From Zelenskyy to Trump, world leaders who swapped the entertainment industry for politics

Plenty of presidents and prime ministers had showbusiness careers first, as actors, musicians and satirists

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and former US presidents Donald Trump and Ronald Reagan were all screen stars before moving into politics. Photo: AP, AFP, Reuters
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has emerged from the Russian war against his country as a defiant hero, posting a series of pictures and videos of himself and his family who remain in the capital Kyiv, despite identifying himself as Russia’s “target number one”.

But long before he became Ukraine’s wartime leader, Zelenskyy had a whole other life that was a far cry from politics. At the age of 17, he started acting and working as a comedian, starring in several films.

In 2015, his political satire singled him out to play the lead character in Servant of the People, which centred on a fictional character who wins the presidency in Ukraine to launch sweeping reforms and save it from a corrupt political class.

With no prior political experience, life imitated art as Zelenskyy was elected president on April 21, 2019, beating Petro Poroshenko with nearly 73 per cent of the vote.

But Zelenskyy is not the only world leader to come from an entertainment background. Here are five other politicians who swapped the bright lights for politics…

Michel Martelly

May 17, 2014 , Haiti - President of Haiti, Michel Martelly speaking at the official inauguration  of the Dubai Duty Free Sports Complex in LycŽe Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable in Haiti  
 and thanking everyone involved in the Hand in Hand for Haiti project
Courtesy Dubai Duty Free

Before being elected as president of Haiti in 2011, Michel Martelly had a long and successful music career. Known by the stage name Sweet Micky, he is one of the biggest musicians to come from the Caribbean nation, releasing more than a dozen studio albums and a number of CDs between 1989 and 2008.

The year after Haiti’s devastating earthquake in 2010, Martelly was elected president, remaining in office until he resigned in 2016.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump served as US president from 2017 to 2021. AP

Former US president Donald Trump had a colourful and controversial career before running for presidency. From hosting reality television show The Apprentice, to guest-appearing in a number of films and shows from Sex and the City to Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, Trump was a well-known figure across the US long before launching his presidential campaign in 2016.

Trump was elected as the 45th president of the US in November 2016, officially taking over office from Barack Obama in January 2017. He served four years, before losing to Joe Biden in the 2020 election.

Ronald Reagan

Former US president Ronald Reagan had a stellar film career. AFP

Before his tenure as the 40th president of the United States, Ronald Reagan had a long and successful film career. Reagan signed with Warner Bros in 1937, making most of his films with them. During the Second World War, he filmed and narrated a number of projects for Warner Bros, including Recognition of the Japanese Zero Fighter and Beyond the Line of Duty, the latter of which won the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Subject, Two-Reel.

Among his biggest films were Dark Victory, Knute Rockne All American, and Kings Row, which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1943.

Reagan retired from acting in 1965, and became involved in politics, getting elected as governor of California in 1966. He was later elected US president in 1980.

Marjan Sarec

Marjan Sarec became the prime minister of Slovenia after making an unsuccessful bid for president. Reuters

Former Slovenian prime minister Marjan Sarec was a well-known comedian and satirist before venturing into the world of politics. He created a stage persona, Ivan Serpentinsek, a grouchy rural character from Upper Carniola.

He also performed many impersonations of famous and political figures, including Osama bin Laden, Fidel Castro, and Slovenian politicians Janez Drnovsek, Karel Erjavec, Anton Rop, Jelko Kacin, Janez Jansa and Andrej Bajuk, among others.

Sarec announced his intention to run for president in 2017, which many did not take seriously given his background in political satire. However, he narrowly lost out to Borut Pahor.

The following year, Sarec participated in the parliamentary elections with his party, List of Marjan Sarec, which won 12.6 per cent of the vote and became the second-largest party in the National Assembly. In August, he was elected as the new head of government, serving as prime minister from 2018 to 2020.

Jimmy Morales

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales speaks to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, DC, U.S. in this handout photograph released to Reuters by the Guatemala Presidency, March 4, 2018. Guatemala Presidency/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY

Before serving as president of Guatemala from 2016 to 2020, Jimmy Morales was a well-known actor and comedian. He rose to fame as a TV comedian, starring in the series Moralejas (Morals) alongside his brother Sammy.

He became involved in politics in 2011, joining the small right-wing party Action for National Development, before becoming secretary-general of the National Convergence Front in 2013.

In 2015, the party announced Morales as its presidential candidate, and despite initially being deemed an outsider, he went on to win, taking office the following year.

Updated: March 11, 2022, 12:03 PM