ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA — In some countries, people can be put in jail for impersonating political leaders. But in places where freedom of speech is protected, you may see people mimicking politicians in public or on television.
In the Washington area, Larry Graves, who closely resembles President Barack Obama, entertains people at conferences and other events as an Obama look-alike.
When Graves spoke at an environmental conference at a hotel in Arlington, Virginia, some people weren’t sure at first if he was President Obama. The audience smiled and laughed once they realized Graves is an Obama look-alike.
“I want to thank the Environmental Information Association for having me here today. I understand this is your 30th anniversary, so congratulations,” said Graves at the podium.
Mike Farrell, who attended the conference, was taken aback when Graves walked into the room.
“It’s really astonishing how close he actually is - his mannerisms, the way that he speaks, his hair, you know the whole package,” Farrell expressed.
The whole package includes two men playing Secret Service agents protecting the Obama look-alike. Matt Baldwin has been at Graves' side for five years.
“People have actually come up to me and asked 'Is that really the president?' I’ve had fun with it and I just didn’t say anything,” Baldwin said.
Many people wanted to have their picture taken with Graves, including Eric Goeller, an environmental consultant from Arizona.
“I sent this picture of myself and Mr. Obama [Graves, the look-alike] back home and I’ve gotten about 25 text messages regarding my meeting with the president,” said an amused Goeller.
Environmentalist Sean Fitzgerald spoke at length with Graves about the dangers of asbestos, which is known to cause cancer.
“I was thinking what it would be like if this was the real president,” Fitzgerald articulated.
Graves is amazed that people approach him like that, even knowing he’s not the president.
“I find it slightly incredulous that people come up to me with reverence, respect and awe,” Graves said.
Graves says it took time to master Obama’s speech pattern. He uses makeup to enhance his appearance as the president by darkening his eyebrows, deepening his lip color, and adding Obama’s prominent mole. He also colors his thinning hair and combs it forward to look like the president.
Besides facial similarities, Graves said he and the president have other things in common. “We’re both the same body size. We’re both left-handed and we both like basketball.”
He hasn’t met President Obama but hopes to one day, and to challenge him to a pick-up basketball game. “I don’t think Obama could beat me in a game of basketball,” Graves declared.
Graves began his career as a look-alike during President Obama’s first presidential campaign. The role supplements his other job as a substitute gym teacher at Fields Road Elementary School in Gaithersburg, Maryland.
A group of 5th grade students didn't know their teacher plays an Obama look-alike until they watched a video of him acting like the president. At first they thought they were watching the president, but said Graves’ voice gave him away.
“It looked like our gym teacher but it was really hard to tell. It just looked like Obama,” said Emily Miller.
“It feels like I’m being taught by a famous gym teacher,” a classmate added.
Graves is glad President Obama won a second term, not only because he admires him, but also because he can continue to entertain people as his look-alike.
“It’s easy for me to just roll with it, and go with whatever they’re into, and have fun with it,” expressed Graves.
Vince Brennan, who came from Vermont to the Environmental Information Association meeting, enjoyed having Larry Graves, the Obama look-alike, stop by.
“It’s great to have the president come down and see us,” he said.