It takes a rather unique set of skills to enter into an arena as big as acting and prove that you have something to offer. Acting is difficult enough, but attempting to act when you’re already well known for other reasons, is, more often than not, a lose/lose situation. The 10 performances listed below are rare exceptions. Some of the actors were well known for bucking the system through rap, others were prominent athletes who never really took to the screen again – but no matter, the performances below stepped into the arena and utterly killed it.
Profession before acting: rock star
9. Debbie Doebrainer in Bubble (2006)
Profession before acting: KFC drive-through attendant
8. Frank Sinatra in The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Profession before acting: musical icon
7. Ice Cube in Boyz n the Hood (1991)
Profession before acting: rapper
Late in the film, Doughboy quietly laments that people just don’t care about what’s goin’ on in the hood. No, Dough, they certainly do not.
6. Harold Russell in The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
Profession before acting: soldier
Much like Debbie Doebrainer, not a whole lot of people we aware of Harold Russell before he appeared in, and won two Academy Awards for, The Best Years of Our Lives. Thankfully for us, director William Wyler saw Russell in the Army film, Diary of a Sergeant, and had the fortitude to cast him as sailor Homer Parrish. I say thankfully because, as a real life veteran who lost both of his hands in WWII, Russell brought his own pain to Parrish, and made the character shine with sensitivity and vulnerability. There’s a scene in the film in which Parrish (or should I say, Russell) shows a potential love interest how he prepares for bed. It is, simply put, one of the most tender sequences I’ve ever witnessed.
5. Courtney Love in The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996)
Profession before acting: punk rocker/Mrs. Kurt Cobain
4. Eminem in 8 Mile (2002)
Profession before acting: rapper
There’s a brief moment during the film’s final, miraculous rap battle scene in which Jimmy gives his nemesis, Papa Doc, a slight smirk before Jimmy kills a free style on stage. On the surface, it’s a grin of one movie character knowing he has another one beat. Look closer. That’s Eminem telling his naysayers what he tells them best.
3. Dwight Yoakam in Sling Blade (1996)
Profession before acting: country rock musician
I’ve seen Yoakam in a handful of interviews, and I get the sense that he is intensely shy. If you’ve seen Sling Blade, then you know Doyle is far from timid. He’s a repulsive, lost man played by a man who was given a shot by his personal friend to flesh out some demons on screen. Well played, my friend.
2. Björk in Dancer in the Dark (2000)
Profession before acting: musician
Dancer in the Dark is a film hated by some, lauded by many, and forgotten by none. I’m cautious to reveal more for those unaware, but, much like the best von Trier films, once you’ve seen Dancer in the Dark (and Björk’s performance in it), you’ll never not see it again. It’ll always be there.
1. Ray Allen in He Got Game (1998)
Profession before acting: NBA player
Lee wanted someone who could ball. He wanted his Jesus Shuttlesworth to be played by a guy who was age-appropriate for the part, and had God-given ball skills. It was to Lee’s good fortune that he was able to find someone with natural acting skills as well.
A NBA rookie for the Milwaukee Bucks when he was cast, Allen brought a sense of angst and shame and pride to Jesus. And I have no idea where it came from. Life is hard for everyone, sure, but in my research, it doesn’t seem like Ray Allen is remotely like Jesus Shuttlesworth. Aside from their talent for basketball, the two men couldn’t be more different. I haven’t a clue what Allen was drawing on to evoke Jesus’ strife, but whatever his method, he delivered a towering, fearless performance that I’ll remember forever. He got game. You better believe it.
Sean Combs (hip-hop producer) in Made
Mos Def (rapper) in Monster’s Ball
Dennis Farina (police officer) in Thief
Sasha Grey (porn star) in The Girlfriend Experience
Vinnie Jones (footballer) in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
Anders Danielsen Lie (doctor) in Oslo, August 31st
Haing S. Ngor (doctor) in The Killing Fields
Dolly Parton (country singer) in Nine to Five
Tony Siragusa (football player) in 25th Hour
Justin Timberlake (N’Syncher) in The Social Network