The day when Americans celebrate our presidents (past and present) is here! In honor of President’s Day on Feb. 15, 2021, Wonderwall.com is taking a look at some of the stars who’ve played real-life presidents over the years, starting with Daniel Day-Lewis… In 2012, the British-Irish actor starred as former President Abraham Lincoln in “Lincoln” — a riveting biopic covering the last four months of the slain president’s life. The performance earned Daniel numerous awards including an Oscar, a Screen Actors Guild Award and a Golden Globe. Fun fact: Another Irish actor, Liam Neeson, was originally cast in the role but later dropped out after realizing during a table read that he simply wasn’t right for the part. Keep reading to see what other actors have shined as leaders of the free world…
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Sam Rockwell earned a best supporting actor Oscar nomination for his performance as President George W. Bush in the 2018 film “VICE.”
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Love him or hate him, Alec Baldwin’s satirical portrayal of Donald Trump on “Saturday Night Live” has been hailed as the “most important performance on television.” Alec — who in 2017 won an Emmy for his work as Trump — has been impersonating the controversial candidate since the 2016 presidential election run.
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Greg Kinnear played President John F. Kennedy in the 2011 eight-part biographical miniseries “The Kennedys” co-starring Katie Holmes as Jackie Kennedy. The Emmy-winning miniseries took a more personal look at the lives of the most famous (and infamous) family to ever serve in the White House during some of the most critical moments in our nation’s history.
Nick Nolte starred as founding father and author of the American constitution Thomas Jefferson in the 1995 film “Jefferson in Paris.” The film takes place several years before his presidency during a time when he served as the American ambassador to France and was rumored to have had an illicit love affair with his 15-year-old slave, Sally Hemings (played by Thandie Newton).
Although the 2016 biographical drama “Southside With You” takes place in 1989 — long before Barack Obama became the first African American president of the United States — the story is a heartwarming look at the early relationship between him and his future wife, Michelle Obama. The film stars Tika Sumpter as Michelle and Parker Sawyers as young Barack.
Actor Bryan Cranston took on the role of cantankerous President Lyndon B. Johnson in the HBO original movie “All the Way.” The film is based on the year following President John. F. Kennedy’s assassination and how President Johnson worked with civil rights leaders (like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., portrayed by Anthony Mackie) to pass legislation that would ensure equality for every American.
Dennis Quaid starred as President Bill Clinton in the 2010 biographical drama “The Special Relationship.” The film centers on the alliance between U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair (played by Michael Sheen) and President Clinton in the mid-’90s.
Actor Frank Langella took on the role of former President Richard Nixon in the 2008 biographical drama “Frost/Nixon.” The film takes place three years after the infamous Watergate scandal led to Nixon’s resignation, when he took part in a confession-style interview with media personality and journalist David Frost (played by Michael Sheen).
One of the many actors to star as a U.S. leader in the 2013 drama “The Butler” was James Marsden, who played President John F. Kennedy, with Minka Kelly playing his wife, Jackie Kennedy. The story is told through the lens of butler Cecil Gaines (played by Forest Whitaker), who spent 34 years working for eight different presidents in the White House.
Another famous face to show up in 2013’s “The Butler” was Robin Williams. In one of the most subdued performances of his lifetime, Robin played President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who served in the White House from 1953 to 1961.
The 2013 film “The Butler” spanned three decades (from 1957 to 1991) and featured a wide cast of presidents, including the late Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan and Jane Fonda as his first lady, Nancy Reagan. Alan managed to capture the essence of President Reagan with finesse and a touch of grandeur.
In 2008, actor Josh Brolin starred as George W. Bush in the biographical drama “W.” While rumors circulated that former President Bush actually liked the film about his rise to the presidency, his brother Jeb Bush told the Washington Times the movie was “hooey.”
Michael C. Hall played President John F. Kennedy on the second season of “The Crown.” Michael’s version of JFK on the Netflix show was a step away from how the slain president is typically portrayed in movies and on TV: This time, he was depicted as a controlling, nearly abusive husband who is addicted to prescription drugs.
In the gripping 1997 film “Amistad,” Anthony Hopkins played former President John Quincy Adams. The film takes place in 1839, 10 years after President Adams’ term in the White House had ended, during a time when he was elected to the House of Representatives and used his experience as a lawyer to help abolish slavery.
In 2012, comedic actor Bill Murray starred as President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the biographical dramedy “Hyde Park on Hudson.” The film takes place in 1939 when FDR was involved in a love affair with his cousin, Margaret “Daisy” Suckley, while having to entertain the king and queen of England.
Gary Sinise starred as President Harry S. Truman in the Emmy-winning HBO original film “Truman.” The story highlights President Truman’s rise from small-town farm hand to leader of the nation following the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945. It also takes viewers through WWII where he made the life-altering decision to drop nuclear bombs on Japan.
Newcomer Devon Terrell starred as President Barack Obama in the Netflix original movie “Barry.” The 2016 flick tells the story of Barack during his college years at Columbia University in the 1980s.
Alright, maybe the 2012 movie “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” starring Benjamin Walker as the aforementioned president isn’t a true story, but we’re keeping an open mind here. The action-packed horror flick twists history on its head by making honest Abe an old-timey dude version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (who still has time to run the country and abolish slavery). It could’ve totally happened that way.
Film and theater star Liev Schreiber joined the cast of the 2013 biopic “The Butler” as the brusk and at times cruel Lyndon B. Johnson, who first served as vice president under John F. Kennedy and later assumed the role of president after JFK’s assassination.
In the 1997 historical drama “Amistad,” Nigel Hawthorne (center) starred as Martin Van Buren, the eighth president of the United States. In the film, President Van Buren was against freeing the slaves who rebelled while in transit from Africa to America for fear he would lose powerful Southern votes that would ensure his re-election.
In 2001, actor Jon Voight starred as President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the romantic, inspired-by-history drama “Pearl Harbor.” Who didn’t get chills when the president, after telling his staff that American forces had to strike back (and being told “it can’t be done”) kicked back his wheelchair and pulled himself up on both feet before saying, “Don’t tell me what can’t be done.” The answer should be: no one.
The only actor to appear twice on our list as two separate presidents is Anthony Hopkins, who in 1995 transformed himself into Richard Nixon for the movie “Nixon.” The biographical film follows the beleaguered president throughout his early political career and ascension to the White House, which ultimately ended in one of the biggest scandals the nation had ever witnessed.
In 2016, Danish actor Caspar Phillipson portrayed President John F. Kennedy in the biopic “Jackie” (starring Natalie Portman). The film focused on Jackie Kennedy, rather than her husband, following his assassination in 1963.
John Carroll Lynch played President Lyndon B. Johnson in the 2016 film “Jackie.” The movie focuses on Jackie Kennedy (played by Natalie Portman) but also depicts LBJ’s swearing-in ceremony after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.
Kevin Spacey took on the role of President Richard Nixon in the 2016 historical comedy “Elvis & Nixon.” The film recounts the humorous story of how iconic singer Elvis Presley (played by Michael Shannon) came to meet President Nixon in the Oval Office in 1970.
In 2008, actor James Cromwell portrayed former President George H. W. Bush in the biographical drama “W.” The film focused on how his son, George W. Bush (played by Josh Brolin) rose from privileged party boy to president of the United States. Interestingly, James also played the role of a (fictional) U.S. president in 2004 on “The West Wing.”
In the 2013 biographical drama “The Butler,” John Cusack portrayed President Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal. The film, which covered numerous presidencies through the eyes of White House butler Cecil Gaines (played by Forest Whitaker), gave us a glimpse at some of the most pivotal moments in the lives of the leaders he served.
Rob Lowe starred as President John F. Kennedy in the 2013 TV movie “Killing Kennedy.” The film dramatizes the presidency and assassination of JFK as well as the life of assassin Lee Harvey Oswald in the years leading up to the president’s murder.
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