Great rock stars, kings among men. Top notch movie stars, legends every one. But woe-betide any of them that try and cross the line. There is something irritatingly self-indulgent about an A-lister who assumes that their God-given talent allows them to cut a sloppy swathe through whatever artistic medium takes their fancy. However, there is an inherent difference between movie and music stars. Actors only pretend to be charismatic individuals where as rock and pop stars are the larger than life characters we see them as. Hence the bevy of silver-screeners whose musical careers have been a shortcut to bleeding ear syndrome, from Russell Crowe’s aptly named 30 Odd Foot Of Grunts that followed his previous stab at pop superstardom as Rus Le Roq, to Bruce Willis crooning Under the Boardwalk, Keanu Reeves’ Dogstar, and the Quaid and Bacon brother’s wonky attempts at rock band immortality. Things on the other side of this artistic dual carriageway aren’t quite so grim, but the likes of Mariah Carey’s Glitter (2001)
and Britney Spears’ Crossroads (2002)
have ensured that casting directors take a long hard look at any Grammy laden artists that happen across their couch. Fortunately for wannabe actors from the rock and pop establishment there have been a handy number of great on screen performances from the music world, certainly a lot more than there have been number one singles and albums from Hollywood inhabitants. There have been clever cameos such as Alice Cooper’s chucklesome turn in Wayne’s World (1992)
to unexpected showings of great depth, from Ice-T’s work in New Jack City (1991),
Harry Connick Jr’s showing in Copycat (1995)
and Meatloaf growing a nice pair in Fight Club (1999)
. Some have even been blessed by the Academy, though the scantiness of Cher’s outfit when she picked up her Best Actress Award for Moonstruck (1987)
almost ensured that the music fraternity received a lifetime ban from the Oscars. Here are ten more performances worthy of a statuette.
- KING CREOLE (1958)
Elvis Presley may have been the King of rock ‘n’ roll but the man from Mississippi had a hankering for Hollywood. More specifically the singer longed to be a serious actor, and though he starred in more than thirty films during his career nearly all of them focused on his hip-swinging and luscious singing. It is slightly unfortunate as it appeared the man may have had a future as a solid movie actor if only he had been given the chance. His acting talent was best displayed in this Michael Curtiz film. It was only the King’s fourth movie but of all the films he made it had the best pedigree. Adapted from the acclaimed 1952 Harold Robbins novel A Stone For Danny Fisher, the film saw Elvis surrounded by some top notch acting talent including Walter Matthau and Carolyn Jones. Presley was forced to up his game to compete with such Hollywood heavyweights, and he was more than up to the task. It says something that James Dean was rumoured to play the lead role before his untimely death in September 1955. There was some acknowledgment of Presley’s pop career in that he was playing the role of Danny Fisher, a young musician struggling through the dark underbelly of New Orleans. But Elvis’ musical prowess does not over shadow his acting and the musical interludes are perfectly fitting. The movie also had a murky, film noir edge, something that none of the King’s subsequent sacarine Hollywood output ever came close to touching. What we are left with is the fantasy of a great movie career that could have been.
Tasty Morsel – The film’s title was the inspiration behind the naming of the American musical group Kid Creole and the Coconuts.
- THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM (1955)
It seems The King wasn’t the only popular music legend that had his heart set on an acting career; ol’ Blue Eyes also fancied himself as singer-slash-actor. Unlike Elvis though, Sinatra actually got to stretch his acting chops in some decent roles. It took him a while to break into the movie world’s serious parts section, taking more typical popstar roles in films such as Anchors Aweigh (1945), It Happened In Brooklyn (1947), and On The Town (1949). Such sappy fare was swept aside in 1953 when Sinatra won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his work in From Here To Eternity. Two years later Sinatra fought for and won the part of reformed heroin addict Frankie Machine in Otto Preminger’s adaptation of the Nelson Algren novel The Man With The Golden Arm (1955). Controversial for its time the movie follows Machine as he leaves prison clean of his drug habit, but struggling to cope with the outside world. Sinatra gets excellent support from Eleanor Parker as his smothering, wheelchair bound wife and Kim Novak as his old flame. Almost as if his musical career had never existed Sinatra gives a towering performance worthy of any Hollywood actor from the time. He’s handling of the delicate subject of drug addiction also opened new ground cinematically as the Motion Picture Association of America was forced to take a long look at its own production codes and rulings for movie dramas. Post Golden Arm Sinatra mixed challenging roles in movies such as The Pride and the Passion (1957) and The Manchurian Candidate (1962) with more populist films such as Ocean’s Eleven (1960) and Robin and the Seven Hoods (1964).
Tasty Morsel – Somewhat disappointingly Sinatra’s last big screen appearance was playing himself in the predictable Cannonball Run II (1984).
- THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (1976)
Given that David Bowie had crafted his own other-worldly persona in the music industry, it wasn’t too much of surprise to see him take the lead role of alien Thomas Jerome Newton in Nicolas Roeg’s adaptation of Walter Tevis’ novel The Man Who Fell To Earth. Don’t let the fifties b-movie sounding title fool you; the film is a thought provoking study of the values of differing cultures. Bowie as Newton is a humanoid extraterrestrial who has crash landed on Earth during a space expedition to find water for his drought ridden home planet. Patenting a number of alien devices on Earth, Newton becomes a very wealthy man. He hopes to use his wealth to transport water back to his home planet, but instead he becomes embroiled in more earthy interests such as alcohol and television. Once his true identify is revealed the US government decide its time to take a serious look at this alien being. Guiding Newton expertly across his difficult character arc, Bowie suits the role of Newton perfectly. No doubt aware of his eccentric onstage qualities Bowie works hard to ensure that it isn’t just his musical image that provides Newton with his alien characteristics. Filling Newton with an alien sorrow and underlying unfamiliarity was a job many actors would have struggled with. Bowie manages it without even looking like he’s trying very hard at all. The Thin White Duke went on to star in more mainstream fare such as Labyrinth (1986) but also kept things interesting by cropping up in more offbeat productions such as The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992).
Tasty Morsel – Rumour has it that Roeg originally wanted to cast the 6ft10” tall writer Michael Crichton in the lead role of Newton.
- MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME (1985)
Considering the impact Tina Turner has in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) it is a real shame Anne Mae hasn’t taken to the big screen more. Not including her brief appearances in the musical movies Tommy (1975) and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978) the only other time the ageless singer has subsequently graced movie screens is a cameo role in the Schwarzenegger flop The Last Action Hero (1993). Considering the reputation of the Mad Max franchise before part three began filming, it was a daunting task to step into the role of Beyond Thunderdome’s lead villain. The first two films in the series had laid down a dizzying gauntlet of colourful characters and explosive set pieces. In particular, the fierce characters of Wez and Lord Humungus from the brilliant Mad Max 2 (1981) were still fresh in the minds of Mad Max fans. Not one to shy away a challenge Turner created a memorable villain of her own in Aunty Entity, the power hungry mayor of Bartertown. It is all too easy to get bogged down in two-dimensional characterisation when attempting to create a solid baddie, but Turner manages to avoid this pitfall with effortless grace. Her motives are never clear from one moment to the next, and despite the oddball nature of the storyline (Bartertown is a crude post-nuclear war shanty town, powered by pig faeces) Turner somehow manages to conjure up some sexual chemistry between her and Mel Gibson’s Max. The only down point is that Beyond Thunderdome fails to live up to the promise of the first two instalments, its climatic train chase a poor mans copy of part two’s oil tanker pursuit.
Tasty Morsel – A special vehicle had to be constructed for Turner to drive, as she only has a licence to drive an automatic transmission.
- PURPLE RAIN (1985)
There is only one performer in history who can say they had the number one movie and number one album in America at the same time; Prince. The album in question, Purple Rain, still stands as one of the greatest ever recorded but the movie is a bit more of an acquired taste. First things first, the acting is questionable at best. The only exceptions to this are Clarence Williams III and Olga Kartalos playing Prince/The Kid’s parents. They were the only professional actors in the movie and at times it shows. The film is also very much of its time, the fashions screaming mid-eighties from atop a stack of studded shoulder pads and glittery ankle boots. But these forgettable issues aside the film has an irresistable atmosphere, mostly created by the astounding musical performance of the lead man. The movie follows The Kid (Prince), a musical prodigy who balances a traumatic home life with an ongoing pitch battle at the First Avenue nightclub with rival band The Time. Sprinkled amongst the melodrama are knockout renditions of some of the best songs the Purple One ever wrote, including The Beautiful Ones, I Would Die For You, Darling Nikki and the unforgettable title song. Prince is regarded as one of the greatest live performers ever and the movie provides ample evidence as to why. The contrast between his onstage exuberance and his off stage introversion is remarkable, though probably not too far from the truth of the man. Repeat viewings also open up some interesting asides to the on-stage action, notably a dark undercurrent of domestic abuse and suicide, and on the lighter side the excellent back and forth banter between Time members Morris Day and Jerome Benton, "Okay, what’s the password?”. Alas, Prince’s further cinematic dalliances, Under the Cherry Moon (1986) and Graffiti Bridge (1990), are probably best left to fans of His Royal Badness only.
Tasty Morsel – When the film’s original screenplay leaked onto the internet a much darker movie was revealed, including much more risqué love scenes between The Kid and his beau Apollonia.
- EVITA (1996)
By the early nineties pop warbler Madonna had finally completed her transformation from post-punk pop princess to top sexual provocateur. First there was the Erotica album; very good. Then there was the Sex book; not quite so good. And finally Body Of Evidence (1993). Unfortunately, there aren’t many places left for an actress to go after pouring hot wax on to William Dafoe's cock. So the Queen of Pop took some time off before surreptitiously reappearing later in the decade for a more respectable cinematic outing. The lady had to lobby hard for the lead in Alan Parker’s Evita (1996). Not only did most of Hollywood not want her to get the role, the whole of Argentina were getting ready to burn a mountain of Madonna memorabilia the moment any such announcement was made. In a rare moment of restraint Madonna gave Eva Perón all the respect her memory deserved, winning over the Argies in the process. It is by far her best on-screen performance, certainly since her sparkling debut in Desperately Seeking Susan (1985). The film sticks closely to the original stage musical, depicting the life of Perón, the former First Lady of Argentina. Somewhat startling for Evita newbies is that every line of dialogue in the movie is sung. It is a refreshing approach in modern musicals and draws out fantastic work from all concerned, in particular Antonio Banderas and Jonathan Pryce. Full kudos must go to Madge though for proving all the doubters wrong and turning in a performance that was not just another Madonna film. The hefty weight of her own career is fully cast aside with nary a conical bra in sight.
Tasty Morsel – The Golden Globes certainly appreciated Madonna’s work awarding her with the Best Actress award. Despite nabbing this prize the Academy didn’t even give the singer a nomination in their own Best Actress category.
- ANY GIVEN SUNDAY (1999)
When you find yourself amongst a cast of true acting heavyweights directed by one of the most defiant directors in Hollywood you better bring your A-game with you. Surrounded by the likes of Al Pacino, James Woods, Jamie Foxx, Dennis Quaid, Lauren Holly and Aaron Eckhart, and directed by Oliver Stone, the rapper known as Ladies Love Cool James showed that he was more than up to the task of filling the shoes of running back Julian Washington. Any Given Sunday (1999) is an American football tour de force, as we follow the Miami Sharks across one turbulent season. The movie covers all kinds of plot threads over the course of its almost three-hour running time, from the aging quarterback and his upstart protégé, to the washed up coach, the crooked team doctor, the veteran linebacker and the bitch of a team owner (plotlines loosely based on the book You're Okay, It's Just A Bruise, an account by LA Raiders intern doctor Robert Huizenga during his time with the team during the 1980s). Despite its gridiron heavy focus, it is a gripping piece of cinema, the stop start nature of the world’s most violent sport tailor made for cinematic moments. And against wonderful scene chewing from the aforementioned acting greats, two performers stand out; Cameron Diaz’s vindictive general manager Christine Pagniacci, and LL Cool J as Washington. What could have been a bit part left gasping for screen time becomes a stand out role for LL, as he portrays Washington with tiwn allegiances, both to his own arrogance and personal gain, and to the team and the sport he so clearly loves. Despite the potential shown here LL has yet top this performance on the big screen.
Tasty Morsel - Fellow rap star Sean "P.Diddy” Combs was originally cast as quarterback Willie Beaman but had to pull out because of scheduling conflicts.
- 8 MILE (2002)
Knowing that Eminem is a world-renowned rap star, who, as far as anyone can tell, has never cracked a smile in his life, it’s not a great leap of the imagination to picture him playing the role of glum rapper wannabe Jimmy "B-Rabbit” Smith in Curtis Hanson’s 8 Mile (2002). Of course, the film is semi-autobiographical loosely detailing Marshall Mathers / Eminem’s years growing up in an impoverished part of Detroit. As such, it was a role that Eminem was born to play, so to speak. Still, pushing predetermination to one side, Mathers handles the difficult task of making a behooded wannabe rapper a likeable and sympathetic character, even to those that don’t particular enjoy the sound of a furious rap battle. Mathers has some sound support in the form of Kim Basinger and the late Brittany Murphy, but largely the good work in spinning this rags to potential superstar riches tale comes from Mathers alone. The accuracy of the events depicted in the movie has rarely been discussed. The concluding "rap tournament” seems like a particularly bizarre concept and surely one that would never work in the real world. Its convenient position as a fitting climax to the story hangs over an otherwise solid screenplay. Still, all good hero movies demand a triumphant last act, and 8 Mile’s is a barn-burner. Whether Eminem will branch out and confirm his acting talent in roles where he isn’t essential playing himself remains to be seen. Here’s hoping that he does. And that he manages to crack a few smiles along the way.
Tasty Morsel – Quentin Tarantino was lined up to direct the picture at one point, but had to reluctantly decline, being in the middle of creating Kill Bill (2003)
- THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS (2006)
When it comes to the biggest music to movie crossover star, they don’t come any grander than Will Smith. His transformation from rapper to box office legend has been so complete, a lot of people have forgotten that he started his career as one half of the hip-hop duo DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. As soon as Smith stepped in front of a camera for the television series The Fresh Prince of Bel Air it was a nigh-on certainty that he’d be heading to Hollywood. The camera loved him and he had charisma in spades. His work in the years that followed was remarkable, in the likes of Six Degrees of Separation (1993), Independence Day (1996), Enemy of the State (1998), The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000), Ali (2001), I Robot (2004) and Hitch (2005). But his best work to date is arguable his sensitive portrayal of down on his luck Dad, Chris Gardner. In lesser hands this tear-jerking true tale could have become a steaming pile of overwrought sentimentality. But guided by Smith’s sure hand the subject matter is handled remarkably well with the sort of realism that can only be achieved by true acting talent. There is no reliance of misty eyed histrionics, just the harsh reality of a man and his son living on the breadline, in a modern world that cares very little for the wellbeing of a passing stranger. And it appears acting chutzpah runs in the Smith family genes. Smith’s son Jaden, seven years old at the time, is a revelation acting alongside his father as Chris’ innocent son Chris Jnr.
Tasty Morsel – Keep an eye out for a cameo by the real Chris Gardner right at the end of the movie as he passes Will and Jaden in the street.
- THE DEPARTED (2006)
It takes a hell of a lot to steal a Martin Scorsese film, especially one that has in its cast the likes of Jack Nicholson, Leonardo Di Caprio, Matt Damon, Martin Sheen and Alec Baldwin. That’s exactly what Mark Wahlberg did though, and with only a few minutes of screen time at his disposal. The once lead rapper from the hip hop group Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, Wahlberg was best known for being the little brother of New Kids On The Block star Donnie Wahlberg. How times have changed. After quietly leaving the music business behind Wahlberg began carving himself a sparkling niche as a solid character actor, turning in some brilliant work in such films as The Basketball Diaries (1995), Fear (1996), Boogie Nights (1997) and Three Kings (1999). But it is his cutting performance as Staff Sergeant Sean Dignam in Scorsese’s remake of Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs (2002), The Departed (2006), that really displays the depth of his talent. With usage of the words "fuck” and "cunt” that would make Peter Cook proud, Wahlberg barges his way onto the screen with an assurance that leaves even the mighty Nicholson in his wake. Dignam turns up, spits out his lines with snide menace, then stomps out of shot like a true man on a mission. And despite all Dignam’s arrogant posturing, who is it that comes good in the end and leaves the film on a semi high? The mighty Dignam of course. Wahlberg was quite rightly Oscar nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his work, losing out to Alan Arkin for Little Miss Sunshine (2006). There is of course much more besides Wahlberg’s winning performance to recommend the movie. The dual inside man plot as the police dig into the local crime fraternity is one of the most captivating of recent times. And with Scorsese at the helm there is no better director for extracting the very best out of an epic ensemble cast.
Tasty Morsel – Wahlberg has stated that he based his performance in the movie on the police officers that arrested him two dozen times when he was growing up.