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The Actor-Musician Breed: From Gosling, Deschanel and Johansson to Crowe, Reeves and Bridges

by Sophia Savage
November 5, 2010 9:26 AM
1 Comment
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Thompson on Hollywood


Some musicians try to crossover into film (some successfully, others not), and some actors try to crossover into music (ditto). To earn commercial success in both arenas you usually need--more than actual talent in either department--to be accessible pop-star material. On the one hand are mainstream stars, from Jennifer Lopez to Justin Timberlake; on the other, artists like Ryan Gosling or Zoe Deschanel with a passion for genuine expression who don't seem to care if their side careers are successful or not.

Thompson on Hollywood


Christina Aguilera, a huge hit when she came onto the scene in 1999 and ever since, is about to appear in Screen Gems' Burlesque on November 24 with Cher, which could play like the bastard child of Moulin Rouge and Showgirls. Universal's global $600-million hit Mamma Mia! didn't hurt Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfriend or Colin Firth's careers at all (Pierce Brosnan is another story). They can sing. And uber pop sensation Timberlake shows off his acting chops in Oscar contender The Social Network as Napster founder Sean Parker. Before Joaquin Phoenix fooled (some of) us into believing he too would transition into being a rapper, don't forget he channeled Johnny Cash (along with Reese Witherspoon as June Carter) in Walk the Line. Jamie Foxx and Eddie Murphy have both straddled movies and music.

Some double-threat talents play outside of the mainstream. These artists prefer to keep their avocation as a discreet pursuit from their central career course; they don't want to push to the top of the pop charts (links below). Motivated by passion and personal expression, actor-musician Ryan Gosling is a stand-out example (and it's not for his shared experience on The Mickey Mouse Club with Timberlake, Aguilera and Britney Spears).

Gosling and his band with Zach Shields, Dead Man's Bones, has been making some noise in the indie music world since their debut album's release in October 2009, titled "Don't Let A Lack of Talent Get You Down." No lack of talent here: the best part is that Gosling's star status seems irrelevant to the band's growing success, and he appears completely disinterested in having one mooch off the other. Their authenticity seems to play.

They sing with the Silverlake Conservatory of Music's Children's Choir (and sang with other local children's choirs around the country when they toured earlier this year). The combination of the choir and their voices (Gosling's is deep, cuts to the bone, and has been compared to both Roy Orbison and Bryan Ferry; Shields' is softer, more hipster-contemporary) results in something you'd probably never expect. Their lyrics not only deal with children but an underlying fascination with all things morbid (i.e. ghosts, death, zombies). That dark undercurrent, paired with the Silverlake choir's youthfulness is heartbreaking in its imperfection (watch this must-see "Pa Pa Power" performance video).

Dead Man's Bones performed at LA's FYF Fest on September 4. Gosling, Shields and their entourage of children--each dressed like an old movie star or musician, in competition for "best costume" --performed a fifty-something minute show which started with a magician (who is usually a fixture at Hollywood's Magic Castle) snip-cutting an impressive introductory sign with the band's name, as if it were a paper snowflake. Gosling and Shields treat the children, who seem to be an untapped natural resource of creative energy, with care and respect. In turn, the children clearly adore them like the high school music teachers we all wish we had had.

Also impressive: the musicians produce their own music videos; both frontmen taught themselves how to play all the necessary instruments, and they imposed purity-preserving rules to make their anything-but-boring sounds. Gosling told Pitchfork back in January: "we're excited about how many different ways we can dress it up, with different kinds of choirs and artists, and it should be interesting." As to where they stand in the music industry: "Whatever you think of you can do, and that's really terrifying but also an exciting situation to be in, because you realize that you can create the way that this goes down for you." While that may not be profitable: "It seems like it's good creatively, but you also have to figure out how you want to present your music, because the old model doesn't work anymore." Between concert bookings (no word on what's up next), check out some of their music below.

Also check out Russell Crowe's band here (and check him out in a 1987 performance of Rocky Horror below).

Google and YouTube put Keanu Reeve's in a grunge band during the late 90s and early 2000s, "Dogstar," and another band, "Becky," later.

The Bacon Brother (i.e. Kevin Bacon) here.

Vulture endorsed Scarlett Johansson's 2008 album here.

Zooey Dechanel is both indie darling and hipster-man-boy dreamgirl in the film and music worlds, with her band She & Him.

Since Jeff Bridges finally won his Oscar singing in Crazy Heart, he's been touring with Crazy Heart musician Ryan Bingham and T-Bone Burnett; they have a new album coming up.

Here's a look at "The Best and Worst Comedians Turned Musicians" including Steve Martin, Adam Sandler, Jack Black, Eddie Murphy and Jamie Foxx in the Phoenix New Times' look at the "often unintentionally hilarious history of comedians making music."

DEAD MAN'S BONES - "In The Room Where You Sleep"

DEAD MAN'S BONES - "My Body's A Zombie For You"

DEAD MAN'S BONES - "Young & Tragic"

And Russell Crowe in Rocky Horror Picture Show circa 1987:

1 Comment

  • moviefan | November 5, 2010 10:39 AMReply

    FYI, that Russell Crowe band site you linked hasn't been active for years. The present name for his band (since 2004) is Russell Crowe and the Ordinary Fear of God. The website is

    http://www.myhandmyheart.com/

    Though there hasn't been a new CD for awhile, Crowe has written many new songs with Alan Doyle from Great Big Sea. Crowe's band is planning a tour in the US next May.

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