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Lyrics, camera, action: the British musicians who hit the big screen

As Harry Styles takes a leading role in 'My Policeman', we look at the stars who moved from the studio to the big screen.

By Mark Sutherland

Emma Corrin and Harry Styles in 'My Policeman'
Emma Corrin and Harry Styles in 'My Policeman' (Picture: Amazon Prime/YouTube)

For some people, being a pop star just isn’t enough. There’s a long tradition of British musicians making a move into movies. As Harry Styles becomes the latest UK singer to turn his attention to the big screen, Rolling Stone UK looks at the stars who went from the BRITs to the flicks…

Harry Styles

Starring with Danny DeVito in the ‘Steal My Girl’ video is the closest most of One Direction have got to Hollywood superstardom, but Styles has become catnip for casting directors. He’s played a luxuriantly coiffed squaddie in Dunkirk, made Marvel fanboys drop their popcorn in an Eternals end-credits scene and caused a stir on screen and off in Don’t Worry Darling. Now Academy Award buzz is building around his new film, My Policeman (out now on Prime Video) — proof that Styles’ acting career is only going in one direction: up.

Cynthia Erivo as Harriet Tubman (Picture: Press)

Cynthia Erivo

She’s been making records since 2014, but south Londoner Erivo’s acting credits have rapidly outpaced her output as a singer. She’s already won an Emmy, a Grammy and a Tony, and been nominated for two Oscars thanks to gritty roles in the likes of Harriet and Bad Times at the El Royale. Next up: featuring in the long- awaited movie versions of both Luther and Wicked. Now that’s what you call range.

David Bowie as the Goblin King in Labyrinth

David Bowie

The musical chameleon was resolutely resistant to typecasting in his hit-and-miss acting career. After making his big-screen debut as an alien in the highly acclaimed The Man Who Fell to Earth,
he then starred as everything from a principled prisoner of war (Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence) to Pontius Pilate (The Last Temptation of Christ). Oddly, though, his most enduring part was as Labyrinth’s goblin king — surely the movie equivalent of ‘The Laughing Gnome’ being his biggest hit…

Mick Jagger in Performance

Mick Jagger

Jagger’s movie career started strongly, with an eye-catching turn as a reclusive rock star in Nicolas Roeg’s 1970 cult hit Performance. After starring as Aussie outlaw Ned Kelly in the film of the same name, he declared his intention to “concentrate on being a character actor”, but the roles grew sparse until he starred as a futuristic bounty hunter in 1992’s Freejack. He later found more satisfaction as a producer with his own company Jagged Films.

Marianne Faithfull

Faithfull missed out on co- starring with Jagger in Ned Kelly after an apparent drugs overdose, but her acting CV has since outshone that of her former beau. Her early work was often controversial — she was one of the first people to say “fuck” in a mainstream movie in 1967’s I’ll Never Forget What’s’isname. But nowadays she’s much more respectable, getting a Best Actress nomination at the European Film Awards for her role in 2007’s Irina Palm. Eat your heart out, Mick.

The Beatles in A Hard Days Night

The Beatles

As with most things, The Beatles pretty much invented British musicians starring in films. Certainly, A Hard Day’s Night and Help! pioneered the idea of bands appearing as fictionalised versions of themselves. Then, mimicking their musical progression, later projects such as
Magical Mystery Tour and the animated landmark Yellow Submarine became distinctly more psychedelic. Ringo Starr went on to appear in several, mostly terrible post-Beatles
movies, while George Harrison became a successful movie producer. It’s always the quiet ones.

Rita Ora

“This is London, baby!” declared Rita Ora in a cringey cameo as she started a street race in Fast & Furious 6.But, despite that somewhat inauspicious debut, Hollywood soon came calling. She’s since played Christian Grey’s sister Mia in the blockbusting Fifty Shades of Grey franchise and a gender-flipped Artful Dodger in Twist. There’s likely more to come, too, now she’s married to Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi.

Billie Piper

Piper effortlessly graduated from starring in a Smash Hits TV advert to making irresistible teenpop anthems, and her shift to the small screen was similarly smooth. After a host of TV roles in the likes of Doctor Who and Secret Diary of a Call Girl, she hit movie paydirt as a single mum alongside David Thewlis and Lily James in Rare Beasts. The highly acclaimed film was also her directorial debut. With her current leading role in Catherine Called Birdy (out now on Prime Video) it looks like the pop comeback will have to wait a while…

Dua Lipa in Pristina, Kosovo on August 4, 2022. Armend NIMANI / AFP via Getty Images
Dua Lipa in Pristina, Kosovo on August 4, 2022.

Dua Lipa

After honing her green-screen skills in those glamorous videos, the UK’s pop princess will make her film debut in Argylle, due next year. Not much is known about the projected new franchise, except that Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, Kingsman) is directing, and Lipa is giving some serious Bond girl energy in the stills released so far. With Dua on board, you can expect a spy film with new rules…