Playing a criminal has to be a tough job considering the actors who portray them have never committed a crime. However, many stars are eager to sign up for these roles because they are dynamic and challenging. They have to get into the minds of some of the evilest people.
From serial killers like Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy to mobsters like Jesse James and Al Capone, these actors perfectly portrayed history’s most hardened criminals and looked exactly like the real-life people. We will never be able to look at these actors the same way after seeing them as these killers.
Gypsy Rose Blanchard
Gypsy Rose Blanchard grew up with her mother Dee Dee making claims about her health. It resulted in a series of serious diagnoses and medical interventions. Gypsy received medical treatments such as having all her teeth removed and getting a feeding tube. In reality, she didn’t need those treatments.
Gypsy didn’t have any health issues; her mom lied about her symptoms. Experts believe Dee Dee suffered from Munchausen syndrome by proxy, feigning and inducing illness in Gypsy. The truth only came out after Gypsy arranged for her boyfriend to murder Dee Dee in 2015.
Joey King as Gypsy Rose Blanchard in The Act
In 2019, Hulu released a dramatized series about Gypsy and the events that led to the murder of her mother and Gypsy pleading guilty to second-degree murder. The Act starred Joey King as Gypsy, and she played the role perfectly. King even shaved her head to get into character.
It’s almost scary how much King looked like Gypsy. The series received overwhelmingly positive reviews, and King was nominated for an Emmy, a Critics Choice Award, and a Golden Globe, to name a few. Today Gypsy is still in jail and is up for parole next year. Her former boyfriend is serving a life sentence.
You might know Michelle Carter as the girl who encouraged her boyfriend to commit suicide in 2014. She had been dating Conrad Roy for two years after meeting him in Florida while their families were on vacation. They lived an hour away from each other and mostly communicated through text messages.
Carter and Roy only met in person a handful of times and bonded over their mental health struggles. Roy suffered from depression and told Carter that he wanted to kill himself. Instead of contacting his family or getting help, Carter encouraged him. She was later charged with involuntary manslaughter.
Elle Fanning as Michelle Carter in The Girl From Plainville
In the new Hulu drama, The Girl from Plainville, Elle Fanning portrays Michelle Carter. The casting was perfect because Fanning looked identical to Carter. The series showed that the story wasn’t as straightforward as most people thought, and there was more to the case than just a girl who texted her boyfriend to kill himself.
The narrative includes suicide, suspected murder, teen romance, mental health struggles, tragic text messages, and a public murder trial. Fanning transformed with three different wigs and prosthetic pieces to cover her hairline. Today, Carter is out on parole after serving 11 months in jail.
Sometimes known as the “Milwaukee Cannibal” or “Milwaukee Monster,” Jeffrey Dahmer was one of the most notorious serial killers in American history. He murdered and dismembered 17 men and boys between 1878 and 1991. He got away with his crimes for over a decade.
Dahmer was only caught when one of his victims convinced him that they were his friend and managed to escape. Dahmer was later arrested and confessed to all his sickening crimes. He was later killed in jail after being sentenced to 16 life sentences.
Jeremy Renner as Jeffrey Dahmer in Dahmer
Before playing Hawkeye in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Jeremy Renner portrayed the notorious serial killer in the 2002 film Dahmer. In the fictionalized biopic, Dahmer considers the fate of his prey while having flashbacks to the events that led to him becoming a monster.
Despite the serious nature of the film, Dahmer didn’t receive excellent ratings. It only made $144,000 at the box office with a budget of $250,000. The upcoming Netflix series based on Dahmer’s life starring Evan Peters looks like it will be better than the film.
Alphonse Gabriel Capone, aka Al Capone or “Scarface,” was one of the most famous American gangsters. It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t know Capone’s name. He gained notoriety during the Prohibition era as the co-founder and boss of the Chicago Outfit.
Capone’s seven-year reign as a crime boss ended when he went to prison at age 33. Despite being at his Florida home, he was widely assumed to have been responsible for the 1929 Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre. Capone ultimately ended up in jail for tax evasion.
Robert De Niro as Al Capone in The Untouchables
If there’s anyone who should play Al Capone, it’s the best fake gangster in the business: Robert De Niro. He owned his performance as the notorious bootlegger in the 1987 Brian De Palma film. The film was a box office success, and it became one of De Niro’s best films.
He might not have looked exactly like the chubby gangster, but De Niro brought life to the criminal who died long before his story was brought to the big screen. Surprisingly, De Niro didn’t win any awards for his performance.
The world’s first female serial killer, Aileen Wournos, was infamous for murdering and robbing seven of her male clients. She posed as a sex worker on the highways in Florida to attract her potential victims. She claimed all her clients were killed in self-defense.
Wournos was eventually caught after police found her fingerprints on the victims’ belongings in pawnshops. She was eventually sentenced to death for the six murders. On October 9, 2002, Wournos was executed by lethal injection after 12 years on death row.
Charlize Theron as Aileen Wournos in Monster
In 2003’s Monster, Charlize Theron completely transformed herself into the notorious Wournos. Theron gained about 25 pounds to play the serial killer and sat in the makeup chair for hours to make her look like the mangey criminal. They used prosthetics and fake teeth to replicate Wournos’ crooked smile.
The tough transformation was worth it because Theron won an Oscar for her performance. During her first days on set, the director didn’t recognize Theron when she walked by. They thought she was a stand-in because the hair and makeup were incredible.
Ted Bundy is one of the most famous serial killers who kidnapped and murdered young women and girls during the 1970s. He terrorized the country after escaping from police captivity more than once, which led to a massive manhunt. He continued to deny that he had committed the crimes.
However, after a decade of denials, Bundy confessed to 30 murders in seven states between 1974 and 1978. He was charismatic and used his looks to win the trust of his victims and society as a whole. Bundy was eventually executed in January 1989 in the electric chair.
Zac Efron as Ted Bundy in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile
In the Netflix movie Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, Zac Efron portrays the infamous killer. Most of us know Efron as the singing Disney star from High School Musical, so seeing him as a conniving serial killer was a huge change.
Efron admitted that he didn’t use much method acting to get inside Bundy’s head; he even said the role was “fun.” He shared that it tells a story and shows everyone how he charmed the world. Efron felt that it was interesting to experiment in that realm of acting.
Thanks to his crimes, almost everyone knows who Charles Manson is. The infamous cult leader made his followers kill 35 people, including Sharon Tate. He led the Manson Family in the 1960s and spent half of his life in correctional institutions before forming the cult.
The prosecution in his case contended that Manson never directly ordered the murders, but his ideology caused an overt act of conspiracy. Manson was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole but died in jail in 2017.
Steve Railsback as Charles Manson in Helter Skelter
In 1976, Steve Railsback portrayed him in the TV movie Helter Skelter. He took the role seriously by spending periods in dark closets alone, so he could understand what solitary confinement might have felt like. Railsback said he did many things to become Manson.
He read Helter Skelter, the book about Manson by Vincent Bugliosi that theorized Manson wanted to start a race war, and he studied his speech. Railsback watched him speak and he also listened to Manson’s music. He wanted to get into the criminal’s head.
In the late 1800s, Jesse James became known as an outlaw, bank and train robber, and the leader of the James-Younger gang. He and his accomplices robbed banks, stagecoaches, and trains across the Midwest. Surprisingly, James gained sympathy despite the brutality of his crimes.
As pressure rose to capture James, one of his recruits, Robert Ford, shot and killed him to collect the reward on James’s head. After his death, James became a legendary figure of the Wild West and has often been portrayed as a “Robin Hood” type.
Brad Pitt as Jesse James in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Having someone as handsome as Brad Pitt play the notorious Missouri criminal might give James too much credit. As far as most knew, James wasn’t known for his looks, but he was charismatic and charmed the hearts of Southerners during his reign of terror.
The movie wasn’t a box office hit, but it received two Academy Award nominations, neither of which were for Pitt. It was also named on Empire’s 500 Greatest Films of All Time, coming in at number 396. The 2007 film was better received by critics than moviegoers.
John Wayne Gacy
Like Bundy and Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy is another notorious serial killer. He tortured and murdered at least 33 young men and boys before burying them under his house. Gacy’s entire story was even creepier because he often dressed as a clown at children’s hospitals and charity events.
After police found human remains in Gacy’s house, he confessed to the murders. He was sentenced to death after a long trial. Gacy tried to appeal based on the validity of the search warrants, but he was executed on May 10, 1994.
Brian Dennehy as John Wayne Gacy in To Catch a Killer
Playing one of the creepiest serial killers in history can’t be an easy job, but Brian Dennehy took on the role in the 1992 film, To Catch a Killer. He said it was weird to play someone as sick and screwed up as Gacy.
According to Dennehy, Gacy wrote him a letter protesting the film and proclaiming his innocence. Dennehy did not reply to the note. While Dennehy played Gacy in an alpha sort of way, Gacy was actually non-confrontational and timid when approached by police.
Delphine LaLaurie, commonly known as Madame LaLaurie, was a socialite in New Orleans in the late 1700s and early 1800s. She became a serial killer who tortured and murdered enslaved people in her household. She was married three times and twice widowed.
LaLaurie was only caught when a fire broke out at her mansion, and rescuers discovered people tied up in her attic with signs of violent abuse over a long period. Outraged citizens mobbed her house, and LaLaurie escaped with her family to France.
Kathy Bates as Madame LaLaurie in American Horror Story
In American Horror Story’s Season Coven, Kathy Bates portrayed Madame LaLaurie. Bates had an incredible experience playing the serial killer and loved working with Ryan Murphy. The show allowed Bates to put her own twist on the historical character. Her performance was a hit.
Some say it was one of Bates’s best roles. It launched her comeback, and Bates won an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress. She had to challenge herself by getting into the mind of a racist and sadist, but it was worth the task.
Bonnie Parker was one-half of the criminal couple, Bonnie and Clyde. The couple was known for robbing banks, small stores, and rural funeral homes between 1931 and 1934. Bonnie spent most of her life getting in trouble with the law and met Clyde after her first husband’s arrest.
The criminal duo gained a lot of public attention and were killed in a shootout on May 23, 1934. Clyde was shot in the head by an officer, and then the rest of the police emptied their guns, firing 130 into the car.
Faye Dunaway as Bonnie Parker in Bonnie and Clyde
Although the real Bonnie was not a blonde beauty like Faye Dunaway, the actress showed off Bonnie’s fierce, pistol-slinging side. The 1967 biographical crime film unofficially introduced “the skinny arm” and did justice to Bonnie’s legacy. Unfortunately, it wasn’t completely accurate.
It was wonderful entertainment, but Bonnie and Clyde didn’t suddenly emerge into the public eye as glamorous figures, driving around the country holding up banks. The movie was only about five percent historically accurate, but Dunaway was fabulous and elegant in every possible way.
John Reginald Christie
Known to his family and friends as Reg Christie, John Reginald Christie was an English serial killer who murdered at least eight people (including his wife) in the 1940s and 1950s. When he moved out of his apartment in 1953 and illegally sublet the flat, his landlord showed up.
Christie’s landlord found a random couple in the apartment and kicked them out. The upstairs tenants were allowed to use Christie’s kitchen and peeled back the wallpaper, finding dead bodies in the walls. The investigation led to his arrest and execution in 1953.
Richard Attenborough as John Reginald Christie in 10 Rillington Place
The 1971 film based on Christie’s crimes starred Richard Attenborough as the notorious killer. Attenborough was hesitant to play Christie, but once he saw the script, he had to take the role. He didn’t like playing the part, but it was an incredible story.
Attenborough said, “I have never felt so totally involved in any part as this. It is a most devastating statement on capital punishment.” The film received positive reviews for the chilling portrayal of Christie and the way his case was handled.
Perry Edward Smith
In 1959, John Edward Smith took part in the murders of four members of the Clutter family in Kansas. He went to the Clutter family home with Richard Hitchock and killed them in cold blood. They picked the home after hearing that the Clutters had a safe with $10,000 inside.
Smith and his partner evaded police for six weeks by roaming around the country. They were eventually captured in Las Vegas following an extensive manhunt. Smith admitted to his crimes, and he was later executed on April 14, 1965.
Clifton Collins Jr. as Perry Smith in Capote
In the 2005 film Capote, Clifton Collins Jr. portrays Smith as a simple and confused man. It was based on writer Truman Capote’s time researching the Clutter family murder, which led to his book In Cold Blood. Collins made us believe that Perry fell for Truman as a confidant.
It seems that Smith trusted Truman to tell his story “truthfully” and possibly find him not guilty in this case. Collins caused the audience to wonder if someone who killed an entire family could be redeemed. The film was critically acclaimed by many.
Otherwise known as the Iceman, Richard Kuklinski was a convicted murderer who ran into trouble with the law for most of his adult life. He ran a burglary ring and distributed pirated adult movies. He also killed several people by luring them with business offers.
After an 18-month-long undercover operation, Kuklinski was arrested in December 1986. He was then sentenced to life in prison with an additional 30 years. After his conviction, he gave interviews to anyone who would listen, in which he claimed to have murdered 100 to 200 men.
Michael Shannon as Richard Kuklinski in The Iceman
Known for starring in Broadway Empire, Michael Shannon portrayed a killer with a soft voice and violent tendencies in the 2012 film, The Iceman. The film was about Kuklinski, who earned his nickname for freezing his victims to hide their time of death.
While it wasn’t a huge success, Shannon won a Newport Beach Film Festival award for the film. It was adapted from the book The Iceman: The True Story of a Cold-Blooded Killer by Anthony Bruno. Shannon did his best with the material.
As part of the Luciano crime family, Frank Costello was a crime boss between the 1930s and ‘50s. In 1957, he survived an assassination attempt ordered by Vito Genovese from a rival crime family. While he committed terrible crimes, Costello went to prison for lesser charges.
In the 1950s, the US Senate conducted an extensive investigation of organized crime, and Costello was convicted of contempt, receiving 18 months in prison. He was sentenced to an additional five years for tax evasion. He later died from a heart attack at his Manhattan home.
Jack Nicholson as Frank Costello in The Departed
Legendary actor Jack Nicholson gave a nightmare-inducing and commanding performance as Costello. Martin Scorsese’s rendition of Costello’s story wasn’t completely historically accurate, but the film was incredible. Critics and audiences loved Nicholson’s performance.
The film received several awards, including three Oscars and a BAFTA nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Nicholson. It was a huge task to play one of America’s most notorious crime bosses, but the award-winning actor was memorable and moving. Some say that his version of Costello was a reimagined take on Whitney Bulger.
Given the nickname “The Night Stalker,” Richard Ramirez was a serial killer who kidnapped and assaulted his victims. His crime spree took place in California between 1984 and 1985. His chilling crimes gripped the nation and scared people from leaving their homes.
Ramirez was eventually convicted of 13 counts of murder, 5 attempted murders, 11 sexual assaults, and 14 burglaries. In November 1989, he was sentenced to death. He apparently said, “Big deal, death always went with that territory.” Ramirez died from lymphoma while waiting to be executed.
Zach Villa as Richard Ramirez in American Horror Story
In Season 9 of American Horror Story, Zach Villa played the Night Stalker. Villa said he had a “gut-check” moment when he found out that he would play Ramirez. He questioned if he would be glorifying serial killers and violence. Luckily, his performance was well-received.
Villa said, “I think humans have a complete fascination with true crime, and that manifests in a very lighthearted sort of way this season.” He felt he was just doing his job, and that was where it ended for him. He didn’t try to connect with Ramirez’s mind.
Joyce “Tilly” Mitchell
Joyce Mitchell worked as a correctional officer in a prison in upstate New York. She helped inmates Richard Matt, and David Sweat escape prison by providing them with equipment, including hacksaws smuggled in meat. In addition to the escape plan, they plotted to murder her husband.
Joyce said she helped the inmates escape because she was caught up in a fantasy. She planned to be the getaway driver but backed out at the last minute. The men were eventually caught, and she received four years in prison and was denied parole three times.
Patricia Arquette as Joyce Mitchell in Escape at Dannemora
In Ben Stiller’s 2018 mini-series, Escape at Dannemora, Patricia Arquette portrayed Joyce. The series was stellar and well-received. However, Joyce wasn’t happy with her portrayal, calling Stiller a “son of a b***h liar” for including a sex scene between her and the inmates.
While that part might not have been entirely true, Arquette’s performance was perfection. She looked almost identical to Joyce and embraced the sexuality of her character. She had to gain 40 pounds and wear contact lenses, but it was worth the effort.
In a case that shocked the small town of Wylie, Texas, Candy Montgomery killed her friend Betty Gore on June 13, 1980. She hit her friend with an ax 41 times and was shockingly found not guilty of the crime. She was a mother, housewife, and well-liked member of the community.
Her husband provided her with a comfortable life, but she became bored and started an affair with Betty’s husband, Allan Gore. When he decided to end the affair, Candy got jealous and killed Betty. However, she was found not guilty because she said she didn’t mean to kill her friend.
Jessica Biel as Candy Montgomery in Candy
In the upcoming series, Candy, Jessica Biel will star as the housewife turned killer in the Hulu series. Biel looks like the typical ‘80s housewife in the previews for the series with a short haircut and thick glasses. The series shows how Candy reported that she killed Betty in self-defense.
It is unbelievable that Candy got away with murder, but Biel was excited to play the criminal and bring the story to the small screen. Elizabeth Olsen will also portray Candy in the HBO Max series, Love and Death, which is also coming out this year.
David Koresh was a cult leader in Texas who played a central role in the Waco siege of 1993. As the head of the Branch Davidians, a religious sect, Koresh claimed to be its final prophet. His apocalyptic Biblical teachings attracted many followers.
Koresh and his followers took over Mount Carmel in 1987, and he was accused of polygamy and sexual abuse in the ‘90s. When the FBI launched a raid on Koresh’s compound, the 51-day siege ended with Koresh being shot. The compound was destroyed in a fire.
Taylor Kitsch as David Koresh in Waco
In the 2018 limited series, Waco, Taylor Kitsch played Koresh with his ‘80s mullet and old-school glasses. The critically acclaimed series showed the standoff between the FBI and Koresh’s followers at the compound. Kitsch had to lose 30 pounds for the role.
The series was nominated for several awards, but Kitsch didn’t win for his performance. Kitsch said he almost dropped out of the project but decided to continue. It took an intense psychological toll on him during the research stage, making him question if he wanted to continue.
Mostly known as Dr. Death, Christopher Duntsch was a former neurosurgeon who was arrested for malpractice, for the maiming of several patients’ spines and two deaths. He worked at a Dallas hospital before having his license revoked in 2013.
The medical board called him a “sociopath.” Fearing that Duntsch would practice medicine elsewhere and harm other people, the Dallas police were able to charge him four months before the statute of limitations was to run out. He was then sentenced to life in prison in 2017.
Joshua Jackson as Christopher Duntsch in Dr. Death
In the 2021 limited series, Dr. Death, Joshua Jackson portrays the infamous surgeon. Jackson had to stop judging Duntsch to get into character, but it was an ongoing challenge not to hate Duntsch. He felt he did a good job leaving the “heavy stuff” at work each day.
Jackson’s family was supportive of him taking the dark role even though he wasn’t always in the best headspace during filming. The material was dark, and it wasn’t easy to portray someone who purposely caused harm to patients. Jackson did a phenomenal job.
In 1997, Andrew Cunanan went on a killing spree murdering five people. One of his victims was famed fashion designer Gianni Versace. Over a three-month period, he drove through different states and killed his lovers. He died by suicide before being caught by the police.
Cunanan was an intelligent guy with an IQ of 147. At age ten, he memorized the encyclopedia, but he had a big secret. Cunanan was gay, and his family didn’t find out till he was 19. His parents were religious and didn’t approve. He only embraced his sexuality when he moved away from home.
Darren Criss as Andrew Cunanan in The Assassination of Gianni Versace
In The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, Darren Criss (from Glee) plays Cunanan. He didn’t have to do much to transform into the character besides donning a pair of glasses. Criss wasn’t nervous about taking on such a dark role.
He took on the big role of unraveling the mysterious identity of Cunanan because many people said he was a nice guy. Criss had to understand what led him to become a killer. He enjoyed getting into character and wanted to show that Cunanan was only human.
The former football player, nicknamed “Juice,” was a beloved athlete until he was charged with the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. Simpson’s trial was highly publicized with his team of high-profile lawyers, including Robert Kardashian. He was acquitted on all charges.
The victims’ families later filed civil lawsuits, and he was charged with wrongful death. Simpson was arrested several times after the lawsuit for armed robbery, unpaid taxes, and breaking boating laws. He was recently released from parole in December 2021 for good behavior.
Cuba Gooding Jr. as OJ Simpson in The People v. OJ Simpson
In 2016’s The People v. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story, Cuba Gooding Jr. portrayed the notorious criminal. Gooding Jr. tried to revive his career with his performance, but many people considered it mediocre. More viewers were focused on David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian.
Gooding Jr. felt the subject matter hit “close to home” because he feels that it “could have been him in the Bronco.” It took a toll on the actor, and it took a while for his voice to come back after using a raspy voice for the role. He said he was “hoarse” after three months of speaking like that.