Can Will Smith play President Barack Obama?
President Barack Obama once said that popular African-American actor Will Smith would be the best actor to play him in a movie. “Will and I have talked about this because he has the ears!” President Obama said sometime in the spring of 2008 before he won the presidential nomination. But do you think Will Smith and Barack Obama will pass for brothers at any gathering?
Will Smith is an exceptional actor and was very good in his outstanding portrayal of the greatest boxing legend of all time, Muhammad Ali, in the 2001 biographical film Ali directed by Michael Mann. He was equally good as Chris Gardner the on-and-off-homeless salesman-turned-stockbroker in the 2006 biopic film The Pursuit of Happyness directed by Gabriele Muccino, and he deserved the Best Actor Oscar nominations for the two different roles.
Playing great personalities in biopic movies is not for every actor. Only exceptionally gifted actors can play such challenging roles and I can recall the following examples.
Danny Glover was not convincing in his portrayal of the great South African anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela in the HBO biopic Mandela (1987). He did not look like Mandela and he played the role with more of his African American accent than Mandela’s Black South African accent. But Morgan Freeman was great as Mandela in Clint Eastwood’s Invictus in 2009. Even the Guardian commended his almost perfect portrayal of the great South African leader.
“He gets the rumble and halting rhythm of Mandela’s speech, the erect posture and stiff gait,” said Bill Keller in his review in the Guardian of UK, Thursday 31 December 2009.
“Mandela, you really have to know him,” Freeman said of his challenging role.
Freeman’s noble portrait of South Africa’s first black president deserved all the nominations for Best Actor he received at the Academy Awards, BAFTAs, and others.
Jamie Foxx was unforgettably awesome in Ray, the 2004 biopic of the legendary American Rhythm and Blues musician Ray Charles directed by Taylor Hackford. Foxx deserved the Academy Award for Best Actor for his excellent performance. In fact Foxx had to convince Ray Charles himself before he played the challenging role.
Ray was quoted in an interview before his death, saying: “I can’t believe how good Foxx is. I’ve had a couple of people who saw him work and they came back and said, ‘Ray, you just won’t believe this guy! He’s got you down so pat that he even walks like you! He does everything exactly like you.’ I only go by my personal experience with him and I think he’s phenomenal. He’s a wonderful man.”
Forest Whitaker was extraordinary in his title role of the Ugandan despotic military tyrant Idi Amin in the 2006 British drama The Last King of Scotland. Ugandans commended him for being totally transformed into Idi Amin in looks and in the crude English accent of a semi-literate Ugandan. Whitaker had to spend months in Uganda interviewing the family members of Amin and met with former government officials and surviving victims of the brutal dictator; he also studied Swahili to master Amin’s accent.
Cuba Gooding, Jr. was praised for his lead role of Master Chief Petty Officer Carl Brashear, the first African-American Master Diver in the United States Navy, in the 2000 biographical drama Men of Honor by George Tillman, Jr.
Denzel Washington was also great as Steve Biko, the black South African martyr of the anti-apartheid struggle in the 1987 British drama Cry Freedom directed by Richard Attenborough. Those who knew Biko in real life said Denzel Washington did not disappoint them.