By Joe Sugarman
You may have seen these six actors and actresses on TV or in the movies, but before they made it pretending to be someone else, they were accomplished musicians in their own right—and several of them still are.
In The Last King of Scotland Forrest Whitaker carried the film as Idi Amin, but Whitaker is also a guy who can carry a tune. Before becoming an actor, Whitaker studied voice at Cal Poly, toured England with the Cal Poly Chamber Singers, and studied opera as a tenor at the Music Conservatory at the University of Southern California. Here he is demonstrating his vocal chops on “Ellen.”
You might know her as Fiona Gallagher on the Showtime dramedy “Shameless,” but in addition to playing William H. Macy’s oldest daughter, Emmy Rossum is a real-deal soprano. At age 7, she joined the Metropolitan Opera Children’s Chorus and performed with opera greats like Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo. She also received a Golden Globe nod for her performance as Christine Daae in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s film adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera. She has said that she credits her affinity for music to her mother’s habit of listening to classical music while she was still in the womb. These days, Rossum is still belting out tunes, having released an album of standards last year.
Retta Sirleaf is a stand-up comedian who also plays the wise-cracking Donna Meagie on “Parks and Recreation,” but before she got into show biz, she says she wanted to be an opera singer. As she recently told vulture.com: “I was in chorus in grade school, and we learned classical [music]. I used to pretend to speak the different languages, like fake Italian. And my mother would be like, ‘Seriously, you need to stop.’” To hear a sample of Retta’s vocal prowess—and listen to her relate a funny story about jamming in her car to classical music—check out this clip from “Conan.”
Sir Anthony Hopkins
Actor Anthony Hopkins has been playing piano since he was six years old and says he dreamed of becoming a composer. In 2012, at age 75, he released his first album of classical music called Composer, a live recording of Hopkins’ original works performed by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Here is André Rieu in 2012 conducting And the Waltz Goes On, composed by Sir Hannibal Lecter himself.
Lucia Micarelli is a musician in real life and she also played one on TV. The violinist who began playing at age three, first appeared with a symphony orchestra at nine, and studied at Juilliard and the Manhattan School of Music. As a professional musician, she’s toured with the likes of Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Josh Groban and Chris Botti. And she surprised classical music fans with her acting talents in the role of aspiring street musician Annie Talarico on the David Simon-produced HBO series “Treme.”
The late actor Dudley Moore originally gained notoriety as a jazz pianist and composer, working with notable musicians like Cleo Laine and John Duckworth in the late 1950s. Even after he made it as an actor in the early 1980s, he was still composing, and also collaborated with conductors Sir Georg Solti and Michael Tilson Thomas on two early ‘90s television series meant to introduce British and American audiences to the symphony orchestra. (“Orchestra!” and “Concerto!,” respectively.) By all accounts, Moore was an extremely talented pianist, but he may have been most famous for his parodies of classical hits, like this hilarious take on a Beethoven piano sonata: