HBO/FX
HBO/FX

10 TV Characters Who Were Inspired By Real People

HBO/FX
HBO/FX

From soup-makers to suspected serial killers, the small screen is filled with fictional characters who are at least partly inspired by real people. Here are 10 of them.

1. THE COUNTESS // AMERICAN HORROR STORY: HOTEL

In 2015, Lady Gaga joined the cast of American Horror Story: Hotel to play The Countess, a woman who craves sex and human blood. Though the character wasn't created with real estate heir/murder suspect Robert Durst in mind, that's exactly who Gaga used as inspiration for The Countess.

“Every day I would watch Robert Durst in The Jinx and his wife, Debrah, and I would sort of study the practical nature in which he was devious and evil,” Gaga told Variety. “He just has this extremely practical way of explaining how he’s going conceal the fact that he’s dumped a body in a river and kept it in his house and cut up his best friend.”

2. COSMO KRAMER // SEINFELD

Cosmo Kramer wasn’t always Cosmo Kramer: Originally referred to as "Kessler” in the pilot, Seinfeld co-creator Larry David modeled Cosmo Kramer after his own real-life neighbor Kenny Kramer, an eccentric comedian who continuously had odd and irregular jobs. In order to make sure his own spin on the character was unique, Michael Richards opted not to meet the real Kramer.

3. DON DRAPER // MAD MEN

AMC


Mad Mens Don Draper (Jon Hamm) shares a lot of similarities to real-life advertising executive Draper Daniels, who was the creative head of Leo Burnett in Chicago in the 1950s. Daniels was a handsome smooth-talker who came up with the Marlboro Man campaign. Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner once called Daniels, “one of the great copy guys.” 

4. OLIVIA POPE // SCANDAL

Shonda Rhimes based Scandal's Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) on crisis manager Judy Smith, who served as special assistant and deputy press secretary to George H.W. Bush and has represented politicians and celebrities such as Clarence Thomas, Monica Lewinsky, Michael Vick, and Paula Deen. Smith also serves as a co-executive producer and technical advisor on the hit drama.

"I come up with crisis ideas and send them to Shonda," Smith told ABC 7 in Chicago. "And she will call and say, 'What do you think about this?' and we talk about it. I read every script and I send them notes, and sometimes I am on the set. It's fun."

5. OMAR LITTLE // THE WIRE 

HBO

Donnie Andrews was a reformed drug dealer and hitman turned police informant from West Baltimore; he was also the inspiration for Omar Little (Michael K. Williams), one of The Wire’s most beloved characters. Series creator David Simon became acquainted with Andrews when he worked as a crime reporter for the Baltimore Sun. When it came time to make The Wire, he based the character of Omar on Andrews, and also hired him as a consultant on the series.

“They made Omar exactly the way I was,” Andrews told Vice. “David wrote [the Baltimore Sun article] ‘The West Side Story’ after my conviction in 1986 and they basically had everything down-pat. The gay part they took from a guy called Billy Outlaw, he was a gay stick-up guy.” In 2012, Andrews passed away from heart complications at the age of 58.

6. VINCENT CHASE // ENTOURAGE

The character of Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) on Entourage is based on the series’s executive producer, Mark Wahlberg, who had a very similar group of friends and rise to stardom in Hollywood.

''My assistant wanted to film my friends around me, because he just thought it was hilarious,” Wahlberg told The New York Times. “Initially we wanted to kind of go for someone who was more like myself … but we didn't think that the entourage fighting amongst themselves, like hitting each other with bottles … was going work. So we wanted it a little bit lighter.''

7. LUCIOUS LYON // EMPIRE

YouTube


Empire co-creator Danny Strong based the character Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard) on rapper and media mogul Jay Z because of his past criminal life and rise to stardom through hip-hop.

"The Jay Z story, which very much inspired …  certain elements of Lucious Lyon, was that story," Strong said. "For me, the story of people who have some sort of criminal past, or gangster past are not limited to black culture … Our goal is to tell a great story, and to do the best show we can.”

8. ABED NADIR // COMMUNITY

Community creator Dan Harmon based the character of Abed Nadir (Danny Pudi) on his friend and colleague, Abed Gheith. The pair worked together on Channel 101, a monthly film festival that showcases serialized mini-TV shows in Los Angeles and New York. According to Gheith, “I think I’m a bit more aware socially. I can tell when people are uncomfortable … It seems like the one on the show has no idea that he’s around other people. Like he's watching them on TV.  So he's kind of a kid-like version of me.”

9. THE SOUP NAZI // SEINFELD 

YouTube

The Soup Nazi (Larry Thomas) is one of the most popular breakout characters from Seinfeld. He was based on chef/businessman Ali Yeganeh, who owned Soup Kitchen International, a restaurant in New York City that had very strict rules about ordering and paying for soup, which retailed for $30 a pint in 1995. Despite his reportedly gruff demeanor, New Yorkers and tourists would line up around the block to taste Yeganeh’s delicious creations.

However, after the Seinfeld episode aired, Yeganeh hated the term “The Soup Nazi” and banned any use of it and/or reference to the NBC sitcom from his restaurant and all of his “Original Soup Man” franchises. He also claimed that the episode "ruined his life” and considers Jerry Seinfeld a “clown.”

10. BASIL FAWLTY // FAWLTY TOWERS

John Cleese based his Fawlty Towers character Basil Fawlty on a real-life hotel owner and manager named Donald Sinclair. In 1970, the Monty Python guys were guests at the Gleneagles Hotel in the seaside town of Torquay, England, where they came across the strict hotel proprietor. According to fellow Monty Python member Michael Palin, Sinclair wouldn’t bring in Eric Idle's suitcase because he thought there was a bomb in it.

In 1975, Cleese co-created Fawlty Towers with his then-wife Connie Booth. Cleese later described Donald Sinclair as "the most wonderfully rude man I have ever met."

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Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
The 10 Wildest Movie Plot Twists
Laura Harring in Mulholland Drive (2001)
Laura Harring in Mulholland Drive (2001)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

An ending often makes or breaks a movie. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as having the rug pulled out from under you, particularly in a thriller. But too many flicks that try to shock can’t stick the landing—they’re outlandish and illogical, or signal where the plot is headed. Not all of these films are entirely successful, but they have one important attribute in common: From the classic to the cultishly beloved, they involve hard-to-predict twists that really do blow viewers’ minds, then linger there for days, if not life. (Warning: Massive spoilers below.)

1. PSYCHO (1960)

Alfred Hitchcock often constructed his movies like neat games that manipulated the audience. The Master of Suspense delved headfirst into horror with Psycho, which follows a secretary (Janet Leigh) who sneaks off with $40,000 and hides in a motel. The ensuing jolt depends on Leigh’s fame at the time: No one expected the ostensible star and protagonist to die in a gory (for the time) shower butchering only a third of the way into the running time. Hitchcock outdid that feat with the last-act revelation that Anthony Perkins’s supremely creepy Norman Bates is embodying his dead mother.

2. PLANET OF THE APES (1968)

No, not the botched Tim Burton remake that tweaked the original movie’s famous reveal in a way that left everyone scratching their heads. The Charlton Heston-starring sci-fi gem continues to stupefy anyone who comes into its orbit. Heston, of course, plays an astronaut who travels to a strange land where advanced apes lord over human slaves. It becomes clear once he finds the decrepit remains of the Statue of Liberty that he’s in fact on a future Earth. The anti-violence message, especially during the political tumult of 1968, shook people up as much as the time warp.

3. DEEP RED (1975)

It’s not rare for a horror movie to flip the script when it comes to unmasking its killer, but it’s much rarer that such a film causes a viewer to question their own perception of the world around them. Such is the case for Deep Red, Italian director Dario Argento’s (Suspiria) slasher masterpiece. A pianist living in Rome (David Hemmings) comes upon the murder of a woman in her apartment and teams up with a female reporter to find the person responsible. Argento’s whodunit is filled to the brim with gorgeous photography, ghastly sights, and delirious twists. But best of all is the final sequence, in which the pianist retraces his steps to discover that the killer had been hiding in plain sight all along. Rewind to the beginning and you’ll discover that you caught an unknowing glimpse, too.

4. SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983)

Sleepaway Camp is notorious among horror fans for a number of reasons: the bizarre, stilted acting and dialogue; hilariously amateurish special effects; and ‘80s-to-their-core fashions. But it’s best known for the mind-bending ending, which—full disclosure—reads as possibly transphobic today, though it’s really hard to say what writer-director Robert Hiltzik had in mind. Years after a boating accident that leaves one of two siblings dead, Angela is raised by her aunt and sent to a summer camp with her cousin, where a killer wreaks havoc. In the lurid climax, we see that moody Angela is not only the murderer—she’s actually a boy. Her aunt, who always wanted a daughter, raised her as if she were her late brother. The final animalistic shot prompts as many gasps as cackles.

5. THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995)

The Usual Suspects has left everyone who watches it breathless by the time they get to the fakeout conclusion. Roger "Verbal" Kint (Kevin Spacey), a criminal with cerebral palsy, regales an interrogator in the stories of his exploits with a band of fellow crooks, seen in flashback. Hovering over this is the mysterious villainous figure Keyser Söze. It’s not until Verbal leaves and jumps into a car that customs agent David Kujan realizes that the man fabricated details, tricking the law and the viewer into his fake reality, and is in fact the fabled Söze.

6. PRIMAL FEAR (1996)

No courtroom movie can surpass Primal Fear’s discombobulating effect. Richard Gere’s defense attorney becomes strongly convinced that his altar boy client Aaron (Edward Norton) didn’t commit the murder of an archbishop with which he’s charged. The meek, stuttering Aaron has sudden violent outbursts in which he becomes "Roy" and is diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, leading to a not guilty ruling. Gere’s lawyer visits Aaron about the news, and as he’s leaving, a wonderfully maniacal Norton reveals that he faked the multiple personalities.

7. FIGHT CLUB (1999)

Edward Norton is no stranger to taking on extremely disparate personalities in his roles, from Primal Fear to American History X. The unassuming actor can quickly turn vicious, which led to ideal casting for Fight Club, director David Fincher’s adaptation of the Chuck Palahniuk novel. Fincher cleverly keeps the audience in the dark about the connections between Norton’s timid, unnamed narrator and Brad Pitt’s hunky, aggressive Tyler Durden. After the two start the titular bruising group, the plot significantly increases the stakes, with the club turning into a sort of anarchist terrorist organization. The narrator eventually comes to grips with the fact that he is Tyler and has caused all the destruction around him.

8. THE SIXTH SENSE (1999)

Early in his career, M. Night Shyamalan was frequently (perhaps a little too frequently) compared to Hitchcock for his ability to ratchet up tension while misdirecting his audience. He hasn’t always earned stellar reviews since, but The Sixth Sense remains deservedly legendary for its final twist. At the end of the ghost story, in which little Haley Joel Osment can see dead people, it turns out that the psychologist (Bruce Willis) who’s been working with the boy is no longer living himself, the result of a gunshot wound witnessed in the opening sequence.

9. THE OTHERS (2001)

The Sixth Sense’s climax was spooky, but not nearly as unnerving as Nicole Kidman’s similarly themed ghost movie The Others, released just a couple years later. Kidman gives a superb performance in the elegantly styled film from the Spanish writer-director Alejandro Amenábar, playing a mother in a country house after World War II protecting her photosensitive children from light and, eventually, dead spirits occupying the place. Only by the end does it become clear that she’s in denial about the fact that she’s a ghost, having killed her children in a psychotic break before committing suicide. It’s a bleak capper to a genuinely haunting yarn.

10. MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001)

David Lynch’s surrealist movies may follow dream logic, but that doesn’t mean their plots can’t be readily discerned. Mulholland Drive is his most striking work precisely because, in spite of its more wacko moments, it adds up to a coherent, tragic story. The mystery starts innocently enough with the dark-haired Rita (Laura Elena Harring) waking up with amnesia from a car accident in Los Angeles and piecing together her identity alongside the plucky aspiring actress Betty (Naomi Watts). It takes a blue box to unlock the secret that Betty is in fact Diane, who is in love with and envious of Camilla (also played by Harring) and has concocted a fantasy version of their lives. The real Diane arranges for Camilla to be killed, leading to her intense guilt and suicide. Only Lynch can go from Nancy Drew to nihilism so swiftly and deftly.

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Jesse Grant, Getty Images for AMC
5 Bizarre Comic-Con News Stories from Years Past
Jesse Grant, Getty Images for AMC
Jesse Grant, Getty Images for AMC

At its best, San Diego Comic-Con is a friendly place where like-minded people can celebrate their pop culture obsessions, and each other. And no one can make fun of you, no matter how lazy your cosplaying might be. You might think that at its worst, it’s just a series of long lines of costumed fans and small stores crammed into a convention center. But sometimes, throwing together 100,000-plus people from around the world in what feels like a carnival-type atmosphere where anything goes can have less than stellar results. Here are some highlights from past Comic-Con-tastrophes.

1. MAN IN HARRY POTTER T-SHIRT STABS ANOTHER MAN IN THE FACE—WITH A PEN

In 2010, two men waiting for a Comic-Con screening of the Seth Rogen alien comedy Paul got into a very adult argument about whether one of them was sitting too close to the other. Unable to come to a satisfactory conclusion with words, one man stabbed the other in the face with a pen. According to CNN, the attacker was led away wearing handcuffs and a Harry Potter T-shirt. In the aftermath, some Comic-Con attendees dealt with the attack in an oddly fitting way: They cosplayed as the victim, with pens protruding from bloody eye sockets.

2. MEMORABILIA THIEVES INVADE NEW YORK

Since its founding in 2006, New York Comic Con has attracted a few sticky-fingered attendees. In 2010, a man stole several rare comics from vendor Matt Nelson, co-founder of Texas’s Worldwide Comics. Just one of those, Whiz Comics No. 1, was worth $11,000, according to the New York Post. A few years later, in 2014, someone stole a $2000 “Dunny” action figure, which artist Jon-Paul Kaiser had painted during the event for Clutter magazine. And those are just the incidents that involved police; lower-scale cases of toys and comics disappearing from booths are an increasingly frustrating epidemic, according to some. “Comic Con theft is an issue we all sort of ignore,” collector Tracy Isenhour wrote on the blog of his company, Needless Essentials, in 2015. “I am here to tell you no more. It’s time for this garbage to stop."

3. CATWOMAN SAVES THE DAY


John Sciulli/Getty Images for Xbox

Adrianne Curry, winner of the first cycle of America’s Next Top Model, has made a career of chasing viral fame. Ironically, it was at Comic-Con in 2014 that Curry did something truly worthy of attention—though there wasn’t a camera in sight. Dressed as Catwoman, she was posing with fans alongside her friend Alicia Marie, who was dressed as Tigra. According to a Facebook post Marie wrote at the time, a fan tried to shove his hands into her bikini bottoms. She screamed, the man ran off, and Curry jumped to action. She “literally took off after dude WITH her Catwoman whip and chased him down, beat his a**,” Marie wrote. “Punched him across the face with the butt of her whip—he had zombie blood on his face—got on her costume.”

4. MAN POSES AS FUGITIVE-SEEKING INVESTIGATOR TO GET INTO VIP ROOM

The lines at Comic-Con are legendary, so one Utah man came up with a novel way to try and skip them altogether. In 2015, Jonathon M. Wall tried to get into Salt Lake Comic Con’s exclusive VIP enclave (normally a $10,000 ticket) by claiming he was an agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, and needed to get into the VIP room “to catch a fugitive,” according to The San Diego Union Tribune. Not only does that story not even come close to making sense, it also adds up to impersonating a federal agent, a crime to which Wall pleaded guilty in April of 2016 and which carried a sentence of up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Just a few months later, prosecutors announced that they were planning to reduce his crime from a felony to a misdemeanor.

5. MAN WALKS 645 MILES TO COMIC-CON, DRESSED AS A STORMTROOPER, TO HONOR HIS LATE WIFE


Michael Buckner/Getty Images for Disney

In 2015, Kevin Doyle walked 645 miles along the California coast to honor his late wife, Eileen. Doyle had met Eileen relatively late in life, when he was in his 50s, and they bonded over their shared love of Star Wars (he even proposed to her while dressed as Darth Vader). However, she died of cancer barely a year after they were married. Adrift and lonely, Doyle decided to honor her memory and their love of Star Wars by walking to Comic-Con—from San Francisco. “I feel like I’m so much better in the healing process than if I’d stayed home,” he told The San Diego Union Tribune.

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