The Art of the Crossover: Actors turned Singers & Singers turned Actors.

While listening to a Kris Kristofferson album, it got me thinking lately about singers turned actors; than even further – actors turned singers. I am going to exclude rap if that’s okay with you. I’ve always thought it was an interesting paradox; I’ve noticed that a lot of actors are musically inclined and even have tried to venture out on their own and release their own music. I understand why singers turn to acting – because they are at the height of their popularity and they’ve been turned into a cash cow (Neil Diamond in “The Jazz Singer” for example). I feel that way about rap musicians; the only reason that they turned to acting was because they were extremely marketable at the time and they never really have taken a risk with the roles they chose. But when actors turn to music, to me it feels like that music is their true passion (or their biggest hobby). I know there have been many, many crossovers, but I think these are the three best in each category, meaning that the quality of both their music and their acting are excellent.

I am the Wanderer – my home is the road

David Carradine has always had a soft spot in my heart. I was very sad when he died. I’ve always enjoyed his earlier works with Scorsese: “Boxcar Bertha” and “Mean Streets” and of course the TV Show “Kung-Fu” but it wasn’t until I saw Carradine as Woody Guthrie in Hal Ashby’s “Bound for Glory”, I really took him seriously as an artist. Portraying Woody Guthrie is gigantic feat and Carradine did an amazing job. I own his album “As Is” and his music is great. It’s a wonderful folk album and lyrically Carradine is as rich with his writing as Kris Kristofferson or Bob Dylan – the lyrics are simple yet hold this complex power that makes it truly authentic.

It’s obvious that Carradine is very much influenced by Eastern philosophies which I think is a direct reflection on the folk music he sings. The Eastern themes are a direct representation of Carradine’s folk music – the path that men take, why they take them. These Eastern themes are in step with any great western film ever made. Sam Peckinpah strived to “make a western as good as Kurosawa”.

I bought his album from his official website and if you do like Carradine or like folk music, please check it out. It is well worth your time. If you click the link, and listen to any of the tracks available – please listen to “The Wanderer” – it’s excellent and I think completely sums up David Carradine as a man. Enjoy.

The genius of David Carradine.

When The Dude meets Woody Guthrie

Before Jeff Bridges broke our hearts as Bad Blake in “Crazy Heart”, and most people were taken aback by his musical capability; Bridges released an album in 2000 entitled “Be Here Soon” and it’s nothing like Bad Blake. Jeff Bridges remains to be one of my favorite people ever – I am so smitten with him. “Be Here Soon” is a hybrid of folk and beatnik music – it’s incredibly unique and incredibly excellent. Along with finally collecting his long overdue Oscar for “Crazy Heart”, he is not only a musician but a photographer (his collecting of stills from a majority of his the film sets he’s worked on titled “Pictures” is amazingly profound) but he’s also a painter.

The music of his album is incredibly insightful and filled with innuendo and intrigue. He muses and philosophies with an admirable amount of passion and artistic skill. The first track of the album called “Movin'” is a perfect representation of who Bridges is as a man. “Be Here Soon” is Bridges first and only album, but his “follow up” is the “Crazy Heart” soundtrack. I find that the best track of the film is the track that opens the film – “Hold on You”. We all can relate to this song – there has always been at least one person in our lives that we’ve been trying to get a hold on.

The “Crazy Heart” soundtrack is available everywhere and his album “Be Here Soon” is available at Amazon.com and the iTunes music store. You won’t be disappointed.

The Egotistical Talent that can’t be ignored

We all know that Kevin Spacey holds an unbelievable amount of talent – anyone who disagrees with that is a fool. I also think since Spacey won his second Oscar for “American Beauty” his ego inflated so much that he hasn’t strived to give a challenging performance since then. The only exception that can be made is his labor of love “Beyond the Sea” which isn’t a great film, but it’s still very enjoyable. Spacey portrays the crooner Bobby Darin. Spacey not only stars, but wrote, directed, produced and sang in the film – he did it all. He did too much.

His singing is the best part of the film. Spacey’s voice is so smooth it just makes you groove with the music you are hearing, it absorbs into you. Spacey had been known for his musical capability prior to this film. He hosted a tribute concert for John Lennon in the early 2000’s and as the show was getting to a close Spacey himself performed “Mind Games” – it was excellent. Spacey truly is an incredible performer – his stage presence is untouchable.

While Spacey was out promoting “Beyond the Sea” he did a concert tour performing Bobby Darin songs and other standards from that era. Being from Chicago I was excited that Spacey was coming to The House of Blues until you had to be 21 and older to enter. I really wish I could have seen him.

Nightmares are somebody’s daydreams

Kris Kristofferson started out as another musician that had fallen prey to crossing over to cinema. He was popular, hip, and handsome and had a big following. It wasn’t until Kristofferson teamed up with Sam Peckinpah to star as Billy the Kid in “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid” that he became an actor. Kristofferson himself is a gentle and kind man, but his turn as Billy the Kid turned him into a steely cold killer. The film is violent and relentless. Kristofferson made a name for himself as an actor AND a musician.

From there Kristofferson went on to make Martin Scorsese’s “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” where he plays the ideal man; the tough, gruff man who has a heart of gold. He’s nothing less than excellent in “Alice”. He’s this big bad man who walks tall, but deep down inside he’s a teddy bear that just wants to love and take care of Alice. It’s an excellent film with excellent performances from the entire cast.

That same year Kristofferson reteamed with Peckinpah for a small role as Biker in “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia”. In this role he plays the scum of the earth and rapes the main characters girlfriend. It’s amazing how Kristofferson has the unbelievable range from going to one extreme to the other. He went from David in “Alice” to Biker in “Alfredo Garcia”. Kristofferson is not only one of my favorite musicians – but also one of my favorite actors.

Kristofferson had a bit of a lull in the 1980’s but he reemerged in the 90’s showing up in “Payback” (which reteamed him with James Coburn who played Pay Garrett), “A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries” and the “Blade” trilogy and narrating the unconventional Bob Dylan biopic “I’m Not There” and of course his amazing performance in “Lone Star”.


Putting out a fire with gasoline

David Bowie is an enigma wrapped in a riddle. His music is odd and compelling. Everyone in the world loves at least one David Bowie song. What I love about David Bowie is his unconventional career. He is one of the best crossover actors that I’ve seen. “The Man Who Fell to Earth” remains one of my favorite films. It’s so unique and strange that with the casting of David Bowie – it helps us accept the film for what it is.

His turn in David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me” as Special Agent Phillip Jefferies is so bizarre you can’t even comprehend it (although how many David Lynch films are easy to comprehend?). My two favorite Bowie performances are his performance in Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ” as Pontius Pilate which I think is even more bizarre than his role in “Twin Peaks”.

My second favorite Bowie performance is as Nikola Telsa in Christopher Nolan’s “The Prestige”. It was so genius of Nolan to cast Bowie. Telsa was a very strange and mysterious man and so is David Bowie. It was a perfect fit. It added authenticity and even more mystique to the character by adding Bowie. Christopher Nolan not only knows how to write a screenplay and direct a movie – but he hasn’t made one misstep in any of his films with casting. How many filmmakers can you say that about?

And how could anyone not appreciate his role as Jareth the Goblin King in “Labyrinth”? And no one could ever play Andy Warhol as good as Bowie in “Basquiat”.

“I hate Disneyland. It primes our kids for Las Vegas.”

Tom Waits’ film choices are just as offbeat and stirring as his music. Waits is an extremely talented musician that has taken select roles in his long and winding career. His music is almost an acquired taste – as are some of the roles he’s played. Waits is a close family friend of the Coppola family and he is often cast in Francis Ford Coppola’s films. Waits is also in many of Jim Jarmusch’s films and those films are defiantly an acquired taste.

The performance that I think seals Waits’ craft as an actor is in the mediocre Coppola film “Dracula” where he portrays Count Dracula’s underling R.M. Reinfield. He is so creepy and almost stomach turning as the mentally unstable man that is confined in a straight jacket in a disgusting and disturbing mental hospital. He and Gary Oldman are the only two that save that film from being a train wreck.

His role as the Engineer in “The Book of Eli” was something of a treat that I really enjoyed. I loved how he snuck into the film, making a character that was insignificant to the story interesting just by having Tom Waits play the character. I felt that “Eli” was a train wreck of a film, but again – Gary Oldman saved the film (with a little help from Waits). I haven’t seen “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” yet but Tom Waits looks divine in it.

So that is my list thus far folks. Give me your feedback, what do you think of my choices? And what are yours? I know I left some prominent crossover artists out, but I’ll be working on part two really soon. Gimme your feedback! I want to have a debate!

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Author: Frank Mengarelli

Everybody relax, Frank's here. After going to film school at Columbia College Chicago, Frank decided to underachieve with his vast knowledge of film into a career in civil service. Frank had a brief stint as a film blogger, and then he met the heterosexual love of his life, Nick Clement. The two instantly bonded over their love from everything to Terence Malick to THE EXPENDABLES films. Some of Frank's favorite filmmakers are Terence Malick, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Sylvester Stallone, Oliver Stone and Spike Lee. Some of his favorite films are THE TREE OF LIFE, STAR WARS (all of them), BAD LIEUTENANT, THE THING and ALL THAT JAZZ. Frank spends his free time with his dog Roger, collecting any Star Wars collectible he can find and trying to finish his pretentious, first person narrative novel(la), LARGE MEN IN SMALL CARS..

13 thoughts on “The Art of the Crossover: Actors turned Singers & Singers turned Actors.”

  1. I’m sure you are going to disagree with me on this, but I think you left out one of the most prominent crossover artists (at least in recent years). Of course, I’m talking about Jared Leto. I find him to be a phenomenal actor, never actually appearing in a bad movie. I also really admire his talent as a musician. I’m assuming 30 Seconds to Mars is not your cup of tea, but you can’t deny the quality of his voice and the mainstream success the band has achieved. This crossover has allowed him to bring an artistry into the music video medium that we haven’t seen a lot of recently. I just wish he would get back to focusing on film a little more.
    What can I say? I have a bit of a crush on the guy.

    I’m also going to throw the names of Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe out there. Jon Bon Jovi had a decent little run as an actor as well.

    1. I am in total agreement about Jared Leto, I think his career would have been far more successful as an actor instead of with his band 30 Seconds To Mars (which i have seen in concert and are incredible), but on the other hand I respect that he is an artist and music is his passion and film was simply a pawn in his attempts to get his band recognized. I miss him on the big screen but applaud his conviction.

  2. I had no idea Jeff Bridges released an album prior to “Crazy Heart” — thanks for posting about it! I’m going to find it, as I really liked his work on the movie soundtrack and thought he had an original and great voice.

  3. I had no idea Jeff Bridges released an album prior to “Crazy Heart” — thanks for posting about it! I’m going to find it, as I really liked his work on the movie soundtrack and thought he had an original and great voice.

    Another actor you didn’t mention whose albums I own: Juliette Lewis (you know, the daughter in “Cape Fear”; also in “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?”). She has a punk-ish band called Juliette & the Licks, and I like the music quite a bit.

  4. Yeah, I also thought of Lewis too, but I don’t like her music, and as far as her acting goes, I’ve almost fallen out of love with it. I think she is amazing in “Cape Fear” and “Gilbert Grape” and “NBK”, but lately, I just can’t seem to get into her.

  5. You had me at Bowie.

    And you have him in his own personal nutshell appreciated exactly as he should be. Some wild creature that we’ve been lucky enough to be entertained by for decades. He is the essence of a true artist and one of my personal inspirations for music and film.

  6. Shall we also not forget about Billy Bob Thornton. Now take it for granted, he isn’t such a great musical talent, but he was known for that before he became this big-time actor we know and love him for.

    1. After hearing his song “Angelina” – I refused to put him on here. I think he’s an AMAZING talent as a writer and actor – but a lot of his music doesn’t appeal.

  7. Had no idea either that Jeff Bridges had an album out before “Crazy Heart.” I loved the film and Bridges voice; will check out “Be Here Soon.” 🙂

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