Oscars: Meet the Real People Behind the Best Actor Nominees 

10:00 AM 2/21/2016

by Jennifer Konerman

Get to know the historical figures portrayed by Michael Fassbender, Eddie Redmayne, Bryan Cranston, Leonardo DiCaprio and one honorable mention.

OSCAR NOMINATIONS: Best Actor - H 2016

  • 'Steve Jobs' / Michael Fassbender

    Michael Fassbender’s performance as the Apple exec is certainly not the first time Steve Jobs has been seen onscreen, with several adaptations, biographies and documentaries about his life. On the fiction side, Jobs has been played by Ashton Kutcher and Justin Long (via Funny or Die), and soon a stage actor will join that list as his life is being turned into a Broadway musical.

    The film from Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin tells his story, focusing on the 1980s and ‘90s as he rises, falls and rises again at his Apple post. In Steve Jobs, Jobs is seen mostly in behind-the-scenes, backstage and intimate moments in the film as he plans to unveil some of his biggest products in his famous black turtleneck. It also addresses the question that many of his biographies also go into, which is whether Jobs was a misunderstood, tortured tech genius or a narcissistic, larger-than-life marketing demigod. In real life, Jobs’ appearances at press events were his time to shine, and the film reflects that spotlight on Fassbender.

  • 'The Danish Girl' / Eddie Redmayne

    Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of Danish painter and transgender icon Lili Elbe is his chance for his second Oscar in two years. The Danish Girl, adapted from a fictionalized version of Elbe’s memoir Man Into Woman, starts in the 1920s when the landscape painter was still living as Einar Wegener with wife Gerda. According to the memoir, Elbe’s transition began when one of Gerda’s models was a no-show and he stepped in, dressing in women’s clothing for a portrait.

    Encouraged by Gerda, Wegener began to live more and more publicly as a woman (Elbe), resulting in a series of operations in 1930. Elbe became a transgender pioneer, and was the first person to undergo a male-to-female sex reassignment surgery. Speaking to THR, Redmayne called the film “a wonderful love story. It reframed my notion of love, that love is not about gender or bodies. It's about souls."

  • 'Trumbo' / Bryan Cranston

    Bryan Cranston’s Trumbo namesake was a blacklisted screenwriter in the McCarthy era, known for the well-known films Roman Holiday, Spartacus and Lonely Are the Brave. Jay Roach’s biopic follows Dalton Trumbo (Cranston), the Oscar-winning writer popular in Hollywood throughout the 1930s and ‘40s, who finds himself caught up in the Communist purge. 

    The film itself meets up with the prolific writer in the late 1940s, when Trumbo’s Communist beliefs were being widely criticized by John Wayne (David James Elliott) and columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren). Trumbo joined the Hollywood Ten, a group of writers and directors who refused to name names in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee. The writer, later blacklisted by the studios, wrote under pseudonyms or sold his scripts to other writers, letting them take credit for his work. Cranston told THR last fall that he sees the film as looking again at a “tragic period of American history.”

  • 'The Revenant' / Leonardo DiCaprio

    The Revenant, Leonardo DiCaprio’s chance at his long-awaited Oscar, was originally based on a novel (The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge), but the novel was based on a real-life man – Hugh Glass. Glass was a 19th century fur trapper, and the story of his bear attack is largely believed to be true. In fact, it became a frontier tale that spread in the 1820s on par with the adventures of Davy Crockett.

    After that, the story becomes murkier as poems and fictional retellings waver, but his attack and subsequent betrayal ring true with DiCaprio’s portrayal onscreen. In a truly anticlimactic version of the tale, a 1939 story ends Glass’ tale of revenge with no revenge at all: “his rage had been completely exhausted by the nine-month trek. Nothing happened.”

  • Honorable Mention: 'The Martian' / Matt Damon

    No, The Martian was not real. But that didn’t stop scores of Twitter users from speaking up about Mark Watney’s supposed terrible treatment while he was stuck on Mars.

    That’s right – after seeing the film in theaters, scores of moviegoers assumed The Martian was based on a true story, some even going so far as to think the fictional Watney was in real trouble. So to help clear this up once and for all, The Martian is a work of fiction, Mark Watney is fictional and Matt Damon is doing just fine.