LIST: 8 Great Performances in Movies from Non-Actors
The pop stars, sportsmen and kids off the street who proved their acting chops.
When I heard Christopher Nolan had cast One Direction star Harry Styles in his latest film, I’ll admit to having rather high levels of skepticism. Far be it from me to doubt the great Mr. Nolan, but I found Harry Styles so eye-wateringly irritating I could not see him putting in a performance. I just figured he would be awful, and ruin an otherwise great film.
It’s not the first time I’ve had those feelings, but it is a wonderful thing when someone who you wouldn’t traditionally call an ‘actor’ proves the doubters wrong and shows that they can hang with those who are classically trained. Here are 8 of them.
1. Harry Styles – Dunkirk
Lets start with the most recent. You’ve got to hand it to Styles, I’m sure he was offered countless opportunities to play a vacuous romantic lead in some sugar-coated rom-com fluff. He probably would have made easy millions grinning his way through a 2-star film, and no one would have begrudged him that.
Instead, he chose a gritty, relentless war film, one inappropriate for the majority of his fan base. I’ll be honest, I totally forgot he was in it, and only realised halfway through that one of the beleaguered, beach-bound soldiers was someone who had consistently annoyed me over the last decade.
He won’t win any Oscars, but it was a thoroughly mature performance that fit in perfectly with the wonderful ensemble presented in what will surely be one of the films of the year. If you haven’t seen Dunkirk yet, get yourself to the cinema pronto. And lets hope Styles continues to put in mature performances in his acting career.
2. Dave Bautista – Guardians Of The Galaxy
Confession time. I’m a big fan of pro-wrestling. I was never a huge fan of Batista, though. His matches were okay, but I just saw him as yet another big lug who didn’t have a lot too him. He was hardly The Rock. So when I heard that big Dave would be in a new Marvel vehicle, I expected him to play a one dimensional big guy who flexed his way through the film.
Nope. Drax the Destroyer just casually went ahead and stole the whole frickin’ film. The overly literal and loveable big guy had most of the best lines. Delivered with giddy aplomb by the former Animal. Those who thought it was a fluke were proved wrong when he was even better in the 2nd film.
Kudos to The Rock and John Cena for putting in some great performances in their movie careers, but it is the unlikely face of Dave Bautista who is the current king of the wrestlers who can act.
3. Justin Timberlake – Social Network
To be fair, Justin Timberlake had put in some pretty solid performances in the acting arena before David Fincher came knocking. JT proved he was more than just a great voice in Alpha Dog and Southland Tales, but his portrayal of Napster and Facebook aficionado Sean Parker was truly masterful.
He was sleazy and cowardly as well as charming and charismatic. Timberlake seemed born to play Parker. His manipulation of Jesse Eisenberg’s Mark Zuckerburg was truly wonderful to behold. It was the part he was born to play.
Timberlake hasn’t done too much acting since Social Network, which is a great shame. Now that we’ve seen what he’s capable of, we all want to see much more.
4. Mark Wahlberg – I Heart Huckabees
Wahlberg has put in better performances than this,. He has two Oscar nominations, including one he definitely should have won after out-acting a stellar cast in Martin Scorcese’s The Departed. This also isn’t his first good performance, after the former Marky Mark burst onto the scene in the lead role of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights. But his turn in I Heart Huckabees was such an unexpected delight I felt I had to include it.
Wahlberg is brilliant as the eco-conscious fireman who is suffering from an existential crisis. He manages to out-quirk the quirk master Jason Schwartzman, and he is genuinely loveable and believable in a role that is pretty out there.
It’s a rare treat to see Wahlberg try something like this. He’s a well-established actor who can be guilty of playing it safe a little too often. I’d like to see him out of his comfort zone like this more often.
Lebron James – Trainwreck
If it wasn’t enough to be arguably the best basketball player of all time, Lebron James decided to give his comedic timing a workout in Trainwreck. Written by and starring Amy Schumer and directed by Judd Apatow, Lebron had his work cut out to not stick out like a sore, unfunny thumb.
Happily, Lebron stepped up to the challenge, and delivered a hilarious cameo performance. Granted, he was playing himself, but a slightly neurotic naval-gazing version of himself, who pretty much stole every scene he was in.
If you watched Entourage in it’s heyday you would have seen countless terrible performances from American sportsmen, somehow failing to throw out a single insult to Johnny Drama effectively. Lebron James proves that he’s not just the best player on the court, he’s the best in front of the cameras as well.
Mariah Carey – Precious
There was a good chance that Mariah Carey would go down in history as one of the worst popstars turned actors ever following her abhorrent performance in that frankly too awful to ever be watched by anyone ever again Glitter.
8 years later, Carey turned up in the harrowing Precious as a no-nonsense social worker. Understated, powerful and warm in all the right places, her fantastic performance wiped away any lingering memories of her previous film work, and established her as someone who, given the right role, could act with the best of them. Big up to Lenny Kravitz as well, who put in a similar performance in the film.
Carey hasn’t done too much acting since, bar a few surprising voice parts in the likes of American Dad. I think it’s about time we see her trying something substantial again.
Eminem – 8 Mile
Okay, so he’s essentially playing himself. But there is no denying that Marshall Mathers knocked it out of the park in his acting debut, Playing Jimmy ‘B-Rabbit’ Smith in Curtis Hanson’s 8 Mile.
For such a natural showman, Eminem puts in a surprisingly understated and affecting performance as a Detroit boy desperate to escape the shackles of his working class life. Working brilliantly opposite Oscar winner Kim Basinger and the late Brittany Murphy, 8 Mile has become somewhat of a classic since it’s release, and Eminem is the unquestionable star.
It’s a shame Eminem hasn’t done much in the acting world since this stellar performance. Perhaps once he hangs up the microphone we’ll see him back on the screen.
Thomas Turgoose – This is England
So, this one is a little left-field, considering many kids get in to acting from open auditions and sent-in tapes. But considering most kids would be put forward by stage parents, most likely coming from money, or would be sent to expensive drama schools, just watch Turgoose’s audition tape for Shane Meadow’s masterful This Is England and see the difference.
After his heartbreaking turn as Sean Fields in the film and subsequent mini-series, it is now impossible to imagine anyone but Turgoose playing the lost boy who is just looking for acceptance. His casting is a real feel-good story considering the audition tape, and it’s great to have a proper working-class boy get his dues.
Turgoose was last seen putting in a touching cameo in Game of Thrones, outshining Ed Sheeran. Hopefully we will see him playing loveable misfits for years to come.