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Why Some Rock Stars Fare Better Than Others at Cannes (Cannes)

Bjork, Norah Jones, David Bowie and other musicians have accompanied films to the Croisette -- with mixed results.

The Festival de Cannes has seen its share of rock musicians and pop stars looking to try out their acting chops.

Larry Mullen Jr., the longtime drummer for U2, is making his debut starring turn as the title character opposite veteran Donald Sutherland in Mary McGuckian’s remake of Man on the Train, which Sierra/Affinity and Preferred Content are selling in the Marche du Film this year. (See a Q&A with Mullen here.) Cannes is typically a shrewd forum, as international audiences have traditionally championed artists trying a different medium.

Icelandic icon Bjork won the best actress honor at Cannes in 2000 for her starring role in Lars Von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark, which captured the Palme d’Or that year. Von Trier steered the same prize toward French pop star and music royalty Charlotte Gainsbourg—she’s the daughter of Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg—in his controversial 2009 offering Antichrist. (Also a singer-actress, Birkin herself appeared in Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up, which won the Grad Prix at Cannes in 1967.)

Singer-songwriter Norah Jones didn’t make quite the same waves with her screen debut in Wong Kar Wai’s My Blueberry Nights, a feathery road trip movie that opened the festival in 2007. Reviews of the film were underwhelming, and Jones herself was mostly damned with faint praise. One Guardian U.K. critic noted, “her performance is easy and unobtrusive without ever quite communicating any great depth of feeling or life-changing epiphany.”

In 1983, Let’s Dance-era David Bowie showed up in both the war drama Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, which played in competition, and the erotic vampire film The Hunger, which screened out of competition. Bob Geldof played to type in Pink Floyd’s The Wall, which played out of competition in 1982, and Sting turned up in the 1979 Cannes premiere of Quadrophenia.

Bob Dylan was the star and co-writer of the poetic oddball Masked and Anonymous, which played Cannes in 2003. The film prompted Roger Ebert to stamp the script “incoherent raving juvenile meanderings” and to note of Dylan’s performance, “while all about him are acting their heads off, he never speaks more than one sentence at a time, and his remarks uncannily evoke the language and philosophy of Chinese fortune cookies.”

Reviews of Mullen’s efforts won’t be in for a while, since the film isn’t screening in the festival program. But the drummer has taken a realistic approach to this new direction.

“I have had an amazing career for a man who hits things for a living,” he says. “I understand some people being skeptical—I'm not an actor. I’ve no plans to change careers. However, I'm enjoying experimenting on myself. Why not?”