23 Actors Who Moonlight as Musicians

7 minute read

Most people think Bruce Willis‘ career as an entertainer began when he battled Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber in 1988’s Die Hard. In fact, some 18 months prior and 30 years ago today, Willis dropped his debut album via Motown: The Return of Bruno. Featuring a collection of R&B covers complete with reverb-laden guitars, horns, synthesizers and corny backing vocals, the album received mixed reviews but managed to land a respectable number five spot on the Billboard Hot 100 with Willis’ rendition of “Respect Yourself.” When it comes to crossing over from the silver screen to vinyl (and back again), Willis is in good company. Here’s a look at some of the most notable Hollywood crossovers.

Bruce Willis

The Return of Bruno was Bruce Willis’ debut album and featured backing musicians including Booker T. Jones and The Temptations. It was released on Motown and accompanied Willis’ 1987 HBO mockumentary of the same name. He has put out two albums since then, in addition to contributing to movie soundtracks.


Ryan Gosling

Ryan Gosling’s band Dead Man’s Bones began after he and his friend Zach Shields discovered that they had a mutual obsession with ghosts and monsters. They released a self-titled album in 2009, collaborating with the Silverlake Conservatory Children’s Choir.

Scarlett Johansson

TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek produced Johansson’s 2008 debut album Anywhere I Lay My Head, which features guest vocals from David Bowie and writing or co-writing credits from Tom Waits on ten out of the album’s eleven songs.

Jason Schwartzman

Jason Schwartzman’s gig as drummer with Los Angeles rock band Phantom Planet began in 1994, four years before he starred in Wes Anderson’s Rushmore. The group is best known for its 2002 single “California,” which became the theme song for The O.C.

Eddie Murphy

Eddie Murphy’s 1985 single “Party All the Time” featured backing vocals and was co-produced by Rick James, peaking at #2 on the Billboard’s Hot 100 for three weeks. In 2013, he released a reggae single, “Red Light,” with Snoop Dogg (then known as Snoop Lion).

Steve Martin

Steve Martin has played the banjo from a young age and made the instrument a central part of his comedy routines beginning in the 1970s. His album The Crow: New Songs for the 5-String Banjo was released in 2009 and won a Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album, and his collaboration with Edie Brickell has produced two albums and a bluegrass musical, Bright Star.

Kevin Bacon

Kevin Bacon and his older brother Michael Bacon have been releasing music since 1995 as the Bacon Brothers. With eight albums to date, they have a sense of humor, as demonstrated by their recent collaboration with the American Egg Board on a song called “Wake Up To Eggs with the Bacon Brothers.”

Johnny Depp

In 1997, Johnny Depp contributed to Oasis’ album Be Here Now by playing slide guitar on the track “Fade In-Out.” Just last year, he formed the band Hollywood Vampires with Alice Cooper and Aerosmith’s Joe Perry.

Steven Seagal

Seagal’s debut album Songs from the Crystal Cave, which features Stevie Wonder on harmonica, was released in 2005 and echoes his Buddhist beliefs.

Kevin Costner

Costner and his country rock band the Modern West have released four studio albums. Their 2012 album Famous for Killing Each Other: Music from and Inspired By Hatfields & McCoys reached #14 on the Billboard U.S. Country chart.

Juliette Lewis

Lewis formed her band Juliette & The Licks with Hole drummer Patty Schemel in 2003 after attending a Blondie concert. The band’s most successful single, “You’re Speaking My Language,” was released in 2005.


Keanu Reeves

Keanu Reeves played bass in a grunge band band, Dogstar, from 1991 to 2002. The band released two albums, Our Little Visionary and Happy Ending, and in 1995 opened for both Bon Jovi and David Bowie.

Jared Leto

Since forming in 1998, Oscar winner Jared Leto’s band 30 Seconds to Mars has sold over 15 million albums worldwide. In 2011, the band made the Guinness Book of World Records for playing the most concerts during a single album cycle.

Billy Bob Thornton

Billy Bob Thornton’s country rock band the Boxmasters has released six albums since forming in 2007. A lifelong lover of music, the Fargo actor played in various cover bands before becoming famous for his roles in movies like Sling Blade and Armageddon.

Donald Glover

Golden Globe winner Donald Glover’s music career, under the moniker Childish Gambino, is as acclaimed as his career as a performer and showrunner. His 2014 album Because the Internet was nominated for two Grammys while his most recent album, Awaken, My Love!, debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard 200.

Kiefer Sutherland

The man formerly known as Jack Bauer released his debut album, Down in a Hole, in 2016 on his own label, Ironworks, which is housed in an old ironworks foundry in Los Angeles.

Russell Crowe

The Oscar-winning Gladiator star’s musical career began in the 1980s, under the stage name “Russ Le Roq.” Over the years, he has released multiple albums with Canadian musician Alan Doyle.

Hailee Steinfeld

Hailee Steinfeld, who was nominated for an Oscar at age 13 for her role in True Grit, released her debut EP Haiz in 2015. Her song “Starving,” a collaboration with Zedd and Grey, reached No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100.

William Shatner

William Shatner’s 1968 debut album, The Transformed Man, was the first to feature the Star Trek actor’s spoken word vocal style. Later ranking at number 45 on Q magazine’s 2006 list of the 50 worst albums ever, it was the first of many similar efforts.

Hugh Laurie

The Golden Globe winner, recently recognized for The Night Manager, plays several instruments, including piano, drums and saxophone. He has released two blues albums: Let Them Talk (2011) and Didn’t It Rain (2013).

Clint Eastwood

Eastwood has composed the scores to several films, including Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby and Grace Is Gone. In 2007, he was given an honorary Doctor of Music degree from Berklee College of Music.

Robert Downey, Jr.

Robert Downey Jr.’s debut album, The Futurist, was released in 2004 through Sony Classical, with album art designed by the Iron Man actor and his son Indio. He has also contributed songs to the soundtracks of several of his movies, including Chaplin and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

Jada Pinkett Smith

Jada Pinkett Smith formed the metal band Wicked Wisdom in 2002, using the name Jada Koren. The group performed at Ozzfest in 2005.

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