5 Characters Amazingly Based on Real People
Every story you've ever watched or read includes characters that are, in reality, based on somebody the writer knew. Nobody can invent a bunch of human beings out of whole cloth, so writers take real people and change their names (note that it's much more fun when it's someone the author hated). But you'd be surprised to see how totally out of left field the real-life inspirations often are. For example ...
Jabba the Hutt Was Based on a Renowned Film Noir Actor
It takes a particular kind of crazy person to do Hollywood creature design. Just look at something like the giant drooling slug-gangster Jabba the Hutt -- what kind of drug-addled Hollywood mind thinks up that? It turns out they started with a photo of a regular ol' fat guy and ... just kept making it weirder.
As we have mentioned previously, Jabba was almost an Irish space pimp dressed like a Braveheart extra:
Instead of dumping him in the Rancor pit, this Jabba seems more likely to challenge Luke to a drinking contest.
Thankfully, that incarnation of the character was ultimately banished from the final cut of the first movie, leaving George Lucas plenty of time to rethink the design of a character so fearsome that his name alone made Han Solo shit his pants. The wait more than paid off. By the time Return of the Jedi came out, Jabba had become the legendary disgusting pile of alien slug poop that has challenged Slave Girl Leia erections for 30 years.
The Real-Life Inspiration:
In case you're unfamiliar with that name (which is entirely possible, since the man has been dead for 60 years), Sydney Greenstreet was an English actor best known for his roles in two of the most famous Humphrey Bogart movies ever made, Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon, wherein Greenstreet essentially played human versions of Jabba the Hutt:
Now that's just rude. Uncannily accurate, but rude.
For example, in The Maltese Falcon, Greenstreet played the coldblooded smuggler/criminal Kasper Gutman (appropriately nicknamed "The Fat Man"); then, in Casablanca, Greenstreet portrayed Signor Ferrari, an infamous underworld figure known throughout the city for his various criminal dealings, which incidentally included slavery, just like a certain obese space worm from the Star Wars universe.
The Ferrari character actually proved such a perfect fit for Jabba that Lucasfilm almost gave the space gangster a fez like the one Greenstreet wore in Casablanca to "indicate his 'Moroccanness,'" because Star Wars is nothing if not racist.
Of all the slave palaces on Tatooine, he walks into mine.
Yeah, we're kind of wishing they'd kept the big red hat. Kind of a whole different movie.
The Joker Was Based on a Silent-Film Star
The Joker is easily one of the most popular comic book characters of all time, nearly eclipsing the appeal of his nemesis, Batman. In many ways, the Joker was the best thing to happen to Bruce Wayne outside of his parents' murder. Without the constant threat of the Clown Prince of Crime, fans would've stopped reading long ago, and Batman would've had to retire and rent Wayne Manor out to One Direction.
When you've got $100 million in high end bat-tech and your opponent settles for a giant novelty
revolver, you've pretty much hit the nemesis jackpot.
The Real-Life Inspiration:
The entire look of the Joker, from his white skin to his twisted smile and the dark circles around his eyes, is taken directly from a 1928 silent film called The Man Who Laughs, specifically the main character, Gwynplaine, who has his face deliberately cut into a permanent rictus grin:
Heads up: You'll want to put down a towel to catch any terror pee about six seconds ago.
Although there's some debate over who came up with the Joker first, Batman creator Bob Kane claims Bill Finger was the one who suggested Conrad Veidt's portrayal of Gwynplaine, because Finger was a huge fan of German expressionism, a phrase that here means "terrifying shit." Kane liked the idea so much that it resulted in the Joker being nothing short of a carbon copy of Veidt's character when he appeared in Batman #1, which by all accounts is pretty much the way Bob Kane did business.
We're just glad he opted not to include that bottom row of teeth. There's only so much evil orthodontics we can take.
How they knew that this obscure character in greasepaint would somehow be the perfect foil to their bat-themed vigilante character is anyone's guess. After 75 years of stories featuring the two, you can't help but be reminded that sometimes creativity is just a matter of knowing what to steal.
Kratos from God of War Was Modeled After Edward Norton
In God of War, you play as Kratos, a Spartan warrior/big-time asshole who accidentally kills his family in a misdirected explosion of fury and then tries to atone for it by murdering all of Greek mythology, because apparently that will cancel it out somehow.
Not that we're theologians, but sword-murdering Zeus seems like a really sketchy path to reconciliation.
Kratos isn't exactly a subtle, nuanced character. The only thing more cliche than his "troubled past" is his design, an angry white mountain of muscles covered in tribal tattoos. He looks like something a douchebag would pin on his dream board.
The Real-Life Inspiration:
When designing Kratos, the God of War team decided to base his appearance on Edward Norton's character in American History X, who, in case you have not seen that film, is a muscle-bound neo-Nazi fueled by violence and rage.
One of the rare times where tribal tattoos were the less awful option.
According to God of War director David Jaffe, one specific scene from American History X, an unflinchingly intense drama about racism, is the reason Kratos looks and acts like he does. Reportedly, the God of War design team didn't copy Norton's appearance when creating Kratos (though the similarities are obviously there), but were primarily inspired by the "sense of power and aggression that you just see in his face."
In case there were any doubts, the scene in question involves Norton viciously curb-stomping a young black man, an act Kratos duplicates in God of War: Ascension.
Whereas Norton's character is sent to prison and eventually reforms, realizing the error of his ways (the film literally ends with the words "Life's too short to be pissed off all the time"), Kratos stays psychotically angry for the entire game and its numerous sequels. Apparently the God of War team only got through half of the movie before abruptly quitting to spend the rest of the day watching wrestling.
The Simpsons' Mr. Burns Is a Cross Between the CEO of Fox and a Praying Mantis
The Simpsons is full of so many in-jokes and references that watching an episode feels like being stuck in a car with a group of your friend's friends while they speak to each other entirely in quotes from movies you have never seen. So you might not be too surprised to learn that Charles Montgomery Burns, the cold-hearted industrial tycoon who serves as the show's perennial supervillain, is based on a real person. What may surprise you is how insane and oddly personal that character basis is.
The Real-Life Inspiration:
While Mr. Burns' personality is the amalgamation of several corporate moguls like Rupert Murdoch, William Randolph Hearst, and Howard Hughes, his physical appearance is based on former Fox Chairman Barry Diller.
They were kept just different enough to keep Diller from releasing the hounds on Matt Groening.
As chairman and CEO of Fox, Inc. from 1984 to 1992, Diller was actually the person responsible for putting The Simpsons on the air in the first place, which in normal scenarios would result in a small amount of polite gratitude before never being mentioned ever again (Diller was responsible for putting many shows on the air; he undoubtedly loses track of them at some point). You might be able to write off his portrayal on the show as a vampiric billionaire sociopath as a friendly in-joke if it wasn't for the fact that The Simpsons goes out of its way to take a big shit on the Fox Network whenever it possibly can.
But they hide it so well.
Harry Shearer, who voices Mr. Burns, once even called the network "indisputably a force for evil." So, seeing Diller's animated doppelganger spend an episode making ammunition for the Nazis when the real-life Diller is Jewish is obviously less of a good-natured jab and more of a birthday card filled with diarrhea and spiders. What crosses this over into the realm of the utterly surreal is the fact that Mr. Burns' mannerisms were based on a praying mantis, which accounts for his bulging eyes, skeletal frame, and perpetually tented fingers.
So to summarize, The Simpsons has spent decades telling literally billions of people that Barry Diller is a fiendish insectile robber baron who can always be counted on to make the most evil decision possible. That has to have made for some awkward conference calls.
X-Men Villains Are Based on Several Famous Actors
The Hellfire Club is a group of flashy mutants that serves as one of the primary antagonists of the X-Men. You may remember the Hellfire Club from X-Men: First Class, where it was led by a magnificently sideburned Kevin Bacon and the curious acting style of January Jones.
Apparently supervillainy is virtually indistinguishable from the VIP room at a Vegas strip club.
With immense superpowers and a stylish, old-timey approach to both fashion and world domination, it's hard not to view the Hellfire Club as one of the most original adversaries the X-Men have ever faced.
The Real-Life Inspiration:
Historically, "The Hellfire Club" was a nickname for 18th century "gentlemen's" establishments where rich white men would go to get drunk and naked, though not always in that order. The idea to use such an establishment as a hive of subversive superpowered villainy came from an episode of a completely Iron Man-free British TV show called The Avengers.
What his suit lacks in iron, it makes up for in cane-based swagger.
The show followed dashing superspy John Steed, who, together with his lovely assistant du jour, Emma Peel, regularly saved the world from various science fiction and paranormal threats. It was sort of like a mashup of James Bond and Doctor Who, until it was made into the most embarrassing movie of all time in 1998, at which point it became a mashup of terrible puns and shame.
In the episode "A Touch of Brimstone," the Hellfire Club kidnaps Emma Peel, drugs her, and forces her to become the "Queen of Sin," which involves wearing minimal clothing and a spiked leather choker. The writers of X-Men thought that was a pretty good idea, so they introduced a new gang of villains called the Hellfire Club and had them do pretty much the exact same thing to Jean Grey.
Marvel apparently also decided that "The Avengers" was a pretty catchy title.
They even borrowed the name "Emma Peel" when they created Emma Frost, aka the White Queen, whose Eskimo bikini corset in both the comics and the movie was obviously suggested by the Queen of Sin's fetish getup.
The fur cape makes it classy.
Since they'd gone this far, the X-Men writers decided to base the remaining members of the Hellfire Club on famous actors, because it's way easier to just copy things when you're facing a deadline. The Club's leader, Sebastian Shaw, is pretty much a drawing of actor Robert Shaw, whom you probably recognize as Quint from Jaws (if you do not, close your browser immediately and go to your room).
The character also served as a constant reminder to Shaw that he should grow those kickass sideburns back out.
Another Hellfire mutant, Jason Wyngarde, is a blatant copy of the titular character from the Jason King TV series (played by Peter Wyngarde -- noticing a pattern here?), right down to the outrageous facial hair that seems like it would make every meal a challenge.
Outrageous enough that the bright fuchsia formal top coat is the thing you notice second.
The Club's pet cyborg, Donald Pierce, was modeled after Donald Sutherland and named for the character he played in M*A*S*H, Hawkeye Pierce. And finally, Harry Leland, the fat bearded member of the Hellfire Club, was based on Orson Welles, the fat bearded member of the Hollywood elite. Leland has the mutant ability to increase his mass.
Ha ha ha ... Run.
That's right -- Marvel based a character on Orson Welles and made obesity his superpower. And that's how you build a billion-dollar entertainment empire, kids!
For more fascinating characters you have to read to believe, please pick up Jacopo's debut novel, The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy, available everywhere August 5!
Related Reading: In case you aren't convinced creators find inspiration in the weirdest places, then find out who Kramer is based on. Or discover which violent movie's scenes were inspired by Justin Bieber. And learn which song finally got John Lennon back in the studio.
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