50 fails to learn by Madonna's example
But if there’s anything I’ve learned after watching decades of movies with singers broadening their horizons for better or for worse, it’s that dramatic range is always essential for a singer’s longevity as a thespian.
Now, while this may seem like I’m stating the obvious, let me elaborate. Actors and actresses do not always need to show range to be successful—legends like Woody Allen have garnered considerable acclaim after years of playing slightly different versions of the same character—but ironically, musicians-turned-actors have a separate set of expectations.
Celebrity musicians have a specific standing in the public consciousness, and when they venture into acting it’s a risky endeavor that’s frequently met with initial eye-rolling or ridicule that must be overcome. In other words, musicians-turned-actors have a lot more to prove. They must pick their projects shrewdly, in addition to actually showing legitimate acting talent before they are taken seriously.
Just to clarify, I’m not talking about musicians in silly faux-documentaries like “A Hard Day’s Night” (or on the opposite side of the quality spectrum, “Spice World”), but in dramatic roles that don’t center on the exploitation of singing talent.
Two of the most successful transitions resulted in Oscars: Frank Sinatra had a varied and wonderful acting career, giving compelling, no-frills performances in films like “The Manchurian Candidate” and “From Here to Eternity,” for which he won Best Supporting Actor; even Cher snagged Best Actress for her work in “Moonstruck.”
More recently, Mark Wahlberg is better known as an actor than “Marky Mark,” and Ice Cube has come a long way since his days with N.W.A. Will Smith currently is one of the highest-paid and most sought after stars in the industry, Mos Def (who is actually a classically trained stage actor) has given solid performances in such diverse films as “The Italian Job,” “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” and, most notably, “The Woodsman.” Even LL Cool J has proven himself to be a dependable supporting player.
But Mick Jagger’s cinematic forays are my favorite ones to cite, from his drag-queen lounge singer overseeing the mass gay orgy in “Bent,” to his fantastic performance as Andy Garcia’s lovesick, misunderstood pimp in the vastly unseen “Man From Elysian Fields.”
On the other hand, many musicians chose to basically play themselves. For every “8 Mile,” there are a dozen semi-autobiographical embarrassments like “Cool as Ice,” “Glitter” or “Crossroads.” This week, 50 Cent’s inert gangsta rapper opus “Get Rich or Die Tryin’” joins the latter group (though it is much better than “Glitter”), and further proves my point that musicians-turned-actors need to choose a role as far from their musician persona as possible.
“8 Mile” was a decent flick because Eminem played himself with uncommon dynamism and charisma, and was surrounded by a terrific production team. But he hasn’t pursued any other role, and is thus, in my opinion, not a true musician-turned-actor.
The same will go for 50 Cent and any other monstrously successful musicians who play versions of themselves, especially in thinly-veiled autobiographies. Unless they’re well-conceived and brilliantly executed, audiences find these types of films redundant, unnecessary and will quickly dismiss them. I’m not saying Britney Spears should get out there and play a rocket scientist or that 50 Cent should’ve auditioned for “Rent,” but a little versatility goes a long way. In fact, versatility will effectively make or break a musician’s acting career, and hopefully one day they’ll realize that and we’ll be spared another “Glitter” or “Get Rich or Die Tryin.’”