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BLOG: The 10 best musician-actors of all time

Sinatra, Smith, Ice Cube and more

Recently, MusicRadar told you about Steve Vai's big screen venture, executive producing the movie Crazy, in which he portrays country music legend Hank Williams. For Vai, who already put in a memorable performance in the film Crossroads, it could be one of many film roles he was born to play.

Since the movies learned to talk (and sing), with 1927's The Jazz Singer, the difference between musician and actor has been sometimes hard to distinguish. Throughout the '30s and '40s, musicals were big business - during those years, you couldn't get a job unless you could sing and dance and look happy doing it. It took Frank Sinatra, who tired of playing tepid screen swooners, to break the mold and demand weighty dramatic roles.

In the '50s and '60s, Elvis Presley and The Beatles would break things wide open for rock 'n' rollers on the silver screen, paving the way for the likes Mick Jagger, David Bowie and dozens more who would try their hand at acting.

The following is MusicRadar's list of the Top 10 Best Musician-Actors, those artists who have made as significant an impact on the big (and small) screen as on record. Grab some popcorn, sit back, and let the images flash before your eyes...

Frank Sinatra Ol' Blue Eyes. The Voice. Chairman Of The Board. As a singer, Frank Sinatra went by many names, but in his film career he was known as "One-Take Charlie" for his spontaneous approach to acting. Although his first films saw him playing parts that mirrored his own personality, Sinatra resisted typecasting and fought for the coveted role of Maggio in From Here To Eternity. He prevailed, and wound up with an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Sinatra would later turn in strong performances in The Man With The Golden Arm, Suddenly and The Manchurian Candidate. His light-hearted heist comedies with his Rat Pack buddies were audience favorites.

Ice Cube Who would've guessed that a member of the controversial rap group N.W.A., a band that cut songs like Fuck Tha Police, would become a lovable father figure on the big screen? Ice Cube made a killer first impression with his role in Boyz N The Hood, and in movies such as Anaconda and Three Kings, he cemented his tough-guy film presence. But it was with Friday (which he co-wrote) that he started to refine his on screen image. Later smashes like Barber Shop and Are We There Yet? displayed an Ice Cube that even a mother (and family) could love.

Ice-T The sneering gangsta hip-hop emcee made quite a name for himself with the notorious track Cop Killer. Roles in movies like New Jack City and Ricochet established Ice-T as an one-of-a-kind actor who could do more than sensationalize. On TV, as the charismatic Detective Odafin Tutuola in the smash series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Ice-T portrays a complex, streetwise crime fighter who knows how to investigate and interrogate.

Will Smith As the second half of DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, Smith's career as a friendly, common sense-dispensing rapper took off. Things skyrocketed once he hit the small screen on The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air. In movies, Smith became a certified superstar, starring in blockbusters such as Independence Day, Bad Boys and Enemy Of The State. His vivid portrayal of the iconic boxer Muhammad Ali in Ali brought Smith his first Best Actor Oscar nomination (he would again be nominated for The Pursuit Of Happyness). This summer, he's set to break box office records in Hancock.

Madonna She's the Material Girl, the hyper-ambitious queen of self-re-invention. Having sold millions of CDs and performed sold-out concerts around the world, Madonna could easily rest on her laurels. But acting has always held a special interest for her, and in her debut in Desperately Seeking Susan, Madonna stole the show. Since then, she's had a hit-and-miss film career, with roles in Dick Tracy, A League Of Their Own and The Next Best Thing. However, it was her remarkable performance as Eva Peron in the screen adaptation of the hugely successful Broadway musical Evita that brought Madonna a Golden Globe as Best Actress.

Courtney Love As the wife (and later widow) of Nirvana's Kurt Cobain and leader of the band Hole, Love never failed to grab the spotlight. Small acting turns in the films Sid And Nancy and Straight To Hell caught director Milos Forman's eye. The celebrated helmer cast Love as Althea Flynt opposite Woody Harrelson in The People Vs. Larry Flynt - and a Golden Globe nomination followed. Next, Love starred alongside Jim Carrey in the Andy Kaufman biopic, Man On The Moon. The musician-actress will soon plunge back into murky waters, tackling the role of the late porn star Linda Lovelace.

Meat Loaf The king-sized rock superstar moved boatloads of albums with the operatic Bat Out Of Hell and its subsequent sequels. Similarly, the Loaf has made his presence felt with beefy roles in Rocky Horror Picture Show, Tenacious D In The Pick Of Destiny and Americathon. His shattering performance as a hug-requiring pre-op transsexual in David Fincher's Fight Club was a revelation, and proved to the world that there was more to Meat Loaf than Paradise By The Dashboard Light.

Kris Kristofferson The Rhodes scholar, hard drinker and folk-rock superstar penned early '70s hits like Me And Bobby McGee and Sunday Morning Coming Down. With his dark good looks and dangerous aura, he was a natural for films, turning in well-regarded performances in movies like Cisco Pike and The Last Movie. Playing the romantic lead opposite Barbra Streisand in the ill-fated remake of A Star Is Born almost nosedived his film career - and starring in the disastrous Heaven's Gate pretty much killed it dead. But Kristofferson rebounded with memorable turns in Lone Star and Blade. He even played a wise ol' grandpap in the family spooler Dreamer.

Mark WahlbergWahlberg caught the music bug from his New Kid On The Block brother (Donnie Wahlberg) and shot to superstardom as Marky Mark, he of the Funky Bunch, with his smash hit Good Vibrations. Cool dance moves and a rock-hard physique led to Calvin Klein underwear ads, and films soon beckoned. As Dick Diggler, the dim-witted porn star in Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights, Wahlberg blew the screen apart. And in Martin Scorsese's Oscar triumph, The Departed, he gave a beguiling performance that netted an Oscar nomination. From executive producing hit TV shows (Entourage) to acting (he's got a half dozen projects in the hopper), one thing is clear: Wahlberg was born ready.

Steven Van Zandt The world loves a good second banana. Whether it's Jerry Lewis to Dean Martin, Abbot to Costello, or a bandanna-topped guitarist to rock icon Bruce Springsteen, it involves a magical kind of chemistry, the importance of which cannot be overstated. New Jersey's Steven Van Zandt was already a music Somebody when David Chase cast him as the Al Pacino-quoting Silvio Dante in the landmark cable series The Sopranos. By playing it straight, keeping his head down and knowing who his friends were, Van Zandt became a pop culture Somebody, and through 81 iconic episodes he had his say. His whacking of Adrianne ranks up there with the most shocking of all screen murders.

By Joe Bosso

 

 

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