden (left) and Allison Janney in 'I, Tonya'
LaVona Golden (left) and Allison Janney in 'I, Tonya'
Screengrab; Courtesy of NEON

As manager of high-stakes celebrity poker games, Molly Bloom never wore the same dress twice. To play Bloom in Molly's Game, Jessica Chastain donned more than 70 different dresses, including a particularly memorable pink sequined outfit. "[Chastain] was kind of concerned about always looking a little bit businesslike — even if she had a plunging neckline, she’d throw on a blazer, just some element to suggest no-nonsense," costume designer Susan Lyall told Vulture

While Chastain slipped in and out of expensive dresses in Molly's Game, Margot Robbie had her eyelashes pulled down with adhesive to play figure skater Tonya Harding in I, Tonya, and Gary Oldman embraced full prosthetics to capture Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour. Below, check out 11 of this year's memorable actors compared with the real-life people they play. Though not all the actors are nominated for Oscars, the movies they star in (The Post, I, Tonya, Dunkirk and Molly's Game) are up for some of the night's biggest awards. 

  • Meryl Streep as Katharine Graham

    'The Post'

    Meryl Streep (left) and Katharine Graham
    Meryl Streep (left) and Katharine Graham
    Courtesy of Niko Tavernise/Twentieth Century Fox; Ron Galella/WireImage/Getty Images

    In The Post, Meryl Streep captures not only the bravery of longtime Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham as she is faced with the decision to publish leaked Pentagon Papers but also the sexism she frequently endures as a woman navigating male-dominated spaces. Streep told THR that one significant aspect of the film was the way it brought Graham into the public consciousness: “Our history about The Washington Post largely formed by All the President’s Men, in which she doesn’t appear,” Streep said. “And she was responsible for the courageous stance that the reporters were able to take.”

  • Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee

    'The Post'

    Tom Hanks (left) and Ben Bradlee
    Tom Hanks (left) and Ben Bradlee
    Courtesy of Niko Tavernise/Twentieth Century Fox; Paul Andrew Hawthorne/WireImage/Getty Images

    Watching old clips of legendary Washington Post managing editor Ben Bradlee taught Tom Hanks many of Bradlee’s noteworthy quirks. In interviews, he has discussed the immense responsibility of taking on such an important figure who, like Meryl Streep’s Katharine Graham, oversaw the Washington Post during the release of the Pentagon Papers and the paper’s investigation into the Watergate break-in.

  • Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding

    'I, Tonya'

    Margot Robbie (left) and Tonya Harding
    Margot Robbie (left) and Tonya Harding
    Left, courtesy of Neon; Right, Getty Images

    Figure skater Tonya Harding made her name after becoming the first American woman to complete a triple axel jump in a competition. (Last week, Mirai Nagasu became the first American woman to do it in the Olympics.) But she was thrust into the spotlight after an attack on her primary competitor, Nancy Kerrigan, ignited speculation about Harding’s involvement. To play Harding in I, Tonya, actress Margot Robbie often shot eight or nine scenes each day, weaving in and out of wardrobes during 20-minute-or-less scene changes.

  • Allison Janney as LaVona Golden

    'I, Tonya'

    LaVona Golden (left) and Allison Janney
    LaVona Golden (left) and Allison Janney
    Screengrab; Courtesy of NEON

    Allison Janney earned a best supporting actress win at the Golden Globes for her portrayal of Tonya Harding’s allegedly abusive mother, LaVona Golden. In I, Tonya, Janney-as-Golden frequently appears in a trademark fur coat, with a bird pecking at her ear from atop her shoulder. “It sounded crazy,” she told Vanity Fair, describing her initial reaction to the role. “Believe me, it is. I get to do some of the cruelest, darkest comedy I’ve ever been a part of.”

     

  • Paul Walter Hauser as Shawn Eckhardt

    'I, Tonya'

    Shawn Eckhardt (left) and Paul Walter Hauser
    Shawn Eckhardt (left) and Paul Walter Hauser
    Screengrab; Courtesy of NEON

    Most people know Shawn Eckhardt as the bumbling bodyguard who played a central role in planning the 1994 attack on Nancy Kerrigan. Hauser, whose appearance in I, Tonya marks his first major role, offered a scene-stealing performance. In the film, Hauser-as-Eckhardt — against all logic — describes himself as a secret agent and a counter-terrorism expert. Hauser ad-libbed some of his most memorable lines, including, "I shouldn't even be saying his name ... Derek."

  • Sebastian Stan as Jeff Gillooly

    'I, Tonya'

    Sebastian Stan (left) and Jeff Gilooly
    Sebastian Stan (left) and Jeff Gilooly
    Left, courtesy of of Neon; Right, Getty Images

    Captain America actor Sebastian Stan, who takes on the role of Hardy’s allegedly abusive ex-husband Jeff Gillooly in I, Tonya, met his real-life counterpart soon after agreeing to appear in the film. “Let me tell you, I was peeing my pants,” he told Entertainment Weekly about the meeting, where the real Gillooly asked first thing why Stan wanted to participate in a film Gillooly believed no one would see.

  • Christopher Plummer as J. Paul Getty

    'All the Money in the World'

    Christopher Plummer (left) and J. Paul Getty
    Christopher Plummer (left) and J. Paul Getty
    Photofest

    Christopher Plummer famously stepped into the role of J. Paul Getty, the enormously wealthy oil tycoon, after Kevin Spacey was dropped from the film following allegations of sexual assault. Plummer had only three weeks to prepare for and act in All the Money in the World, which chronicles the kidnapping of Getty’s grandson, whose ransom the patriarch initially refuses to pay. Plummer has received both Golden Globes and Oscar nominations for his last-minute performance. 

  • Michelle Williams as Gail Harris

    'All the Money in the World'

    Vittoriano Rastelli/Corbis via Getty Images; Claudio Iannone

    Following her son’s kidnapping, Gail Harris seeks help paying the ransom from the elderly J. Paul Getty and her former husband, J. Paul Getty Jr. To prepare for her role as Harris, Michelle Williams read multiple books and watched YouTube clips of the real-life Harris.

  • Kenneth Branagh as William Tennant

    'Dunkirk'

    William Tennant (left) and Kenneth Branagh
    William Tennant (left) and Kenneth Branagh
    Courtesy of Imperial War Museums; Melinda Sue Gordon/Warner Bros. Pictures

    Though not explicitly stated in Dunkirk, Kenneth Branagh’s character Commander Bolton is likely a fictional representation of Captain William Tennant, who oversaw the evacuation on the beaches of Dunkirk in 1940. He blared warnings through a megaphone, seeking to rescue as many soldiers as possible. 

  • Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill

    'Darkest Hour'

    Gary Oldman (left) and Winston Churchill
    Gary Oldman (left) and Winston Churchill
    Courtesy of Focus Features; Daniel Zuchnik/WireImage

    Darkest Hour offers the flip side of Dunkirk: While Dunkirk portrays the realities of World War II on the beaches of France, Darkest Hour shows Prime Minister Winston Churchill reacting to the same events back home in England. To play Churchill, Oldman wore full prosthetics and a three-piece suit. 

  • Jessica Chastain as Molly Bloom

    'Molly's Game'

    Molly Bloom (left) and Jessica Chastain
    Molly Bloom (left) and Jessica Chastain
    Jim Spellman/WireImage; Courtesy of STXfilms

    Molly’s Game re-creates Molly Bloom’s turn from almost-Olympic-skier to the cunning manager of star-studded poker games across New York and Los Angeles to a criminal with a one-year probation sentence. In the film, Chastain wore more than 70 expensive dresses that Chastain hoped would reflect Bloom’s intellect and business acumen.