Top 5 Musicians Who Became Actors

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It seems like it should be easy, right? Musicians routinely perform live, putting on sometimes grand and theatrical concerts—so transitioning from stage to screen doesn’t seem like much of a stretch. Still, Hollywood is littered with failed attempts to segué from song to screen. A few, however, have managed to pull it off. Fewer still ended up making just as big a splash in acting as they did in music—if not bigger.

5 Queen Latifah

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Dana Owens, better known as Queen Latifah, first found fame as a hard-hitting female rapper, winning a Grammy in 1994 for the single “U.N.I.T.Y.” But she also has acting chops, as she proved by becoming the first hip-hop star to be nominated for an Academy Award (for her performance in 2002’s “Chicago”) and the first rapper ever honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Today she’s best known for starring roles in comedies like “Barber Shop” and the popular crime drama “Set It Off.”

4 Mark Wahlberg

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Given his wide-ranging success in films as varied as “The Basketball Diaries,” “The Perfect Storm” and “I Heart Huckabees,” you may have forgotten Mark Wahlberg got his start riding on the coat-tails of big brother Donnie to launch a music career as Marky Mark. Wahlberg’s film and television success (perhaps thankfully) eclipsed what was a relatively short-lived career as a pop rapper known more for his six-pack and his boxer briefs than his musical prowess.

3 Jennifer Lopez

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Before she was the highest paid Latina actress of all time, she was “Jenny from the Block,” a household name as a pop performer while simultaneously pursuing acting gigs. She broke into the entertainment industry as a dancer, landing a spot on “In Living Color” as a fly girl and appearing in music videos. Her multi-platinum debut album made her a star, but Lopez wasn’t done yet. With 2001’s opening of the film “The Wedding Planner,” she became the first woman to have the number-one movie and the number-one album in the same week, securing her status as an entertainment triple threat.

2 Johnny Depp

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Always a rebel, Johnny Depp didn’t start out dreaming of Hollywood. He dropped out of high school at 15 and fronted a few marginally successful garage bands, including most notably “The Kids,” which once opened for none other than Iggy Pop. As fate would have it, a chance trip to L.A. resulted in a chance meeting with actor Nicolas Cage. In what may be one of Cage’s greatest contributions to film, he advised young Depp to consider acting. A film debut in 1984’s “Nightmare on Elm Street” led to a role on “21 Jump Street” that solidified Depp’s teen-dream heartthrob status, and the rest, you might say, is history.

1 Will Smith

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Although best known today for his performances in major films such as “Men in Black,” “Hancock” and “I Am Legend,” Will Smith started his entertainment industry career as a rapper. His turn as the Fresh Prince half of “DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince” led to his first acting role in the NBC sit-com “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” for which Smith recorded the theme song. After six years of playing The Fresh Prince, Smith took to the big screen. Although he still recorded albums, he dominated movies, especially after his turn in the blockbuster “Independence Day,” in which he starred alongside fellow musician-turned-actor Harry Connick, Jr.

Jennifer Mueller has been writing professionally since 1995, when she began writing a bi-monthly column for "This Week in WNC." Mueller holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from the University of North Carolina at Asheville and a Juris Doctor from the Indiana University School of Law.

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