Follow TV Tropes


Non-Actor Vehicle

Go To
Starring Carol Heiss, a trained skater, not an actor.

"Apparently back in the '90s, people thought if you could look in the camera and say "Drink Pepsi," you were considered a good actor."

Hiring of a big celebrity in a starring role (not a supporting or minor one), even if it's not the sole major role, in a movie, play, or TV show. Only, this celebrity isn't known for acting. In fact, this may be the celebrity's first acting job. A close cousin of Stunt Casting, only with a bit more risk, since the stunt castee doesn't have much experience (if any), and is practically carrying the project despite that inexperience.

So why is it done with such risks? Well, the fact is that this sometimes works (it tends to work better for stand-up comedians, singers, and pro wrestlers, being close to what they normally do for a living anyway). Also, even if the vehicle is a failure, the new actor may still have a career afterwards.

You are most likely to see I Am Not Leonard Nimoy play throughout the movie. If the work is about the celebrity in Real Life, it overlaps with Autobiographical Role. If the celebrity's role is doing what they're famous for, it overlaps with Cast the Expert.


    open/close all folders 



    Pro Wrestlers 

    Sports Stars 
  • Sonja Henie in One in a Million. She made quite a few films after that.
  • Swimmer Esther Williams started a similar screen career with a supporting part in Andy Hardy's Double Life. A series of star vehicles followed, starting with Bathing Beauty.
  • Pictured: Carol Heiss in Snow White and the Three Stooges was an attempt to make her the next Sonja Henie. It, unfortunately, didn't work out that well; The Three Stooges weren't even brought in until the studio realized Heiss couldn't carry the movie.
  • Two big vehicles for Shaquille O'Neal: Kazaam and Steel. His first film, Blue Chips, had him in a supporting role (along with Penny Hardaway).
  • Randy Couture in the straight to DVD sequel to The Scorpion King, subtitled "Rise Of A Warrior".
  • Howie Long in Firestorm (1998).
  • Michael Jordan in Space Jam. And in the sequel, LeBron James.
  • A downplayed example with Smallfoot, as the film already has an All-Star Cast, but among the top-billed cast is the previously mentioned LeBron James.
  • Dennis Rodman in Double Team (second-billed to Jean-Claude Van Damme) and later Simon Sez.
  • Two US Olympic male gymnasts attempted this trope back in the 1980s:
    • Kurt Thomas in Gymkata, a film widely considered to be a pretty awful consolation prize for Thomas losing his chance to bring home the Gold at the 1980 Olympics, but something of a Cult Classic for its ridiculous premise.
    • Mitch Gaylord in American Anthemnote .
  • Ray Allen in He Got Game.
  • Collegiate American Football star (and high-profile NFL flop) Brian Bosworth in Stone Cold. He's done a fair amount of supporting roles since then.
  • Brazilian soccer star Breno Mello and track & field athlete Adhemar da Silvain in Orfeu Negro (Black Orpheus).
  • Olympic Swimming champion and male model Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan: the Ape Man. His performance proved so successful that he was cast in the same role eleven more times.
  • Olympic gymnast Cathy Rigby took a turn playing the title character in the Peter Pan stage musical in 1974 — and did so well that she's played the role in various productions well into The New '10s!
  • Jackie Robinson in The Jackie Robinson Story.
  • Both versions of Ice Castles starred professional figure skaters: Lynn-Holly Johnson in the 1978 original (she turned to acting full-time after the film) and Taylor Firth in the 2010 remake.
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger was a professional bodybuilder when he starred in Hercules in New York. His breakout role in Conan the Barbarian (1982) still applied, as his grasp of English was still somewhat limited, he was still more known for his bodybuilding, and many his co-stars were likewise also professional bodybuilders, athletes and models. The film worked within their limited acting range by relying on the visuals and their nonverbal performances to do much of the storytelling, while the majority of the important dialogue was handled by the more experienced actors like James Earl Jones and Max von Sydow.
  • Haywire stars Mixed Martial Arts covergirl Gina Carano.
  • The 2010 The A-Team film cast former UFC champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson as B.A. Baracus, filling the shoes of Mr. T, who was also known for his tough-guy exploits before getting into acting. Jackson had done a few films before, such as a memorable cameo in The Midnight Meat Train.
  • Rudolf Nureyev (ballet dancer) as Rudolph Valentino (silent movie star) in Valentino.
  • Alexander Godunov (ballet dancer) as Daniel Hochleitner (Amish farmer and romantic rival of Harrison Ford's character, John Book) in Witness.
  • Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris in Safe at Home!
  • Italian alpine ski racer and former carabiniere Alberto Tomba began and ended his film career with "Alex l'ariete" (Alex the Ram), where he played the eponymous "badass" cop. Predictably, his acting was beyond wooden, the film was a total mess and an abysmal failure at the box office. The film would be totally forgotten, if not for its infamous status and the countless YouTube Poops made out of it by Italian "enthusiasts".
  • This trope is attacked by Gary Oldman in this scene from a Jimmy Kimmel Live! episode.
  • Not really "acting", but in 1989, Rolf Benirschke of the San Diego Chargers was picked to host the daytime network version of Wheel of Fortune while Pat Sajak continued to host the nighttime syndicated version (which he does to this day). It remains, to date, Rolf's only TV role.
  • Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao did a string of movies since 2000 and usually played, well, a boxer. There were movies where he didn't play a boxer (or himself), such as Anak ng Kumander and Wapakman, but they weren't well-received. Not to mention that the decision to cast him in the historical biopic Malvar: Tuloy ang Laban (lit. Malvar: The Fight Continues) as the titular general Miguel Malvar who surrendered during the Filipino-American War attracted controversy.
  • Filipino pool star Efren "Bata" Reyes appeared alongside Fernando Poe, Jr. in the 2003 film Pakners, which turned out to be Poe's final film project before his presidential candidacy and eventual death. Needless to say, Reyes is definitely no actor, with his lines sounding like as if he merely read it from the script. It did show him in what he does best though.
  • Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, amongst other McLaren drivers, starred in Tooned in 2013 to promote their racing team. The drivers' voice acting is passable more or less, but they sure had fun with their parts. And F1 fans appear to like it as well, with some wishing for similar productions starring drivers from other teams.
  • Ditto with Conor Mc Gregor, who also played as an antagonist in Infinite Warfare.
  • While Niki Lauda (later of Rush fame, played by Daniel Brühl) did appear in a number of guest and cameo roles in a few television series and films, he was top-billed in the little-known made-for-TV Sci Fi children's adventure movie Top Kids in 1987note , where he appeared as a time traveler being transported into various moments in automotive history along with a teenager named Eric and a ragtag band of children hacking an arcade machine into a time machine or Animus of sorts. The production was amateurish at best with obvious green-screening at points, but it did have some moments such as Niki racing a 1900s car and later a Lamborghini Countach in the 1950s sequence, and by the end of the film he would pose with Mercedes Jellinek (aka the girl whose father Emil would lend her name to the Mercedes-Benz car brand) and Eric—ironically enough, Lauda would wind up as a non-executive chairman for the Mercedes F1 team.
  • Video Game example: Colin McRae and his co-driver Nicky Grist gained mainstream popularity in the Colin McRae Rally series of games. Whilst the game received some positive critical reception, Colin's voice acting left a lot to be desired for his near-monotone delivery in the Rally School levels. Grist's pace notes were a wee less so, but not to the level that he does in Real Life. Their voice acting became less of an issue over time though, especially in DiRT 4 where Nicky and the other co-driver actors had to sit in a simulator chair whilst recording their lines on an actual rally intercom for added authenticity. Grist later branched out as a presenter and occasional color commentator for rallying events in the 2000s.
  • Arian Foster in Draft Day.
  • Ice Girls, a Made-for-TV Movie, was one for Michaela Du Toit and Taylor Hunsley, two teenage Canadian figure skaters. Elvis Stojko, a dedicated Olympic skater and silver medalist, also had a supporting role.
  • Baseball player Joe Garagiola hosted The Today Show from 1967 to 1973. This led to a surprisingly fruitful career as a television host, which also included the game shows He Said, She Said, Sale of the Century, and To Tell the Truth.
  • The NBA's Kyrie Irving plays the titular character in the 2018 comedy Uncle Drew, reprising the role from a series of Pepsi Max ads that began in 2012.
  • Saturday Night Live has had many famous sports stars come on and host the show, dating back to football player Fran Tarkenton in the second season. The record is mixed. Some have been forgettable but some did really well, like Peyton Manning with an iconic fake United Way commercial in 2007, or Joe Montana with the "Sincere Guy Stu" sketch, one of the most famous SNL sketches of all time.
  • German former boxer Henry Maske played the role of Max Schmeling in the 2010 biopic about the famed boxing legend. Unfortunately, while Uwe Boll (yes, that Uwe Boll) did cast someone who knows the sport inside-out, whatever acting ability Herr Maske had was sorely lacking despite having taken theatrical workshops.
  • LA Rams star Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch sustained a bit of an acting career in The '50s, with prominent roles in three films: Crazylegs (a Bio Pic where he starred As Himself), Unchained (a prison drama; you may know its theme song "Unchained Melody") and Zero Hour (as the plane's captain, the character later parodied by Peter Graves in Airplane!).
  • Boxer Kali Reis starred in and cowrote the story for Catch The Fair One.
  • The late Brazilian football legend Pelé co-starred in the World War II sports drama Escape to Victory alongside Sylvester Stallone, obviously showing what he and his fellow football star actors do best. Though prior to that, he also actually starred in a telenovela in his home country called Os Estranhos about first contact with aliens of all things.
  • Prior to Pacquiao, Gabriel "Flash" Elorde appeared in a number of films to capitalise on the success of his boxing career. He played As Himself in the autobiographical film The Flash Elorde Story in 1961 and alongside Fernando Poe, Jr. in Mano-mano (1964). Elorde was also remembered for a San Miguel Beer commercial where he appeared alongside notable Filipino celebrities Bert Marcelo and Rico J. Puno, uttering "... isang platitong mani!" (A [small] plate of peanuts!).
  • Fellow Filipino pugilist and 1996 Olympic silver medalist Onyok Velasco played an autobiographical role in The Onyok Velasco Story. He has since pursued a career in acting as he found it to be more financially sustainable, also lamenting that the government failed to support his previous athletic efforts.

  • Harry Houdini in The Master Mystery.
  • Steven Soderbergh likes this trope.
    • His first foray was hiring an entire cast of non-professional actors for Bubble, recruiting from the local town. Notably, the star of the film was discovered working the drive-through window at KFC.
    • The Girlfriend Experience stars porn actress Sasha Grey as a high-class callgirl.
    • Haywire, starring Mixed Martial Arts fighter Gina Carano.
    • Soderbergh did this for himself in his surreal 1996 comedy Schizopolis, which stars the man himself in not one but two roles. Underneath all its weird and surreal humor, it's really about Soderbergh examining the crumbling of his marriage (his real-life ex-wife appears as his character's wife) as well as his anxieties about the future of his directing career in the wake of a series of flops following his debut sex, lies, and videotape
  • John Wayne Bobbitt: Uncut.
  • Audie Murphy as himself in To Hell And Back.
  • Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos as themselves in The 15:17 to Paris.
  • Stage Magician Doug Henning had two Broadway Musicals written around him, despite not being a singer:
    • The first was The Magic Show in 1974, with music by Stephen Schwartz, which was a huge success and ran for four years. It was based around Henning's unusual stage persona; set in a nightclub where a new scruffy magician goes up against a more traditional top-hat magician (played by David Ogden Stiers).
    • The other was Merlin in 1983, based around the character from Arthurian Legend, but young and inexperienced. It also featured Chita Rivera as an evil sorceress and was the Broadway debut of Nathan Lane. It was a critical and commercial flop, notorious for having an exceptionally long preview period without officially opening, and while still charging full ticket prices (much like Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark did, years later).
  • Celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse had a short-lived sitcom on NBC.
  • Sega Pinball attempted to invoke this by having Kelly Packard (of Baywatch fame) as the star of Golden Cue, a billiards-themed pinball game, even though she had no connection to either billiards or pinball. This trope was ultimately averted when Sega Pinball went out of business and Kelly Packard's Golden Cue was redesigned and released as Sharkey's Shootout.
  • The Direct to Video film Sophia Grace and Rosie's Royal Adventure is one, where the titular girls are assigned by their mentor Ellen DeGeneres to cover a coronation in a fictional kingdom and help the soon-to-be-coronated princess believe in herself.