Life & Culture

Five Times Musicians Turned to Film and Won

As Harry Styles makes his silver screen debut, we round up the most seamless transitions from music to film – from Mick Jagger in Performance to Marilyn Manson in Party Monster

  • TextLiam Hess

Last week saw the worldwide release of Christopher Nolan’s summer blockbuster Dunkirk, starring Another Man cover star Harry Styles as infantry soldier Alex. Already making headlines for its hefty box office receipts and Oscar potential, it appears Mr Styles has made his transition into cinema with, well, style.

That’s not to say the path from music to film is an easy one: for every Bowie in Labyrinth success, there’s a Tom Jones in Mars Attacks catastrophe. Let’s imagine you’re a rock star eager to release your inner thespian – what are the do’s and don’t’s? Here, we look back at five inspirational male musicians who have made the move from stadiums to the silver screen with flair, and offer our tips for making a smooth passage.

Mick Jagger in Performance

Mick Jagger’s turn in Performance saw him appear as a reclusive rock star, with then-girlfriend Anita Pallenberg playing one of his bohemian coterie. Together they host wild, drug-fuelled orgies, which we’re sure must have been a real stretch for the Stones frontman. The first film helmed by legendary British filmmaker Nicolas Roeg, Performance was met with a horrified response from its distributor Warner Bros – the graphic depictions of sex, violence and drug use reportedly made a producer’s wife vomit at an early screening. Time has been kind to the film, and it’s now lauded as a cult classic and an important document of East End gang culture and the rock’n’roll lifestyle.

Joe Strummer in Mystery Train

Following The Clash’s split in 1986, Joe Strummer was looking to explore new territory, and a meeting with the famously music-obsessed Jim Jarmusch led to a role in deadpan comedy Mystery Train. He was apparently convinced to sign up after Jarmusch told him The Clash were his favourite band, so if you’re a director looking to hire a musician, see this as proof that shameless flattery is not off-limits. Set across one night in the city of blues, Memphis, Tennessee, the film also features legendary blues musician Screamin’ Jay Hawkins as a night clerk at the seedy Arcade Hotel, and the voice of Tom Waits as a radio DJ.

David Bowie in The Man Who Fell To Earth

Another entry from Nicolas Roeg, The Man Who Fell To Earth features David Bowie in the role he was born to play: an undernourished alien from a drought-ridden planet arriving on Earth in search of sustenance. The Thin White Duke’s otherworldly features are a perfect match for the extra-terrestrial Newton, and his distant performance has been attributed by Bowie himself to his apocalyptic cocaine habit throughout production – in his own words, “I didn't really know it was being made at all”. A tip for musicians currently pondering making their film debut: spend the whole shoot off your head, and let the plaudits roll in.

Jack White in Cold Mountain

With his old-school Nashville musicianship and vintage stylings, Jack White was a perfect choice to appear as troubadour Georgia in Anthony Minghella’s Oscar-winning Civil War drama, Cold Mountain. Despite enjoying a brief romantic frisson with Renée Zellweger’s character, White spends most of his time serenading the locals during the long, frosty nights in the Appalachians. Another former collaborator of Jim Jarmusch, White has made tentative forays into the world of cinema before, with varying degrees of success. This time White’s performance is largely sung, ensuring he would be safe from any critical savaging – a wise move.

Marilyn Manson in Party Monster

Last but certainly not least is the brilliant Party Monster, starring Macaulay Culkin as the drug-addled club promoter Michael Alig, Seth Green as his put-upon sidekick James St. James, and Chloë Sevigny as the vacant party girl Gitsie. But the real scene-stealer is an unrecognisable Marilyn Manson as drag queen Christina Superstar, dropping acid and driving a truck full of outrageously dressed club kids, before getting busted by the cops and dragged out of the driver’s seat in her high heels. All in a day’s work for the self-styled ‘Mephistopheles of Los Angeles’.