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Seeing a well-known musician or singer appear in a film is like tasting an old recipe with a newly added ingredient. The flavor can be unexpected and unique. I have yet to see some of the older movies with Frank Sinatra and Cher but I have seen many films with more recent recording artists. I divide them here into a list of main roles and smaller roles, focusing on films from the past three decades. They’re all worth checking out.
Musicians & Singers as Actors – Main roles:
Justin Timberlake: The Social Network (2010)
The Social Network is easily one of the highest regarded films of the 2010s, and JT had a central role in it. He played Sean Parker, Napster co-founder and a man who was crucial to the development of Facebook. Seeing the singer play the role of an intense businessman was an unexpected, yet welcome addition to a movie that already had plenty of positives.
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Ice Cube: Boyz n the Hood (1991)
The NWA rapper also made an impact with Friday and his Barbershop series, but none of his roles have been quite as powerful as “Doughboy” from Boyz n the Hood. It was all about authenticity. He really grew up in that rough environment depicted in the movie, and it shows; having him play the role was just the twist the movie needed. His charisma and the believability of his performance make it memorable.
Childish Gambino: Atlanta (2016-)
This is the only TV show on the list, but Childish Gambino’s (Donald Glover’s) performance as “Earn,” a mild-mannered young man who is financially challenged, is one of the most interesting roles you’ll see. He is a mix of likable and relatable, but also depressing. Season 3 of Atlanta is rumored to be coming in 2021, so you still have time to catch up on it before then.
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Ludacris: Crash (2004), Hustle & Flow (2005)
Luda’s performance in the Best Picture-winning Crash will have you doing a double-take throughout the movie. I remember thinking, “wow, he really had the nerve to do that?” multiple times. Playing a crazy, hyper-aggressive gangster, he is likely to freak you out as much as he freaked out Sandra Bullock’s character in the beginning. In Hustle & Flow, he plays a big-time rapper who is approached by the main characters to listen to their demo. It goes smoothly at first, but a conflict occurs that will have your jaw drop.
Lady Gaga: A Star is Born (2018)
This one was all about the chemistry between Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. It was great that she played a singer because she got to showcase the voice that made her the star she is today. However, it was also the on-screen romance with Cooper’s character that made it enjoyable. It’s not an always uplifting story, but that’s what made it more realistic.
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Harry Styles: Dunkirk (2017)
The former One Direction singer, Harry Styles, was not an expected choice to play the main role in Christopher Nolan’s epic war film, but he did a fine job. You could see the fear in his face as he navigated war-torn England, not knowing if he would make it through the day. It adds to the anxious nature of the story and also makes it more authentic.
Beyonce: Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002)
In one of the funniest movies you’ll ever see, Beyonce plays a detective named Foxxy Cleopatra. She’s easy on the eyes, but also easy to like in the role. I promise you will have a blast watching her help Austin Powers travel through time and defeat his enemies.
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Tupac Shakur: Juice (1992)
Although Tupac is known for being one of the most highly regarded hip-hop artists of all time, he also has some impressive movie roles. One of the best is his character “Bishop” in Juice. Throughout the film, you can see the pain in his eyes, his mental health deteriorating. There’s a scene in an elevator that you will never forget. This is not just one of the best performances by a musician, but by anyone.
Musicians & Singers as Actors – Smaller roles:
Action Bronson: The Irishman (2019) & The King of Staten Island (2020)
The Queens rapper recently added acting to his resume after making a living as a chef and a recording artist. In The Irishman, he sells a casket to Robert De Niro’s character Frank Sheeran, who is getting his affairs in order before he passes away. It’s a nice touch, considering that Bronson often references De Niro in his lyrics. In The King of Staten Island, he plays an injured man in distress. He strikes up an unexpected, yet endearing friendship with leading man Pete Davidson. In both roles, Bronson brought humor and charisma. Hopefully, he keeps developing his acting chops.
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FKA Twigs: Honey Boy (2019)
FKA Twigs isn’t as high profile as some of the other people on this list, but that doesn’t mean you should skip this movie. The singer plays a character named “Shy Girl” in Shia LaBeouf’s autobiographical film, striking up a friendship with a young boy named Otis. She brings a relaxed presence to the role that makes every scene with her enjoyable.
A$AP Rocky: Dope (2015)
Rocky plays a drug dealer named Dom, who meets the main character Malcolm and changes his life forever. He brings his trademark slickness and smooth talk to the role, pulling off a laid-back, yet quality performance. It would be great if he continues his transition into acting, but it might take a while. He’s already got his hands full with projects in the music and fashion industries.
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T.I. and Common: American Gangster (2007)
Both rappers played relatives to Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) in the intense biopic. T.I.’s character was especially interesting, as he was a prolific baseball player who could’ve gone pro. However, with his cousin being a drug kingpin, he received influence that took his life in another direction. Common plays one of Frank’s brothers and captures the happiness that someone would feel when a relative becomes wealthy. However, he also knows that with the nature of his profession, it could all go away at any point. This one is all about the facial expressions.
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Joshua Valdez is an entertainment journalist who likes to write about the complexities of his favorite movies and TV shows, often relating them to real-world issues. He also enjoys writing about current events in the entertainment landscape, and is always looking for interesting topics to cover. Rather than gossip, he focuses on how events in the entertainment world reflect on society at large. This was a significant factor in why he chose to write for Hollywood Insider, as they focus on art and culture over gossip and scandal. His ultimate goal is to help the reader learn something new.