CHANTILLY, Va. — The lanky man has the security detail, the prominent ears and the U.S. flag pin, but substitute teacher Larry Graves is no Barack Obama. He’s 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,” 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 Graves, from corporate gatherings to special appearances and photo-ops.
In a Marriot hotel in Chantilly, Va., a security detail with earpieces worked the crowded rotunda, hotel guards whispering into their sleeves. Necks craned, and there were gasps as 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?” 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 cellphone pictures.
It’s been a busy four years for the Montgomery Village, Md., resident, who realized during the 2008 primary campaign he had a peculiar resemblance to the Illinois senator who was running against Hillary Rodham 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 Obama.
Graves’ preparation goes beyond a physical resemblance and a nice suit decorated with the flag pin. He adds makeup, 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.'”
Graves stresses he’s 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).”
Not all events go smoothly for the faux-Obama.
Graves once traveled to Hong Kong to film a commercial for Kentucky Fried Chicken. In the ad, “Obama” delivered a speech when an enormous sandwich landed on his head. It was later deemed controversial and pulled off the air, according to Graves’ manager, Jan Kearney.
Graves said he has also fended off the occasional drunken diatribe from people at events.
At home, things are less posh than Obama’s White House digs and presidential motorcades. Graves lives with his six dogs in a modest town house and drives a Toyota Corolla to his engagements.
Internet searches turn up dozens of Obama lookalikes and impersonators, some with more resemblance than others. According to Graves’ manager, companies can pay around $1,100 per appearance, and Graves has been averaging about two-to-three requests each week before the inauguration.
Graves, who will turn 58 on Wednesday, enjoys the work: “I am glad to be in this country, and glad to be an American. And to be able to, in some small way, relay that to people, it’s an honor, it really is. It’s fun, but it’s an honor.”
Graves says he hasn’t met the real Obama, but would like to challenge him to some one-on-one basketball.
“I think I could take him,” Graves said. “He better practice.”
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