As Madonna picks Julia Garner to play her in a new biopic, we look at other great chameleonic turns.

It will surprise nobody to hear that Madonna is to direct a biopic of her own life. The Queen of Pop unabashedly says: ‘I want to convey the incredible journey that life has taken me on as an artist, a musician, a dancer – a human being, trying to make her way in this world.

‘There are so many untold and inspiring stories and who better to tell it than me? It’s essential to share the rollercoaster ride of my life with my voice and vision.’

Indeed. But the question of who should play Madonna in a film of Madonna’s life – incidentally entitled Little Sparrow – is perhaps more complicated. After a long audition process, the role is going to the American actress, Julia Garner, whose unforgettable back catalogue includes Ozark and Inventing Anna.

We wish Garner the very best of luck. To portray the megastar in a manner that the megastar likes will be no mean feat.

Here, we applaud the stars who’ve triumphantly transformed for the big screen in the past.

Main image: Harald Krichel, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Natalie Portman As Jacqueline Kennedy in Jackie

When talk of this movie began, Rachel Weisz was the mooted lead. By the time it was released in 2016, Natalie Portman had taken on the role. Lucky us: she, her wardrobe and her voice are brilliant in it. She threw herself into the study of Kennedy for the performance, using endless recordings, videos, articles and biographies at her sources, and was deservedly nominated for an Oscar. Watch the trailer here.

Michael Sheen As Tony Blair In The Queen

When Michael Sheen played Tony Blair in 2003 in The Deal, which was written by Peter Morgan and directed by Stephen Frears, he did so to rave reviews. He was the obvious choice, then, to take the role in 2006’s The Queen (which was also written by Morgan and directed by Frears). This time around he was nominated for a BAFTA for Best Supporting Actor. He was so good that, to this day, people sometimes mistake Blair for Sheen. Watch it on Netflix here.

Madonna As Eva Peron In Evita

In Alan Parker’s 1996 film adaptation of the musical Evita, Madonna stars as Eva Peron. The director Oliver Stone had thought of casting Michelle Pfeiffer, Glenn Close or Meryl Streep to play Eva but gave the role to Madonna after she sent him a four-page letter proclaiming her commitment. She won a Best Actress Golden Globe for her acclaimed performance. She said at the time: ‘This is the role I was born to play. I put everything of me into this because it was much more than a role in a movie. It was exhilarating and intimidating at the same time. I am prouder of Evita than anything else I have done.’ Watch it on Amazon here.

Rami Malek As Freddie Mercury In Bohemian Rhapsody

We didn’t know much about the Californian actor Rami Malek when he played Freddie Mercury in the Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody in 2018. He wasn’t on our radar like Sacha Baron Cohen or Ben Wishaw (the two high-profile actors who had been lined up for the role). But he nailed the likeness. ‘It’s an arduous thing to tell someone’s life in just two hours,’ he said, ever thoughtful. ‘But I think if you don’t celebrate his life, and his struggles, and how complicated he was, and how transformative he was – and wallow instead in the sadness of what he endured and his ultimate death – then that could be a disservice to the profound, vibrant, radiant nature of such an indelible human being.’ Watch it on Netflix here.

Meryl Streep As Mrs Thatcher In The Iron Lady

Streep’s 2011 role as Margaret Thatcher in Iron Lady was widely considered a career high. When the film was in production, she said: ‘The prospect of exploring the swathe cut through history by this remarkable woman is a daunting and exciting challenge. I am trying to approach the role with as much zeal, fervour and attention to detail as the real Lady Thatcher possesses – I can only hope my stamina will begin to approach her own.’ Her hard work paid off and Streep won her third Best Actress Oscar for her performance. Watch it on Netflix here.

Eddie Redmayne As Stephen Hawking In The Theory Of Everything

Redmayne got the offer to play the lead role in 2014’s The Theory of Everything without even auditioning, so few were surprised when he bagged an Oscar for it. It is reported that, when Hawking watched Redmayne’s portrayal, ‘there were certain points when he thought he was watching himself’. That’s the way to do it! Watch it on Netflix here.

By Becky Ladenburg
July 2022

Becky Ladenburg

Features Editor

As the GWG's features editor, Becky has her discerning finger on the cultural pulse. She's also our go-to expert on the property market.