17 actors who've played real-life rock stars
Playing a real-life rock star seems to never get old for Hollywood actors, with Rocketman on the way this summer featuring Taron Egerton as Sir Elton John. Egerton's already earning buzz for his portrayal of the flashy, sunglass wearing, piano-playing maverick, and he's just the latest in a long line of actors to take on a musical legend onscreen. While you're counting down the days to Rocketman's May 31 debut (we know --you think it's going to be a long, long time), here are 16 more actors who have played rock stars.
Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury
Malek took home the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody. A biopic about the legendary rock band and Mercury had been circulating for years with various actors, including Sacha Baron Cohen and Ben Whishaw, attached. In the end, it was Malek who nabbed the role -- an appropriate choice given Mercury's own identity as a person of color. Malek recreated some of Mercury's most famous performances throughout the film, which traced Queen from its earliest days through to their iconic 1985 Live Aid performance. Malek will rock you as Mercury.
Cate Blanchett as Bob Dylan
The 2007 Todd Haynes film I'm Not There featured six different actors tackling separate aspects of Bob Dylan's persona, but Cate Blanchett's turn as Jude Quinn, a popular folk singer accused of "selling out" after performing with a full band and electric guitars bore the closest resemblance to the Bob Dylan of the popular imagination. Blanchett's take on Dylan circa 1965-66 earned raves, including an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress. It'll make you feel like a rolling stone.
Paul Dano as Brian Wilson
The Beach Boys inhabit a space between soft rock and pop, and Love and Mercy follows their founder and leader Brian Wilson as he struggles with mental illness during the 1960s and '80s. Paul Dano portrays the younger Wilson, grappling with psychosis in the midst of producing his avant-garde, groundbreaking album Pet Sounds. He shares the role with John Cusack as an older version of Wilson, but Dano gets more of the musical showcase here. God only knows what we'd do without this take on Wilson's life.
Chadwick Boseman as James Brown
Before he was the ruler of Wakanda, Chadwick Boseman was the "Godfather of Soul." Boseman broke out in a major way with 2014's Get On Up, which found him singing and strutting through a non-linear account of James Brown's life from the 1950s through to 1993. The film didn't garner any awards attention, but it helped make its leading man a star on the heels of another well-regarded biopic, 42, in which he portrayed baseball player Jackie Robinson. Papa's got a brand new bag in Boseman's hands.
Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett
Kristen Stewart rose to fame on the wave of Twilight hysteria, but 2010's The Runaways was a part of her first wave of indies to prove herself outside the fantasy juggernaut. She took on the iconic Joan Jett in a film exploring the 1970s teenage all-girl rock band alongside Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie. The film was intended to be more coming-of-age drama than a straightforward biopic, but it still saw Stewart drumming and singing as the legendary punk rocker. And neither she nor Jett ever gave a damn about their bad reputation.
Gary Busey as Buddy Holly
Before becoming better known to audiences for his loose-cannon reality TV persona, Gary Busey was a well-respected character actor. He earned an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of rock and roll icon Buddy Holly in The Buddy Holly Story (1978). The film tracks Holly's rise from teenage phenom to his untimely death in a 1959 plane crash, oft known as "The Day The Music Died." Busey actually began his career as a drummer, not an actor, so it wasn't a huge leap for him to take on the role of an iconic rock star. But to think of him doing such a performance now? Well, that'll be the day.
Lou Diamond Phillips as Ritchie Valens
The plane crash that took Buddy Holly's life also claimed the life of another rock and roll star -- Ritchie Valens. Valens gets the biopic treatment in 1987's La Bamba, named for Valens' signature song. The film tracks Valens meteoric rise to superstardom through his sudden, untimely death in a plane crash. La Bamba is well-regarded and earned Phillips raves for his performance, but no awards love. His performance and the film overall are still touted as a piece of Chicano activism, amidst a boom of Chicano films made in this era. And we say arriba, arriba to that.
Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison
Val Kilmer took on the role of rocker and counterculture icon Jim Morrison in 1991's The Doors. Directed by Oliver Stone, the film was not well-received by those closest to Morrison for its depiction of him as more pretentious, defiant, and out of control than they knew The Doors frontman to be. Still, Kilmer gives an uncanny take on this particular version of Morrison. In short, he can still light our fire.
Kurt Russell as Elvis
A lot of actors have taken on "The King" over the years, and Elvis Presley himself was enshrined onscreen in the 30-plus films he starred in. But perhaps the best biopic treatment of the king of rock and roll is the made-for-TV 1979 film Elvis, directed by John Carpenter (Halloween) and starring Kurt Russell as Elvis. Russell had actually met Presley as a young actor in 1963 on the set of It Happened at the World's Fair. He didn't do his own singing for the film but still earned an Emmy nomination for his work showing that when it came to Russell as Elvis audiences loved him tender.
Dennis Quaid as Jerry Lee Lewis
Dennis Quaid portrayed the pioneering rockabilly artist and piano player in 1989's aptly named Great Balls of Fire! In the 1950s, Lewis seemed poised to be the next Elvis until his marriage to his 13-year-old cousin derailed his career. The film tracks all of this and more, as it gives viewers a glimpse into Lewis' unique status as a piano player, rather than a rocking guitarist. Lewis is still alive, and though he's not a fan of the film, he did praise Quaid for his performance, which included the actor learning to replicate Lewis' unique piano-playing style. Great balls of fire!
Gary Oldman as Sid Vicious
As punk rocker and former bassist of The Sex Pistols Sid Vicious, Gary Oldman proved himself an actor to be reckoned with in only his second feature film. The film largely focuses on Vicious's toxic relationship with Nancy Spungen, for whose murder he was arrested. Vicious' own mother backed the production, giving Oldman some of Sid's actual belongings and instruments to lend authenticity to the project. Oldman sang on the soundtrack, but no Sex Pistols or Sid Vicious songs are featured in the film. In the film and in life, Sid Vicious did it his way.
Sam Riley as Ian Curtis
British actor Sam Riley is still perhaps best known for this 2007 portrayal of Joy Division founder and frontman Ian Curtis in Control. The film was directed by one of the punk band's former photographers, Anton Corbijn. It follows Curtis from his formation of Joy Division through to his 1980 suicide. Control debuted at Cannes in 2007 and went on to win five British Independent Film awards, including most promising newcomer for Sam Riley.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Brian Slade
This is the only fictional character on this list, but it's only because Meyers' performance as Todd Haynes' invention Brian Slade in Velvet Goldmine bears such a strong resemblance to the Ziggy Stardust era of David Bowie that it would be remiss not to include him (indeed, the earliest versions of the script had Bowie threatening to sue). The 1998 film follows a 1980s journalist investigating the career of glam superstar Brian Slade, who once created and then murdered the alter ego Maxwell Demon. The film takes its title from a Bowie song, and at one point was even poised to feature some of the legend's music. While we may never get a biopic about Bowie, Haynes' glorious tribute to glam rock and fluid sexuality and Meyers' chameleonic performance almost makes it unnecessary.
Bill Hader as Lindsey Buckingham
Plenty of rock stars have been parodied on Saturday Night Live, but none more enduringly or lovingly than Bill Hader as former Fleetwood Mac guitarist and lead singer Lindsey Buckingham. Hader recurred as the rocker on the "What Up With That" sketch, which featured Kenan Thompson as a spotlight-stealing game show host. In a running gag, Hader appeared as a silent Buckingham as over and over they ran out of time for him. The bit became so popular that in May 2011 the real Buckingham cameo'd in the sketch for a bit of meta fun. While everyone else here is from a film, we had to go our own way with this favorite.
Roger Daltrey as Franz Liszt
Okay, so 19th-century composer Franz Liszt is in no way a rock star, but the 1975 film Lisztomania treats him as such, even bringing on real-life rock star Roger Daltrey of The Who to play the classical composer. Liszt was notorious for inspiring the titular "Lisztomania" with his long hair and impassioned performances, drawing natural comparison between him and modern-day rock stars. The film doubled down on this metaphor with Daltrey's casting and a score featuring synthesized, rock-influenced arrangements of numerous Liszt compositions.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as John Lennon
While The Beatles have yet to get a full biopic treatment (and with the existence of A Hard Day's Night, do we really need one?), frontman John Lennon's early days are explored in 2009's Nowhere Boy. Aaron Taylor-Johnson stars as Lennon, tracing the superstar's childhood and adolescence from 1944 to 1960, with particular emphasis on his relationship with his aunt and mother. It concludes with the birth of The Beatles on the cusp of their explosive success. Though the film didn't make a huge splash, it had the support of Paul McCartney and Yoko One, who both advised on it, and it has received consistently positive reviews. Imagine that.