It's a toss-up whether actors or musicians will go to greater lengths to make rent, but some musicians have even found themselves so hard up they've been forced to take an acting gig. Such is the case with the haystack-sized Sleepy LaBeef, who in 1968's The Exotic Ones appeared as the "Swamp Monster," a creature abducted from the Louisiana swamps to a French Quarter strip joint. After that, everything is fine until another dancer crosses Sleepy's favorite stripper and he starts killing people; whoever is sitting on the DVD rights to this masterpiece needs to reissue it right away.
The 25th person inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and dubbed "rock and roll's last living myth" by Rolling Stone in 2009, in his lifetime the 77-year-old LaBeef has also worked as a lumberjack, land surveyor and semi-pro wrestler. Luckily for us, he stuck to music and plays the Continental Club Friday night with the Wagoneers.
Just off the top of our head, it seems like the following musicians took their roles more for the opportunity to do something different rather than to put food on the table. Still, a hideous swamp monster is about in the same class as some of the parts these moonlighters have taken over the years -- but whether to amuse or torture themselves, we may never know.
Kris Kristofferson Mace Montana in Big Top Pee-wee (1988) In the lesser of the two Pee-wee Herman movies (which nonetheless co-stars Penelope Ann Miller and Valeria Golino), the croaky country singer plays the proprietor of the traveling carnival that plops itself down in Pee-wee's backyard.
John Doe A.P. Carter in Ring of Fire (forthcoming) Doe, who infused punk rock with an ever-so-slight twang in seminal L.A. band X, is scheduled to appear as the patriarch of country music's most famous family in this made-for-TV Johnny Cash biopic. Co-starring as A.P.'s daughter June Carter Cash is Jewel, the Jewel, who has added her surname "Kilcher."
Reba McEntire Heather Gummer in Tremors (1990) Long before her pair of sitcoms, the down-home country diva made her acting debut as a rifle-totin' mama (married to Family Ties' Michael Gross) in this most excellent giant-worm action flick.
Dolly Parton Truvy Jones in Steel Magnolias (1989) For such a tiny frame, Dolly Parton has such a big personality that it's sometimes difficult to call what she does onscreen "acting," but in Steel Magnolias the sarcastic twist she put on her natural ebullience was just about perfect. Funnier still is playwright/actor Sam Shepard as Parton's put-upon husband, "Spud."
Sting JD in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) The "Roxanne" singer did some stretching in a non-yoga way as the father of Nick Moran's card sharp Eddy in Guy Ritchie's Tarantinoesque, nigh-unintelligible heist film.
Madonna Verity in Die Another Day (2002) It's hard to say what's more forgettable, Madonna's title song for Pierce Brosnan's final Bond film, or her brief walk-on role as 007's fencing instructor.
Shane MacGowan 17th Century Bard in The Libertine (2004) The eternally soused Pogues front man has an uncredited role in this Johnny Depp vehicle that goes balls deep in debauchery during the time of Charles II.
Dwight Yoakam Mr. Kroeger in Wedding Crashers (2005) Some folks may prefer him as the heel in Sling Blade, but here Yoakam gets to flex his underutilized comic chops as a man who can't divorce Rebecca de Mornay fast enough.
Willie Nelson Billy "Catch" Pooler in Gone Fishin' (1997) In a rare acting role where he didn't play some version of himself or one of his Red Headed Stranger-like musical personae, here Willie portrays an expert angler who assists Joe Pesci and Danny Glover in this buddy comedy that was criminally overlooked by the Oscars. We always thought Wille preferred golf.
Nick Cave Freak Storm in Johnny Suede (1991) The literary Australian goth-rocker co-stars as an albino lounge singer in this hepcat faux-musician biopic remembered today (if at all) as the movie Brad Pitt starred in between Thelma & Louise and A River Runs Through It. However, "Rumble" guitar great Link Wray did do the soundtrack.
Courtney Love Rhonda the Waitress in Feeling Minnesota (1996) The same year she earned reams of praise in The People vs. Larry Flynt, Love appeared in this Keanu Reeves Gen-X dark comedy as Vincent D'Onofrio's somewhat out-of-it server. Go figure.
Joan Jett Patti Rasnick in Light of Day (1997) The eternally badass rocker basically played herself alongside Michael J. Fox -- as siblings and fellow members of "the Barbusters" -- in this working-class family drama, but it's Joan Jett, so we're not complaining.
David Bowie Pontius Pilate in The Last Temptation of Christ (1989) Now this is some inspired casting: the man who sold the world as the man who washed his hands of Jesus' ultimate fate.
Iggy Pop Angry Bob in Hardware (1990) The once and future Stooge co-stars with Dylan McDermott in this futuristic thriller with the following tagline: "The head of a cyborg reactivates and rebuilds itself and goes on a violent rampage in a space marine's girlfriend's apartment." Sold!
Tom Waits Renfield in Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992) Tom Waits the dryly poetic musician would no doubt chuckle at watching Tom Waits the actor ham it up in his scenery-chewing turn as a certain count's deranged ex-solicitor in Francis Ford Coppola's high-camp retelling of Stoker's Victorian classic.
Lyle Lovett Detective DeLongPre in The Player (1992) It's been awhile since we've seen Robert Altman's inside-Hollywood masterpiece, so we can't remember if Lovett utters a single word as an ominously lurking plainclothes officer, in the dapper Klein singer's first appearance in Altman's latter-period repertory company.
David Johansen Ghost of Christmas Past in Scrooged (1988) Not far removed from his Saturday Night Live turn as Buster Poindexter, the New York Dolls singer played the Ghost of Christmas Past as a maniacal/typical New York cab driver, the first of three spirits to spook Bill Murray in this late-'80s gloss on Charles Dickens's holiday tale.
Snoop Dogg Blue in Training Day (2001) Like his pal Willie Nelson, Snoop almost always plays some version of himself onscreen, but he played it serious as a wheelchair-bound drug-dealer-turned-informant in this intense bad-cop drama that won Denzel Washington an Oscar.
Mos Def Ford Prefect in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005) The erudite erstwhile Black Star MC's boyish face, genial demeanor and soulful eyes have also made him a reliable character actor, including as present-day Hobbit Martin Freeman's sidekick in this adapatation of Douglas Adams' absurdist spacefaring yarn.
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RZA Samurai in Camouflage in Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999) Long before The Way of the Iron Fist, the Wu-Tang mastermind briefly appeared as one of Forest Whitaker's samurai brethren, as well as heading up the haunting soundtrack to Jim Jarmusch's urban spin on Yojimbo-style cinema.