From Kiefer Sutherland to Jennifer Lopez: 10 actors who turned to music

These screen names entered a new career with varying degrees of success

Kiefer Sutherland is back, only this time it’s to soothe our souls rather than save the world.

The actor, best known for his role as Jack Bauer in the spy series 24, has switched the gun for a guitar with his new album Bloor Street.

Out on Friday, it is a gentle and intimately produced collection of folk rock, starring Sutherland’s deep and grizzled baritone.

If the album’s self-titled lead single surprises you by how decent it sounds, that's possibly down to the low standards we have for music released by famous actors, as Sutherland is actually quite good.

Oftentimes, they function as collections of self-indulgent waffle we have to patiently endure before the star feels sufficiently inspired again to hop back in front of the camera and do what they do best.

However, examples also abound where actors were so successful in their new musical career that it became their full-time gig.

Here are 10 celebrities, in no particular order, who took their talents from the big screen to the music studio with varying results.

1. Drake

“That kid from Degrassi High?”

This was one of the many barbs thrown at the superstar rapper when he entered the hip-hop game more than a decade ago.

While Degrassi: The Next Generation (2001-2015) has now become a cult favourite – no doubt because of Drake's post-show appeal – the series was admittedly lame.

Perhaps Drake knew there was only so much mileage to make from playing the character Wheelchair Jimmy, so towards the end of his run in the series, he began to live an artistic double life.

During the day, he would shoot episodes of the series, while the nights were spent making unannounced visits to quiet Toronto music spots and performing spoken-word poetry over instrumentals.

The methodical approach extended to his work in the studio.

Drake built his buzz by releasing a series of mixtapes, so by the time his game-changing debut album Thank Me Later arrived in 2010, the scene was ready to crown its newest star.

2. Jennifer Lopez

An ongoing debate among J-Lo fans is whether her career started in music, before the big film roles.

While her storied career began in the late 1980s on stage as a backup dancer for the likes of MC Hammer and New Kids on the Block, Jennifer Lopez's first major acting credits came with the sketch comedy series In Living Colour in 1991 and the 1994 sitcom South Central.

It was only after amassing a number of major film credits, including star turns in the 1997 biopic Selena and 1998's Out of Sight alongside George Clooney, that she launched her music career.

Such was the success of her critically acclaimed 1999 debut album On the 6, with the hits If You Had My Love and Waiting for Tonight, Lopez had the music industry and Hollywood at her feet.

3. Jared Leto

A common reason why actors turn to music is that it allows them to showcase a different persona from that on the big screen.

Not so for Jared Leto, as he brings the intensity of his acting work to the studio with his band Thirty Seconds To Mars.

The trio released five albums of epic rock that often features Leto's spleen-busting screams.

The move worked, with Thirty Seconds To Mars scoring a string of hits including Capricorn (A Brand New Name), The Kill and A Beautiful Lie.

4. Russell Crowe

The Oscar-winning actor deserves full points for resilience, as the barrage of dour reviews thrown at his band, 30 Odd Foot of Grunts, would have made any thespian stick to his day job.

It's not that the group is awful, it's just that they are so relentlessly ordinary that you can’t tell they are being led by one of the best actors of his generation.

To be fair to Russell Crowe, music is not a passing interest for the Kiwi.

In fact, it is his first love that began with the group Roman Antix in the 1980s before he formed 30 Odd Foot of Grunts in 1992.

While active with occasional live performances, the band’s last album was 2003's Other Ways of Speaking.

5. Keanu Reeves

By the time he cofounded the grunge-rock trio Dogstar in 1991, Keanu Reeves was the buzz of Hollywood.

That year, he released three acclaimed films: Point Break, Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey and My Own Private Idaho.

Considered a talent with the Midas touch, expectations were high with news of Reeves hitting the studio as the band’s bassist and backing vocalist.

Unfortunately, Dogstar was a dog’s breakfast and the group disbanded in 2002 after a couple of underwhelming albums.

6. Lindsay Lohan

When Lindsay Lohan hit the studio to record her 2004 debut Speak, she was the Hollywood star of the moment and teen idol courtesy of blockbuster films The Parent Trap and Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen.

Speak, however, was a bit dated by then, sounding more like a compilation of discarded Britney Spears tracks.

That said, Lohan is heavily involved in her music work and even directed Confessions of a Broken Heart, the so-so lead single from her 2005 album A Little More Personal (Raw).

The dull reviews didn't keep Lohan away from the studio permanently.

After releasing the 2020 comeback single Back to Me, she confirmed a new album is in the works, to the press.

7. Zooey Deschanel

Her music career began almost in tandem with her acting work. Two years after making her 1999 film debut in Mumford, Zooey Deschanel formed the jazz cabaret live duo If All the Stars Were Pretty Babies, with actress Samantha Shelton.

She then moved to the recording studio after hooking up with singer-songwriter M Ward to form the group She & Him in 2006.

The folk-rock duo, with both Deschanel and Ward sharing lead vocals, released six albums that were mostly acclaimed by the indie music press.

Deschanel remains an active music collaborator and appeared on albums by The Beach Boys' Brian Wilson and contributed tracks to some of her own films including 500 Days of Summer and Your Highness.

8. Eddie Murphy

In a 1993 interview with US paper The Baltimore Sun, Eddie Murphy declared himself a musician "blessed with making movies for a living".

This was in response to commentary that his previous three albums and 1985 hit single Party All the Time were not serious endeavours.

While he hasn't released another album since, Murphy has demonstrated his musical acumen throughout his career.

He showcased his fiery vocals when portraying music manager Jimmy Early in the 2006 drama Dreamgirls as well as singing several tracks in the Shrek films, including covers of The Monkees' I'm a Believer and Ricky Martin's Livin' La Vida Loca.

In 2013, Murphy collaborated with Snoop Dogg on the reggae single Red Light, with Murphy at the time confirming it will form part of the yet-unreleased album 9.

9. Johnny Depp

Long before donning the eye patch as Captain Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean series, Johnny Depp was slinging the guitar.

Prior to his near four-decade acting career, Depp was well adept at playing the instrument and with his profile rising, went on to express himself on tracks with rockers Oasis, Iggy Pop and Marilyn Manson.

After forming the short-lived act P, in 1993, Depp announced himself as a serious musician with Hollywood Vampires in 2012.

The super group, featuring Alice Cooper and Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry, released two albums and conducted world tours.

Expect more star-studded collaborations from Depp.

In 2020, he released a cover of John Lennon's Isolation, the first of what he promised to be a number of new works with guitar virtuoso Jeff Beck.

10. Juliette Lewis

Upon hearing the opening chords of You're Speaking My Language, you knew Juliette Lewis’s band Juliette and the Licks were serious.

That 2005 debut single set the scene for the group to become a darling of the rock press, with the five-piece going on to release a couple of well-received albums and performing alongside the likes of rock royalty Foo Fighters, Motorhead and Chris Cornell.

After first disbanding in 2009, the group tweeted in 2018 that they were back in the studio.

A reason why we haven’t heard anything since could be because of Lewis’s acting career taking centre stage again with reccurring roles in drama series Camping and Sacred Lies, in addition to joining the main cast of 2021’s Yellowjackets.

Updated: January 21, 2022, 7:32 PM