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Starring Me as Me

January 24, 2018

Sometimes the only person who can truly tell the story of a person on screen…is that person. Here are some movies based on a true story in which people played themselves.

The Big Sick

The Big Sick was one of the most critically acclaimed movies of 2017. Married screenwriters Kumail Nanjiani (a standup comedian) and Emily Gordon (a producer) based the movie on their own love story. Shortly after they met, Gordon was placed in a medically-induced coma, while Nanjiani neglected to tell his Pakistani-American family that he had fallen in love with an American woman. While Zoe Kazan plays “Emily Gardner” in the film, Nanjiani plays comedian “Kumail Nanjiani.”

15:17 to Paris

Clint Eastwood has directed many actors to an Oscar, such as Sean Penn for Mystic River and Hilary Swank for Million Dollar Baby. For his latest movie, he by and large eschewed such seasoned professionals for a cast of non-actors. The film 15:17 to Paris is a realistic account of the 2015 Thalys train attack in which a terrorist attack on a European train was thwarted by passengers, including three Americans: Anthony Sadler, Spencer Stone, and Alec Skarlatos. It plays up the story’s themes of regular people thrust into a new situation and acting heroically—Eastwood cast Sadler, Stone, and Skarlatos as themselves.

The Greatest

At his peak in the 1970s, who could have played the dazzling Muhammad Ali besides Muhammad Ali? That’s the thinking behind The Greatest, the 1977 Ali biopic covering the boxer’s life from the 1960 Olympics to the 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” bout with George Foreman. Formidable, full-time actors like James Earl Jones round out the cast (he plays Malcolm X), but Ali stole the show as Ali.

Viva Knievel!

Almost as famous in the 1970s: red, white, and blue-clad motorcycle-riding daredevil Ever Knievel. He was a pop culture phenomenon in the ‘70s. In addition to attempting increasingly death-defying stunts (like jumping over buses, or Snake River Canyon, or using rocket-powered motorcycles), kids could buy Evil Knievel action figures and bikes. He also starred in a movie, the not-at-all based-on-a-true story, Viva Knievel! in 1977. The plot concerns Knievel planning a stunt in Mexico, but he has to thwart a plan by an evil drug lord to kill him. Evel saves his own life, brings the bad guys to justice, and along the way, helps a crippled orphan walk.

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