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Non-Actor Vehicle

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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.



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  • Cindy Crawford in Fair Game (1995).
  • It was only a TV movie, but Vanna White of Wheel of Fortune fame starred in Goddess of Love on NBC. At that point in her career, the only other TV experience she had was… as a contestant on The Price Is Right in 1980 (two years before she took over the Wheel role she holds to this day).
  • Antonio Sabato Jr. (a former underwear model) in The Big Hit.
  • Galaxina had Dorothy R. Stratten, Playboy Playmate of the Year 1980, prominently cast as the title character.
  • Professional cosplayer Jessica Nigri was given the starring role in the English dub of the Super Sonico anime.
  • Monica Bellucci in Malèna. She was still primarily a model at the time, and this marked her Star-Making Role as an actress.
  • Lily Cole as the monster in the Doctor Who episode "The Curse of the Black Spot", in which she has little to do but waft around and glare at people.
  • Brooke Shields (a child model) in Pretty Baby.
  • Gisele Bündchennote  in Taxi (2004).

  • Will Smith in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, which saved him from bankruptcy and launched his blockbuster acting career. The show hung a lampshade on it here and there.
  • Britney Spears in Crossroads.
  • David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth. Although he didn't really act before this, he studied mime and acting in The '60s as his recording career slowly gained ground and incorporated his new skills into his stage act. He went on to appear in a number of films in both lead and supporting roles, such as Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence and Labyrinth, and performed on Broadway as the title character in The Elephant Man in 1980.
  • The Trope Maker was Al Jolson in the original 1927 version of The Jazz Singer. Neil Diamond also did it in the 1980 remake. He won a Worst Actor Razzie for his performance, but this is a good example of a performer who managed to retain their original career after trying their hand at this trope; in fact, three of his biggest hits — "America", "Love on the Rocks", and "Hello Again" — were written for this film.
  • Luciano Pavarotti in Yes Giorgio.
  • Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan, where she played a pop musician. Led to an almost two-decades-long acting career, in which she generally did well if she was part of an ensemble (as in Dick Tracy, A League of Their Own, and Evita), and usually didn't fare so well if she was appearing in a star vehicle (as in Swept Away).
  • Mariah Carey in Glitter.
  • Mick Jagger in Performance and Ned Kelly
  • Vanilla Ice in Cool as Ice. Since then, he's mostly appeared in cameos and non-major roles.
  • Eminem in 8 Mile. Though considering he was basically playing himself in the film, how much actual acting was involved is open for debate.
  • Whitney Houston in The Bodyguard.
  • Björk in Dancer in the Dark. It was such a bad experience for her that she swore she'd never act again.
  • Olivia Newton-John in Grease, and earlier, more obscurely, the film Toomorrow (a sci-fi musical starring the prefab band she fronted at the time, also called Toomorrow).
  • Doris Day, before starring in Romance on the High Seas, was known only as a singer.
  • 50 Cent in Get Rich Or Die Tryin. He did later appear in a number of films, occasionally credited under his birth name, e.g. "Curtis '50 Cent' Jackson".
  • Cellist Yo-Yo Ma in the Atom Egoyan film Sarabande.
  • Purple Rain, created as a showcase for the singer Prince and based on his album of the same name. It won an award for Best Original Song Score.
    • Also for the members of the Revolution and the Time. Subverted with Apollonia, who actually had some B-movie credits prior to Purple Rain.
  • The Beatles in: A Hard Day's Night, Help!, Magical Mystery Tour, Yellow Submarine... In fact, it was because of these movies that Ringo Starr got his taste for acting.
  • Outside of Moonwalker, that was all about him anyway, Michael Jackson only ever played the Scarecrow in The Wiz. Well, and the eponymous Captain EO, who was basically Michael Jackson IN SPACE!.
  • Terminator 2: Judgment Day almost did this for Billy Idol. He was originally picked to play the T-1000 but had to turn down the role because of a motorcycle accident. WASP frontman Blackie Lawless was also considered for the role at one point but got turned down for being too tall.
  • "Weird Al" Yankovic in UHF. Al had already done Al TV and some other comedy performances, so it wasn't much of a stretch, but this was still the first major performance of his career. He's gone on to appear as himself in a variety of other settings, most notably as the co-host of Comedy Bang! Bang! and have a considerable career as a voice actor, including starring as the title character on Milo Murphy's Law.
  • Bette Midler in The Rose; though she had dabbled in the theatre in her early career, it was her first movie role. She went on to have a long and fairly successful career as an actress, reaching her peak in both fields at about the same time (the late 1980s and early 1990s).
  • John Denver in Oh, God!.
  • The 1956 Broadway musical Mr. Wonderful gave Sammy Davis Jr. his first starring role; it incorporated a large portion of his nightclub act wholesale.
  • Several members of AKB48 took part in the anime AKB0048. Quite a few of them had no acting experience up until then.
  • Korean Television Stations are frequently used as places where singing idols try to diversify their entertainment value:
  • The Village People and Olympic gold medalist Bruce (now Caitlyn) Jenner in Can't Stop the Music; the former also overlaps with Autobiographical Role.
  • Dee Snider in the horror movie Strangeland, which he wrote himself.
  • Sting starred in the 1982 adaptation of Brimstone And Treacle (The Police recorded three songs for its soundtrack, and Sting contributed two solo ones) and 1985's The Bride, and had supporting roles or cameos in Quadrophenia, Dune (1984), The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels.
  • Two-Lane Blacktop, starring a young James Taylor and The Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson.
  • George Strait in Pure Country. The movie didn't do too well, but Strait's soundtrack is the best-selling album of his career.
  • The 1988 Broadway musical flop Legs Diamond was this for singer-songwriter Peter Allen, who wrote the songs and played the title character.
  • Tom Waits in Jim Jarmusch's Down by Law. He's had many supporting actor credits to his name, to the point that he's not really a non-actor anymore, but this was one of his first roles and his only lead role to date.
  • Arlo Guthrie, As Himself in Alice's Restaurant.
  • The Oscar gave singer Tony Bennett a significant "introducing/as" credit. He never appeared in another feature film.
  • In France, AB Productions was specialized on this (among other things): Most "actors" in AB-produced sitcoms were new singers trying to get notoriety. It worked at the time, but became a stain on their reputation after AB shows fell out of favor.
  • Kid/Teen salsa group Salserín starred in several of these in the late 1990's: the first one was "La primera vez" (which was more known as "Salserín: La Película"), where the kids and their producer were more or less on Autobiographical Roles; then the soaps "De sol a sol", "Yo sin ti", "Entre tú y yo" and "Dónde está el amor". After several changes in the singers rooster, they got at it again in the late Noughties, first with a radio soap (Envíame Mensajes) and then the soaps "Mi niña amada", "Mi otra mitad del sol" and "Robando corazones" on tv.
  • When the singers from the first generation of Salserín, the brothers Servando and Florentino Primera, went solo, they starred in a movie, Muchacho solitario. It was cynically made for two reasons: exploit their Teen Idol popularity, and give Product Placement to Golden brand soda. The guys did have some acting experience from their Salserín era, and Servando was a child actor before joining the band as a singer, but that couldn't be seen on screen, and despite their popularity at the time the film bombed.
  • In 2013, singer Carrie Underwood starred in a live TV version of The Sound of Music for NBC.
  • Country singer Doug Stone had a starring role in the 1995 film Gordy.
  • Alex Cox (of Repo Man) made Straight To Hell when a musical tour of Nicaragua was canceled. A bunch of 1980s musicians and other oddballs were stuck with nothing else to do, so Cox decided to take them to Spain to make a weird and wacky Spaghetti Western parody starring, among others, Elvis Costello, The Circle Jerks, The Pogues, Amazulu, Jim Jarmusch, Grace Jones and a very young Courtney Love.
    • Also featured in Straight to Hell was Joe Strummer, frontman for The Clash (and, for a time, the Pogues). Strummer actually appeared in several films, including a cameo (alongside Clash bandmate Mick Jones) in Martin Scorcese's The King of Comedy.
  • Icona Pop in Trolls.
  • Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day in Ordinary World.
  • Reba McEntire did have some acting chops before starring in the TV Movie Is There Life Out There? (inspired by her hit single at the time.) She had a few more before starring in the WB sitcom Reba. The much-shorter lived Malibu Country also qualifies, but by now she's practically made acting a second career.
  • Camp pianist Liberace in Sincerely Yours, in which he played... a camp pianist.
  • Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini were tapped to star in From Justin to Kelly after they were winner and runner-up, respectively, in the inaugural season of American Idol. Clarkson never acted in another live-action movie (she did appear in the animated film Uglydolls), but maintained musical success well into The New '10s; Guarini wasn't so lucky.
  • In a Video Game example, Young Maylay had no prior acting experience before he voiced Carl Johnson in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. He is glad that the game brought him into mainstream recognition, but he felt frustrated about being more associated with playing the role of CJ than his rapping career. It later culminated into a furious tirade against Rockstar after he has had enough of fans who kept on pestering him about starring in the next GTA. While Maylay's rants were criticized by many as being immature and unprofessional, his cousin Shawn Fonteno acknowledged and understood Maylay's sentiments, while at the same time left a more level-headed and reasonable response to the issue.
  • Katherine Jenkins in the Doctor Who episode "A Christmas Carol". She spends most of the episode as a Human Popsicle, and then sings a song at the end.
  • Grace Vanderwaal, the teenage singer-songwriter who won America's Got Talent, playing the title character in the Disney+ adaptation of Stargirl.
  • Tina Turner as the Big Bad Auntie Entity in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.
  • Dani Filth, lead singer of Cradle of Filth, plays a central role in Cradle of Fear: albeit a role that mostly requires him to look scary and has minimal dialogue. The rest of the band has come roles in the movie.
  • Elvis Presley in Love Me Tender, Jailhouse Rock, and King Creole.
  • Slight variant with Venezuelan rock singer Paul Gillman, who had a prolific Latin Spanish dubbing career for some time (notably being the original Latin Spanish voice of Patrick Star in SpongeBob SquarePants)
  • Pioneering Reggae star Jimmy Cliff in The Harder They Come.
  • Blood Harvest stars Tiny Tim as a mentally unstable clown.

    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.
  • 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 still playing the role in 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 1987, 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 the film's protagonist—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.
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • Filipino celebrity chef Boy Logro of all people starred in the 2013 action-comedy film The Fighting Chefs.
  • Lime Street is largely remembered for starring Samantha Smith, a young girl from Maine whose letter to Yuri Andropov made international headlines and caused her to detour into youth activism. Smith also appeared on an episode of Charles in Charge.
  • Film critic Rex Reed starred in Inchon. He was among the critics who panned it as soon as it bombed at the box office.
    • Eleven years before that he was mystifyingly cast as the male version of the title character in Myra Breckinridge.
  • Sonny Barger and his merry band of Hells Angels played themselves in Hells Angels on Wheels (1967) and Hell's Angels '69 (1969). Barger later went on to have a recurring role as Lenny 'The Pimp' Janowitz in Sons of Anarchy, alongside fellow bikers David Labrava, Robert Patrick, Chuck Zito, and Rusty Coones.
  • The Safdie Brothers' film Heaven Knows What stars Arielle Holmes, a former teenage drug addict, in an Autobiographical Role based on her life on the streets of New York City. The marketing of the film emphasized this fact.
  • Ring of Fear gives starring roles to circus owner/lion tamer Clyde Beatty and mystery writer Mickey Spillane. Spillane later starred as his own literary creation Mike Hammer in The Girl Hunters.
  • While Alicia Silverstone was a working actress, when she was cast as the lead in Clueless she was best-known for starring in a series of Aerosmith music videos.


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