Double Threat: The 20 Best Actor-Musicians

A look at some of Hollywood's most dually talented stars. Actor or musician...why choose when you can dominate as both?

Not Available Lead
Image via Complex Original
Not Available Lead


Not Available Interstitial

Kid Cudi

Not Available Interstitial

20. Kid Cudi

Kid Cudi's wizardry on tracks needs no explanation. Since the release of his 2008 mixtape A Kid Named Cudi and his debut album Man On The Moon: The End Of Day, which spawned the stoner hit "Day 'n' Nite" and enabled what might be the greatest use of a pop sample on "Make Her Say," Cudi has been a mainstay in our iPods (and on Complex covers).

Cudder has also garnered considerable attention as Domingo Brown on HBO's ever-improving drama How To Make It In America. His role as a weed dealer is at once dramatic and humorous and is becoming increasingly significant with each episode. And we're not complaining. We hope to see more of Cudi's acting cred, in the next season of How To Make It and beyond.

Jennifer Hudson

Not Available Interstitial

19. Jennifer Hudson

Jennifer Hudson might not have earned the top spot on the third season of American Idol in 2004, but instead of lamenting over the loss, she was on to the next one. Luckily for her, the next one happened to be her breakout role as Effie White in Dreamgirls, a portrayal that won her an Oscar in 2006. Not bad for her first flick!

Since her win, she's gone on to play Sarah Jessica Parker's assistant in the Sex And The City movie, and serious roles in The Secret Life Of Bees, and was even cast as Nelson Mandela's wife in Winnie. Don't call it a comeback, call it talent! And J-Hud's got it in spades.

Ryan Gosling

Not Available Interstitial

18. Ryan Gosling

With an impressive range of roles under his belt, from tearjerkers like The Notebook (which the guys at Complex, uh, haven't seen) to his gritty portrayals of a crack addicted teacher in Half Nelson and sociopathic stunt man in Drive, Gosling has more than proved his acting chops. 

But Gosling is a man who wears many hats (and looks good in them all). And it turns out his ukulele skills in Blue Valentine were only scratching the surface. His band Dead Man's Bones, which he started with actor pal Zach Shields, may seem like an amatuer attempt on the surface, but there is real talent lurking below the eerie chords. Gosling's emotional vocals on the track "Name in Stone" are reminiscent of the soulful crooning of Brit folk band Mumford and Sons crossed with Bon Iver, making him an actor-musician worthy of keeping an eye on.


Andy Samberg

Not Available Interstitial

17. Andy Samberg

Andy Samberg doesn't take music seriously. But with hits that cover pressing matters like premature ejaculation and gift-wrapped genitals, we think it's safe to say that sincerity was not his comedic rap group The Lonely Island's first priority. In fact, it was their NSFW subject matter that inspired the film Hot Rod, Samberg's self-scribed first feature film which has since achieved cult status.

Kink-inspired musical talents aside, Samberg has caught our attention with his many memorable roles on Saturday Night Live and with movies like I Love You, Man, Friends With Benefits, and Nick And Norah's Infinite Playlist.


Not Available Interstitial

16. Drake

Drake has been doing double duty, playing leap frog from acting into rhyming so effortlessly that he made jumping into the game look like child's play. 

But before Drizzy was dropping beats, he was going by the name Aubrey Graham and playing a bullet wounded basketball star Jimmy Brooks for over eight years on teen drama Degrassi. Now, three mix tapes and two albums later, Drake seems stuck on his rap-singing, but that doesn't negate the talent he showed as adolescent actor.

But wait, Drake hasn't left his acting inclinations entirely behind! The singer will be the voice of Ethan in the upcoming animated tale Ice Age: Continental Drift. We'll totally be watching that one when it comes out, when it's on DVD...OK nevermind. But for the record, we did get "Take Care" on iTunes the first day it dropped.

Zooey Deschanel

Not Available Interstitial

15. Zooey Deschanel

Ever since that scene in Elf where Will Ferrell has an unexpected duet with a showering Zooey singing "Baby It's Cold Outside," we've had a thing for her vocal chords, and we mean that in the least creepy way possible. She's been going strong with her indie folk band She & Him since 2008, which makes use of Deschanel's quirky charm and nostalgia-inspiring vocals in equal measure.

But despite a string of solid music videos and belting out a few national anthems, Deschanel is still more well known for her on-screen-self, from her breakout role in 2000's Almost Famous, to the romance ambivalent Summer in 500 Days of Summer. Most recently, Zooey has been wooing Fox audiences as Jess, the lovably awkward star of the series The New Girl. But if it's Zooey's musical abilities you want more of, pick up her latest adorable musical endeavor, A Very She & Him Christmas.

Donald Glover

Not Available Interstitial

14. Donald Glover

Donald Glover is entertainment's modern renaissance man. Not only does he play Troy Barnes, the lovable Jehovah's Witness (who knew it was possible?) on NBC's religiously-followed comedy Community, Glover also managed to snag his own Comedy Central Special, Weirdo.

Pair that with Glover's ambitious track record as rapper Childish Gambino (an odd moniker he admittedly found courtesy of a Wu-Tang Clan name generator), which includes a string of mixtapes and four albums. But it was Gambino's latest album Camp, his first studio album, which dropped in mid-November and spawned the hits "Bonfire" and "Heartbeat," that has made him a serious, far from childish contender in the rap game. For all those who ever hated, Glover is getting the last laugh.

Jennifer Lopez

Not Available Interstitial

13. Jennifer Lopez

Jenny may not be the best songstress on the block, but you can't contest her ability to churn out hits. From her first single, "If You Had My Love," to her latest single, "Papi," which already took the number one spot on Billboard, J.Lo has proved herself the queen of the charts. Girl knows how to move units, which is probably why American Idol scooped her up her up as judge in 2010.

Before she became a music star, though, the Puerto Rican beauty made a name for herself as a Fly Girl on In Living Color and then in movies such as Money Train, the biopic Selena, the underappreciated creature feature Anaconda, and the sexy Elmore Leonard adaptation Out Of Sight. She's since transitioned to rom coms we refuse to watch (see: The Wedding Planner, Monster-In-Law, Maid In Manhattan, The Back-Up Plan) but there's no denying her early work, especially because back then J.Lo did nudity.


Not Available Interstitial

12. Ludacris

Ludacris made a career out of brawl-starting jams like "Move Bitch" and "Stand Up" and agressively sexual jams like "Splash Waterfalls" and "Area Codes," but as of late, Luda left the saucy lyrics behind and embraced his dramatic side on the screen. Starring in Hustle And Flow and Crash, as well as glossy action movies like Fast And Furious franchise and RocknRolla, he's proven that it's not just a money move but something he's actually good at.

But for those of you who miss Luda on the beat, the rapper has recently taken a hiatus from the script and is currently in the studio with The Neptunes working on his eighth album Ludaversal, which he plans to drop in early 2012.

Mos Def

Not Available Interstitial

11. Mos Def

From gut-splitting small screen sketches on Chappelle's Show to movies roles in The Italian Job, Be Kind Rewind, and Cadillac Records, the Golden Globe and Emmy nominated actor has shown that rap isn't the only skill in his repoirtoire. And, with a new role as a ex-convict turned preacher in Dexter and a Black Star reunion album on the horizon, it seems the artist formerly known as Mos Def (né Dante Terrell Smith, now going by Yasiin Bey) is just as focused on screen time as he is studio time. Perhaps he needs different names for all the hats he wears?

David Bowie

Not Available Interstitial

10. David Bowie

Bowie reinvented rock across the pond in 1969 with his "Space Oddity," but it was Bowie's bittersweet serenade to young Americans that finally caught our eye. His 1982 collabo with Queen, "Under Pressure" and his semi-pop hit "Let's Dance" ultimately sealed his influence on both pop and rock.

But Bowie didn't stop at being one of the greatest artists of all time (according to Rolling Stone). To us, he's equally legendary for his turns in The Man Who Fell To Earth, Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, The Last Temptation Of Christ, Basquiat, the horror classic The Hunger, and even his "It's a walk-off" cameo in Zoolander. With all his amazing credits we can overlook his makeup-covered, dancing Goblin act in Labyrinth.

Ice Cube

Not Available Interstitial

9. Ice Cube

When Cube hit the scene, it was a good day for hip hop and cinema. The rapper-actor was the man behind N.W.A.'s most hood-tastic hits, cementing his place in hip-hop history as one of the great MC's even before he struck out on his own as a solo hitmaker. But that apparently wasn't enough for Cube, so he decided to do his thing in theaters too. Now that's a true gangsta.

His debut in Boyz N The Hood might have got the critics riled up, but it was his role in our favorite stoner movie, Friday, that sold us on his on-screen skills. And word has it that Cube will be hitting the screen with Chris Tucker again in a sequel to the classic flick. Be still, our rapidly beating stoner hearts!

Justin Timberlake

Not Available Interstitial

8. Justin Timberlake

JT has been holding the small screen down since his days on The Mickey Mouse Club. But it was not until 2002, when his stint with boyband phenemenon 'NSync had effectively ended, that Timberlake started making music we could actually admit to listening to. It was Justified, a heavily R&B influenced solo effort flanked by producers Timbaland and The Neptunes, that won us over.

Timberlake's second album FutureSex/LoveSounds was met with the same quick acclaim, but his acting career has been more of a slow burn through the years. But his early, ill-fated attempts like The Love Guru are forgivable when you consider his more recent work in The Social Network and Friends With Benefits, In Time, and even his great bits on Saturday Night Live. Next up for Timberlake? A starring role as seventies music mogul Neil Bogart in the biopic Spinning Gold.

Tom Waits

Not Available Interstitial

7. Tom Waits

You should be up on Waits' awesome new album Bad As Me, but the last your horny ass probably heard of him musically was when Scarlett Johansson recorded 10 Tom Waits songs for her album Anywhere I Lay My Head. And she was not the first to pay such homage. The Eagles, Bruce Springsteen, and Rod Stewart have also covered the prolific singer-songwriter's works, making him a legend among legends.

Waits' gravelly voice and distinct grimace have also made him a character fit for film, and an easy cast in movies like DraculaThe Book Of Eli, The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus, Wristcutters: A Love Story, and Domino. Gargle some rocks and enjoy.

Donnie Wahlberg

Not Available Interstitial

6. Donnie Wahlberg

Donnie's brother Mark may have seemed like a more obvious choice for the actor/musician ranks, but the way we see it, Donnie's reign in the '80s boy band New Kids On The Block was a pop culture phenemenon, and Marky Mark just had that painfully cheesy one rap hit "Good Vibrations." "Come on, feel it?" Sorry, Mark, we'd rather not.

Donnie's acting resumé is nothing to balk at either, with a string of successful flims under his belt, including Ransom, The Sixth Sense, and the Saw series, as well as the critically acclaimed TV series Blue Bloods and Boomtown and the HBO miniseries Band Of Brothers. Brother Mark is clearly the bigger star, but we're giving Donnie the overall advantage. 

Tupac Shakur

Not Available Interstitial

5. Tupac Shakur

As one of the greatest MCs to ever live, Tupac's musical genius is undebatable. And while Tupac's acting resumé might not be long, it is memorable. His role as the unhinged thug Bishop in 1992's hood thriller Juice proved his acting was up to snuff with his rhymes. Pac followed that up with critically acclaimed turns in 1993's Poetic Justice, where he tries to kick it to a young Janet Jackson, 1994's Above The Rim, and 1997's Gridlock'd, which was released after his death.

He never got to show the word the depth of his dual talents, but it's safe to say he had much more to offer, both as an MC and an actor. Dude was in touch with his emotions. What else would you expect from a guy who wrote poetry poetry?


Queen Latifah

Not Available Interstitial

4. Queen Latifah

Dating back to her debut album, 1989's All Hail The Queen, Latifah was always one of the sickest female MCs, forcing misogynists to give props. But the reason she's hip-hop royalty, in our humble opinion, is because, like Will Smith, she pioneered for rappers in the entertainment industry, successfully breaking into acting on the sitcom Living Single (1993-1998) while still killing it on the mic. (We admit it, we were jamming out on our Walkman to "U.N.I.T.Y" back in 1993.) 

Since then, Latifah has snagged an Acadamy Award nom for Chicago and won a Golden Globe for her portrayal of an HIV-afflicted woman in Life Support.

Now, the she's on to the next one: She'll be working with Will Smith to produce her very own daytime talk show, which, come to think of it, we're surprised she didn't do sooner. Oh wait, she did! Does The Queen Latifah Show ring a bell? Keep up with the Queen's hustle!

Will Smith

Not Available Interstitial

3. Will Smith

Big Willy's style is the envy of every musician turned actor and vice versa. The Fresh Prince hit the scene with DJ Jazzy Jeff and scooped up the first-ever rap Grammy for his verses about how parents just don't understand in 1989, then went on to make a seamless transition into comedic television with The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air (1990-1996). Plus, the Fresh Prince theme song—amazing! Don't front like you don't still know the words!

Smith has kept it continually fresh over the years, nailing everything from action and sci-fi blockbusters (Indendence Day, Bad Boys, Men In Black) to serious and sometimes unexpected award contenders (Where The Day Takes You, Six Degrees Of Separation, Ali, The Pursuit Of Happyness). Nowadays, he's up there with Tom Cruise and Leonardo DiCaprio as the absolute kings of Hollywood. Not bad for a kid who started out rapping in West Philly.

Jamie Foxx

Not Available Interstitial

2. Jamie Foxx

Before Foxx was urging us to blame our dirty deeds on the alcohol and instructing us on the proper music to get panties dropping, he was doing his comedy thing on In Living Color and The Jamie Foxx Show.

And while we're thankful for a little advice on getting naughty, it's Jamie's acting that we most appreciate. With a slew of awesome movies under his belt, including Any Given Sunday, Collateral, Law Abiding Citizen and of course, his Oscar-winning role as a drug dependent Ray Charles in Ray, we can undoubtedly say that his singing is overshadowed by his acting. But we can't blame him for trying. With a name like Jamie Foxx, he didn't even need to concoct a hip-hop handle! 


Frank Sinatra

Not Available Interstitial

1. Frank Sinatra

Sinatra is the quintessential double threat, putting would-be actors and crooners in their place with his superior straddling of both realms. Sinatra's music needs no defending, having cemented its place firmly in our collective hearts with hits that have stood the test of time. Among them, the unofficial theme song for the most famous city in the world: "New York, New York," a timeless jam that's perpetual relevance was solidified by Jay-Z and Alicia Key's "Empire State of Mind," which featured a shout out to Sinatra's classic track.

Even among his equally talented Rat Pack counterparts, Ol' Blue Eyes' efforts on screen, particulary Guys and Dolls and From Here to Eternity, stand out. But the latter put him ahead of the pack with the group's only Academy Award, solidifying his dual-stardom.

Latest in Pop Culture