Given how many actors have made the foray into music and vice versa, it’s pretty much a cliché at this point for someone rich and famous to release a music album. But while some actor-musician hybrids, like Drake and Justin Timberlake, have managed to find success both onscreen and onstage, others are still waiting with bated breath for a big break to come.
Herein, we’ve rounded up some of the lesser-known actors-turned-musicians—some with albums worth listening to, and others with… well, hey, at least they tried. So get your headphones ready. And if you need some reading material to go along with these jams, check out The 20 Craziest Hollywood Meltdowns.
Billy Bob Thornton (Private Radio)
Billy Bob Thornton’s albums are far from something to write home about, but that hasn’t stopped the Sling Blade star from making 12 of them, both as a solo act and with his band, The Boxmasters.
Bruce Willis (The Return of Bruno)
Bruce Willis released two “eclectic” albums in ’87 and ’89—the first of which, The Return of Bruno, served as an accompaniment to the HBO mockumentary of the same name. But despite having backup vocals from such prominent acts as The Temptations, Willis’ first album never quite achieved widespread success, with AllMusic describing the album as “more a testament to the excesses of Reagan-era celebrity and baby-boomer nostalgia than a piece of music.”
Hugh Laurie (Let Them Talk)
Though he is best known as an actor, Hugh Laurie is also a talented musician with two bluesy albums under his belt. Regarding his career, Laurie told the Sydney Morning Herald back in 2014: “I think there’s music in acting and there’s acting in music. I think of the two things not being that different in a way.” And for more fun celebrity facts, don’t miss the 30 Awful Jobs Celebrities Had Before They Became Famous.
Jeff Daniels (Grandfather’s Hat)
On his personal website, Jeff Daniels notes that in addition to acting, he has also “authored about 400 songs [and] played over 300 gigs [in] the past 12 years from Maine to Alaska to Californ-i-a, with my preferred venue of choice being clubs and hundred year-old opera houses.” The Newsroom and Godless actor currently has six full-length albums, and all of their sales benefit his theatre, the Purpose Rose Theatre Company, in Chelsea, Michigan.
Keanu Reeves (Our Little Visionary)
Remember the ’90s grunge band Dogstar? If you do, it’s probably only because one of its founding members was none other than Hollywood hotshot Keanu Reeves. The band began to gain slight notoriety in 1995 when they opened for such platinum-tier acts as Bon Jovi and David Bowie, but after releasing one EP and two albums, they decided to call it quits in 2002.
Michael Cera (True That)
Though Michael Cera has been a small but steady force in the music industry since 2010, establishing indie-music cred in films like Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, it wasn’t until 2014 that the Arrested Development star decided to release his own album. Titled True That, the debut album featured 19 original songs and a few covers, and music critics generally responded fondly to its “melancholy, alternative, and adorable” vibe. And for more little-known Hollywood news, check out the 30 Celebrities Who Are Amazing Artists on the Side.
Richard Harris (A Tramp Shining)
When he wasn’t on the big screen, Richard Harris could be found in the recording studio or performing songs from his many solo albums on stage. And believe it or not, the late Harry Potter actor’s debut album, A Tramp Shining, was so successful that it was even nominated for a Grammy Award in 1969, with the single “MacArthur Park” reaching #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Robert Downey, Jr. (The Futurist)
In 2004, Iron Man actor Robert Downey, Jr. released his debut—and only—album, The Futurist, to mixed reviews. If you happened to miss this melancholy LP the first time around and want to give it a listen, you can still find it on Spotify and iTunes.
Ryan Gosling (Dead Man’s Bones)
In 2009, rock duo Dead Man’s Bones released their self-titled album, a collection of spooky songs about ghosts and monsters in collaboration with the Silverlake Conservatory Children’s Choir. And while the album didn’t achieve notoriety by any means, it did mark a foray into music for none other than La La Land star Ryan Gosling.
Leighton Meester (Heartstrings)
After testing the waters a bit with her guest feature on the Cobra Starship song “Good Girls Go Bad,” Gossip Girl queen Leighton Meester decided to make her move into music official with her album Heartstrings in 2014. Though it didn’t break any records, the album was reviewed in a mostly positive light by music critics, with one reporter at Idolator calling it “a surprisingly good album.” And speaking of surprises, don’t miss the 25 Celebrities Who Live in Surprisingly Modest Homes.
Kevin Bacon (Forosoco)
When he isn’t busy filming instant classics like Footloose, Kevin Bacon is performing with his brother Michael as one-half of the band The Bacon Brothers. To date, the duo has six albums, and their music has appeared everywhere from movie soundtracks to children’s CDs.
Scarlett Johansson (Anywhere I Lay My Head)
The actress has two studio albums (including her debut, Anywhere I Lay My Head, a 10-track cover album of Tom Waits songs described by The Cut as a “vanity project” that “succeed[s] in making you think, I should listen to the Tom Waits version of this“), four EPs, and several other subpar singles. That said, her duo albums with frequent collaborator and indie-rock guru Pete Yorn are worth checking out. Start with their first, Break Up, a collection of upbeat, heartfelt ditties that’ll make you feel like you’re in 500 Days of Summer.
Naomi Campbell (Baby Woman)
Because being an actress and model wasn’t enough, Naomi Campbell in 1994 decided to also release an R&B album by the name of Baby Woman. However, Campbell wasn’t quite able to pull off this third act in her career, and so Baby Woman was both her first and last full-length LP. And for more Hollywood fun facts, don’t miss the 40 Hilarious First Acting Gigs for Your Favorite Megastars.
Jackie Chan (A Boy’s Life)
Martial arts master Jackie Chan keeps plenty busy as a world-renowned actor, and yet he somehow also manages to make time for his music career. Since 1984, the actor has released a total of 11 albums, with his 12th album expected to be released any day now.
Toni Collette (Beautiful Awkward Pictures)
If Toni Collette actually had a sixth sense, then perhaps she never would have released her first and only studio album, Beautiful Awkward Pictures. When the album was released back in 2006, one writer over at Sputnik Music wrote of it: “The bad is unfortunately present… and it’s led by the lyrics. Collette is quite a good songwriter when she puts her mind to it, but [her good lyrics] are undermined by lazy songwriting and some stunningly bad lines.”
Kiefer Sutherland (Down In A Hole)
With 24 no longer keeping him busy, Kiefer Sutherland was finally able to release his first studio album, Down In A Hole, in 2016. Speaking to Billboard about the shift in his career, Sutherland said: “I am acutely aware of the stigma of an actor doing music, but I finally got to a point in my life where I didn’t care. At some point, you have to stand up and own what you’re doing, or what you’re trying.”
Jennifer Love Hewitt (Let’s Go Bang)
Though she didn’t ever find success behind a mic, you have to give Jennifer Love Hewitt some credit for trying. To date, the Ghost Whisperer actress has released four studio albums, including the questionably titled Let’s Go Bang.
Steven Seagal (Songs from the Crystal Cave)
In addition to being the Russian Special Envoy to the United States, Steven Seagal is also a musician with two studio-length albums to his name. The actor’s most recent album was released more than a decade ago in 2006, featuring such oddly dubbed songs as “Gunfire In A Juke Joint” and “Dust My Broom.”
Jamie Foxx (Unpredictable)
This Oscar-winning actor is also something of a success in the R&B world. His second album, Unpredictable, featured cameos from fellow notable artists like Kanye West and Ludacris, and it debuted at #2 on the Billboard 200 chart just behind Mary J. Blige’s The Breakthrough. And for more surprising celebrity trivia, check out the Real Names of Your Favorite Mega-Stars.
Terrence Howard (Shine Through It)
In a lengthy, raw interview with the New York Times back in 2008, Terrence Howard described his self-produced debut album, Shine Through It, as coming “from a place of brutal honesty.” And while the album didn’t achieve commercial success quite like, say, Foxx’s, it certainly struck a chord with critics, who saw the album as “a surprise” worth giving a listen.
Brian Austin Green (One Stop Carnival)
There’s a reason that most people don’t know about Brian Austin Green’s short-lived rap stint. His first and only album, One Stop Carnival, was released around the same time that his 90210 character also started rapping, and let’s just say that neither career quite took off.
Joe Pesci (Vincent LaGuardia Gambini Sings Just for You)
Most people know him as a successful actor now, but Joe Pesci actually started out as a very unsuccessful musician in the ’60s going by the name of Joe Ritchie. And in 1998, the actor unfortunately tried once again to break into the music industry, recording an album sung entirely in the persona of his My Cousin Vinny character. (No, we’re not joking.)
Brie Larson (Finally Out of P.E.)
She might be engaged to the lead singer of Phantom Planet, but that isn’t to say that Brie Larson has any musical talents of her own. Sure, the Room actress did release an album back in 2005, but it only sold a measly total of 4,000 copies in the United States. More evidence of her musical talents: As part of her role in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, she actually sang the vocals in the scene where her character performs Metric’s “Black Sheep” (inarguably the greatest musical moment of a musical powerhouse of a film).
Macaulay Culkin (Live at Chop Suey)
Child actor Macaulay Culkin has mostly stayed away from the big screen since his Home Alone days, but that doesn’t mean that he hasn’t been busy. From 2013 up until this year, Culkin toured and performed with his band The Pizza Underground—which, yes, was a parody rock band that combined songs from The Velvet Underground with pizza references.
Burt Reynolds (Ask Me What I Am)
At the height of his career, among the premieres of such classic films as The Longest Yard and Deliverance, the late Burt Reynolds decided that being a handsome and talented actor just wasn’t enough, and chose to also dip his feet in the music industry. But unlike his films, his 1973 country album Ask Me What I Am wasn’t exactly well-received in the genre.
Katey Sagal (Well…)
Once upon a time, Katey Sagal was actually one of three backup singers who supported Bette Midler during her live performances. Eventually the actress became a solo act, and to date she has three full-length albums to her name.
Jeff Bridges (Be Here Soon)
If Crazy Heart was any indication, then Jeff Bridges is one of the few actors out there for whom music isn’t just a “vanity project.” And in 2011, he further proved that point by releasing his first of two albums, which NPR described as “pretty spiffy.”
Alyssa Milano (Look in My Heart)
If most of Alyssa Milano’s American fans aren’t aware of her singing career, that’s because each of the actress’ four albums were only released in Japan. In 1991, she explained her decision to the L.A. Times, noting that she didn’t want to be considered just another actress-turned-musician. “I’m not interested in crossing over,” the actress said. “I’d much rather have [the music] released where it’s appreciated [rather] than laughed at.”
Seth MacFarlane (Music Is Better Than Words)
Seth MacFarlane’s obnoxious voice acting on Family Guy and American Dad doesn’t exactly allude to a stellar singing voice, which is why it was quite the surprise when the actor released his debut swing album in 2011 and was nominated for not one, not two, but three Grammys. Since then, the comedian has gone on to release three more albums, all of which have performed well with high praises.
Anthony Hopkins (COMPOSER)
Hannibal Lecter, a composer? Oddly enough, yes. Though it sounds rather bizarre, the Silence of the Lambs actor joined the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in 2011 to perform and record some of his own original compositions and scores, resulting in the live album COMPOSER. And for more shocking tidbits, check out these 30 Shocking Facts about Your Favorite Movies.
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