Musicians in the Movies

We take a look at some of the best acting roles by those best known for their music talents…

20,000 DAYS ON EARTH is released in Irish cinemas this week, and stars Nick Cave as a fictionalised version of himself, as he goes about his life on one particular day. Although it would seem that the movie is a documentary, it is in fact a scripted film. In a way that only he can be, Cave was uncomfortable about having a documentary made with him as the subject, so he created a fictionalised world with him at the centre.
With this, and Cave’s intriguing performance in 20,000 DAYS ON EARTH, in mind we decided to take a look back at some of the best acting performances given by those we know best for their talents as musicians…

Kylie Minogue – HOLY MOTORS

A Cave collaborator to start us off… Kylie Minogue appeared in Leos Carax’s weirdly wonderful HOLY MOTORS, as a woman from the central character’s past, who holds the key to his disappointment with his life. With her role in this Cannes darling, Minogue reminded us that she began her career as an actress – albeit in Neighbours – and has kept her acting career going with roles in MOULIN ROUGE! and DOCTOR WHO. Minogue speaks French in her surprisingly melancholic role as Eva Grace in HOLY MOTORS, but also has a show stopping musical number to balance it all out. Minogue’s small role in HOLY MOTORS is totally weird and totally wonderful, in keeping with the rest of the film.


There are plenty of stories about a clash of personalities between Björk and director Lars Von Trier on the set of DANCER IN THE DARK, but the resulting film is one with heart and intrigue. Although the film is a musical of sorts, Björk ably carries the story of an immigrant woman who moves to America with her young son, and soon discovers it is nothing like the Hollywood movies she has seen on TV.
Björk’s accent may be a bit of a mess in DANCER IN THE DARK, but she gives a surprisingly engaging and heart warming performance as Selma; although her work has been described as feeling rather than acting by co-star Catherine Deneuve. Björk earned a Golden Globe nomination for her work on DANCER IN THE DARK, but later stated that she found the experience so taxing she vowed never to act again.

Eminem – 8 MILE

In this semi-autobiographical tale of a young white rapper trying to launch a career in a field dominated by African Americans, Eminem brought a surprising level of emotion and heart to his performance. Far from just being a hagiography of the man who would become Eminem, 8 MILE is an examination of life in Detroit before its bankruptcy, and of a character who learns to take control of his own life, rather than blame others for his problems.
Eminem was highly praised for his engaging, electric and confident performance, but has barely turned his hand to acting since; he turned down the lead role in Neill Blomkamp’s ELYSIUM, but has appeared as himself in ENTOURAGE and FUNNY PEOPLE.

David Bowie – LABYRINTH

Although it is not the only film that David Bowie has appeared in, LABYRINTH may be one of his most memorable and iconic movie roles. Bowie plays Jareth The Goblin King, who grants young Sarah’s (Jennifer Connelly) wish to have her baby half-brother disappear. Realising the error of her ways, Sarah ventures into the labyrinth to save her brother, but only has 13 hours to do so.
Bowie’s performance in LABYRINTH, as the over the top, mysterious and entrancing Jareth is one that is filled with charisma; Bowie strikes the perfect balance in making Jareth the object of Sarah’s open loathing and secret desires. Of course, Bowie also prances around the set like an 80s rockstar in spandex… But that’s all part of the charm, isn’t it?


Another performer used to appearing on film, Tom Waits out-Tom Waits-ed himself for his performance as Zachariah in SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS. As Marty searches to find real people to inspire the characters in his screenplay, he encounters Zachariah; a man who went on a rampage of murder across the US with a woman named Maggie, the love of his life. Zachariah and Maggie only killed other serial killers, but their relationship came to an end when Zachariah was less interested in the Zodiac Killer than he was in his pet rabbits.
Waits channelled all of his eeriness for the role as Zachariah Rigby, and while this is nothing we haven’t seen from Waits as an actor before – his roles as Renfield in DRACULA and Mr Nick in THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS are along similar lines – his appearance in the film is wonderfully solemn and macabre moment in a frantic and fast paced film.

Honourable mentions to: Phil Collins in HOOK, Alanis Morissette in DOGMA, Flea in THE BIG LEBOWSKI and Dave Grohl in TENACIOUS D IN THE PICK OF DESTINY.

Have we missed your favourite acting performance from a musician? Maybe you’re a fan of J-Lo in OUT OF SIGHT or Mariah Carey in PRECIOUS? Let us known in the comments below…

20,000 DAYS ON EARTH is released in Irish cinemas on September 19th 2014

Words: Brogen Hayes