14 Surprising Actors Who've Sung in Movies

2:50 PM 12/20/2016

by Caitlin Greenho

A slew of actors not known for their singing abilities — from Matthew McConaughey to The Rock to even Clint Eastwood — have taken the mic for musical roles.

Matthew McConaughey and his 'Sing' character
Matthew McConaughey and his 'Sing' character
Getty Images; Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Many actors have hit the mic to test out their singing abilities on the big screen. Some were successful (see: Reese Witherspoon's Oscar-winning performance in Walk the Line), while others haven't exactly earned rave reviews (ahem, Clint Eastwood).

Now, with Matthew McConaughey set to show off his musical talent in Sing (alongside Witherspoon), The Hollywood Reporter decided to take a look back at other surprising actors who've sung in movies — some who brought hidden talents to light, and others who made critics wish they'd kept their singing in the shower.

  • Matthew McConaughey

    'Sing'

    McConaughey stars as Buster Moon, a koala who attempts to save an old theater by hosting the world’s greatest singing competition. The actor performs Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe" in the movie. Of his singing in the film, McConaughey recently told USA Today that he had informed director Garth Jennings when he signed on: "I said, ‘Look, nothing’s written for me to sing, but if you come up with something, I’d love to give it a shot.' I’d heard the song, obviously. So I said, ‘Leave the recording [going] and I’ll do it over and over 20 times and we’ll pick one out of there.’" The movie also will feature songs by Katy Perry, Aerosmith, Lady Gaga, Sam Smith and Nicki Minaj and the voices of Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane and Scarlett Johansson. In addition to McConaughey, the rest of the star-studded cast also will be singing.

  • Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson

    'Moana'

    The Rock is known for his wrestling and ability to open a movie, but who knew he also could sing? The actor stars in Disney’s animated feature as Maui, the musical Hawaiian demigod. The film’s soundtrack blends contemporary and traditional Hawaiian musical styles and features music by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa’I and Mark Mancina. Watch his big solo number "You’re Welcome," below.

  • Emma Stone

    'Easy A' and 'La La Land'

    The fact that Emma Stone has an exceptional voice is no secret, especially now that her new film La La Land features an original song. However, prior to the release of Easy A, fans may have been generally unaware of her true talent — apart from those who'd seen her compete on a 2004 VH1 reality show called In Search of the New Partridge Family. Her musical abilities won her a role on a reboot of The Partridge Family that VH1 never picked up to series. Stone begins La La Land with the popular shower rendition of “Pocket Full of Sunshine” and goes on to deliver a performance of “Knock on Wood” that earns her a standing ovation. 

  • Ryan Gosling

    'Blue Valentine' and 'La La Land'

    Starring alongside Stone in the upcoming La La Land, Gosling will display his musical talents once again, but his vocal debut came much earlier, in Blue Valentine. Despite prefacing his performance by saying that he can’t sing, Gosling’s impromptu ukulele street performance was unexpectedly impressive. He claims that he has to “sing goofy” in order to sing at all, but his “goofy” vibrato gave him a unique sound.

  • Richard Gere

    'Chicago'

    The 2002 film production of Chicago featured a star-studded cast including Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renee Zellweger, Richard Gere, Queen Latifah and Taye Diggs. Although Gere started his acting career in musical theater, viewers knew him for his roles in Primal Fear and An Officer and a Gentleman, among others. While his singing in Chicago may have come as a surprise to some, his performance received rave reviews (and a Golden Globe). 

  • Amanda Bynes

    'Hairspray'

    The recent live TV production of the Broadway musical will bring another cast of stars, but the 2007 theatrical production boasted an impressive collection of names as well, including John Travolta, Christopher Walken, Michelle Pfeiffer, James Marsden, Zac Efron, Queen Latifah and Brittany Snow. While Latifah, Travolta and Efron were previously known for their musical roles, other castmembers like Amanda Bynes debuted their vocals on the big screen. 

  • Sarah Hyland

    'Annie'

    Until the recent viral explosion of her cover of The Chainsmokers’ “Closer,” Sarah Hyland was most commonly known for her role as Haley on ABC’s Modern Family. However, the cover was not her first musical venture. The actress played Molly in a 1999 production of Annie and sang classics like “It's a Hard-Knock Life” and “Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile.”

  • Clint Eastwood

    'Paint Your Wagon'

    Dirty Harry, a singer? Yes, it's true. Eastwood showed off his musical talents in the 1969 film rendition of the musical Paint Your Wagon. He plays an adventurous cowboy in typical Eastwood fashion, but his solo number, “I Talk to the Trees,” did not exactly receive stellar reviews. Some cite it as the reason Billy Crystal begged him to never sing again at the 2004 Oscars.

  • Johnny Depp

    'Sweeney Todd'

    Although the lead role in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street fits perfectly into Johnny Depp’s repertoire of bizarre dark characters, his previous parts did not require him to sing on the big screen. Leading up to the premiere, critics wondered whether he would rise to the challenge. Sure enough, he took on the role with full dedication and received rave reviews for his performance.

  • Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore

    'Music and Lyrics'

    Although Hugh Grant had little prior musical experience, in Music and Lyrics he plays a former music superstar who attempts to regain the spotlight by coercing Drew Barrymore’s character into writing a song for him, despite her lack of musical experience. He forces her to sing along with him and discovers that she has the perfect voice for the song. In reality, neither of the actors had any experience and learned to sing as they filmed the movie. Grant has said that singing was the easy part, but he struggled with the dancing. 

  • Robert Downey Jr.

    'The Singing Detective'

    In 2003, Robert Downey Jr. tested his musical ability as the lead in an adaptation of The Singing Detective. Known for his roles in Tropic Thunder, Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes, his musical performance ability came as a surprise. While he did receive some negative reviews for his acting performance in the pic, critics had nothing bad to report about his vocals.

  • Matt Damon

    'The Talented Mr. Ripley'

    Although some recall Matt Damon’s angst-filled rendition of “Scotty Doesn’t Know” from Eurotrip, the song was dubbed and was not actually his voice. However, in The Talented Mr. Ripley, he delivers a moving vocal performance of “My Funny Valentine.” Jude Law learned to play saxophone and Damon learned to play piano just for the film, but the piano used in the final version was dubbed.

  • Keira Knightley

    'Begin Again'

    The film marked Keira Knightley’s first vocal performance and Adam Levine’s first acting performance. Director James Carney praised Levine for his performance, but he was less enthusiastic about working with Knightley, saying: "I think the real problem was that Keira wasn't a singer and wasn't a guitar player, and it's very hard to make music seem real if it's not with musicians. And I think the audience struggled a little bit with that in Begin Again. And as much as I tried to make it work, I think that she didn't quite come out as a guitar-playing singer-songwriter. So I really wanted to work with musicians and actors that could play their instruments properly and sing and stuff like that." He later apologized.

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