What The Real Characters Behind The Irishman Look Like

This content was paid for by Netflix and created by Grunge.

The Irishman is full of characters based on real people, but they don't necessarily look like those people. That's by design. One of The Irishman's big hooks is the digital de-aging technology that lets its actors play the same character across decades, and making the stars look a lot like their younger selves in the process.

But even though The Irishman's take on young Frank Sheeran looks a lot like Travis Bickle, the movie itself is still full of actual historical figures. Jimmy Hoffa, Russell Bufalino, Frank Sheeran, Anthony Provenzano, and the rest of the gang all made profound, if subtle, contributions to American history. These aren't just characters. They're actual people.

As such, it's not just surprising how much some members of The Irishman's cast look like the character's they're based on. It's a testament to the skill of the actors, the make-up artists, and the costume designers involved in Scorsese's mob epic. No one will ever mistake The Irishman for a documentary, but most of the time, they get things pretty close. Here's a side-by-side glimpse of what the real characters behind The Irishman look like.

Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro)

Frank Sheeran, the loyal Teamster operative, mob hitman and — if you believe his story — killer of the infamous Jimmy Hoffa, was afforded a luxury that very few of his peers enjoyed: He was allowed to grow old. Sheeran met Buffalino in 1955, and while many of his compatriots met violent ends during that time, Sheeran lived until 2004, when he died of cancer.

In The Irishman, Robert De Niro plays Sheeran at every step of his life's journey, and while the actor bears more than a passing resemblance to the titular Irishman during his younger days, the physical similarities really kick in when the movie begins to explore the later parts of Sheeran's life. The entire movie is narrated by an elderly, wheelchair-bound Sheeran who's reflecting on his various misdeeds, and the way that De Niro looks in these cutaways — the tired slump, the bags under his eyes, the semi-permanent scowl — capture the real Sheeran's look perfectly.

More importantly, De Niro captures Sheeran's casual attitude as he looks back on his life and all of the horrible things that he's done and witnessed. For someone confessing to murder, Sheeran is remarkably nonchalant about the whole thing. To him, it's just work. As the assassin, De Niro embodies that blue-collar, no-nonsense approach towards killing. It's one big reason why The Irishman lead is such an interesting, if unappealing, character, and it comes straight from the source.

Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci)

Unlike so many others in his line of work, Northeastern Pennsylvania crime boss Russell Bufalino kept an exceedingly low profile. In fact, he was so private that he earned the nickname "The Quiet Don," and very few photos or videos of him actually exist. On one hand, that's a gift to actor Joe Pesci, who had the freedom to make the character of Bufalino his own. On the other, it makes it hard to compare Pesci's performance to the real thing. The material simply isn't there.

And yet, as evidenced by a court appearance Bufalino made in 1982, Pesci hit the mark pretty well, at least when it comes to Bufalino's later years. In a scene in The Irishman that takes place around the same time, Bufalino orders a hit on Jack Napoli, who testified against Bufalino in an earlier court case, and you can see the physical resemblance. Check out Pesci's oversized glasses, which overshadow his face, the tired slump of his shoulders, and his slightly-too-big suit.

There are some similarities in the dialogue, as well. During his testimony, Bufalino seems straight-forward while saying absolutely nothing of substance, which is a skill that Pesci's gangster has, too — although, thanks to Scorsese's framing and Steve Zaillian's razor-sharp script, we still know exactly what he means.

Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino)

There's a lot we'll never know about the notorious teamsters boss. Despite Sheeran's confession, we may never learn for sure who killed Jimmy Hoffa — as many experts have pointed out, there are some holes in Sheeran's story — and we certainly won't know what he was really like behind closed doors.

We do know, however, what Hoffa was like in public. The Irishman actually recreates part of Hoffa's iconic Congressional showdown with Robert Kennedy, and the differences between the real Hoffa and Pacino's interpretation are immediately clear. Instead of Pacino's signature growl, Hoffa speaks like an old-school film announcer, and where Pacino sits respectfully and largely evades Kennedy's questions, the actual Hoffa is ready to attack. He cuts off Kennedy at every point, spitting out facts and excuses and pointing accusingly at his interrogator. It's not an interrogation. It's a battle.

The roles are reversed when Hoffa addresses the press. In real life, he's calm and under control, much like a politician. In The Irishman, he's far less polished. As Pacino plays him, Hoffa seems defiant and angry, like he's on the verge of exploding with rage. The one thing that both versions have in common, though? Whether you're watching the actual Hoffa or Pacino's take, he's absolutely bursting with charisma. You can instantly understand why so many people followed him.

Bill Bufalino (Ray Romano)

From the right angles, Ray Romano is a dead-ringer for Bill Bufalino, Russell Bufalino's cousin and Jimmy Hoffa's personal lawyer. Romano has it all: the thick glasses. the slick suits, the hangdog posture, and the way that words seem to burst from his mouth, as if he can change the truth simply by speaking louder. The former Everybody Loves Raymond star is in better shape than the person he plays in The Irishman, but the resemblance is obvious and striking.

In addition to the physical similarities, however, Romano also captures Bufalino's overall vibe. There's just something inherently sleazy about the guy. Watch as he boldly, loudly, and shamelessly confesses to bugging Marilyn Monroe's home at Hoffa's request in order to get dirt on Bobby Kennedy. Then, compare it to Romano telling De Niro's Frank Sheeran how he can avoid prison, or covering for a clearly corrupt Jimmy Hoffa in court. The energy is the same.

Tony Pro (Stephen Graham)

He may only be in a few scenes, but as Hoffa's rival, Anthony "Tony Pro" Provenzano, actor Stephen Graham makes a huge impact. Whether he's tussling with Hoffa in prison or showing disrespect by showing up late to a meeting, Graham practically steals every scene he's in — no small task, given the talent he shares the screen with.

But that's not all. Graham also does a pretty canny impersonation of the real Tony Pro. Look at how he moves through an adoring crowd during his introduction, or the brief speech he gives to his fellow Teamsters. Graham is a little more animated, but otherwise, it's almost exactly like the real thing.

The actual Tony Pro also shares his on-screen counterpart's laid-back approach to fashion, too. Later in life, a tanned Tony Pro gave a shirtless interview to a national newscaster, and was later photographed in a gaudy checkered shirt and striped jacket. And Hoffa thought a pair of shorts was bad!

Chuckie O'Brien (Jesse Plemons)

In The Irishman, Jesse Plemons plays Chuckie O'Brien, a man who was so close to Hoffa that the Teamsters boss treated him like a son, with the kind of befuddled, everyman simplicity that's become one of Jesse Plemons' acting trademarks. According to people who knew him, however, the real O'Brien was very different. Not only did O'Brien look a lot more like a typical mobster than Plemons does, but according to O'Brien's stepson Jack Goldsmith, he was also smarter, tougher, and an integral part of Hoffa's day-to-day operations (in fact, Goldsmith claims that it was Chuckie, not Frank Sheeran, who functioned as Hoffa's right-hand man).

The one thing that both O'Brien and The Irishman agree on, though? On the day of Hoffa's disappearance, Chuckie was busy delivering a fish to a fellow Teamster. While The Irishman employs this story to add some levity to what ends up being Hoffa's final car ride, the real O'Brien used it as his alibi, claiming that he couldn't have driven Hoffa to his execution because he was off running the errand.

Joe Gallo (Sebastian Maniscalo)

Most criminals try to stay out of the spotlight. Not Joseph "Crazy Joe" Gallo, though. He embraced it. Whether he was trading barbs with Don Rickles at the famous Copacabana night club or palling around the city with actors like Jerry Orbach, Gallo was a fixture of New York's high society. He also just happened to be a mobster who'd kidnapped four of his boss's top enforcers, started one gang war, and was directly implicated in another.

In The Irishman, stand-up comedian Sebastian Maniscalo plays Crazy Joe Gallo with a cocky swagger that embodies the gangster's public persona. He even wears Gallo's signature sunglasses. That being said, Maniscalo might look a little too good for that period in the gangster's life. After Gallo was released from prison, his wife described him as "extremely frail and pale. He looked like an old man. He was a bag of bones," although she notes that his natural charisma made him irresistible regardless.

Don Rickles (Jim Norton)

If you know anything about stand-up comedy, Don Rickles needs no introduction. Over the course of his long and storied career, the celebrated comic earned nicknames like "The Merchant of Venom" and "Mr. Warmth" for his signature schtick: relentlessly making fun of everyone and everything that happened to cross his path.

Comedian Jim Norton acquits himself well as the '70s version of Rickles, although he lacks Rickles' deep brow, and perpetually angry stare. Remarkably, Rickles' appearance at the Copacabana the night of Joe Gallo's death isn't just a cameo cooked up for The Irishman, either. In real life, not only did Rickles perform a set on Gallo's last-ever birthday, but he really did go after Gallo while on stage. 

In fact, Gallo loved Rickles' set so much that he invited the comedian to join him at Umberto's Clam House after his set. Rickles declined, which might have saved his life: As The Irishman shows, Gallo was executed at the restaurant in front of his family just a few hours later.

Robert Kennedy (Jack Huston)

The Irishman's interest in Robert Kennedy doesn't extend beyond his stint on the McClellan committee and his time as attorney general, during which he did everything he could to put Jimmy Hoffa behind bars. In reality, however, Kennedy was so much more. He was the brother of the President of the United States, a civil rights advocate, a presidential candidate and, ultimately, Robert Kennedy was the victim of a controversial assassination.

Still, as far as The Irishman is concerned, Bobby Kennedy is only a bit player, and his screen time reflects that. He's only in the movie for a few minutes, where he's played by Boardwalk Empire, Ben-Hur, and Fargo star Jack Huston. Huston only kind of looks like real RFK and he's lacking the fire the real deal showed during the actual hearings — although he nails the Kennedys' distinct Boston accent — but that's okay. This is Robert Kennedy as Hoffa and Sheeran saw him: a spoiled, rich, and befuddled pretty boy who's coming after the working man, and is in way over his head. On that count? Huston more than delivers.