Everyone can reel off the names of singers and musicians who transitioned into acting—think of Sinatra, Elvis and Bowie, for starters. But what about artists who took the reverse course—first launching careers in film, and then going on to showcase their talents as musicians? Below are five actors who have made their mark in the music world. Be sure to chime in with your own picks in the comments section.
Johnny Depp’s original dream wasn’t to be an actor, but rather to become a rock musician. In fact, many of the Hollywood star’s musician peers—including Keith Richards, Joe Perry and Alice Cooper--would argue that Depp is every bit as good a musician as he is an actor. Among his credits are: playing slide guitar on the Oasis song “Fade In-Out,” from the Be Here Now album, playing lead guitar and drums on Marilyn Manson’s cover of Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain,” and trading licks with Perry on “The Brooklyn Shuffle,” one of the high points on the latest solo album by legendary guitarist, Steve Hunter. “Johnny came to Hollywood to play guitar,” noted Alice Cooper, last year. “He didn't come as an actor at all.... I always say to him, ‘If you really want to go out on tour, let me know and you can come with us.’ I wouldn't be surprised if he did.” Watch Depp below jamming on a Les Paul with Aerosmith.
Fans who first discovered Jared Leto through his role in the acclaimed TV series, “My So-Called Life,” probably weren’t surprised when he proved to be an exceptional music talent as well. Since 1998, the gifted actor has been lead vocalist, main songwriter and multi-instrumentalist in the critically hailed band, Thirty Seconds to Mars. To his credit, as Thirty Seconds to Mars was finding its footing, Leto refused to allow his status as a renowned actor to be used to promote the fledgling group. As of last year, with four full-length albums under their belt, the group has sold more than 10 million records worldwide. “There are always going to be people that are judgmental that are going to say, ‘Well, he was an actor first, so he doesn't have the right to be a musician,’” Leto once told Rolling Stone. “I can't change those people. I can only be myself. And I can only keep making art.”
It’s fitting that Bridges won his sole Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as Otis “Bad” Blake in the 2009 film, Crazy Heart. Based in part on Kris Kristofferson, Bridges’ character reflected the actor’s longstanding passion for music. “I had a hard time choosing,” Bridges once said. “Was I an actor or a musician, or could I be both?” The answer came in 2000, when Bridges released his debut album, Be Here Soon. A deft blend of laidback roots music and soulful folk-rock, the album served notice of the veteran actor’s immense talent as an expressive songwriter. He’s since released two more albums, and he also sang five songs on the soundtrack for Crazy Heart. Check him out below performing “The Weary Kind,” the theme song from Crazy Heart, on a Gibson acoustic.
Kevin Costner’s substantial stash of Academy Awards and Golden Globe Awards attest to his prodigious talents as an actor and director. Who knew, prior to 2007, that deep in Costner’s heart lurked the soul of a country-rocker? Since forming his band, Kevin Costner & Modern West, theDances with Wolves star has recorded and released three albums: 2008’s Untold Truths, 2010’s Turn It On and 2011’s From Where I Stand. The group has also drawn immense praise for is stage performances. Regarding his decision to launch a side career in music, Costner says, “If life has taught me anything, it was not be stopped by the question or the unknown…. What do I have to lose but maybe some of the best times of my life?”
A member of Hollywood’s “Frat Pack,” Jack Black has shined in such films as King Kong, Shallow Hal and, of course, School of Rock. Many music fans know him best, however, as Jables, or simply “JB,” lead singer and guitarist in the zany rock duo, Tenacious D. Black and music partner Kyle Gass specialize in high-energy acoustic metal delivered with enough humor and flair to transcend the novelty tag. In addition to his three albums with Tenacious D, the comedic actor has contributed to Dave Grohl’s Probot side project (providing vocals on “I Am the Warlock,” a hidden track), recorded a duet with Meatloaf (“Like a Rose,” from the 2010 Hang Cool Teddy Bear album), and provided “stomps and handclaps” to Queens of the Stone Age’s “Burn the Witch.” Asked to name his favorite chord, Jack told Askmen.com, “I love them all,” adding that he “loves E-minors.” “E-minors are so deep and dark!” he observes. “E-minor is one of the most evil of all chords. When you strum it, you can’t help but to throw the devils horns up, you know what I mean?”
Warning: Bad language.