Making It In Musicals: Iconic Actors Who Used Their (Sometimes Hidden) Vocal Talent To Their Advantage

Features Film

Actors who have made it to the big screen sometimes have other talents that they later utilize to gain other roles, showcase a talent, and reach a bigger or broader audience. Having the talent to sing is something that has helped actors to gain more recognition and be more versatile in Hollywood. Actors have used this to their advantage (and in some cases, their disadvantage) to establish a place in the Musical genre, and also show off a talent that they possess. With the popularity of musicals being written and created for theaters, it is very easy for actors to showcase their vocal talents this way. Let’s review some of these iconic stars and what roles brought them more recognition and/or fame due to their talented voices.


A true hidden talent, indeed! An alumnus of Lee Strasberg Classes in NYC, an institute with much prestige for churning out amazing and talented actors and one of the highest paid actresses today,  the world gained knowledge of Scarlett Johansson’s vocal talents with the animated hit movie Sing back in 2016. It was a real treat to hear the vocals of Scarlett in this movie, who plays a porcupine named Ash with a dream to be a rock star and gets the opportunity to sing an original song in front of a huge crowd, bringing them to their feet in applause. It was an impressive move for Johansson, who usually plays the more kick-butt female roles in movies, like Lucy and Black Widow in the Avengers films, or as a more serious actress in her roles in films by Woody Allen. She definitely gained the attention of a newer and broader audience who could appreciate her rock-style voice. Rock on, Scarlett.


This famous actress is extremely well-known for her vocal talents, gaining a large following in her recurring break-through role as Beca in the Pitch Perfect movies, and blowing audiences away with her acapella performance of “Cups” in the first movie. The song became a #1 hit on the Billboard chart and aided in advancing Anna’s career in more musical roles. Ms. Kendrick has come a long way since her meager beginnings as Jessica in the Twilight series of films, gaining the admiration of the younger generation, much like Scarlett Johansson, as the leading voice and singer alongside singing icon Justin Timberlake as Poppy in Trolls. Since then, she’s played in other roles in movies where her vocal talents have been featured in such as The Last Five Years on Netflix, and the musical version of Into The Woods. Her fame has also allowed her for more prominent and starring movie roles like Stephanie in A Simple Favor which just released in theaters in October.


The star of the X-Men movies playing Wolverine doesn’t seem the type to be singing in musicals. However, Hugh Jackman got his start in theater and has a passion and love for the stage, having won a Tony Award for his performance in Oklahoma! back in 1998. His success as an actor gained him great fame, but Hugh later returned to musicals alongside his acting so that he could continue paying homage to his beginnings and showcase his voice. When Les Misérables was made into a movie featuring live-singing performances, it was only appropriate that Hugh was cast the leading role given his incredible talent. He captivated audiences with his emotional and realistic portrayal of Jean Valjean and won. This return to musicals led to a Golden Globe Award for the movie, which later led to another musical just last year, alongside the movie Logan in 2017. He landed the starring role of P.T. Barnum in The Greatest Showman and, not surprisingly, the musical hit movie had Jackman receiving yet another Golden Globe Award nomination.


The Scottish born actor is very well-known, even in his early years when he had starring roles in Trainspotting and Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace. But he blew everyone away with his amazing voice when the hit Moulin Rouge came out in 2001, showcasing a hidden talent that most of us weren’t aware of. He became a singing sensation, having captured the hearts of many with his talent and love-struck role of a playwright who falls in love but has to hide his affections. Since the movie appealed to a wider audience, McGregor utilized this by gaining parts different from his normal characters in movies, such as his leading role in the Tim Burton film Big Fish in 2003, and reached even younger audiences in films like Nanny McPhee Returns and Jack the Giant Slayer.


The British born actress Keira Knightley is highly famous for her portrayal of Elizabeth in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Her success with period dramas including Pride & Prejudice has also gained her Best Actress at the Academy Awards. What most don’t know about her is her soft vocal talent, which she showcased in the 2014 movie Begin Again alongside Mark Ruffalo and Adam Levine, playing a singer-songwriter with captivating raw talent. Her audience praised her efforts and some critics said that her voice was a perfect match for the feel and meaning behind the film, and it created a new audience for the actress, striking a chord for many indy film lovers.

Not all actors, however, have had major successes with their singing debuts – Keira received some mixed reviews for Begin Again, some claiming that her voice wasn’t “convincing enough” as a singer-songwriter. Though Ms. Knightley has not showcased her voice again, she has had much success since then, starring in The Imitation Game, and her newest lead roles as The Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker, and the movie Colette which will appear later this year.

Some actors have an easier time transitioning into musical singing roles, being able to show audiences the multifaceted personalities and passions that they have. It can be a difficult move, especially if a typical role for an actor is not one that is musical in any way! At the same time, it is very brave for an actor to do as well, because actors are willing to put themselves out there in a new and different way, allowing for criticism and ridicule from their fans and other critics. These are just some actors that have taken the leap to demonstrate their vocal talents, utilizing roles to allow their audience to see them in a new light, and hopefully broaden their reach to new people and hopefully, new levels of admiration and appreciation for their craft.

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