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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.

[#20-16]   [#15-11]   [#10-6]   [#5-1]

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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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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