There was a time when movie vehicles were commonly built around pop stars — from proto-hyphenate Sinatra through Elvis, the Beatles, Jagger, and Bowie — but the musician-to-movie-star crossover petered out after such debacles as Sting’s star turn in The Bride and Vanilla Ice’s Cool as Ice. Even the success of last year’s Spice World didn’t augur a revival of crooners as leading ladies or lads. But a look at cast lists for upcoming films shows more rockers in the movies than ever — just as bit players. For the musicians with big-screen aspirations in 1999, a little dabbling will do ’em.
Big star Jewel opted for a big-screen bow in a supporting role, in Ang Lee’s long-delayed Civil War drama Ride With the Devil. More common still is the standout cameo, like Alanis Morissette’s comic turn as God in Kevin Smith’s controversy-plagued Dogma. The coming months find SAG-ing career moves by Usher (Texas Rangers), Sheryl Crow and Dwight Yoakam (The Minus Man), LL Cool J (Deep Blue Sea and Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday), Sophie B. Hawkins (Beyond City Limits), Pras and Tom Waits (Mystery Men), and Meat Loaf (The Fight Club and Crazy in Alabama). And that’s not even counting Bono playing himself in Entropy, director Phil Joanou’s autobiographical retelling of the nerve-shattering making of U2’s Rattle and Hum.
Most resist actually portraying musicians. But no typecasting phobias hampered Allison Anders and Kurt Voss’ Sugartown, an Altmanesque ensemble comedy set around the L.A. music scene. John Taylor, late of Duran Duran, plays an ’80s Brit-pop heartthrob having a hard time of it in the ’90s despite the groupies still showing up on his doorstep. John Doe, Michael Des Barres, and ex-Spandau Ballet member Martin Kemp also play washed-up rockers in the indie pic, to amusing effect. Taylor ”didn’t mind the closeness of the character to himself, nor did he mind doing things which were not necessarily ‘cool,”’ says Anders. ”He wasn’t so protective of a persona as a lot of rockers. I think he could actually be a movie star.”
A year ago, the erstwhile Duranite had never acted; now he’s been in four films and seems uncertain which career path to follow. A pop-star past is ”a plus insofar as it’ll get you noticed,” says Taylor, 39. ”It’s a minus insofar as I’m not your typical adult male. Most people who’ve spent any time in the music business have got these latent adolescent tendencies, so we make for difficult casting in regular-guy parts.” But he did feel oddly prepared when he donned a toga for a small role in the Flintstones prequel: ”It was like taking part in the most expensive music video I’d ever been in.”