We get the deal, actors pretend. They pretend to be people they’re not and do things they don’t or can’t do. Sometimes they pretend to play an instrument because the scene or indeed the entire role requires it, and through the magic of editing and well timed frames we’re blown away.
But in other instances an actor will truly learn how to play the instrument or already know how to do so, which enhances the performance and makes us gasp when we find out it was in fact them all along, no trickery needed.
Read on to find out who gave a great performance and has musical talent to boot...
'The Big Short' explores the reasons behind the collapse of the economic market in 2008. While most of the world never saw it coming, a few realised and profited from it. Bale plays one of these guys, Michael Burry, a hedge fund manager who foresaw the collapse and proceeded to rub everyone up the wrong way by going against the housing market in the United States, only to come out of the crisis by profiting over $800 million. One of the most curious characters in the film, Bale plays him as slightly autistic (as the real Burry describes himself as) and a lover of heavy metal music. In fact, he passes a lot of his time by jamming out heavily on his drum set in the film. Not only is that impressive, but Bale suffered a knee injury before filming commenced, and still insisted on playing the sets, much to director Adam McKay’s disapproval.
If you’ve experienced the whirlwind that is 'Whiplash' you’ll remember Miles Teller as not only an excellent talent on screen for his acting chops, but likewise for his impressive drumming skills. Teller has been drumming since the age of 15, so no surprise he’s got the basics down, but the rigorous jazz drumming practice, in preparation and while shooting, led him to blister and bleed on the drums, much like the character does. Not only that, but director Damien Chazelle would make Teller play on longer than the takes which would result in his physical exhaustion. We can only hope that chairs weren’t also hurled at him and that he could keep the tempo.
Johnny Cash is regarded as one of the most talented singer-songwriters of all time, and his tumultuous life and relationship with equally talented June Carter is depicted in this 2005 biopic. The two actors sang every word and played every instrument in the film, an impressive feat considering the talent they were playing on screen. They trained extensively for six months prior to filming and worked hard to achieve great results. Both actors were nominated for Oscars that year, with Witherspoon taking the statue for Best Actress in a Leading Role. The acting alone is standout, but the fact that the extra work was put into the music only helped enhance the overall result.
In this 1990s classic, Gere plays a successful businessman who hires Julia Robert’s character, who is a prostitute, to accompany him to a few events while he’s in Los Angeles for work. We all know the story, but what you might not have known is that Gere actually plays the piano in the famous hotel restaurant scene, you know, the one after hours where it’s just them, alone, on the piano and they... Ah just watch it. Not only that, but the actor also composed that piano piece himself.
This gut-wrenching tale told in non-linear fashion charts the beginning and end of a relationship, with Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling in the lead roles. The film isn’t all sad, with some lovely moments following characters Dean and Cindy as they meet and fall in love. One adorable and very memorable moment takes place at night, outside of a store window. Dean plays the ukulele and signs while Cindy slowly tap-dances to the music. Gosling did both, not surprising considering in real life the actor is very musical, being a part of the Mickey Mouse Club as a child and being one half of indie rock band Dead Man’s Bones, he’s not only a great actor but he can sing and dance and play guitar and piano.
In between playing ultra-MCU villain Loki and gaining immense fan support to play the next James Bond, Tom Hiddleston starred as country music star Hank Williams in this biographical drama. Aside from learning how to yodel impressively for the role and showcasing some serious singing prowess, the British actor learned to play guitar. He took an intense crash course before filming commenced in order to master the country style of playing.
Meryl Streep can do everything annoyingly well. She’s one of the greatest actresses of all time, an excellent singer, and most recently, a trained guitar player. In preparation for her role as rock musician and occasional mother in 'Ricki and the Flash', Streep mastered guitar-playing and was so dedicated to the part that she would frequently bleed on set after takes due to the intense playing. It’s already a phenomenal feat if you don’t consider the fact that she also had lessons from Neil Young.
There’s little Jackson hasn’t done in his acting career, notorious for making many films a year and one hundred percent completely unapologetic over the less great (ahem, terrible) ones. However, it's still impressive that the man learned guitar for his 2006 film 'Black Snake Moan'. The drama also stars Christina Ricci and Justin Timberlake and deals with sexual abuse, addiction and even spirituality. Jackson plays a very pious man and blues guitarist. In order to do the character justice, he practiced every day for seven months and lends his skills to the film’s soundtrack. It’s an underrated film that was possibly let down by its marketing campaign, but worth the watch.
For her first singing role, Keira Knightly learned how to play guitar for Gretta, a young singer-songwriter recently dumped by her more successful boyfriend. Writer-director John Carney followed up his immensely successful 2007 Oscar-winning film 'Once' with another modern day musical film, this time set in New York with Knightley and Mark Ruffalo as protagonists. Knightley’s skill is undeniable and you’d never guess she’d learned to play for the role. Carney seems to be continuing on his musical streak, following 'Begin Again' with 'Sing Street', out in cinemas now.
'Sing Street' is out now in UK cinemas.