Singers and musicians playing musicians and singers in the movies is nothing to get excited about. What really pricks up your ears and pops out your eyes are those occasions when a singer or musician blows you away in a non-musical film playing a type of character you would never expect.
David Bowie as Nikola Tesla
Christopher Nolan’s “The Prestige” is a seductive little magic trick that contains a number of fascinating elements, but perhaps nothing tops the revelation of David Bowie as Thomas Edison’s comprehensive superior, Nikola Tesla. Bowie has provided a number of interesting non-musical performances, but they tend to be patchwork glimpses into potential acting greatness rather than a fully developed character, Pontius Pilate famously excepted. Bowie’s crowning acting achievement to date should have netted him a Best Supporting Actor nomination and most definitely should place him at the top of the list of actors who should take on the role of the Great and Powerful Tesla when Hollywood finally gets around to this biopic.
Mac Davis as a Star Pro Quarterback
“North Dallas Forty” remains the most intensely enjoyable movie ever made about professional American football. Nick Nolte as a body-busted rebel on the way down? No surprise there. But country singer Mac Davis as the championship team’s star quarterback. Whoa! The biggest surprise here that Mac Davis not only more than holds his own against Nolte, but is actually more memorable. Does the rather slight Davis cut a believable figure as a quarterback? Not in today’s environment, but this movie was made when Terry Bradshaw was in the discussion of the greatest QBs of all time so, yeah, Mac Davis does pull off the physicality of the role almost as much as he inhabits the charismatic character of football’s glamour position.
Mos Def as Ford Prefect
I’ll be brutally honest. I know as much about the musical career of Mos Def (who now goes by the name Yasiin Bey) as I do about anyone who has ever appeared as a contestant on “American Idol.” I have no doubt he is extraordinarily more talented than any of those merely based on his talent as an actor. What is the first unexpected thing about Mos Def sticking out his towel for a pickup in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe” is that Ford Prefect has never been described or portrayed as being a black man. The most unexpected thing for someone not familiar with this man is just how terrifically perfect he turned out portraying a character I had already come to know well. There is, of course, no reason why a black man could not play an alien from another world, but familiarity can often breed contempt among some. Just ask Samuel “Nick Fury” Jackson.
For more from Timothy Sexton, check out:
From Tom to Sebastian: When Musicians Turn out to Be Good Actors
Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison: The Genius and the Jerk