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Ten Great Roles From Rock Stars Turned Actors

The transition from the stage to the screen can be a difficult one. Both rock and pop stars can struggle with not only delivering a convincing performance but also finding the right project to suit their particular talents. Poison frontman Bret Michaels proved this with his abysmal acting debut A Letter From Death Row, while Marilyn Manson’s appearance alongside former Home Alone star Macaulay Culkin in the disappointing Party Monster was nothing less than cringeworthy.

There are some musicians who only make the occasional foray into the world of movies, while others almost balance both careers simultaneously. David Bowie’s acting career proved somewhat erratic, with his overblown performance in the musical Labyrinth a sharp contrast against his memorable turn in The Man Who Fell to Earth. Flea, bassist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, appeared as the arrogant Needles in the two Back to the Future sequels alongside Michael J. Fox and then spent the 1990s working with the likes of Keanu Reeves, Terry Gilliam and the Coen Brothers.

Solo artist Tom Waits made his acting debut under the direction of Sylvester Stallone in the 1978 wrestling drama Paradise Alley and over the last thirty-five years has enjoyed cameos in Dracula, Short Cuts and the comic thriller Seven Psychopaths. Yet while Bush frontman Gavin Rossdale’s attempts at breaking Hollywood with the science fiction horror Constantine and the ill-fated How to Rob a Bank had proven a failure, more respected forays into the world of cinema came from Jack White of The White Stripes (Cold Mountain), Alanis Morissette (Dogma), Björk (Dancer in the Dark) and Dave Grohl, who resurrected his role as the Devil from the Tenacious D video Tribute for their movie spinoff The Pick of Destiny.

MEAT LOAF (Fight Club)
Prior to the release of his breakthrough masterpiece Bat Out of Hell, Meat Loaf had ventured into the world of acting with a minor role in the classic horror musical The Rocky Horror Picture Show, although he would be murdered after only a few minutes onscreen by transsexual alien scientist Tim Curry. While he would occasionally make an appearance in films throughout his career, Meat Loaf would receive major acclaim for his sensitive portrayal of misunderstood loner and cancer survivor Robert Paulson in David Fincher’s 1999 classic Fight Club. ‘I like Bob Paulson from Fight Club. Most of the character development was done by me. Bob really wasn’t on paper so I had to push hard,’ he told Artist Direct in 2010. ‘I got David Fincher to give me shots and make that character come alive, especially with the walk in the beginning of the movie. I said, ‘David, I’ve got this walk for him.’ He went, Cool’ and we shot that. There were other little pieces.’

DEBBIE HARRY (Videodrome)
When Blondie broke out of the New York punk scene and into the mainstream singer Debbie Harry became an instant sex symbol. When she decided to launch a new career as an actress, something music-orientated or comical may have been the obvious route, but instead Harry was cast as the alongside character actor James Woods in the Canadian body horror Videodrome. ‘What we were looking for was something that would take me out of the image that people had of me – Blondie and being a singer and being this cute, popsy little character,’ Harry explained in the featurette The Making of David Cronenberg’s Videodrome. ‘We did, however, for the first film want something like a comedy, something that would be light and charming and people would really love me. So Nikki’s not exactly that.’

COURTNEY LOVE (The People vs. Larry Flynt)
Future Hole front-woman Courtney Love had failed to land the role of notorious rock groupie Nancy Spungen in Alex Cox’s punk biopic Sid and Nancy, yet the twenty-year-old never gave up her hopes of becoming a movie star. Her calling card came in 1996 with a major role in The People vs. Larry Flynt, an acclaimed biopic on the life of Hustler creator Flynt and his relationship with stripper Althea Leasure, played by Love. The role would bring numerous award nominations and wins, with critics impressed by her honest and convincing turn as the tortured Leasure. Love would follow this performance with Man on the Moon alongside Jim Carrey and the ensemble drama 200 Cigarettes.

Bob Geldof

Bob Geldof

BOB GELDOF (The Wall)
While now known more for his work as a humanitarian and political activist, in the late 1970s and early ’80s Bob Geldof was the frontman of the Boomtown Rats, the New Wave group most known for their 1979 classic I Don’t Like Mondays. But in 1982, Geldof made his acting debut in The Wall, taking the lead role of Pink, a tortured rock star who slowly descends into his own personal hell, confronting all manner of surreal and twisted imageries. Based on the album of the same name by Pink Floyd, the screenplay was adapted by frontman Roger Waters and was directed by Alan Parker, who had enjoyed considerable acclaim during the previous decade with Bugsy Malone and Midnight Express. ‘Alan Parker rang up our manager and said would I like to go down and talk to him? I read the script and I wasn’t very interested to be honest. It was only fifty pages; it was a shooting script just describing events,’ Geldof told Australian journalist Donnie Sutherland regarding his initial thoughts to the project. ‘I think a lot of people like it and I think a lot of people hate it but I do think it’s quite an adventurous film.’

DAVID JOHANSEN (Scrooged)
When the New York Dolls split after just two studio albums, frontman David Johansen attempted to launch a solo career, releasing four albums to mixed reviews, before attempting to find further success with his lighthearted alter-ego Buster Poindexter. In the mid-1980s, he turned his attention to acting with Scrooged, Richard Donner’s modern-day reworking of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The 1980s saw Hollywood exploring the evils of capitalism through movies such as Trading Places and Wall Street and with Scrooged Bill Murray played a yuppie head of a successful TV mastermind who had turned his back on those he loved in order to rise in the cutthroat world of television. ‘That was fun to do. We often played at The Bottom Line and Bill Murray was a fan,’ Johansen told Interview Magazine in 2014. ‘He said one day, ‘Hey, do you want to be in my next movie?’ I was like, ‘Of course!’ He’s great.’

IGGY POP (Dead Man)
Iggy Pop was in his fourties when filmmakers began to cast him in all manner of quirky and offbeat roles. Despite a résumé that would include such cult movies as Tank Girl and The Crow: City of Angels, it would be through his regular collaborations with Hollywood star Johnny Depp that would prove the most productive. First beginning in 1990 with John Waters’ Cry Baby, Pop’s music would be featured in Depp’s 1993 drama Arizona Dream, while he would also score Depp’s directoral debut The Brave. Yet their most interesting collaboration would be Dead Man, a surreal western from acclaimed director Jim Jarmusch that critic Roger Ebert described as, ‘a strange, slow, unrewarding movie that provides us with more time to think about its meaning than with meaning.’ In a movie full of bizarre appearances from the likes of Crispin Glover, John Hurt and Billy Bob Thornton, it would be Pop’s performance as a cross-dresser that would prove to be Dead Man’s most memorable element.

SHIRLEY MANSON (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles)
In the seven years in between Garbage albums, singer Shirley Manson made the unexpected transition from music to acting with a key role in the science fiction show Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Manson was cast ambiguous company CEO and advanced cyborg Catherine Weaver, who is never truly revealed as either antagonist or ally, her ambition on the show to help advance the creation of Skynet, the computer ultimately responsible for launching a nuclear war on the human race. ‘I knew she was a Terminator but I didn’t realise the part was going to be so big. I just thought I would be getting in a fight with somebody,’ Manson confessed to Comic Book Resources in April 2009. ‘I had no idea that it was going to be a recurring role at all. To be honest, when we were first shooting the episodes this season, the producers weren’t sure where they were taking me. So I was working pretty much in the dark, which was difficult but in retrospect also helpful. If I had known how big the role was going to be, I would of collapsed.’

HENRY ROLLINS (Sons of Anarchy)
The film career of Henry Rollins first began to gain momentum in the mid-1990s with roles in Johnny Mnemonic, Heat and Lost Highway, yet to metal fans he would be forever known for his punk and rock work in the acclaimed groups Black Flag and the Rollins Band. In 2009 he would make a successful transition to the small screen as A.J. Weston, the leader of a white separatist group in the second season of the popular show Sons of Anarchy. ‘I play a bad man and, in Hollywood, characters like me often must die,’ he told The Guardian at the time. ‘My character is a neo-Nazi white power pseudo-cracker.’ Making his debut appearance in the first episode of the second season, his character was executed in the season’s finale, a role which brought Rollins modest acclaim. Despite being known for his imposing physique, Rollins revealed in an interview with Monsters and Critics that he was forced to work out even more for the role. ‘I was asked if I could put on some more muscle for the part. I upped the daily caloric intake and lifting poundage. Hopefully I got the size they were looking for.’

ALICE COOPER (Prince of Darkness)
Alice Cooper had specularly returned from the abyss in the mid-1980s with his hair metal-infused comeback album Constrictor and the minor hit He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask), which had been released to coincide with that of Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. Having teamed up with guitarist Kane Roberts, the album had brought the former rock icon to the attention of a new generation of metal fans. In March 1987, Cooper appeared at Wrestlemania III in Pontiac, Michigan, where he had struck up a friendship with cult filmmaker John Carpenter, who offered him a minor role in his next picture, a supernatural horror called Prince of Darkness. One of my business partners, Shep Gordon, is Alice’s manager, so I was able to get backstage passes,’ Carpenter told Fangoria. ‘I had thought of Alice as being an outrageous heavy metal rock star, but he’s really a normal, wonderful person. He’s such a great guy that I decided to cast him.’

Carl McCoy

Carl McCoy

CARL MCCOY (Hardware)
Hardware, a science fiction-slasher-art picture hybrid, was the first feature from acclaimed filmmaker Richard Stanley, who had spent the 1980s cutting his teeth of an array of short films and music videos. His introduction to Fields of the Nephilim and frontman Carl McCoy had come when he was hired to shoot the promo clip for the band’s 1987 track Preacher Man, an atmospheric and stylish video that would serve as their introduction to a wider audience. ‘He became a really good friend. So, when Palace Productions sent me a script and an artist’s impression, he’d written me into the script,’ McCoy told Sounds in 1991. ‘And this role suited me – The Grim Reaper! I suppose that is how most people see me! But what interested me most about this film was that its not just a typical Blade Runner scenario; there are lots of parallel themes running through it – like the fact the robot is called Mark 13, a passage from the Bible that directly refers to the end of the world. I know how Richard’s mind works’ McCoy’s role in Hardware would be that of a masked nomad, a drifter and scavenger who sells the remains of a military robot that beings to rebuild itself with the intent on destroying its new owner, played by newcomer Stacey Travis. Other notable performances in the movie came from Motörhead legend Lemmy Kilmister and the vocal talents of Iggy Pop.

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