New York, NY - December 6, 2018: Janelle Monae wearing suit by Gareth Pugh attends Billboard's 13th Annual Women in Music gala at Pier 36

Musicians Who Can Really Act, Too

Who says you have to pick a lane? These multi-talented performers are equally impressive behind the mic and in front of the camera.
Article Tags
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit
Share on pinterest
The Latest
Tonic Topics
Join the Convo on Facebook!

It doesn’t seem fair that some people are just so incredibly talented. Not only are the folks on this list recording artists with bushels of Grammys to their names, but they’re also surprisingly gifted actors.

Tom Waits

I love this scene from Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes between Tom Waits and Iggy Pop. Tom Waits is an incredible storyteller and yarn spinner—in a weird way, he’s like a modern-day Mark Twain. Iggy Pop comes across as such a sweetheart in this clip, while Tom Waits nearly brings him to tears with his relentless deadpan weirdness.

Waits is also fantastic as Renfield in Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Jarmusch’s earlier film Down By Law. You can catch him in Seven Psychopaths and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus—Heath Ledger’s final film, directed by Terry Gilliam.

Janelle Monae

Janelle Monae burst onto the music scene with The ArchAndroid in 2010 and hasn’t slowed down since. In addition to writing some of the catchiest songs of the last decade—I still get Tightrope stuck in my head from time to time—they’ve also proven to be a bona fide movie star. The first time audiences took notice of Monae as an actor was in Hidden Figures opposite Octavia Spencer and Taraji P. Henderson. Since then, they’ve starred in the horror film Antebellum and will appear in the upcoming sequel to Knives Out.

David Bowie

The legendary David Bowie needs no introduction. While he’ll always be best remembered for his music, a generation of kids grew up with him as Jareth the Goblin King in Labyrinth. He also starred in the sci-fi film The Man Who Fell to Earth (as an alien, of course) and the sensual vampire flick The Hunger. Bowie would occasionally pop up in unexpected places, appearing as Nikola Tesla in The Prestige, Pontius Pilate in The Last Temptation of Christ, Andy Warhol in Basquiat, and Agent Jeffries in the Twin Peaks movie.

Jennifer Lopez

You could argue that Jennifer Lopez is an actor who also happens to be a recording artist and dancer. She got her start as a Fly Girl on In Living Color, the variety show that also launched the careers of the Wayans Brothers and Jim Carrey. When she starred as Selena in the late singer’s biopic, Hollywood took notice. But her best early role is Karen Sisco in Out of Sight opposite George Clooney. Their chemistry sizzles—much more than with her now-IRL husband in the truly awful Gigli.

Lopez herself went on record as saying, “I’m not the best actress that ever lived, but I know I’m pretty good.” She’s a versatile performer, appearing in everything from heist films to thrillers to rom-coms. And honestly, she deserved an Oscar for Hustlers.


Nora Lum—better known as Awkwafina—has surprised audiences with her acting talent after rising to fame as a novelty rapper. Her first big break in Hollywood was just a few years ago when she was cast as Peik Lin in Crazy Rich Asians. The same year, she joined the ensemble cast of Ocean’s 8, but it was her starring role in the generational family drama The Farewell that made people take her seriously as an actress.

Awkwafina’s other credits include Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Raya and the Last Dragon, Jumanji: The Next Level, a semi-autobiographical TV show called Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens, and the upcoming live-action remake of The Little Mermaid, where she’ll voice Scuttle the seagull.

Queen Latifah

Queen Latifah is just a really talented person, regardless of the medium. Throughout her career, she’s balanced acting with music, starring in the long-running sitcom Living Single during the early 90s along with a handful of thrillers, including Sphere and The Bone Collector. I don’t think audiences felt her movie star potential until Chicago, where she played Matron Mama Morton, but that film kicked off her heyday as a leading lady. These days, she’s starring in the crime drama series The Equalizer, which is currently in its third season.  

Mandy Patinkin

You probably either know Mandy Patinkin from Chicago Hope, The Princess Bride, Criminal Minds, or Homeland—but did you know that he’s also a gifted Broadway performer? Patinkin was one of Stephen Sondheim’s regulars and originated the role of Che in Evita, which earned him a Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. You can also hear him on recordings of Sunday in the Park With George, South Pacific, and Man of La Mancha.His light, soaring tenor voice is filled with the same level of emotion that he brings to his work as an actor.


If Cher could just win herself a Tony, she’d be an EGOT winner. Her most famous role—and the one that landed her an Oscar—is Moonstruck alongside Nicolas Cage, but she’s also fantastic in Mermaids with Winona Ryder. It’s kind of a shame that she hasn’t made more movies, but her filmography is still strong, including Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, Silkwood, and The Witches of Eastwick. She also dominated TV during the mid-70s with her then-husband Sonny Bono.

Cher most recently popped up in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again as the mother of Meryl Streep’s character. The movie reunited her with Streep, whom she’d acted alongside in the 1983 drama Silkwood.   

Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga followed in Barbra Streisand’s footsteps by taking on A Star Is Born, the oft-remade tale of a talented young woman and her relationship with a troubled mentor. Her naturalistic acting and vulnerability make it impossible to look away from her onscreen. She had previously appeared in American Horror Story and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, but A Star Is Born showed her potential as an actress. Audiences were more divided on House of Gucci, however, and her next film appearance will be as Harley Quinn in the sequel to Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker, which will be a musical?! Time will tell if Lady Gaga will successfully establish a movie career, but I’m certainly curious to see what she does next.

Read More: Movies We Keep Remaking

Hailee Steinfeld

A young Hailee Steinfeld blew everyone away with her performance in the remake of True Grit in 2010. Since then, her work has run the gamut from playing poet Emily Dickinson to headlining a Marvel TV show as Kate Bishop. While she’s been nominated for just about every acting award on the planet, she’s also recognized as a pop singer. Her first album, Haiz, dropped in 2015, and she’s been featured on tracks by artists like Machine Gun Kelly and Shawn Mendes. She’s managed to balance her busy acting and music careers with grace, pursuing both of her passions at the same time.


Few performers have ever made the transition from child star to respected actor with as much grace as Zendaya. She was initially a Disney Channel star, appearing on Shake It Up before starring in K.C. Undercover. It’s shocking to think that she was still on a Disney show while shooting Spider-Man: Homecoming. Just a year after K.C. Undercover ended, Zendaya took on the role of Rue on Euphoria—a move that has earned her two history-making Emmy Awards. Although she dusted off her pipes for a duet with Zac Efron on The Greatest Showman soundtrack, it seems safe to say that Zendaya’s music career is mostly a thing of the past.

Read More: Zendaya’s Top 10 Best Red Carpet Looks

Mark Wahlberg

Mark Wahlberg has been a dominant force at the box office for so long that it’s sometimes hard to remember his musical past. But let us never forget that he was a pop idol known as Marky Mark, fronting his band Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. The 90s were fun, weren’t they? Although his first chance to headline a movie came in 1996 with Fear, it wasn’t until a year later, when he appeared in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights, that he became a movie star. In addition to his work in front of the camera, Wahlberg has quite a few executive producer credits to his name—and he co-owns a chain of burger joints with his brothers called—wait for it—Wahlburgers.

Mandy Moore

Mandy Moore became a pop star around the same time as Britney and Christina. Unlike Britney’s ill-fated Crossroads, Mandy’s first major movie, A Walk to Remember, was a modest hit. She’d follow it up with two more teen movies—How to Deal and Chasing Liberty—before branching out into the indie comedy Saved! She would continue to rack up a series of movie and TV roles over the ensuing decade before being cast as the voice of Rapunzel in Tangled, but it was her work on the long-running TV series This Is Us that cemented her reputation as an actress.