People flock to movies for a multitude of reasons. Sometimes, they are drawn in by the gripping storyline, but more often than not, they find themselves captivated by the unforgettable characters brought to life by their beloved actors. These characters possess an undeniable charm, with personalities so larger-than-life that they seem almost fantastical compared to the everyday world.
It’s truly fascinating to uncover the hidden truth that lies behind even the most peculiar and outlandish characters we encounter on the big screen. In fact, many of these imaginative creations are inspired by real people, to some degree. Delving into the captivating tales behind these characters only deepens our admiration for the incredible talent of the actors and the remarkable abilities of those who infuse elements of reality into their on-screen personas.
1. Edna Mode (‘The Incredibles’) Is A Dead Ringer For Legendary Costume Designer Edith Head
The Incredibles is another Pixar film that captivates with its vibrant animation and lively characters. One standout character is Edna Mode, the costume designer. Though she may come across as a bit emotionally detached, there’s no denying her immense talent in designing costumes. And she knows it too, often exuding a superior attitude towards others in her field.
Interestingly, there are striking similarities between Edna Mode and Edith Head, a renowned Hollywood costume designer. Just take a look at their pictures, especially their glasses, and you’ll see how the film’s artists drew inspiration from Head’s appearance. Although director Brad Bird denies this connection, the uncanny resemblance and animator Bryn Imagire’s comments strongly suggest otherwise. Imagire openly acknowledged in the New York Post that Head served as a major visual inspiration for Edna Mode.
2. Luis (‘Ant-Man’) Is Based On Michael Pena’s Friend-Of-A-Friend And Small-Time Crook Named Pablo
The MCU has a knack for creating side characters that are just as adored and enjoyable as the main heroes. In the Ant-Man films, while Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man takes center stage, his friend Luis, portrayed by the talented Michael Pena, is equally entertaining. Like many Marvel characters, Luis possesses certain traits that make him endearing – he tends to go off on tangents, sometimes goes against the rules, but remains fiercely loyal to his friends. Additionally, he is an affable guy with a knack for coming up with grandiose plans and schemes.
Pena, like many other brilliant actors, drew inspiration for Luis from someone he knew in real life. During an interview, he shared, “I based [Luis] off of someone. It’s somebody that I grew up with. He’s kind of a criminal, or maybe more than just kind of… Okay, let’s be honest, he’s a criminal. He had a history of getting in and out of jail, and he could be slightly annoying, but at the same time, you couldn’t help but find him lovable. That’s what I aimed to bring to the character. I’m not sure if I completely nailed it, but I gave it my best shot.”
3. Walter Sobchak (‘The Big Lebowski’) Is Based On The Coens’ Infamous Friend, John Milius
John Goodman is known for his versatility in acting, effortlessly transitioning from comedy to drama. One of his most iconic roles is Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski, a character that showcases his larger-than-life presence and knack for explosive outbursts. It’s a role that seems tailor-made for Goodman, with all the quirky and sometimes unsettling traits that are expected of a Coen Brothers character.
Interestingly, the inspiration for many of Walter’s idiosyncrasies came from John Milius, a screenwriter and director who was a close friend of the Coens. According to Ethan Coen, Milius is a funny and captivating storyteller. Despite never having served in the military, he often sported military gear and had a strong interest in guns and survivalism. Milius would frequently extend invitations to visit his home and admire his extensive gun collection, although the Coens never took him up on the offer.
4. Cruella de Vil Was Based On Actress Tallulah Bankhead And Another ‘Monster’ That Animator Marc Davis Knew Personally
Disney is well-known for its ability to create memorable villains, and one of the most notorious is Cruella de Vil. With her extravagant mannerisms, obsession with fur (especially from innocent puppies), and explosive anger towards anyone who challenges her, Cruella has become one of Disney’s most wicked wrongdoers.
One of the key inspirations behind Cruella’s creation was the larger-than-life actress Tallulah Bankhead. Bankhead’s eccentric personality, reckless driving, heavy smoking, and fondness for fur coats made her a perfect muse for animated villainy. Not only did Bankhead influence the animators, but her unique voice also served as a muse for Betty Lou Gerson, who provided the character’s distinctive voice.
According to animator Marc Davis, the character of Cruella was formed from a combination of inspirations, including Tallulah Bankhead and a real-life woman he knew who was an absolute monster. This woman was tall, thin, and talked incessantly, making it impossible to get a word in edgewise. These influences helped shape Cruella into the iconic villain we know today.
5. Borat Sagdiyev Is Based On A Real Russian Doctor Sacha Baron Cohen Met
Sacha Baron Cohen is renowned for creating eccentric characters, but none are as closely associated with him as Borat Sagdiyev. Borat manages to be simultaneously regressive and endearing, straddling the line between being genuinely kind and utterly reprehensible. The genius of Borat lies in his ability to expose people’s prejudices, often without them even realizing it.
Interestingly, Borat’s eccentricities were not entirely born from Cohen’s imagination. During a trip to Russia, the actor encountered a doctor who served as inspiration for many of Borat’s mannerisms. Cohen vividly recalls the encounter, saying, “Within seconds, my friends and I were in fits of laughter. The doctor had certain aspects of Borat, but he lacked the racism, misogyny, and anti-Semitism. Surprisingly, he was actually Jewish himself.”
6. Ultraviolent Debt Collector Big Chris (‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’) Was Directly Inspired By British Gangster Dave Courtney
Director Guy Ritchie has made a name for himself by delving into the world of crime films and using them as a platform to explore the rugged masculinity of his characters. One prime example of this is his film Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. In this movie, the character of Big Chris, portrayed by former athlete Vinnie Jones, is a fearsome and violent debt collector. Clad in a black trenchcoat and armed with guns, he exudes an aura of intimidation and power that is truly awe-inspiring.
It is quite unsettling to discover that Big Chris is actually inspired by a real-life British gangster named Dave Courtney. Considering the extent of his violence, this revelation raises some concerns. Dave Courtney, who has also dabbled in acting, shares a similar imposing physique with his on-screen counterpart. It’s not hard to imagine how this real-life criminal would have influenced the creation of Big Chris.
7. Dr. Evil (‘Austin Powers’ Franchise) Was Based On ‘SNL’ Mastermind Lorne Michaels
The Austin Powers series is well-known for showcasing Mike Myers’ incredible range as an actor. While Austin Powers is the main character, many people actually prefer Dr. Evil. With his exaggerated mannerisms, maniacal laughter, and classic cartoon villain traits, Dr. Evil is undeniably ridiculous.
According to Dana Carvey, who acted alongside Myers in the Wayne’s World films and on Saturday Night Live, the character of Dr. Evil – except for the iconic pinky-finger pose – was originally a satirical impression of SNL boss Lorne Michaels, done by Carvey himself. Myers then took this impression and turned it into comedic gold. Myers himself had this to say about the character: “The Dr. Evil voice definitely has some Lorne Michaels in it, but there’s also a lot of Donald Pleasence. Lorne does have a pinky thing, but he doesn’t do it anymore.”
Although Myers tries to play down the resemblance, it’s hard to miss the inspiration behind the voice. In fact, other SNL stars have created their own “boss” characters inspired by Michaels. One example is Mark McKinney, an SNL alum and star of Kids in the Hall, whose voice as corporate boss “Don Roritor” bears a striking resemblance to Dr. Evil.
8. Miss Trunchbull (‘Matilda’) Is Based On A ‘Revolting’ Candy Shop Owner From Roald Dahl’s Childhood
Roald Dahl had a unique talent for capturing the enchantment and horrors of childhood. One of his most memorable and grotesque characters is Miss Trunchbull, a towering and terrifying woman who struck fear into the hearts of students and teachers alike. Trunchbull, like many of Dahl’s creations, is purely wicked in appearance and behavior.
Dahl drew inspiration from his own childhood experiences to create Trunchbull, specifically recalling a rather unpleasant woman who owned a candy shop. Describing her, Dahl wrote, “Her apron was dirty and greasy, her blouse stained with bits of breakfast – toast crumbs, tea marks, and dried egg-yolk. But it was her hands that disturbed us the most. They were filthy, blackened with dirt and grime, as though she had been handling coal all day. She never smiled, never welcomed us, and only spoke to scold us with phrases like, ‘I’m watching you, so keep your thieving fingers off those chocolates!’ or ‘Don’t come in here just to browse! Either buy something or leave!'”
Furthermore, Dahl and his friends once played a prank on her by placing a dead mouse in a jar. This incident is reminiscent of a scene in Dahl’s book Matilda, where Matilda’s friend sneaks a newt into Trunchbull’s water jug.
9. Auric Goldfinger (‘Goldfinger’) Is Based On A Mining And Metals Tycoon That Ian Fleming Knew Personally
James Bond is undeniably a beloved and iconic spy in movie history, but let’s not forget that his villains are equally famous. One of the most memorable adversaries Bond faces is Auric Goldfinger. Like all Bond villains, Goldfinger is a character of extremes. He may appear polite and bluff, with a strikingly attractive face, but don’t be fooled – he is one of the cruelest and most ruthless opponents Bond has encountered on the big screen.
Interestingly, Goldfinger wasn’t simply a product of Ian Fleming’s imagination. It seems that he was inspired by a real-life magnate named Charles W. Engelhard. Engelhard was a wealthy figure in the mining and metals industry and had a connection with the author. Surprisingly, instead of taking offense, Engelhard seemed to play along with the characterization. In fact, he even claimed to have a flight attendant named Pussy Galore on one of his planes.
Overall, it’s fascinating to see how these larger-than-life characters in the Bond universe can sometimes have connections to the real world.
10. Alien (‘Spring Breakers’) Is A Thinly Veiled Version Of Real-Life Underground Rapper Riff-Raff
Spring Breakers is definitely a weird movie, mixing comedy, crime, satire, and violence in a unique way. At the heart of this crazy world of partygoers and troublemakers is Alien, played by the always versatile James Franco. Alien is a rapper, arms dealer, and drug dealer, the kind of character Franco excels at portraying – both slimy and charming, fitting right into the film’s version of Florida.
You might find Alien’s appearance familiar, and that’s because he seems to be based on the underground rapper Riff-Raff. Riff-Raff is just as eccentric and over-the-top as his on-screen counterpart, and he has mixed feelings about the resemblance, especially considering his troubled relationship with director Harmony Korine.
11. Withnail (‘Withnail & I’) Was Based On A Real-Life Eccentric Alcoholic Named Vivian MacKerrell
Withnail and I is a unique film that blends tragedy and comedy, creating a true black comedy experience. The story revolves around two struggling actors, with Richard E. Grant delivering an exceptional performance as the character Withnail. Grant’s portrayal is nothing short of extraordinary, capturing both the ridiculous and sublime aspects of the character, almost like a Shakespearean figure. Withnail is the kind of person who indulges in excess but also serenades wolves at the zoo.
What adds to the compelling nature of the character is the fact that he is based on a real person, Vivian MacKerrell, who was an alcoholic aspiring actor. Director Bruce Robinson has made it clear that if there is someone Withnail is based on, it’s Vivian MacKerrell. Robinson himself lived with MacKerrell during their younger and wilder years, describing him as a wild, aristocratic, and highly educated individual.
Some of the film’s most bizarre scenes are actually inspired by true events from MacKerrell’s life. For instance, the scene where Withnail drinks lighter fluid is based on a real incident. This incident left Vivian blind for a few days and, according to Robinson, may have even contributed to the throat cancer that ultimately took his life at the age of 50.