9 actors who played a musician and displayed incredible commitment to the cause

7 June 2021, 17:05

9 actors who really committed to music roles
9 actors who really committed to music roles. Picture: Universal Pictures/Getty

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

When authenticity is the goal, and musical virtuosity, the result.

So dedicated were these actors to delivering an authentic performance, they took their musical training to a whole new level. From Adrien Brody’s journey to embodying a starving wartime pianist, to Russell Crowe’s frustrated relationship with the violin, here are the times actors added a new string to their bow, and some.

  1. Adrien Brody – The Pianist (2002)

    Brody’s approach to embodying a man who had lost everything was famously “method”. Through a dangerously extreme diet, the actor lost 30 pounds so that he could experience the desperation that comes with hunger. He simultaneously left his girlfriend, gave up his apartment, sold his car, and took his keyboard and moved to Europe.

    And, after all that, director Roman Polanski made Brody practise the piano for four hours a day until he could master some of Chopin’s most elegant passages.

    Read more: 11 actors who learned to play a musical instrument for films (and one who didn’t)

  2. Jamie Foxx – Ray (2004)

    To play the legendary blind soul singer and pianist Ray Charles, Jamie Foxx lost 30 pounds and had his eyelids glued shut during filming, which often lasted for 14 hours a day. Foxx also wore prosthetic eyelids modelled from Charles’ own.

    Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles in 'Ray'
    Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles in 'Ray'. Picture: Universal Pictures
  3. Russell Crowe – Master and Commander (2003)

    After three months of bow-rosining and string-tightening, Russell Crowe said there was nothing “that I’ve ever done for a movie more difficult than learning to play violin”. He later auctioned off the 130-year-old instrument used in Master and Commander for £73,528, as part of a collection of items sold during his divorce.

    Read more: Christopher Plummer was a classical pianist, and played Rachmaninov between Sound of Music scenes

    Russell Crowe learned the violin for his role in Master and Commander
    Russell Crowe learned the violin for his role in Master and Commander. Picture: 20th Century Fox
  4. Bradley Cooper – A Star is Born (2018)

    To achieve the gravelly tones of fictional rock star Jackson Maine, Bradley Cooper underwent serious vocal coaching to lower his speaking voice by an octave. He spent 18 months taking singing lessons, and 12 of those with a dialect coach, with whom Cooper says he worked “five days a week, four hours a day on exercises and lowering my voice”.

  5. Marion Cotillard – La Vie En Rose (2007)

    For six months, Marion Cotillard avoided all her friends and family to rid herself of any distractions while embodying the character of the legendary French singer Edith Piaf. “They would find me weird, and I didn’t like that,” Cotillard told Graham Norton.

    The French actor didn’t sing for the film but refined her lip-syncing skills to the nth degree. “Lip-syncing was the hardest part,” she said. “I wanted to take singing lessons to learn her technique, how to position my tongue, the breathing… it had to be realistic. If you don’t believe I’m singing, you can throw the movie in the garbage.”

  6. Dennis Quaid – Great Balls of Fire! (1989)

    Dennis Quaid practised piano and took singing lessons for anywhere between three and five hours a day to imitate Jerry Lee Lewis’ piano skills in Great Balls of Fire. Lewis himself wasn’t a fan of the biopic but said Quaid “really pulled it off”.

    Dennis Quaid plays piano in Great Balls of Fire!
    Dennis Quaid plays piano in Great Balls of Fire! Picture: Orion Pictures
  7. Jude Law – The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

    Jude Law, who gained weight and learned to play saxophone for The Talented Mr. Ripley, broke a rib when he fell backward during a filming scene. A case of too much ‘sax and violins’, perhaps...

    Jude Law playing saxophone in The Talented Mr Ripley
    Jude Law playing saxophone in The Talented Mr Ripley. Picture: Miramax Films
  8. Ethan Hawke – Born to be Blue (2015)

    Chet Baker was a sensationally cool jazz trumpeter and singer. To play the icon, Ethan Hawke took gruelling lessons with trumpeter Ben Promane, who helped him appear to be playing trumpet with his front teeth missing, like Chet Baker.

    Ethan Hawke plays Chet Baker in Born to be Blue
    Ethan Hawke plays Chet Baker in Born to be Blue. Picture: Entertainment One
  9. Chadwick Boseman – Get on Up (2013)

    To play the soul legend James Brown, the late Black Panther actor spent three hours a day in the make-up chair having his wig fitted and full-body prosthetics attached. Boseman also did all his own singing and dancing, with plenty of training from the film’s vocal coach and choreographer, Brown’s surviving relatives, and producer Mick Jagger, to full embody the godfather of soul.