5 Rock Stars Who Tried Acting (And Failed Hard)
If Pierce Brosnan's appearances in Mamma Mia! prove anything, it's that there's very little overlap between "talented actor" and "talented singer." Yet at some point in their careers, almost every famous musician in the world will take a shot at the movies. Some of them even make it! But for every Will Smith, Ice Cube, or, um, Mark Wahlberg, there's a legendary singer who proves so bad at acting that even Hollywood wouldn't let them do it. (And they let Shatner try for years!)
Neil Diamond Did Blackface ... In The '80s
The Jazz Singer was the first ever American talkie, so people tend to be very forgiving of its flaws. Sure, the sound was pretty bad. Sure, the dialog was stilted. And sure, the movie was about iconic singer Al Jolson doing blackface to steal work from African American performers. But hey, it was 1927 -- we can't hold people from that time to our standards. The same cannot be said of the 1980s, or singer Neil Diamond, both of whom should have known a lot better.
In the mind-boggling 1980 remake of The Jazz Singer, Diamond plays Jess Rabinovitch, the youngest in a long line of Jewish cantors (singers who only use their voices to praise God). But Rabinovitch doesn't want to be a cantor, he wants to be a cool rock star -- which would've been a bit more believable if Diamond didn't already look like a middle-aged assistant bank director by the time this movie was released. It would've also been more convincing if he managed to bring any of his own megastar flair to the screen. Instead he grunts out all of his lines while, as Roger Ebert put it in his scathing review, awkwardly "looking at people's third shirt buttons" rather than their eyes.
But of course, that's not the worst part. To make his dream come true, Rabinovitch moonlights as a songwriter for an all-black group. When a member falls ill, Diamond fills in, and actually does blackface. In the 1980s. This is, ironically, the only scene in which Diamond is convincing as an actor, since his self-conscious wide-eyed panic is exactly what you'd expect of a man standing on a stage wearing blackface in 19-freaking-80.
The movie was absolutely destroyed by critics, many of whom singled out Diamond's terrible performance, which also earned him the first ever Razzie for Worst Male Actor. The only silver lining for Diamond was that the soundtrack became one of his most successful albums. That's how the Universe tells you to stay in your lane.
Bob Dylan Can't Even Pretend To Be A Musician
In the 1987 film Hearts Of Fire, Bob Dylan plays Billy Parker, a reclusive rock star who falls in love with an aspiring singer who doesn't love him back because ... well, he looks like Bob Dylan. The film cost $17 million, though most of that money apparently went to Dylan's lozenge budget, since it looks like it was made by community college students working on a class project. Also, despite top billing on the posters, Dylan is absent for much of the movie, and barely even sings.
That's probably for the best, because every moment he's onscreen is excruciating. Not only does every line sound like he's bored out of his mind, but he also barely looks at the other actors (or blinks, for that matter), instead constantly staring down at his own feet like he taped the script to his shoes. His acting debut turned out to be such a disaster that it was pulled from European cinemas after two weeks, and it was never even shown in America. It was then buried so deep in the direct-to-VHS bargain bin that it was rubbing elbows with most of Steven Seagal's career.
But life's all about second chances, whether you deserve them or not. Dylan was allowed to squander his in 2003, when he starred in Masked And Anonymous, an indie movie about a benefit concert in a war-torn country. The movie was co-written by Dylan, who plays Jack Fate, an aging rock star released from prison on the condition that he go to a war zone to perform a dangerous concert.
The movie featured a whole slew of amazing actors, including John Goodman, Penelope Cruz, Ed Harris, and Jeff Bridges, who all took a pay cut to share scenes with the legendary Dylan. Of course it turned out to be one of the worst movies ever made. When the movie was screened at the Sundance Film Festival, people stood up when Dylan entered the room. And they kept right on standing ... to make a swift exit from the theater. Only half the audience was left by the end credits.
Roy Orbison Was In An Unwatchable Western
With his ever-present sunglasses, iconic black suits, and haunting voice, rock 'n' roll legend Roy Orbison was the definition of cool. He was an artist, always true to his craft, and would never lower himself by, say, appearing in a western musical comedy about a racist with a bullet-shooting guitar.
In 1967, Orbison starred in his one (and, if you've seen it, quite understandably only) foray into the world of film, The Fastest Guitar Alive. In this comedic musical western, he plays Confederate spy Johnny Banner, who attempts to rob the United States Mint in San Francisco to fund Robert E. Lee's war effort. And to show how much times have changed in the past 50 years, he was supposed to be the hero of this story.
The movie's feeble attempt at comedy relies almost entirely on prop gags that were clearly scavenged from a Three Stooges set, and Orbison has no idea how to make them funny. Well, not intentionally, anyway ...
The movie further boasts one of the most offensive scenes to Native Americans ever put on film ... not that there were many on set to complain. Most of their roles went to actors in redface, like comedian Ben Lessy as a chief:
Some Maniac Cast Luciano Pavarotti In A Romantic Comedy
In the 1980s, for reasons no sane mind will ever understand, Hollywood producer Peter Fetterman decided that opera singer Luciano Pavarotti should become a big-screen star. His initial plan was to have Pavarotti play legendary opera singer Enrico Caruso in a biopic, but the gentle giant chickened out at the last minute. It was just too much pressure, trying to play one of his personal heroes. Instead Fetterman cast him in the role of a sexy playboy in the romance flick Yes Giorgio. That was less pressure, sure, but uh, maybe Pavarotti is the kind of guy who works best under pressure.
In Yes Giorgio, Pavarotti plays Giorgio Fini, a world-renowned Italian opera singer who makes rock-star-like demands like ... eating ice cream in a sauna? Rock stars have different priorities in Italy, clearly. Although truth be told, Pavarotti's not horrible .... whenever the movie takes place in Italy, where he can speak in his native language. But then Giorgio travels to America, where he loses his voice and needs to be nursed back to health by his doctor (and love interest). And the moment you hear Pavarotti seduce a woman in English, you'll wish his voice had stayed lost for the whole movie.
Between the horribly unromantic dialogue, Pavarotti's inability to remember more than a few lines in English, and the filmmakers painfully awkward attempts to hide Pavarotti's tenor-appropriate wide frame in every shot, Yes Giorgio might be the most self-conscious and unsexy romantic comedy since whatever Woody Allen threw together that year.
Mick Jagger Can't Be Anyone Other Than Mick Jagger
Mick Jagger set his eyes on Hollywood at the tender age of 26, kick-starting an acting career that spanned all the way from 1970 to ... slightly later in 1970. And also Freejack. You don't remember Freejack. That's OK. We will get to Freejack.
Jagger's first movie was the 1970 period piece Ned Kelly, in which he played the eponymous Australian outlaw. The movie was such a bomb that the director said of it: "Ned Kelly was like having a stillborn child." Jagger himself was so embarrassed that he didn't show up to the premiere. And for good reason. Jagger is easily the worst thing about this terrible movie, sporting a ridiculous Amish beard and an even more ridiculous Irish accent, neither of which are period (or place) accurate:
And that's one of the better scenes from the film. While the movie was not a musical, it certainly had musical elements. Take this scene from, remember, an ostensibly serious story about the life of a cherished national folk hero:
For a killer so badass that he went out in a blaze of glory dressed like a medieval tank, Jagger sure portrayed Kelly as a self-conscious dandy, with plenty of flailing around and grabbing of his own ass.
Jagger's performance was so bad that he didn't act in another movie for decades. And then 1992 brought us Freejack. This time Jagger was the villain, a billionaire whose mind and body have been so polluted by drugs that he needs a new one. Clearly this was a part that did not require a lot of acting on Jagger's end, and yet he still managed to bungle his way through the movie like he was reading the script off of his co-star's heads.
Freejack was a box office bomb, but Jagger was singled out as being the only entertaining part -- because he was so over-the-top terrible. Having finally learned his lesson, Jagger now only cameos in movies as himself, rock legend Mick Jagger. And if you look at his cameos and still think Mick Jagger is bad at acting, he has two films that prove that's exactly how you should should play Mick Jagger.
Sara Philip is a freelance writer and copywriter. You can find her on Twitter.
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