12 Actors Who Have Played Politicians: Daniel Day-Lewis, Idris Elba and More

Feb. 21 2024, Published 7:20 a.m. ET

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Bryan Cranston

bryan cranston
Source: MEGA

Bryan Cranston transforms into former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson in the 2016 Bryan Roach-directed biographical drama film All the Way.

In an interview, the Breaking Bad star reflected on preparing for the role.

"You never knew which LBJ you were going to get when you walked into the Oval Office that day," Cranston said. "You just didn't know. He could be high. He could be low. He could be angry. He could be happy. You know, and you had to just deal with it."

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Daniel Day-Lewis

In Lincoln, Daniel Day-Lewis delivers a perfect portrayal of Abraham Lincoln as the film tells the final four months of his life before his assassination in 1865.

Denzel Washington

Denzel Washington portrays American Muslim minister and human rights activist Malcolm X in the 1992 flick Malcolm X.

Washington's performance in the film earned him different accolades, including the Best Actor Award at the Chicago Film Critics Association Awards and Best Male Performance at the MTV Movie Awards.

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Frank Langella

Based on the 2006 play of the same name, Frost/Nixon sees Frank Langella as Richard Nixon, the 37th POTUS. He stars alongside Michael Sheen, Kevin Bacon, Rebecca Hall, Oliver Platt, Sam Rockwell and Patty McCormack, among others.

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Idris Elba

Based on the 1994 autobiographical book, Idris Elba plays the role of South African leader Nelson Mandela in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. The Justin Chadwick-directed film follows the country's first Black head of state's journey from his early life until he scored the position in 1994.

Speaking in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Elba reacted to the public's response to his acting because of his "charismatic" appearance.

"But I'm not Nelson Mandela," he said. "Everybody has a sense of who Mandela is – his nobleness, his white hair, his voice. Those were big shoes to fill."

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James Marsden

"I knew some stuff about Kennedy, my father is a big Kennedy buff, so he helped fill me in as well. Definitely a crash course, but it was great..." James Marsden told New York Magazine, via Vulture, of his portrayal of John F. Kennedy in the 2013 film The Butler.

The Lee Daniels-directed historical drama film focuses on the life of Cecil Gaines, a butler in the White House who started during Dwight D. Eisenhower's administration. While he dedicates his life to the Oval Office, he alienates himself from his own family.

Daniel Day-Lewis
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Josh Brolin

Josh Brolin transforms into George W. Bush in the Oliver Stone-directed film W. It follows the journey of the former Texas governor as he deals with his father.

Brolin shocked his fans when he told USA Today how he considered turning down the role due to political convictions.

"I had such a visceral reaction against it," he admitted. "But then I thought about it, and I had to get up and read the script. I read it one morning, and I thought it was amazing. I didn't love the story, but as a character, following a guy from 21 to 58 was an incredible challenge for an actor that I didn't think I could pull off."

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Julianne Moore

julianne moore
Source: MEGA

Jay Roach's 2012 film Game Change shares the story of Sarah Palin (Julianne Moore) as she serves Alaska as its governor. It also features Woody Harrelson, Ed Harris, Peter MacNicol, Jamey Sheridan, Sarah Paulson and Ron Livingston, among others.

Over a decade after her appearance in the HBO film, she revealed one of the challenges of playing Palin.

"The thing that was really, really hard was Sarah Palin's voice. That almost killed me," Moore said on Watch What Happens Live. "I listened to nothing else for months on end. I took all the music off my phone and just listened to her voice constantly."

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Meryl Streep

Meryl Streep becomes former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. It chronicles her life and career as the first female prime minister of the U.K. for 11 years until her resignation.

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Michael Sheen

The Queen shares the contrasting comments between the royal family and Tony Blair about Princess Diana's death being a private affair or an official royal death. Michael Sheen plays Blair's role and stars in the film with Helen Mirren, James Cromwell, Helen McCrory, Alex Jennings and Roger Allam.

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Morgan Freeman

Morgan Freeman joins the cast members of Clint Eastwood's Invictus and plays the role of Nelson Mandela in the flick.

"When you meet Mandela, you know you are in the presence of greatness. It is something that just emanates from him," he told CNN of the historical figure.

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Robin Williams

Robin Williams appears in The Butler with Marsden and portrays Eisenhower's character.


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