Actors-Cum-Singers

I had heard she had some sort of music career fallback, but I didn’t really understand that I’d been hearing her on the radio consistently for quite some time. Hailee Steinfeld: you may know her as the little girl from True Grit, or else the young woman in The Edge of Seventeen, but a whole lot of young folk know her as a top 40 pop artist. She “broke out” after appearing in Pitch Perfect 2 and just like that she had a record deal and a music video.

 

Of course you may know that Pitch Perfect alum Anna Kendrick also landed on the Billboards with her annoying song, Cups. The music video, which I’ve neglected to see before today, is a bit aggravating since she’s play some working class baker in a horrid little diner that apparently refuses to sell drinks. Anyone else start bleeding from the eyeballs when this comes on? Anna Kendrick’s gotten singy in a whole bunch of her movies, including Trolls and Into the Woods, so it seems unlikely that her vocal stylings are going anywhere soon (god help us all).

Kendrick’s not the only co-star of Hailee Steinfeld’s to have music on the radio. Her True Grit co-star Jeff Bridges is super musical too. Of course you were likely blown away by his performance in Crazy Heart, but that’s not a one-off. He studied piano as a kid but now he’s usually seen with one of several guitars in hand, on set and everywhere else. In 1980, while filming Heaven’s Gate, he’d often jam with his co-star, singer\songwriter Kris Kristofferson, between takes. Kristofferson helped inspire Bridges’ Crazy Heart character, Bad Blake, who is described as being the fictional 5th Highwayman, alongside Willie Nelson, Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash.

A bunch of actors tour with bands in their down time. Steve Martin’s bluegrass sound isn’t surprising to anyone who’ll recognize his banjo from his stand-up comic days. He’s put some real time and effort into his second career as a musician, and he’s picked up some Grammy awards to show for it. Billy Bob Thornton has released music with The Boxmasters and Tres Hombres. Michael Cera plays bass in Mister Heavenly. Kevin Costner’s band, Kevin Costner and Modern West, tours the NASCAR circuit. Keanu Reeves’ band Dogstar reportedly gave Weezer their first touring gig opening for them in the early 90s. Kevin Bacon makes music with his brother in (you guessed it) The Bacon Brothers. Russell Crowe started out with 30 Odd Foot of Grunts before he was super successful over here, and then graduated to Russell Crowe & the Ordinary Fear of God once he did. And perhaps most famously (or at least most successfully), Jared Leto formed alt-rock band 30 Seconds to Mars the minute he was done with My So-Called Life and has always gone back to it between film projects, ensuring the stability of the black eyeliner industry.

Jamie Foxx revealed his musical talent in the movie Ray, and then followed it up with a convincing Ray Charles impression in Kanye West’s song, Gold Digger. Foxx has also been feature on a Drake track (another actor turned musician; Canadians will never let him forget that he got his start on the Degrassi reboot). Solo, he’s released 4 R&B albums since Ray. His most commercially successful single, the heavily auto-tuned Blame It, has a music video that weirdly “stars” Jake Gyllenhaal, Ron Howard, Forest Whitaker, and Samuel L. Jackson. Never mind the Grey Goose sponsorship deal. Feel free to check it out and let me know what gives.

One of my favourie actor crossovers is Zooey Deschanel, who has a good thing going with M. Ward called She & Him. She’s pretty legit – she plays keyboards, percussion, banjo, and ukulele – and M. Ward lends a lot of blues\folk credibility. We know she can sing from her duet with Will Ferrell in the movie Elf, but she’s also appeared on a Coconut Records album, a band by fellow indie actor Jason Schwartzman. In this She & Him video, she’s helped out by her 500 Days of Summer co-star, Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

In case you doubted that Ryan Gosling was singing (he was a Mousketeer alongside Justin Timberlake you know!) and playing the piano long before La La Land ever existed, here’s a pretty raw video of him and his band Dead Man’s Bones. The sound’s not great because it was recorded live, but you’ll get the gist.

There are many more besides who tried to sing and probably shouldn’t have, and I’m not even sure if William Shatner belongs on that list. He’s released so many albums at this point that I have to take him at least semi-seriously, or as seriously as the Shatner spoken-word singing can be taken. Which is still better than Cory Feldman sing-ranting about the pitfalls of being a former child actor. And I can only begin to imagine the highs and lows contained on an album by Steven Seagal, Bruce Willis, or David Hasselhoff, and apparently there are 18 of those in existence! Can you even believe it? Well believe it:

 

Who is your favourite actor-musician?

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34 thoughts on “Actors-Cum-Singers

  1. Lara/Trace

    Oh Jay, Oh Jay – this could be a BOOK! OK, I loved (really really) 30 Seconds to Mars (for solo road trips) then I find out Jared is an impressive actor… some of them cross-over quite well…Kevin Costner – what is that – ego? Now Dennis Quaid’s doing music? These guys are hogging the spotlight.

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  3. kmSalvatore

    holy moly… im old… 🙂 i think i knew 2 maybe 3 of these “singers” or groups. ill be honest i never knew Gosling could really sing.. so thanks for that.. im diggin’ that video and song 🙂 thanks Jay

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  4. Lloyd Marken

    Haha I liked Cups with Anna but I almost liked reading you giving it shit as much. 🙂 I’m a Knight Rider kid so sadly I like The Hoff’s singles for their 80s cheesiness. He came to perform one time here in Brisbane a few years back. I think he came on at 11:30pm. Is the guy on drugs or what? I knew Willis had a crack at music and did well like a lot of Hollywood stars in Japan. I was surprised to find out he did the hit Respect Yourself which is fine. Foxx and Gosling certainly have talent. Of the two singles I’ve heard by 30 Odd Foot of Grunt I can’t say I’m a fan but my sympathies lie with any artist just doing their thing. Same goes for Keanu Reeves cause I don’t think his band is setting the world on fire. I dig 30 Seconds from Mars for the artistry of their film clips rather than their actual songs. Steve Martin seems to have done well with that type of music, hasn’t he even produced a Broadway musical with his wife? But if you’re asking what I’d like to listen to right now, it’s probably the music of Bad Blake.

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    1. Jay Post author

      He can definitely be appreciated on a cheese level – but I have seen beery-boozy backyard barbecues that really get hopping when that song comes on so there’s something to it.

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  5. Wednesday's Child

    Great post! That Hailee Steinfeld song “I Love ME” makes me want to shoot my radio out because the chorus is sung almost entirely on one note. I could probably name a ton of actor musicians I love but the first thing that jumped into my head when you asked for comments on the topic was John Goodman singing in True Stories: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9a1JQi7G3k
    Another one is Robert Duvall as the country singer in Tender Mercies.

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  6. calensariel

    Finally made it to see “La La Land” last night. Sigh… I LOVE musicals. But I hated the music in this except for one song, “Audition.” The story wasn’t bad, but I think I would have liked it a lot more had it NOT been a musical! Though I have to say I really like Gosling’s music.

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  7. Christopher

    Many, many, many years ago the comic strip Bloom County had a long-running story about several of the main characters forming a rock band–Billy & The Boingers. And in one strip one of them tells their manager, “You know that trend of big actors hiring a band and pretending they’re rock stars?”
    The manager says, “Who’s on the phone?”
    “Don Knotts.”

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  8. laura kilty

    I hadn’t actually had the misfortune to hear Hailee Steinfeld until your post- I just can’t. Love your turn of phrase Jay. “Anyone else start bleeding from the eyeballs when this comes on?” is a line I shall be stealing 😀 My actor-musician has got to be Keanu Reeves, who you mentioned. Enjoyed Dogstar (definitely fueled by my love for him and all he does) back in the mid-90s and my grunge days. Haven’t listened in yonks but remember loving a song “Our Little Visionary”. This is a cool post, I wanna hear of more!!

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  9. Widdershins

    Lets go back a few years, and only if you want to include singers who can act, although it’s sometimes a case of what came first, chicken or the egg … One queen to rule them all – Julie Andrews 😀 … Bette Midler … Victor Garber (Legends of Tomorrow) … Hell, how about Catherine Zeta-Jones? (Cell-block Tango, anyone?) … Marlene Dietrich (no-one rocked a tux like she did!)

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  10. ninvoid99

    Whoa, what about Scar-Jo 3:16, Evan Rachel Wood in her Rebel and a Basketcase project, Jena Malone and her project the Shoe? They made some interesting recordings that is not very mainstream but cool.

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  11. J.

    I had no idea Gosling was doing the whole music thing. Learn something new everyday, eh?

    I actually have the Dude’s album. It’s actually pretty decent and certainly better than most of what comes out of Nashville these days. I also have the two Seagal albums… some really pretty bonkers stuff on them. Particularly the first one. Shatner’s Has Been album is actually pretty great, which is a bit of an anomaly in the Shatner catalogue.

    A friend of mine also caught David Duchovny play recently. He wasn’t too impressed.

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