Gary Oldman is the real deal as Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour.” From physical appearance to speech, his embodiment of the former British prime minister makes him the one to beat for the best actor Oscar.
It doesn’t hurt that Oscar voters love to award actors playing real people. Since 2002, these 10 men have won the best actor prize for portraying true-to-life characters.
THE ROLE Polish musician Władysław Szpilman in “The Pianist” (2002)
HOW HE PREPARED Brody learned the piano and lost 31 pounds eating two boiled eggs and green tea for breakfast, chicken for lunch, and fish or chicken with steamed vegetables for dinner over six weeks.
THE ROLE Ray Charles in “Ray” (2004)
HOW HE PREPARED Foxx took piano lessons, learned Braille and had prosthetic eyelids over his eyes to render him blind.
Philip Seymour Hoffman
THE ROLE Truman Capote in “Capote” (2005)
HOW HE PREPARED The actor lost 40 pounds and read Capote’s letters to and from Perry Smith, one of the convicted killers at the center of “In Cold Blood.”
THE ROLE Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in “The Last King of Scotland” (2006)
HOW HE PREPARED Whitaker watched documentaries on Amin and learned to play the accordion and speak Swahili. He also visited Amin’s brother and sister in Uganda.
THE ROLE Harvey Milk, California’s first openly gay elected official, in “Milk” (2008)
HOW HE PREPARED Penn wore a prosthetic nose and teeth and contact lenses and had his hairline redesigned.
THE ROLE England’s King George VI in “The King’s Speech” (2010)
HOW HE PREPARED Firth listened to recordings of King George to nail the royal’s stammer.
THE ROLE Honest Abe in “Lincoln” (2012)
HOW HE PREPARED He visited Lincoln’s home and law office in Springfield, Illinois, with historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.
THE ROLE In “Dallas Buyers Club” (2013), he played Ron Woodroof, who supplied drugs to HIV-positive people.
HOW HE PREPARED McConaughey planned to shed 40 pounds but didn’t feel he looked properly gaunt until losing another 10.
THE ROLE Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything” (2014)
HOW HE PREPARED To play the physicist, who suffers with ALS, Redmayne learned to control and contort his face and body so convincingly that an osteopath told him he had altered the alignment of his spine.
THE ROLE Fur trapper Hugh Glass in “The Revenant” (2015)
HOW HE PREPARED DiCaprio learned to shoot a musket, build a fire and speak Pawnee and Arikara. He also ate raw bison liver in one scene.