Music Stars Who Became Movie Stars

The Daily Herald
5 music stars who became movie stars
January 15, 2012

LOS ANGELES – Everyone wants to be a multi-hyphenate. No one wants to be pigeonholed. And so basketball players try to be rappers and rappers try to be basketball players. Jessica Simpson sells shoes and Jennifer Lopez sells perfume.
But while actors often try to be singers – Eddie Murphy’s “Party All the Time,” anyone? – singers also frequently venture into acting. Sometimes they carve out impressive second careers for themselves; sometimes, they’re Britney Spears in “Crossroads.”

This week, we see several musicians who’ve made the transition from the recording studio to the big screen. Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton co-star in the gospel comedy “Joyful Noise,” while Mark Wahlberg plays a master smuggler in “Contraband.” So here’s a look at five great music stars who became great actors. For sake of argument, performers like Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli and even the aforementioned J.Lo, who had their roots in both art forms simultaneously, don’t count. We’re talking about people who were primarily known as singers (or rappers, etc.) and made the leap:

∫ Frank Sinatra: The Chairman of the Board was, of course, a major pop star who caused a frenzy among screaming bobbysoxers in the 1940s before crafting a major movie career for himself. Sinatra won an Academy Award for best supporting actor in 1953’s “From Here to Eternity” and earned a best-actor nomination for 1955’s “The Man With the Golden Arm.” Early film roles naturally were in musicals, including “Anchors Aweigh” (1945) and “On the Town” (1949) with Gene Kelly. The original “Ocean’s Eleven” (1960) allowed him to play it smooth as master thief Danny Ocean, while the political thriller “The Manchurian Candidate” (1962) probably provided him with his greatest performance.

∫ Will Smith: The former Fresh Prince of Bel-Air transformed himself into a two-time Oscar nominee, going from catchy rap tunes and sitcom laughs to heavyweight roles in “Ali” and “The Pursuit of Happyness.” Smith is the epitome of a movie star, with talent and charm for days. He’s proven he can do it all, from comedy (the “Men in Black” movies) to action (the “Bad Boys” movies) to romance (“Hitch”) to sci-fi (“I Am Legend”) to serious dramas (“Seven Pounds”). But his first major role, in 1993’s “Six Degrees of Separation,” showed he was confident enough to juggle multiple genres within the same film. At this point, I would say he’s crossed over so completely, he’s known more for his acting than for his music.

∫ Bette Midler: The Divine Miss M forged her career belting out tunes on Broadway, at nightclubs and in bathhouses (with a then-unknown Barry Manilow as her accompanist) – a petite woman with a larger-than-life stage presence. But she wowed the world with her acting abilities in her first major film role in 1979’s “The Rose,” playing a self-destructive, drug-addicted rock star inspired by Janis Joplin. The performance earned her an Oscar nomination for best actress; a second nomination would come for 1991’s “For the Boys.” Standout comic roles include “Down and Out in Beverly Hills,” “Outrageous Fortune” and “The First Wives Club.” And just try to watch “Beaches” without crying.

∫ Cher: She’s a diva who’s had highs and lows and been around forever. But Cher was a singer and variety television star (with then-husband Sonny Bono) known for her big, flamboyant personality before putting together a string of strong, eclectic film performances in the ’80s and ’90s, including “Mask,” “The Witches of Eastwick” and “Tea With Mussolini.” She won a best-actress Oscar as the hard-headed Loretta in 1987’s “Moonstruck” (and before that was nominated for best supporting actress for 1983’s “Silkwood”). Her last film role was … well, it was providing the voice of a lioness under Kevin James’s care in 2011’s “Zookeeper.” But Cher is always full of surprises, so – as her “Burlesque” ballad goes – we haven’t seen the last of her.

∫ Justin Timberlake: I was very tempted to put Dwight Yoakam in this spot. Or Mos Def, or even Ice Cube. But JT is just too powerful. He has long since transcended his “Mickey Mouse Club” and boy-band origins to become not just a formidable solo performer but also an actor of surprising range. Following dramatic supporting roles in “Alpha Dog” and “Black Snake Moan,” he was charismatic as hell as the ambitious Sean Parker in “The Social Network.” This year, he proved he can be both a romantic lead (“Friends With Benefits”) and an action star (“In Time”), while reinforcing his strengths as a comedian (“Bad Teacher”). And then there are his “Saturday Night Live” appearances, which – granted – spoof his pop-star youth, but they also allow him to show off that sharp comic timing.

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