Big stars take on real-life characters at TIFF 2014

Benicio del Toro, Benedict Cumberbatch and Steve Carrell take on roles based on real people in films premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival, with the Oscar-winning actor bringing Pablo Escobar back to life on screen.

Oscar winner joins Benedict Cumberbatch, Steve Carrell at festival with dramatic roles based on real people

Benicio del Toro stars as the late Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar in the based-in-real-life drama Escobar: Paradise Lost premiering at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. (TIFF)

Benicio del Toro brings notorious Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar back to life in Escobar: Paradise Lost.

The based-in-real-life drama is just one of many true-life adaptations hitting the big screen at the Toronto International Film Festival as filmmakers draw on heartfelt human stories for cinematic inspiration.

Escobar: Paradise Lost centres on a naive American surfer, played by Hunger Games star Josh Hutcherson, who meets his dream girl. Not only is she captivating and beautiful, but she's the niece of the violent drug baron who made his millions smuggling cocaine into the United States. 

Del Toro, who won an Oscar for his role in another cocaine-dusted drama Traffic, sports Escobar's signature moustache.

While the plot doesn't centre on Escobar himself, director Andrea Di Stefano takes his camera inside the high-stakes world of Colombia's crime syndicate, offering the audience a new angle on one the world's wealthiest criminals and into South America's recent past. 

Steve Carell as sinister John Du Pont

Director Bennet Miller (Capote, Moneyball) points his lens on the darker side of American ambition again with his latest true-life drama: Foxcatcher.

Foxcatcher focuses on the brutal 1996 murder of Olympic wrestling champion Dave Schultz (Channing Tatum) at the hands of the sinister and eccentric millionaire John du Pont, played by Steve Carell. 

In Foxcatcher, Steve Carrell (right) plays eccentric millionaire and convicted killer John E. du Pont (left) seen here leaving his murder trial in 1997. (Noah Graham/Getty, Barabara L./Reuters)
John Du Pont, the heir to the DuPont Co. chemical empire, befriended a number of Olympians at the wrestling facility he founded in on his sprawling estate. That's where he trained and eventually murdered David Schultz — a crime for which he was later convicted. Du Pont died in prison in 2010.

It's an unusually dark role for Carell, who established his career with comedies like the American version of The Office and The 40-year-old Virgin. Carell's performance in Foxcatcher is already generating whispers of an Academy Award.

The film also stars Anthony Michael Hall, Vanessa Redgrave and Sienna Miller.

Cumberbatch takes on Alan Turing

Benedict Cumberbatch's portrayal of the legendary British mathematician and wartime code breaker Alan Turing in The Imitation Gameis already generating Oscar buzz. 

​​Despite devising the machine that helped the Allied forces win the Second World War, Turing's personal life was fraught with difficulty. In 1952, he was arrested and convicted for homosexuality and forced to undergo chemical castration.

The Imitation Game, which also stars Keira Knightley as famed mathematician Joan Clarke, follows Turing's brilliant rise through Britain's Bletchley Park to the war hero's tragic demise.

Reese Witherspoon gets real — twice

Reese Witherspoon is taking on two true life stories at TIFF. 

The Oscar-winning actress brings to life Cheryl Strayed’s best-selling memoir in Jean-Marc Vallée's Wild. And she plays a spunky American woman helping four Sudanese refugees in Philippe Falardeau's based-on-a-true tale The Good Lie

It's certainly not the first time the 38-year-old actress has faced the challenge of playing real-life characters. Witherspoon took the 2006 Academy Award for best actress for her portrayal of June Carter Cash in the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line.

Willem Dafoe personifies Pasolini

Willem Dafoe becomes iconic Italian filmmaker, poet and novelist Pier Paolo Pasolini in Pasolini

Willem Dafoe stars as the legendary Italian filmmaker, poet and novelist Pier Paolo Pasolini. (TIFF)
​ The English-language biopic from provocative director Abel Ferrara​ (The Driller Killer, Bad Lieutenant) follows Pasolini's last day on Earth and the final hours leading up to his violent murder.

Pasolini was a prolific and polarizing artist who pushed boundaries on all levels. His work and life existed beyond the definition of counter culture—it bordered on the insane.

For Dafoe, there couldn't be a more complex character to sink his teeth into. Understanding the mind of Pasolini through his art is an enormous task, even for the most dedicated scholars.

Tobey Maguire plays American chess legend Bobby Fischer in Pawn Sacrifice. The film centres on the so-called 'Match of the Century' between Fischer and his Russian rival Boris Spassky in 1972. (TIFF)

Other notable characterizations to catch at TIFF include Eddie Redmayne as the acclaimed astrophysicist Stephen Hawking in the Theory of EverythingTobey Maguire's take on American chess legend Bobby Fischer in Pawn Sacrifice and Gael Garcia Bernal becoming Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari Jon Stewart​'s directorial debut Rosewater.

The Toronto International Film festival runs Sept. 4-14.