10 TV Characters Who Were Inspired By Real People
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
Mad Men’s 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
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
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
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."