22 surprisingly good acting roles by musicians

July 29, 2014

It’s no secret that movies and music have a torrid love affair: Plenty of famous actors, like our boy Macaulay, have started bands. Look closely, and you’ll find band merch in your favourite flicks (and we were beyond stoked to find Michael Cera wearing a Plumtree ringer tee). Musicians, meanwhile, have made high-profile cameos on the silver screen, Mint Records posters have been spotted in blockbusters, and even Robin Thicke has dabbled in movie-making.

Thicke’s foray into acting, however, was absolutely terrible. Thankfully, plenty of other musicians have fared better in feature roles—and from Andre 3000 to Courtney Love, we’ve compiled a list of the best of ’em.

Courtney Love in The People vs. Larry Flynt

It seems like Courtney Love can pull off anything if she tries hard enough. That includes acting: Aside from her excellent work on Sons of Anarchy and Sid and Nancy, her definitive role was co-starring with Woody Harrelson the People vs. Larry Flint. Love’s musical persona is willfully trashy—we mean that in a good way—and perhaps that’s why she excelled in the role of Althea Leasure, a stripper that porn magnate Larry Flynt (Harrelson) became obsessed with. Laugh if you must, but it was a dead-serious role—and Love was nominated for a Golden Globe for her efforts.

Mariah Carey in Precious

OK, we’ll be honest: We never expected Mariah Carey, a Christmastime staple on par with mall Santas, to be a great actress. But we were proved wrong—dead wrong—on Precious, where, as a social worker to the overweight, illiterate Precious (Gabourey Sidibe), Carey shined. Part compassionate and part heartstring-tugging, the “All I Want For Christmas is You” singer was all convincing—and that’s because she threw herself into the role. “I feel like it was a great chance for me to exercise and me to work and I feel like we connected on such a level,” she told Rolling Stone. “We were crying between scenes. It was emotional for us.” Us too, Mariah. Us too.

Jack White in Cold Mountain

White played Elvis Presley—a fitting role—in 2007’s Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, but he was also excellent in Cold Mountain. Though hardly a star (the Academy Award-winning film also starred his then-girlfriend Renee Zellweger, Jude Law and Nicole Kidman), he played a brief role as an ex-Confederate war deserter. His character’s name? Georgia, which, admittedly, has a better ring that “Michigan.”

Snoop Dogg in Starsky and Hutch

How effin’ loveable is Snoop Dogg? Dude’s essentially college-bro catnip, because not only is he incredible at Reddit—because yes, he’s incredible at Reddit—he also starred as Huggy Bear on Starsky and Hutch with Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller. Snoop played a smooth-talking, iguana-loving police informant (which, in context, is hilarious in itself), and is responsible for oft-quoted lines like, “No one touches the Bear, you dig?” Yup, we dig.

Aimee Mann in the Big Lebowski

These days, Aimee Mann is most celebrated among the NPR-listening set due to her work with Ted Leo on The Both. But red-eyed movie fans—and Lebowski fanatics like Canadian party-dude Rich Aucoin, who wrote a university thesis on the film—will recognize her as the nine-toed girl from the film. No, really.

Keith Richards in Pirates of the Caribbean

In Pirates of the Caribbean, Johnny Depp stars as a guyliner-rocking, stringy-haired, spinelessly slinky Jack Sparrow. Those descriptors essentially describe the ageless Keith Richards IRL, which is why it’s utterly perfect that, in the films, he plays Depp’s father.

Andre 3000 in All is By My Side

We’ll admit: We haven’t seen All is By My Side yet, even if it screened in Canada this spring during Canadian Music Week. But we’ve seen the trailers (and you can, too, above), and we must admit—Andre 3000, a.k.a. Outkast’s Andre Benjamin, plays a shockingly convincing Jimi Hendrix, right down the voice. Who knew?

Debbie Harry in Videodrome

Videodrome was one of Canadian film icon David Cronenberg’s classic films—set in a post-future Toronto, it was a sci-fi film that played on fears about technology, hyper-stimulation, and technology. They were tropes that fit in neatly with post-punk, new wave and no wave bands of the time—whose torch is carried by current bands like Teledrome—so it’s fitting that Cronenberg cast Blondie’s Debbie Harry in the film. H.R. Giger was also creating Harry’s album artwork in the era, further cementing her sci-fi bona fides.

David Bowie in lots and lots of things


The Thin White Duke has reinvented himself countless times, so it’s only fitting that he’d be an excellent actor. Bowie might be the most accomplished actor on this list, and that’s because, in film, he took some wonderful creative risks: experimental sci-fi flick The Man Who Fell to Earth and the vampiric The Hunger were classics. We love Bowie’s film career so much, in fact, that we dedicated an entire column to it.

Jon Bon Jovi in Pay It Forward

Helen Hunt, Haley Joel Osmont, and Kevin Spacey were the A-listers in Pay it Forward, an adaptation of a Catherine Ryan Hyde novel. Hidden down the credits list, however, is a middle-aged Jon Bon Jovi, who plays a role that’s almost a caricature of his musical persona—he plays an alcoholic ex-husband who, despite feigning his recovery, continues to abuse the bottle. We’ll give it to Bon Jovi: He has a sense of humour.

Kid Rock in Joe Dirt

David Spade’s beloved comedy, Joe Dirt, riffed on American redneck culture, and fittingly, it also starred an American trashbag icon: Kid Rock. Armed with a bandana and a sleeveless plaid shirt, Rock plays a barely literate bully—and while it might not have been his most challenging role, it’s one he inhabited perfectly. (Though we would never knock Rock’s literacy levels. “Bawitaba” is totally a real word.)

50 Cent in Get Rich or Die Trying

Get Rich or Die Trying was a better album than it was a film (because like, “High All the Time” is a certified all-timer), and that’s probably because 50 Cent’s a better rapper than he is an actor. Sure, 50 Cent only has one acting face—usually, it’s a blank-eyed stare—but he still manages to pull off his first major acting role, mostly because Get Rich or Die Trying is essentially about how he went from rags to, uh, being a Vitamin Water executive.

Madonna in Evita


Evita took home an Oscar in 1997 for best picture, and largely, it was thanks to Madonna’s acting—and singing—role as Eva Peron, a former Argentine political leader. Sure, Andrew Lloyd Weber wrote the score, but let’s be honest—”Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” was totally brought to life by Madge’s brand of MDNA.

Tom Waits in Down By Law

Beloved indie director Jim Jarmusch has never been shy to use musicians in his films; Coffee and Cigarettes, his series of 9/11 vignettes, featured the White Stripes, RZA, Iggy Pop, and Tom Waits. But it wasn’t Waits’ first encounter with Jarmusch—no, their first collaboration was the droll, black-and-white Down By Law, where the raspy-voiced singer plays a jailbird on the run. Not surprisingly, Waits contributed to the soundtrack with classics like “Jockey Full of Bourbon.”

Alanis Morrisette in Dogma

Think Kevin Smith is an Alanis Morrisette fan? We’d wager he is. He did, after all, cast the “You Oughta Know” singer in Dogma as… God. No, for real.

Bjork in Dancer in the Dark

Dancer in the Dark is among Lars Von Trier’s most beloved, and it stars Bjork in a leading role, which earned her an award as best actress at Cannes. The Icelandic icon, meanwhile, doesn’t strictly rely on her music as a starring role: The film, aside from song-and-dance segments, isn’t especially musical, relying on Bjork’s eccentricity to bring her role—as a blind factory worker—to life. But Von Trier and Bjork didn’t have immediate chemistry—the role was allegedly so taxing that the singer was rumoured to have eaten her own cardigan. Uh, yum?

Prince in Purple Rain


Forget about Under the Cherry Moon or New Girl. Purple Rain, both the movie and the album, are stone-cold classics. The film is an egotistical, barely hidden allusion to the singer’s ascension: It follows The Kid, an enigmatic, purple motorcycle-riding guitar genius who competes for rock supremacy. Does it sound awful? Sure. But the only reason it works is because Prince (and OK, Morris Day) makes it work.

Eminem in 8 Mile


Like his fellow Detroiter 50 Cent, Eminem also starred in a faux biopic. But as a production, 8 Mile was far superior to Get Rich or Die Tryin’, and as hip-hop flicks go, it’s considered a modern classic (and has the Grammys to prove it). Following Jimmy—who clearly is meant to mirror Em, right down to the rap battles—the film tracks a talented MC’s rise from Detroit’s 8 Mile neighbourhood to stardom. And it includes plenty of canon-ready scenes—who, for example, could forget its rendition of “Lose Yourself?”

DMX in Exit Wounds

DMX’s shouty, hyper-macho persona makes him a perfect fit for a Steven Seagal action movie, and that’s precisely why he worked in Exit Wounds. (Which, fun fact, was shot in various locations across Canada—Toronto, Hamilton, and Calgary can be spotted in the flick.) X, playing a drug dealer, reunites with Isaiah Washington and Anthony Anderson, who also starred in another early aughts classic: Romeo Must Die.

Method Man and Redman in How High

It’s largely a forgotten fact, but in the late ’90s and early 2000s, Wu Tang’s Method Man and Redman were aggressively pursuing careers on the silver screen—and also starred in a hilarious, vaguely anti-cylist Right Guard commercial. But the duo’s finest moment came with How High, a modern stoner classic that was the funniest thing Wu Tang produced since the “Torture” skit.

The Beatles in, like, all the Beatles movies


Let’s be honest: the Beatles can do little wrong, and that applies to their film career, where they notched music-movie classics in Yellow Submarine, Help!, and Let it Be.

2Pac in Juice

2Pac’s lauded for his poetic lyricism, but he wasn’t only a talented rapper—he was also capable of carrying a film. Case in point: 1991’s Juice, which had Shakur starring as a gun- and power-hungry kid looking to establish himself in the crime scene. The irony of the film? It was shot, and set, in New York.

Exclusive videos, interviews, contests & more.

sign up for the a.side newsletter

sign up