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20 Most Remarkable First Film Roles By A Musician

20 Most Remarkable First Film Roles By A Musician (photo)

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Some musicians have a distinct advantage when it comes to launching an acting career, bringing celebrity and a fan base to the bargaining table that can add crucial appeal to their early prospects. However, musicians (and we use the term loosely), rappers and singers must also struggle with the preconceived notion that comes with them, to the ruin of many who cannot break free of their tabloid typecasting. But this can also be their greatest asset — there is nothing audiences love more than watching someone defy expectation, other than perhaps a star, defying expectation. Many have tried, most have failed. Everyone from Michael Jackson to Mos Def, Method Man to Mick Jagger, have dabbled in acting with varying degrees of success. Most recently, Justin Timberlake has come out strong in “The Social Network,” but we decided to focus on the early role, the first real performance of some of the best crossover talents (and Timberlake in “Edison Force” didn’t make the cut). These are 20 of the most remarkable.

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20. Cher — As Chastity in “Chastity”

Given that the 1969 film “Chastity” provided Cher with her first dramatic role, the fact that she is on this list at all is a testament to her remarkable run of film roles in the 1980s. “Chastity,” a film written and produced by Cher’s, ex-showbiz partner, ex-manager, and ex-ball-and-chain Sonny Bono, is bad enough to warrant commentary from puppets. Verging on exploitation, the film follows a young woman, Chastity (Cher), as she negotiates the not-so-groovy summer of love while hitch-hiking across the United States. She finds love, loses love and then winds up working as a whore in Mexico avoiding the come-ons of the lesbian madam. Then she has a nervous breakdown.

The writing and filmmaking are so incredibly bad that one’s initial response is to excuse Cher’s performance as the fault of Sonny and one-and-done director Alessio de Paola (which we’re inclined to do), but those big brown eyes can’t hide can hide that Cher often walks lugubriously through the frame like a narcoleptic on a Haldol drip and delivers lines… like a narcoleptic on a Haldol drip. “Chastity” is perplexing because it is so discordant with her later rolls which so established her in the Hollywood firmament.

It took 13 years, and a complete break from Sonny, before Cher ventured forth into film acting again, in Robert Altman’s “Come Back to the Five and Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean” which some may argue is her first real role… though we’re still a bit preoccupied with this:

Most Iconic Role — Loretta in “Moonstruck”

In “Moonstruck,” Cher displays her ear for American accents and a gifted sense of comedic timing as Brooklyn widow, Loretta Castorini. The film, which depicts with operatic excess the events surrounding Loretta’s romance with Johnny Camereri (Nicolas Cage), won three Oscars including Best Actress for Cher. –JC


19. Art Garfunkel — Captain Nately in “Catch-22”

Maybe Art Garfunkel didn’t write all those hit songs and maybe his solo career was less successful, but he absolutely crushes Paul Simon when it comes to acting. Although Garfunkel has not made many movies, his first two film roles are worth enough of placing him on this list. In “Catch-22” (1970), Garfunkel plays callow, 19-year-old Captain Nately, and although it is a smaller role in a film full of legendary actors, he shines in it. In a scene in which Nately is disabused of his naïve beliefs about America by a grizzled old Italian man (Marcel Dalio), Garfunkel perfectly captures the young American’s cocksure, wide-eyed belief in American exceptionalism. Garfunkel’s performance so impressed director Mike Nichols that he chose to cast him again the following year in “Carnal Knowledge.”

Most Iconic role: Sandy in “Carnal Knowledge”

In “Carnal Knowledge,” Garfunkel once again plays a naïve, idealistic young man, but here we watch him transform into a disillusioned adult who ends up cheating on the wife he once thought would bring him bliss. Even though the roll is far more complex and demanding than Captain Nately, Garfunkel rises to the challenge and does not look remotely out of place next to an in-his-prime Jack Nicholson. –JC


18. Jack White — Jack in “Coffee and Cigarettes”

Jack White and his fake sister-wife Meg White came to notoriety with their Detroit garage rock band The White Stripes. Jack has proved himself to be a skillful musician easily moving from piano to drums to guitar. The fame associated with a critically-acclaimed music career brought White opportunities to act. While he was arguably playing himself, in the segment of 2003’s Jim Jarmusch film “Coffee and Cigarettes,” Jack White’s acting skills were apparent. His role in “Jack Shows Meg His Tesla Coil” was played with good humor and ease showing that if he wanted to step in front of the camera, he could have a steady paycheck.

Most Iconic Role: Georgia in “Cold Mountain”

His next role, in Anthony Minghella’s Civil War epic “Cold Mountain” proves that Jack White has the acting chops to compete with some of the best in the business. As the mandolin player Georgia who woos Renee Zellweger’s Ruby Thewes, White was able to combine his skills on camera with his musical abilities. Even as a newcomer, White makes himself noticed amid a cast of cinematic veterans like Jude Law and Nicole Kidman. Since “Cold Mountain” his only notable role was a bit playing Elvis in the Judd Apatow screenplay, “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.” Acting appears to be just another line on White’s resume, as he’s been too busy producing albums with Loretta Lynn, Wanda Jackson, and Conan O’Brien and making music with his bands, including the Dead Weather, to step in front of the camera. –ML


17. Dwight Yoakam — Bobby Lomax in “The Little Death”

When one considers that country music legend Dwight Yoakam was initially rejected by a Nashville scene not remotely interested in his old time Honky-tonk sound, it isn’t too surprising that he managed to rebound from a dreadful performance in a monumentally dreadful movie to forge a successful acting career. “The Little Death” has the stench (and appropriate title) of late night crotch-grabbing Cinemax programming circa 1997 and, other than Yoakam, an unremarkable cast to go with it. Yoakam plays a psychopathic photographer who murders the wealthy husband of the woman he is stalking. The best thing about this role is that it provided an opportunity for Yoakam to play a tremendously unhinged villain which he would refine in his breakout performance, “Sling Blade.”

(Watch Yoakam crotch grabbing at about 1:30)

Most Iconic Role — Doyle Hargraves in “Sling Blade”

Yoakam’s next film catapulted him into the national spotlight as a true crossover talent. In “Sling Blade,” he plays another unhinged villain, but the difference between his portrayals of Doyle Hargraves and Bobby Lomax could not be more stark. It may be the magic that only a great script can provide, but when comparing the two performances it’s clear that while working under the direction of Billy Bob Thornton, Yoakam ceased being a musician trying to play an actor and became an actor playing a great role. –JC


16. Bob Dylan — Alias in “Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid”

Stars Kris Kristofferson (Billy the Kid) and James Coburn (Pat Garrett) both championed Dylan’s involvement in this Western, arguing with director Sam Peckinpah that Dylan should be hired to compose the score. Peckinpah — whose only knowledge of Dylan was that kids used to listen to him — was reluctant to turn the score over to someone he didn’t know, but he agreed to let Dylan play for him one night after a cast dinner on location in Durango, Mexico. Dylan’s playing reduced Peckinpah to tears, and as he dabbed his eyes with a handkerchief he barked the direction, “sign him up.” Dylan was immediately hired, not only to score the film but to also play the character Alias. The role does not ask much of Dylan as an actor, other than to be amusingly cool, but even just having him there saying “plums” is worth it. Of course his soundtrack was totally integral to the film and the climactic “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” scene is classic.

Most Iconic role — Bob Dylan in “Don’t Look Back”

Okay, so this isn’t technically a role…but we just couldn’t name Jack Fate from “Masked and Anonymous” iconic. There is simply no filmic image of the man more iconic than the Subterranean Homesick Blues “music video.” Dylan standing in a London alleyway tossing away a stack of cue cards while Allen Ginsberg stands in the background having a conversation next to a pile of garbage, has inspired countless ripoffs and parodies, and is often cited as the first music video. –JC

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.