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Career Changes for the Rich & Famous

March 16, 2012

Musicians becoming actors and actors trying their hand at music has long been a thing. For some reason, people who become very successful in one field feel the strange urge to branch into other artistic ventures, with varying degrees of success.

There is a long list of successful musicians who’ve become successful actors: Will Smith, Justin Timberlake, Mandy Moore, Mos Def, Dwight Yoakam, Whitney Houston, Common, Queen Latifah, Harry Connick, Jr., Mark Wahlberg, Donnie Wahlberg… just to name a few. We seem to embrace their acting ability without question, and many turn out to be much better actors than they ever were musicians (Marky Mark, I’m looking at you).

But it so rarely goes the other way. There have been many, many actors who decide to try music with abysmal results: Scarlett Johanssen, Keanu Reeves, Bruce Willis, Don Johnson. There have also been many actors who dabble in music and seem to be tolerated: Gwenyth Paltrow, Steve Martin, Zooey Deschanel. But there are very few who embrace their musical sides and actually come out better for it.

Jennifer Lopez is the most successful example that comes to mind. She got her start as a “fly girl” on In Living Color and dabbled in a few short-lived TV series before getting her big screen break as Selena Perez in 1997’s Selena. She went on to star in Anaconda, Out of Sight, and The Cell in the late 1990s before moving into romantic comedy territory in the early 2000s. In 1999 she released her debut album, On the 6, which led to two major singles and kickstarted her musical career. She has released seven full-length albums, has sold over 55 million records worldwide, and was ranked 9th in the 2007 Forbes list of “The 20 Richest Women in Entertainment.”

Jared Leto is another great example. The former heartthrob got his start as bad-boy Jordan Catalano in the short-lived but much-loved TV show My So-Called Life, capturing and breaking the hearts of heroine Angela Chase and teenage girls everywhere. He followed that with solid turns in Prefontaine, Fight Club, Requiem for a Dream, and Panic Room in the late 1990s and early 2000s. While he has continued to work as an actor, his focus switched to music in 2002 with the release of his band’s self-titled debut album, 30 Seconds to Mars. The first album is interesting because there is no mention of Jared Leto at all, and his image on the album artwork and in the videos is deliberately obscured. It’s almost like he didn’t want people to know who he was but to instead judge the music on its own merits. As the band achieved more mainstream success, Leto backed away from that position. With the release of their second album, A Beautiful Lie, in 2005, and the Leto-centric music videos that followed, his approach now seems to be “Fuck it, I’m Jared Leto!”

There are definitely other actors who have gone on to create interesting and compelling musical side projects: this article gives a rundown of eight who should be mentioned. But none of these have achieved the success in either film or music that J-Lo and Jared Leto have.

I’d like to know what you think. Who are your favorite actors-turned-musicians? Why do you think it’s so much harder for an actor to be taken seriously as a musician once he or she has established himself or herself in film or television? Leave your thoughts below.

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