Hope Davis as Hillary Clinton, in the upcoming HBO film The Special Relationship, is one of the more inspired casting picks I’ve heard in a while. (The “special relationship,” by the way, is not that between Bill and Hillary—or Bill and any other woman—but Bill and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.) Davis, besides being simply a great actress, has just enough resemblance to Hillary to play her without seeming like she’s doing an impersonation. And she tells the New York Times’ ArtsBeat blog that the key to playing the role, besides research, is remembering that she’s not Amy Poehler. That is, “It’s a drama, it’s not a comedy, so you don’t really want to be really imitating someone in the way that Darrell Hammond is able to do.”
Comedy or drama, that’s an important thing for any actor to remember. There’ve been some excellent Presidential satire pieces on SNL over the years, but I think the show and its predecessors have conditioned us to believe that a good portrayal of a public figure requires “getting” them, looking and sounding as much like them as possible.
But some of the most memorable such performances, from Chevy Chase as Gerald Ford to Frank Langella as Richard Nixon, have involved not literal impersonations so much as the actor getting the subject’s character (or at least the subject’s caricature). Conversely—sorry, Rich Little and Frank Caliendo—simply sounding exactly like someone is not enough.
Anybody care to cast the first Obama Administration movie?