15 Strange Acting Inspirations Behind Famous Movie And TV Characters

By:
Scarface

Universal Pictures

Sometimes, a personal experience or a famous person will inspire an actor to create and embody their character with charm and aplomb. Those are the normal, boring times, because ever so often we get to hear how someone from Hollywood decided to base their performance of an iconic literary character on their cat retching in the kitchen. Here are those surprising stories of character inspirations we’d never have guessed.

Melissa McCarthy Based Her Bridesmaid Character On Guy Fieri

Universal Pictures / Mark Logico, Wikimedia Commons

The actress revealed her inspiration on Conan: “Really, when I first read it, the first person that I thought of was Guy Fieri from the Food Network. I wanted to do the shirt, the Kangol. Every scene I would have my glasses on the back of my head. I tried for a long time to convince them to let me wear short, white, spiky hair, and they were like, ‘You can’t actually be Guy Fieri.’ Cut it off at some point!”

Taika Waititi Told Thomasin McKenzie To Watch Heathers For Jojo Rabbit

Searchlight Pictures / New World Pictures

On the film’s commentary track, Waititi said he wanted McKenzie (who plays Elsa in the movie about a boy whose imaginary friend is Hitler) to watch the 1989 dark teen comedy to get the vibe he was looking for in Elsa. Uh, sure.

Bill Paxton Used His Father As Inspiration For Two Dodgy Roles

Universal Pictures

It turns out the actor legend looked to Papa to find some inspiration for his roles in True Lies and Weird Science. Paxton said that the line in Weird Science where his character Chet asks his brother Wyatt if he’d like a "nice greasy pork sandwich served in a dirty ashtray” was a thing his dad would say to him. “Me and my older brother, if we were hungover, my father liked to needle us. That was one of his stock lines.”

He also looked to his dad while preparing for his role as sleazy car salesman Simon in True Lies. “I got a ton of (Dad’s) stuff in True Lies. ‘Got a pair of titties, makes you want to stand up and beg for buttermilk.’ All that stuff was my dad. ‘Ass like a 10-year-old boy.’ The great directors, when I’d throw stuff at them like that, they would go, ‘Put it in there!'”

Tom Hardy Based His Bane Voice On The Self-Proclaimed King Of The Gypsies

Via BBC / Warner Bros. Pictures

Hardy explained: “Bane quintessentially is Latinx in origin and I’m not. So I looked at the concept of Latin and found a man called Bartley Gorman, who’s a Romani gypsy. The king of the gypsies, in inverted commas, is a bare-knuckle fighter and a boxer … And I showed Chris. I said Chris, we can either go down a sort of arch Darth Vader route, straight just neutral tone villain voice, or we could try this.”

Joaquin Phoenix Based His Joker On That Other Scarecrow

Warner Bros. Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures

The actor took inspiration from Ray Bolger who played the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz. “There was a particular song called “The Old Soft Shoe” that he performed and I saw a video of it and there’s this odd arrogance almost to his movements and, really, I completely just stole it from him. He does this thing of turning his chin up. This choreographer Michael Arnold showed me that and tons of videos and I zeroed in on that one. That was Joker, right? There’s an arrogance to him, really. That was probably the greatest influence.”

Robert Englund Based His Stranger Things Character On Treasure Island

Netflix

While Vecna reminds us of Englund’s most famous character Freddy Krueger, the veteran actor based Victor Creel on Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous novel. "As actors, we access strange imagery. We use imagery sometimes that has nothing to do with what we're doing. And one of the things I was using was a character from Treasure Island named Billy Bones, who tells a huge story to Jim Hawkins about Long John Silver. It had nothing to do with Freddy Krueger or Nightmare. It was just one of those weird images that comes to you." 

Jonah Hill Says His Character In Don’t Look Up Is Basically Fyre Festival

Hulu, Netflix

Hill said on The Tonight Show that he approached his D-bag character by asking, “What if Fyre Festival was a person?” He’s of course referring to the 2017 music fest scam that spawned two documentaries, somehow.

Chris Pratt Studied Dolphins For His Character In Jurassic World

Universal Pictures

The actor said that he looked at the movement of dolphins to play his character Owen. Specifically, how dolphins “lead with their foreheads.” It’s a strange choice for the character (Owen's totally an ostrich), but using animals to develop the movement for a role is a common acting technique. 

Meryl Streep Based Her The Devil Wears Prada Character On Clint Eastwood

20th Century Studios, United Artists

Streep said she turned to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly actor to shape Miranda Priestly’s voice. “He never, ever, ever raises his voice and everyone has to lean in to listen, and he is automatically the most powerful person in the room.” As for her character’s wit, Streep used director and comedian Mike Nichols as inspiration.

Al Pacino Used A Boxer And Meryl Streep As His Inspiration For Tony Montana

Universal Pictures, Universal Pictures

While the Scarface actor looked at boxer Roberto Duran to find the physicality of Montana, he was also inspired by Streep in Sophie’s Choice, especially the way she immersed herself in her character.

Game Of Thrones Character Ramsay Bolton Is Based On Joker And Dennis The Menace

HBO, DC Thomson

Actor Iwan Rheon looked at Heath Ledger’s Joker, musician Liam Gallagher, and the British cartoon character Dennis the Menace to portray the wicked Ramsay. Rheon explained that, just like Dennis the Menace, Ramsay saw himself more as a cheeky devil than a sadistic monster.

Daniel Day-Lewis Used Eminem As Inspiration For Gangs Of New York

Miramax

As a Method Actor, Day-Lewis used a myriad of elements to create and build his characters. To get the sound characterization of Bill the Butcher, he blasted a lot of Eminem, saying it was apparently the right kind of noise.

Andy Serkis Based Gollum On His Cat Coughing Up A Furball

New Line Cinema

While trying to figure out how to portray the famous Lord of the Rings sleazeball, Serkis watched how his cat did that classic cat thing, and Gollum’s raspy, retching voice was born.

Heath Ledger’s Joker Was Based On Sid Vicious

Warner Bros. Pictures / Chicago Art Department, Wikimedia Commons

Christian Bale revealed that the late actor watched many old clips of the bass player while researching his role. “Heath created an anarchic Joker unlike any ever seen before. He modeled the part on Sid Vicious which made this punk-like character. His Joker is unlike any other Joker seen before. I think it is a classic portrayal of a great villain.”

Ledger was also inspired by Malcolm McDowell’s performance in A Clockwork Orange.

Tom Hardy Based His Peaky Blinders Character On … A Bear?

BBC Studios

Director Colm McCarthy said Hardy came to the set and had the strangest conversation with him. “The Tom Hardy thing was mad, that was a mad thing to happen ... he wanted to chat to me about what he was thinking of doing and he had this whole conversation about where he was talking about being a bear. And he was like, ‘I’m like good bear, and then I'm bad bear, and if I get angry bear, it's like scary bear’ – this whole thing. And it's raining and the crew are standing there looking at me like, ‘What is he doing there in this graveyard, under a tree, having this conversation with Tom Hardy about being a bear?’ And I was like, ‘So you want a beard?’ and he was like, ‘Yeah.’ And I was like, ‘Cool, that sounds awesome, that sounds wicked.’”

Thumbnail: Miramax, Netflix

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