In the world of cinema, there is a tradition of the triple threat—actors who can sing, dance, and play an instrument.
Because of this, when we see actors like Ryan Gosling playing piano in La La Land or Bradley Cooper playing guitar in A Star is Born, we naturally assume they came to the role with the skill already underhand. Surprisingly, many of these stars were cast without ever playing a single note.
Here is a musical revue of actors who learned to play an instrument for a role.
Sherlock Holmes is often remembered for his brilliant mind, but many forget that in the novels, he was also a boxer, chemist, and violinist. The BBC’s 2010 miniseries Sherlock did not forget that fact, and frequently showed the detective playing his violin.
When Cumberbatch began the role, he wanted the scenes to seem realistic. He learned the skill well enough that he could play the violin well during those scenes. To top it all off, he learned it all in a week.
The 2008 Dramedy The Brothers Bloom is far from a musical. However, in a brief comedic moment, Rachel Weisz’s character Penelope shows off her musical skills on the accordion, violin, guitar, and banjo after her bewildered scene partner, Bloom asks about her hobbies.
Ironically, Bloom was played by Adrien Brody, who also famously transformed into a musician for his role in The Pianist.
This scene only lasts a few seconds, but Weisz, being a committed actor, learned to play all four instruments for the role so her fingering would look correct in this sequence.
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- Mykelti Williamson, Freddie Highmore, Keri Russell (Actors)
The 2007 drama August Rush follows orphan and musical prodigy Ethan as he plays and composes his way through New York City while on a quest to find his birth parents. Ethan astonishes everyone with his musical ability, so much so that, by the end of the film, he has attended Julliard and composed a rhapsody which he conducts himself.
Freddie Highmore was only 15 when he took on the role of Ethan, and he had never played guitar or conducted an orchestra before. He took lessons for 18 months to tackle the role.
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When people think of the character Rafael Barba from Law in Order: Special Victims Unit, singing and dancing is usually the furthest thing from their mind. But Raúl Esparza, who played the role, is also a Tony-nominated Broadway actor. One of his nominations was for the lead role of Bobby in a 2007 production of Stephen Sondheim’s Company.
In this production, the cast doubled as the orchestra, with every character also playing at least one instrument throughout the show. For the final song “Being Alive,” Esparza had to learn to accompany himself on piano.
One of the advantages of learning to play piano is recognition for your skills, but in Esparza’s case, Sondheim was so impressed by his performance, that he rewrote the piano part to be more complicated.
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