In 2012, President Barack Obama will have to fight against the top Republican candidate (either Rick Perry, Mitt Romney or any other GOP contender) and any other third-party face to come up. While the current President has not been played by an actor on film (Fred Armisen’s impression on Saturday Night Live not counting), he could possibly join the ranks of these real Presidents who were given the big-screen treatment on the silver screen – or equal treatment for television:
For all of his troubles related to the Watergate scandal, the 37th President remained an interesting figure for Hollywood. The first Nixon on celluloid was portrayed by legendary character actor Philip Baker Hall in Robert Altman’s 1984 play-on-film Secret Honor. It would be another 11 years before Anthony Hopkins delivered a towering portrayal for Oliver Stone in the biopic Nixon. While the film was an overlong and criticized work (at over 3 hours long), Hopkins’ performance was hailed – earning an Oscar nomination.
Dan Hedaya portrayed “Tricky Dick” for comical effect in the 1997 spoof Dick, featuring two girls (Kirsten Dunst & Michelle Williams) who become White House dogwalkers, just as the Nixon administration is coming undone.
Three years after the real Nixon stepped down from office in August 1974, he was interviewed by British journalist David Frost. It would be dramatized in Peter Morgan’s acclaimed play Frost/Nixon, which was later translated for film by Ron Howard in 2008. Frank Langella, who earned the Tony Award for playing Nixon on Broadway, reprised his role for the cameras. Yet Langella is not the most recent Nixon – British actor-director Robert Wisden holds that honor, for Zack Snyder’s comic-book epic, 2009’s Watchmen.
The 40th President was a successful actor before taking the political life, and riding that all the way to Washington. During and after his administration, Reagan was often parodied – and one actor would get to play him more than once.
Jay Koch had been a sergeant with the NYPD before moving to California, and somehow landing the role of a lifetime – being the ultimate look-alike of the Gipper. Koch portrayed Reagan for laughs in two hit comedy sequels, 1989’s Back to the Future: Part II and 1993’s Hot Shots! Part Deux. He would portray Reagan in a more serious light, thanks to his appearance in Mario Van Peebles’ 1995 drama Panther. Bryan Clark would portray him in the 1991 Bill Maher comedy Pizza Man, and Fred Ward played Reagan in the 2009 French spy thriller The Farewell Affair.
Yet one notable Reagan portrayal never made the finished cut of a film – Rip Torn played him in the 1982 sequel Airplane II: The Sequel.
He was the leader of the Rough Riders in the Spanish American War, and he would become President for two terms starting in 1901. In 1939, twenty years after Teddy’s death, actor Sidney Blackmer would become the first to play him in the movie The Monroe Doctrine. Film and stage actor John Alexander took on the Roosevelt role in the 1950 comedy Fancy Pants, which featured him opposite Bob Hope and Lucille Ball.
In 1975, Brian Keith portrayed a President Roosevelt circa 1904 in John Milius’ adventure The Wind and the Lion – as the President ends up getting involved in a rescue mission in Morocco, after an American woman (Candice Bergen) is kidnapped by a commander (Sean Connery). The next two T.R. portrayals would be on TV – William Phipps on the landmark 1976 miniseries Eleanor and Franklin, and Tom Berenger (taking T.R. back to his war days) in the 1997 TNT miniseries Rough Riders. Ed Metzger would bring the President back to the big screen in David Fincher’s 2008 Oscar winner The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
The best-known portrayer of Theodore Roosevelt may be one of the more unlikely – Oscar-winning actor-comedian Robin Williams. He joined Ben Stiller and an all-star cast in Roosevelt’s “Rough Rider” look in the 2006 family blockbuster Night at the Museum. He would return to the role three years later for the sequel Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.
FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT
For the WWII-era President, the first on-screen portrayal of FDR came during the war. In 1942, into FDR’s third term, Jack Young portrayed him in the George M. Cohan biopic Yankee Doodle Dandy. In 1960, Ralph Bellamy portrayed a vibrant FDR just before he is paralyzed in the biopic Sunrise at Campobello. Bellamy did not receive any love from the Oscars for his role, but his co-star Greer Garson (as his wife Eleanor) received a Best Actress nomination.
Two Oscar-winning actors didn’t win for their portrayal of FDR, but did find time to portray the Commander in Chief. Jason Robards (All the President’s Men) starred in the 1980 work FDR: The Last Year, and Jon Voight (Coming Home) donned the glasses – and even recited the legendary “day in infamy” speech – for Michael Bay’s 2001 epic Pearl Harbor. Another highly-respected actor-director, Kenneth Branagh, played him in the 2005 HBO film Warm Springs.
Yet just like Jay Koch as Ronald Reagan, one actor got more mileage in playing FDR. Before co-starring on the hit dramedy Gilmore Girls, Edward Herrmann stepped into the shoes of the 33rd President. He played FDR in two different miniseries: 1976’s Eleanor and Franklin, and the 1977 sequel Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years. He would win Emmy nominations for both. Five years later, Herrmann portrayed FDR in a more whimsical light in the film adaptation of the musical Annie.
Even with these presidents being portrayed numerous times on film and TV, one President easily outshines them all. The full breakdown on the most-portrayed U.S. President is coming soon…