Musicals and biographical dramas seem to be regaining steam in the film industry in recent times after a brief decline in the late 2000s and early 2010s. Typically, actors who have performed in Broadway musicals are being cast in these productions, while some will take some singing lessons to better improve their voices for the music their characters must perform. Other times, the performers will lip-sync while having an actual singer perform their song, which is typical for animated Disney films, especially those from the '90s. Let's take a moment to look at some of the better, and more surprising, performers in these genres:
Keira Knightley — 'Begin Again' and 'The Edge of Love'
It may not surprise some to hear that Elizabeth Swann has performed a few of her own songs in movies, but the range of songs she's performed is quite the surprise. After performing more swinger style music in The Edge of Love, it wouldn't be until six years later that she would lend her singing voice to a character again for the indie dramedy, Begin Again, in which she performed more in the folk genre, as well as playing the guitar for her character's music. Here's the Oscar-nominated song, "Lost Stars," from Begin Again:
Samuel L. Jackson — 'Black Snake Moan,' 'Soul Men' and 'Django Unchained'
He double dares you, motherf**ker, to question his musical talent. The man who, as Ted puts it, is "the black guy in every movie," including Pulp Fiction, the Star Wars prequels, and as the eye-patched wearing boss of The Avengers. In addition to having an iconic dialogue voice, Jackson has also done the music for a few of his movies, performing the majority of the music for Black Snake Moan and Soul Men, as well as one uncredited song for Django Unchained. Here's Jackson performing "Just Like a Bird Without a Feather" in Moan:
Domhnall Gleeson — 'Frank'
Whether you know him as Bill Weasley from the Harry Potter film franchise, or as General Hux in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, chances are you've seen Domhnall Gleeson and recognize him from somewhere in the past five years. But what you may not know is that Gleeson, while only having one soundtrack credit, still contributed heavily to the music for the indie comedy Frank, performing nine songs and writing five of the songs for the film. Here is Gleeson performing his character's "Crap Songs" from the soundtrack of Frank:
Michael Fassbender — 'Frank' and 'Jonah Hex'
That's right, Magneto himself has performed music in two movies. If you're in tune with the indie film world, then you probably know about his role as the eccentric musician, Frank. And no one will blame you if you forgot that Fassbender was in Jonah Hex. We'd all like to forget everyone was in that movie. However, he did perform one song for the (terrible) comic book adaptation, as well as seven songs under that big paper mache mask for Frank. Here's Fassbender performing the song "I Love You All" as the titular character:
Terrence Howard & Taraji P. Henson — 'Hustle & Flow' and Empire'
Now, I did separate the two actors from Frank for their spots on this list, but I think it's both interesting and smart that Howard and Henson would reunite for the hit Fox drama, Empire, after their hit independent drama Hustle & Flow together. If you've watched Empire, you would know that the show feels a lot like a spiritual sequel to Hustle, with Howard's character being a major staple in the hip-hop industry in Empire, while Hustle ended with Howard's character in jail, but becoming a hit. Whether you share my feelings or not, the fact remains that both stars have performed their own music in each production, one song from Hustle even earning an Oscar nomination, and the soundtrack for the first season of Empire earning a Grammy nomination. Howard even released a solo R&B album in 2008. Here's Henson and Howard performing the Oscar-nominated "It's Hard Out Here For a Pimp":
Oscar Isaac — 'Inside Llewyn Davis'
While Isaac has been in the movie business for nearly 15 years, his career has progressively gotten bigger in the last five years, starting with a supporting role in the hit crime thriller Drive, and expanding to major roles in the indie dramas Inside Llewyn Davis and A Most Violent Year, sci-fi thriller Ex Machina and blockbusters Star Wars: The Force Awakens and X-Men: Apocalypse. In addition to his growing film career, Isaac proved to the world in 10 Years that he could perform his own music, following it up with his first major starring role in Inside Llewyn Davis from the Coen brothers, in which he plays a folk musician in the 1960s East Coast folk scene. For his role as Davis, Isaac performed all of his own music, including the guitar. Here's Isaac performing a shortened version of "Fare Thee Well (Dink's Song)" from Inside Llewyn Davis: