Here’s a great thing that happens. You find out that an actress or actor you love can actually do something else like write or sing. And then you find out that they can actually do that thing WELL, like you really actually like LIKE THEIR SONGS, and now you have DOUBLED the ways you can love this person and all is good with the world.
This happened to me last week when I saw Lena Dunham perform a “cover” of Sia’s “Chandelier” on the Late Show. Lena didn’t actually sing, she transformed the song into an interpretive dance while the singer Sia lay flat on her belly. (as a side tangent, I fell in love with Sia when I first heard her stunning song, “Breathe Me” on Six Feet Under’s series finale. The song was so beautiful, so dark, it just stuck with me in every emotional moment in life that followed.)
The Late Show performance showed me a new side of Lena, that she has real creative range and it made me happy to see. This got me thinking: So many amazing actors have ventured into music, and have totally blown us away with their talent. Here are 14 who’ve made the transition to singers seamlessly and even with aplomb.
1. Gwyneth Paltrow
Think what you may of her, Gwyn is still essentially a goddess. I love her style and I love her penchant for water. I also love her singing. It kind of makes sense that this actress tried out music, since she was married to Chris Martin, after-all. She tried out country in Country Strong and her censored version of Cee Lo’s “F**k You” on Glee was kind of my dream come true. Gwyneth, when are you going to release a full album?
2. Jamie Foxx
Gorgeous Jamie Foxx kicked off his career as a comedian, and later joined the cast of In Living Color. He starred in ‘90s movies like Toys and Any Given Sunday. He then started to make cameos in music videos, like “Would You” by Benzino and Twista’s “Slow Jamz.” In the mid-2000s, you probably heard him in Kanye West’s “Gold Digger” (and arguably, he was the reason why the song was so freaking good. No offense, Kanye).
3. Johnny Depp
Oh, Johnny Depp, you beautiful starfish. Although his music career has understandably taken a back seat to his acting, he’s still given it a valiant go. He played guitar in the band P (yes, just P), which included Butthole Surfers’ Gibby Haynes and Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers. He recorded solo work and even performed with Iggy Pop and Eddie Vedder, but his public journey as a musician has been stalled as of late.
4. Scarlett Johansson
I don’t know if you remember, but Scarlett Johansson released a Tom Waits cover album in 2008, and it was seriously beautiful. I think if anybody should cover Tom Waits, it’s Scarlett Johansson, because whoa, deep and sultry vocals. Scarlett Johansson also sang with Pete Yorn in the album Break Up, which was inspired by Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot.
5. Jared Leto
I first experienced Jared Leto’s pretty face in Requiem for a Dream, even though that film gave me nightmares forever. Leto was also in My So-Called Life in the ‘90s, but did you know he’s also in the band 30 Seconds to Mars? Enjoy all the emo glory here:
6. Zooey Deschanel
When did YOU first find yourself falling for Zooey Deschanel? Was it when she played the rock-loving, mom-defying sister in Almost Famous? Or the cheeky cashier in The Good Girl? Or was it when you saw Elf and wondered who this adorable human being was? Zooey is amazing, and it’s not just because she’s such a great actress (and HelloGiggles founder, natch). It’s also because she does a million other things, like sing. Her band, She & Him, formed in 2006, but she also contributed to Jason Schwartzman’s indie-pop solo project, Coconut Records.
Jack Black, not to be confused with Jack White, is actually a musician, too! Jack Black started out in small roles in shows like The X-Files, Mr. Show, and Life Goes On, but he later took on slightly bigger roles in The Cable Guy and Mars Attacks! He finally made it big with High Fidelity, but he always balanced his acting career with music. He’s the lead singer of the comedy band, Tenacious D, which was, well, tenacious.
8. Ryan Gosling
You wanna hear something sad? I saw Ryan Gosling’s band, Dead Man’s Bones, before I even realized how hot Ryan Gosling was. Pathetic. I believe they only released one album, which featured a children’s choir throughout (of course it did), but it was actually really awesome, earning a solid 7.1 on Pitchfork. If you had your heart trampled on when you watched Blue Valentine, you’ll also know Ryan Gosling has the ability to woo women with his ukulele playing, too.
9. Juliette Lewis
You might remember Juliette Lewis in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, or as Iron Maven in Whip It. She’s always played a badass, so it’s only appropriate that she started multiple rock bands, including the New Romantiques and Juliette Lewis & the Licks.
10. David Hasselhoff
David Hasselhoff is probably best known for his role in Baywatch, but this doesn’t mean his singing career wasn’t just as prominent. . . in other countries. In the ‘80s, Hasselhoff recorded a number one hit (“Looking for Freedom”) that skyrocketed the pop charts in Germany. You should watch this video, because it’s the most ‘80s thing you will witness all day. You’re welcome.
11. Hilary Duff
Even after Lizzie McGuire came to an end, Hilary Duff knew she could not stop there. She starred in a few movies like A Cinderella Story and Material Girls, but she also took a shot at singing. Songs like “Come Clean” and “So Yesterday” and STILL stuck in my head. P.S. Who else is kind of sad that Hil and Aaron Carter never collaborated to create the perfect teen dream album?
12. Jenny Lewis
Jenny Lewis is my spirit animal. Hands down. I have seen this L.A. babe in concert three times, and I even ran into her at Street Scene of ’08, where I asked if she could take a picture with me during Deerhunter’s set, and she answered, “yeah, after this song!” but then disappeared. I forgive you, Jenny. Anyway, Jenny Lewis started out as a teen actress in Troop Beverly Hills (remember?), The Wizard, and played a minor role in Pleasantville. However, she knew her true roots were in rock, so she formed Rilo Kiley with some friends. They broke up in 2013, but by then she had some solo albums out, as well as a collaboration with The Watson Twins. She also has a new album coming out (Voyager) super soon!
13. Anna Kendrick
Anna Kendrick has been ruling the world lately, whether she’s in hilarious beer commercials, or winning over our hearts in 50/50. Besides being a phenomenal actress, she’s also proved she can sing. Her audition in Pitch Perfect transitioned into a full-fledged single which you may have heard on the radio:
14. Zosia Mamet
Even though it didn’t exactly take off (we still have hope!), Zosia’s band, Cabin Sisters was a triumphant effort to create a new sound. In an interview with Glamour, Zosia (who is best known as Shoshanna in GIRLS) said,
“My sister and I were super sick of all of the music that had been coming out. We felt like a lot of music had lost some of the soul that it used to have, and we wanted to recapture that. We never thought we could write music — we were just planning on doing covers. Clara came over with her banjo one day for our first “band practice,” and a few hours later, kind of by accident, we had our first song. It was “Bleak Love.” We’d both just had our hearts incredibly broken, and the song kind of flowed out of both of our current intense heartache. No better material than an achin‘ heart!”