It’s relatively common for an actor to go into the music industry late in their career. Johnny Depp has done it. Juliette Lewis has done it. Even Jared Leto, newly presented with an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, has a prominent music career. All of these actors have one thing in common: while they started out acting, they inevitably added music into their careers.
But what about those that were in music well before they decided to turn to acting? This is a lot more common than you’d think. For these famous actors, music was just a stepping stone. They got their names out there in boy bands, hip hop groups and rock and roll, all to end up with a successful career acting in TV and movies.
Read on for a list of 7 famous actors that started out their careers in music before turning to acting.
7. Mark Wahlberg – Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch
Mark Wahlberg is now known best for his acting roles in movies such as The Departed, The Fighter and Ted, but in the beginning, he was a part of the hip hop group Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. That’s right; in the early 1990s, he was known as “Marky Mark.” His music career started in 1991 and the group released two popular studio albums.
The group was even nominated for several awards, including Best Dance Video for “Good Vibrations” from the MTV Video Music Awards. In 1993, he decided to use his real name, quit Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch and get into acting. Although his heart now lies with acting, he still loves music. In 2001, he told Dark Horizons, “I’m 30 years old, I love listening to music, I have a studio in my house and mess around once in a while, but to be in the music business just doesn’t make sense to me. It seems like a lifetime ago.”
6. Donnie Wahlberg – New Kids on the Block
Yes, we’ve got brothers on this list. While his younger brother, Mark, was the front man for the hip hop group Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, Donnie was a part of one of the biggest boy bands of all time: New Kids on the Block. NKOTB started in 1984 and hit their stride in 1988 with the album Hangin’ Tough.
The album won several awards from the American Music Awards including Favorite Pop/Rock Album. Donnie decided to turn to acting after NKOTB’s popularity started to dwindle. Though his first acting gig was in 1996, some see his small role in The Sixth Sense in 1999 as the pivotal moment in his acting career. Now you can see him in his regular role in the TV Show Blue Bloods.
5. Maya Rudolph – The Rentals
When you consider Maya Rudolph‘s famous mom, it’s no surprise that she got into music very early on in life. Her mother, Minnie Riperton, was known well for her song “Lovin’ You” prior to her death in 1979. She must have passed her musical talents to her daughter because Maya has been a part of music in many ways throughout her life.
Before she became famous for her hilarious characters on Saturday Night Live, Maya sang backing vocals and played the keyboard for the alternative rock band, The Rentals, in the mid-to-late 1990s. Although her main focus is now acting, she still loves music. She currently has a Prince cover band called Princess.
4. Jason Schwartzman – Phantom Planet
You would think Jason Schwartzman wouldn’t have had enough time to fit music into his life before starting his acting career when he was only 17, but you’d be wrong. Before starring in 1998’s Rushmore, his acting debut, he wrote songs and played the drums for the band Phantom Planet.
He stayed with the band from 1994 to 2003. Despite now focusing more on acting–he’s starring in the 2014 film The Grand Budapest Hotel–he still loves music. He formed his own solo musical act in 2007 called Coconut Records. It features a mix of indie, rock and pop music.
3. Jennifer Hudson – American Idol Contestant
Few actors have the privilege of adding “Oscar-winner” to their list of achievements, let alone actors who started out as musicians. Well, Jennifer Hudson is one of them. Though she had been singing for years, starting out with her church’s choir, Jennifer popped up on everyone’s radar as a contestant on the third season of American Idol. With her soulful voice and skills that rivaled Whitney Houston, it was a big surprise when she got voted out before the finale. In fact, she didn’t even make the top 5. That didn’t stop her from wowing people with her voice.
Because of her musical abilities, she was cast as Effie White in the 2006 musical film Dreamgirls. Her performance impressed the world and she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. I guess that makes up for not winning American Idol!
2. Cher – Sonny and Cher
When you think of Cher, it’s hard not to think of both her musical and acting careers. While she’s won some serious acting awards, she started out her career in music. In the early 1960s, Cher worked as a backup singer for musical acts such as The Ronettes and The Righteous Brothers. But it was her marriage to Sonny Bono in 1964 that caused the turning point for her musical career.
The duo paired up to form the musical act Sonny and Cher. Their 1965 hit “I Got You Babe” propelled them into stardom, eventually earning them a TV variety show in 1971 called The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour. While she’s done a lot more in the music and acting world since then, her most notable acting role was in the film Moonstruck, for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress.
1. Will Smith – The Fresh Prince
Before Will Smith ever became such a successful actor—and indeed he is, being named the most bankable star worldwide by Forbes—he started out his career in the late 1980s in hip hop and rap music. Together with DJ Jazzy Jeff and Ready Rock C, Will formed the successful hip hop group DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince. They even won a Grammy Award in 1988 for Best Rap Performance for their song “Parents Just Don’t Understand.”
While Will has continued to make critically acclaimed music, he’s also split off into a successful acting career. In 1990, he got his own television show, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, that bridged the gap between his rap audience and the mainstream public. Since then, he’s been in many highly successful movies, including Independence Day and Men in Black. He was even nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor for his performances in Ali and The Pursuit of Happyness.