Fiction movies in which actors, portraying musician characters, actually play the instruments and/or sing?
March 13, 2007 10:44 PM   Subscribe

Real music-making onscreen: Fiction movies in which actors, portraying musician characters, actually play the instruments and/or sing?

I'm inspired to ask by Laurel Canyon, a movie with several musician characters who all play their own instruments & sing with their own voices (I think this would have been less evocative & effective as a movie if they'd faked the music-making scenes).

The music doesn't have to be a main focus of the plot; I'm just interested in examples of real onscreen music-making.

I'm also interested to hear about
- movies that use hybrids of the actor performing at some times and a pro performing at other times (as in The Pianist); and
- movies where a pro musician has an acting role, rather than a role "as themselves," and their character performs music onscreen (as in Dwight Yoakam's amateur-musician role in Sling Blade).

Here are all the examples of this I remember having seen already:
- Antonia's Line
- Cold Mountain
- The Crying Game
- Dancer in the Dark
- Dark City
- De-Lovely
- L.I.E.
- Laurel Canyon
- A Mighty Wind
- Mulholland Dr
- The Pianist
- The Piano
- Sling Blade
- Strange Days
- The Talented Mr. Ripley
- Timecode

So which others should I check out? If you can do it without spoilers, I'd also love to hear any info about which character and what instrument they play (or that they sing). If anyone is curious, I can give the same info for my list above.

(PLEASE, NO SPOILERS IN THIS THREAD [please don't reveal surprises / plot points in any movie]. THANKS!)
posted by lorimer to Media & Arts (63 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
(On a related note, I'd also love to hear if there are movies other than Mulholland Dr and Dancer in the Dark in which the composer of a movie's score also has a dramatic role -- a role not just in their capacity as composer/performer -- in that same movie.)
posted by lorimer at 10:44 PM on March 13, 2007


Duets
posted by amyms at 10:49 PM on March 13, 2007


School of Rock. Jack Black AND the kids played their own instruments.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 10:54 PM on March 13, 2007


I can't help much, but I recall being told something that might be of interest.... Fred Astaire (as well as being an accomplished pianist and drummer himself) used drummers as dancers for some of the more complicated dance steps / rhythms. (I'm afraid I have no evidence, just something that stuck in my memory)
posted by Dub at 10:54 PM on March 13, 2007


This Is Spinal Tap was the first one to come to mind for me.
posted by toddshot at 10:55 PM on March 13, 2007


A Prairie Home Companion
posted by keswick at 10:55 PM on March 13, 2007


Neither of these is a fiction movie per se, but I think you wanted to exclude documentaries but not necessary biographical fims. So...

Walk the Line: "Phoenix [Johnny Cash] and Witherspoon [June Carter] performed their own vocals and instrument takes in the film's numerous stage appearances."

Beyond the Sea: "Spacey [Bobby Darin] ... did all of his own singing..."
posted by robcorr at 11:02 PM on March 13, 2007


Whoops, sorry -- forgot to paste in the proper link to Beyond the Sea.
posted by robcorr at 11:04 PM on March 13, 2007


Walk the Line!

IMDB says: "Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon performed all of the songs themselves, without being dubbed. They also learned to play their instruments (guitar and auto-harp, respectively) from scratch."

And as a bonus, Shooter Jennings, the real-life son of Waylon Jennings, plays his father in the film.
posted by liverbisque at 11:05 PM on March 13, 2007


All the keyboard performances in Amadeus were actually performed by the actors themselves, even including Hulce playing while being held upside down.

In "Every Which Way but Loose", Sondra Locke does her own singing. Sissy Spacek does her own singing in "Coal Miner's Daughter", which is particularly impressive considering that she's playing Miss Loretta Lynn. There was another movie about a woman C/W singer recently in which the performer did all her own vocals, but I can't remember what it was.

In "The Nightmare before Christmas", the music is written by Danny Elfman. The speaking voice of Jack is Chris Sarandon, but Elfman does all of Jack's singing, which turns out to be the majority of the role.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 11:09 PM on March 13, 2007


Moulin Rouge - Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor sing for real; I'm not sure if the other characters do. I think they actually did sing while filming, rather than recording it beforehand and then lipsynching.
posted by divabat at 11:10 PM on March 13, 2007


Everyone Says I Love You features their real singing voices (with the exception of Drew Barrymore).

Mark Wahlberg has a music-recording scene in Boogie Nights.

Clint Eastwood plays jazz piano, so Honkytonk Man, probably. (I haven't seen it.) I know I've seen him ivory tickling in a couple of other films, but I don't remember which ones.

Oh, Nashville, of course -- the actors had to write their own songs, too!
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 11:13 PM on March 13, 2007


The Blues Brothers?
posted by wanderingmind at 11:18 PM on March 13, 2007


Probably The Commitments. Dreamgirls.

Dudley Moore in 10.

Do musicals with Julie Andrews count?

What about Kathleen Turner as the voice of Jessica Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
posted by dilettante at 11:23 PM on March 13, 2007


movies where a pro musician has an acting role, rather than a role "as themselves," and their character performs music onscreen

Nine to Five? I can't believe that was the first movie that popped into my mind...
posted by misozaki at 11:33 PM on March 13, 2007


What about Kathleen Turner as the voice of Jessica Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Never mind that one, I'm finding conflicting information on it - imdb says the singing part was Amy Irving.

posted by dilettante at 11:33 PM on March 13, 2007


Michael J. Fox played guitar in in Back to the Future and Light of Day (with Joan Jett).
posted by stefanie at 11:49 PM on March 13, 2007


Bamboozled is a really interesting example where the film's plot is about the act of performing roles both onstage and in life. It's a show within a show setup, and all the music/dance performances are real -- definitely worth seeing.
posted by sparrows at 11:54 PM on March 13, 2007


Clint Eastwood also composes the scores for most of his movies. He doesn't really score them out - usually he gets Lennie Niehaus to to do that - but he does come up with the main themes, etc.
posted by rossination at 12:06 AM on March 14, 2007


Michelle Pfeiffer does her own singing in The Fabulous Baker Boys and is pretty good. Robert Downey, Jr. sings "You Don't Know Me" and an operatic bit in Two Girls and a Guy, and you won't believe it until you hear it. I was really impressed with the heartfelt awfulness of Cameron Diaz's karaoke scene in My Best Friend's Wedding. Duets was mentioned above, and it's definitely worth watching for the performances, if not for the story. Julie Delpy sings a beautiful little song called "Let Me Sing You A Waltz," which she also wrote, in Before Sunset. Holly Hunter played her own parts in The Piano.
posted by cgc373 at 12:32 AM on March 14, 2007


Both Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Ewan McGregor did much of their own singing in Velvet Goldmine.
posted by eswusp86 at 12:33 AM on March 14, 2007


You knew Holly Hunter already, sorry.
posted by cgc373 at 12:33 AM on March 14, 2007


Oh, right. Meryl Streep in Postcards from the Edge doing a country song. It's friggin' awesome.
posted by cgc373 at 12:43 AM on March 14, 2007


Let's not forget Steve Vai shredding like the devil in the guitar duel in Crossroads. It only half-counts, though, because he's actually playing the kid's parts, too.
posted by Schlimmbesserung at 12:47 AM on March 14, 2007


Val Kilmer in The Doors
posted by euphorb at 12:50 AM on March 14, 2007


Almost all the Elvis movies. Prince in Purple Rain but it's all synched, I think, not performed as such. Bruce Springsteen gives a motivational speech in a dream in High Fidelity while noodling on a guitar.
posted by cgc373 at 12:55 AM on March 14, 2007


Val Kilmer in "Top Secret" (horrible movie, but one of my favourites), Viggo Mortensen in LOTR (side note: he played a painter in "A Perfect Murder", and the paintings in the movie are actually his own work), Billy Connolly in "Water"...
posted by ninazer0 at 1:05 AM on March 14, 2007


Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio sings in Limbo.
posted by hot soup girl at 1:20 AM on March 14, 2007


Maggie Gyllenhaal in Happy Endings
posted by RustyBrooks at 1:40 AM on March 14, 2007


While we're on LOTR, don't forget Billy Boyd's song, which he also composed the tune for.
posted by breath at 2:07 AM on March 14, 2007


Julie Delpy in Before Sunset.
posted by fire&wings at 2:10 AM on March 14, 2007


Jane Horrocks did all her own singing in Little Voice. It's a shit film, though.
posted by pollystark at 3:44 AM on March 14, 2007


I remember reading that Peter Frampton taught Billy Crudup how to play the guitar for his role in Almost Famous. Jason Lee isn't really singing, though.
posted by granted at 3:55 AM on March 14, 2007


The Buddy Holly Story - Gary Busey sings
Buckaroo Bonzai - Peter Weller sings
posted by Meatbomb at 5:34 AM on March 14, 2007


movies that use hybrids of the actor performing at some times and a pro performing at other times

Geoffrey Rush was his own hand-double for the piano playing scenes in Shine.
posted by slimepuppy at 5:36 AM on March 14, 2007


What about Ray? Didn't Jamie Foxx do all his own singing? Not sure about the piano playing, though.
posted by inigo2 at 5:38 AM on March 14, 2007


I believe Jeremy Northam did his own singing in Gosford Park. The IMDb trivia says that the piano-playing was all either him or his brother.
posted by srah at 6:43 AM on March 14, 2007


I'm pretty sure that "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" used a lot of actual performance footage mixed in with the expected dub.

I'm also pretty sure that's really Maggie Gyllenhaal singing in "Happy Endings".

Seconding Moulin Rouge.
posted by hermitosis at 6:44 AM on March 14, 2007


Richard Gere plays coronet in the Cotton Club. Dennis Quaid plays piano in the Jerry Lee Lewis bio.
posted by klarck at 6:48 AM on March 14, 2007


Zooey Deschanel is in production on Gospel According to Janis, portraying, and singing as, Janis Joplin.

Other way around, inigo2 - Jamie Foxx played the piano but sang only a couple of songs in Ray.
posted by nicwolff at 6:58 AM on March 14, 2007


Dazed and Confused, Milla Jovovich sings and plays a quick version of "The Alien Song".

Breakfast at Tiffany's, Audrey Hepburn sings and plays "Moon River", beautifully. Incidentally, Henry Mancini wrote the song specifically for her to sing.
posted by dirtdirt at 7:13 AM on March 14, 2007


Alan Price appears on screen singing and playing several times throughout O Lucky Man! in sort of a musical interlude capacity, and acts in one scene as a rock star. He's also acted a bit in other films.

(Related infuriating trivia: Rights issues over this music are apparently the main reason this wonderful film isn't on DVD.)

Dazed and Confused, Milla Jovovich sings and plays a quick version of "The Alien Song".

She also performed all her songs in Dummy.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 7:17 AM on March 14, 2007


Rickey Nelson and Dean Martin in Rio Bravo.
posted by mattbucher at 7:19 AM on March 14, 2007


I am stunned -- STUNNED, I say -- that no one has mentioned 'Round Midnight! IMDB says "The character of Francis Borler is based on real-life person Francis Paudras who died in 1997. The character of Dale Turner played by actual jazz musician Dexter Gordon is based on a combination of real-life jazzmen Bud Powell and Lester Young. The real-life friendship between Paudras and Bud Powell has been the subject of several books."

Dexter Gordon and all the other musicians really play live in the film. The sets was built specifically to capture live performances.

Oh, and Gordon won the Best Actor Oscar that year (1989).

====

Kay Kyser, a big band leader, appeared in several films (a.k.a Swing Fever). Many other Big Band personalities acted and performed in movies. I've tried and failed to find a web-resource that lists them, but if you look up names like Tommy Dorsey on IMDB, you'll strike goal. (Also try YouTube for clips.)

And, of course, there was a time when movies were much more musical, and it was normal to see actor-musicians (Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Ginger Rodgers...) See the That's Entertainment series for an overview.
posted by grumblebee at 7:19 AM on March 14, 2007


Zooey Deschanel also sings "Baby, It's Cold Outside" in "Elf". I think it's a duet, but I can't say for sure. It's been a while since I've seen it.
posted by backwards guitar at 7:24 AM on March 14, 2007


It's a duet with Will Ferril.
posted by grumblebee at 7:29 AM on March 14, 2007


Yes, Zooey Deschanel sings in Elf, and Will Ferrell sings/plays guitar in Stranger Than Fiction.
posted by puritycontrol at 7:44 AM on March 14, 2007


Emily Blunt plays the cello in My Summer of Love.
posted by Orinda at 7:47 AM on March 14, 2007


Adam Sandler in The Wedding Singer.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:55 AM on March 14, 2007


Sid & Nancy, I think had the onscreen Pistols making the "music." They certainly weren't miming to recordings IIRC.

I also seem to recall some singing in Labyrinth with David Bowie.

Harvey Fierstein would have been doing the singing in Torch Song Trilogy.

Is this all excepting straight-up musicals, like Rocky Horror (Susan Sarandon, Tim Currie, Meatloaf)?
posted by Martin E. at 7:55 AM on March 14, 2007


Didn't Dennis Quaid do his own guitar playing and singing in The Big Easy?
posted by booth at 8:19 AM on March 14, 2007


Sam Jackson does his own singing in Black Snake Moan. So, for that matter, does Epatha Merkerson.
posted by box at 8:24 AM on March 14, 2007


Edward Norton does quite a lot of his own singing in films. Everyone Says I Love You, Keeping the Fairth, Death to Smoochie all have credits for him singing.
posted by slimepuppy at 8:25 AM on March 14, 2007


Eminem (and Xzibit, and a few others) do their own rapping in 8 Mile. This is also the case with almost every movie with rappers and rapping in it.
posted by box at 8:26 AM on March 14, 2007


The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. There's a Portuguese singer named Seu Jorge that's a sort of background character who does basically nothing but play stripped-down acoustic David Bowie songs and sing them in his native tongue. It was a fabulous little addition to the movie.
posted by ScarletSpectrum at 8:29 AM on March 14, 2007


It's TV, but Dave Matthews played the role of a piano-playing patient on the most recent episode of House MD, including numerous little piano-playing scenes.
posted by vytae at 8:42 AM on March 14, 2007


What, no Road House? Jeff Healy played the blind slide guitar player.
posted by khaibit at 9:33 AM on March 14, 2007


Chicago - Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renee Zellweger, Richard Gere, Queen Latifah, and the others all did their own singing.

Although Lou Diamond Phillips didn't sing in La Bamba (that was done by Los Lobos), Marshall Crenshaw played Buddy Holly and Brian Setzer played Eddie Cochran and IIRC, they performed.
posted by SisterHavana at 10:03 AM on March 14, 2007


Any of the Marx Brothers movies usually have Chico playing piano and Harpo playing the harp.

Also, Hugh Laurie played piano and sang in Jeeves and Wooster and I know he's played piano on House.
posted by fings at 10:09 AM on March 14, 2007


Milla Jovovich sings wonderfully (in Portuguese!) in The Claim too.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 1:37 PM on March 14, 2007


Wow, thanks so much for all the answers! Keep it coming!
posted by lorimer at 1:49 PM on March 14, 2007


Zooey Deschanel also sings "Baby, It's Cold Outside" in "Elf". I think it's a duet, but I can't say for sure.

It is a duet, with Will Ferrell (singing badly). On the soundtrack album, she's singing with Leon Redbone.
posted by robcorr at 5:44 PM on March 14, 2007


The movie "The Benny Goodman Story" isn't really fiction, though it's a bit idealized, and though Steve Allen plays Goodman. But Lionel Hampton, Gene Krupa, Ben Pollack, Teddy Wilson, Kid Ory, Harry James, and Ziggy Elman all play themselves, and though it's been decades since I've seen it, I'm pretty sure they play music, too. I distinctly remember Hampton's vibes in the scene where they recreated the way that Hampton met Goodman.

(DAMN, but Hampton was good! And it's to Goodman's credit that he thought so too, and broke the color barrier because of it. Goodman's performance at Carnegie Hall was revolutionary, not only because it was the first time pop music had ever been played there, but also because it was the first performance by a racially integrated group. And I think it might also have been the first performance there by a Jew. Lots of barriers got broken that night.)

Steve Allen was a superb piano player but I don't believe he was able to play clarinet, and Goodman himself didn't play keyboards, so I don't think Allen did any direct performing in the film. I believe his clarinet parts were played for him -- by Goodman.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:43 PM on March 14, 2007


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