Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

Barack Obama lookalike in demand

Barack Obama lookalike Larry Graves speaks during an interview (AP)

The lanky man has the security detail, the prominent ears and the US flag pin, but substitute teacher Larry Graves is no Barack Obama - he is a professional lookalike for the president.

They have something else in common, too: a frantic schedule leading up to the inauguration.

"It's definitely a busy time," Mr Graves said in an interview. "Between the campaign season and the inauguration, it's been prime time. Barack Obama is a respectable guy. People want to have him at their parties."

Recent weeks have seen a flurry of events for Mr Graves, from corporate gatherings to special appearances and photo-ops.

In a Marriot hotel in Chantilly, Virginia, a security detail with earpieces worked the crowded rotunda, hotel guards whispering into their sleeves. Necks craned, and there were gasps as Mr Graves emerged through the door.

"Whoa. That's not ... is it? Obama?" someone asked. A smattering of cheers, a few boos, and a fusillade of camera flashes greeted him.

"Are you fired up?" Mr Graves shouted in mock-Obama voice. He worked the crowd, flanked by two other actors dressed as Secret Service members, shaking hands and posing for mobile phone pictures.

It has been a busy four years for the Maryland resident, who realised during the 2008 primary campaign he had a peculiar resemblance to the Illinois senator who was running against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination. He submitted a photo to a management company called Cast of Thousands and has since been augmenting his income as a substitute art teacher by appearing as Mr Obama.

Mr Graves's preparation goes beyond a physical resemblance and a nice suit decorated with the flag pin. He adds make-up, darkens his eyebrows and lips, adds a prosthetic mole to the side of his nose and even dusts a little white paint into his hair. "I find people want to believe, and so they go along with it. And there are other people who want to judge and say, 'Oh, he's not Barack.'"

Mr Graves stresses he is not an Obama impersonator but strictly a lookalike, though he tries his best to mimic the president's manner and speech. "That voice, that voice - Barack has a very distinctive voice. He has a very loud voice, a very distinctive vocal pattern, and I have to really think about conserving and using (it)."

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