Harry Styles is latest in long line of Brit pop stars turned actors

harry styles

Everybody seems to love Harry Styles (ok, maybe save for Olivia Wilde). The 28-year-old British heartthrob ,who initially scored huge success as a member of the boy band One Direction before going solo six years ago, won a Grammy last year for best pop solo performance for “Watermelon Sugar.” And he’s up for a total of six this year for his hit single “As It Was” and album “Harry’s House.” And it’s hard not to miss footage of his energetic concerts filled with screaming women of all ages on TikTok.

Though there were two One Direction concert films, Styles has shied away from rock and rolling on the silver screen rather appearing as a World War II soldier in Christopher Nolan’s acclaimed 2017 “Dunkirk” and starring in two high-profile films this fall: Olivia Wilde’s “Stepford Wives”-style thriller “Don’t Worry Darling” and the romantic drama “My Policeman.” In the later, he gives a “Style-ish” turn as a young policeman who has an affair with a museum curator (David Dawson) during the 1950s-a time in which homosexuality was illegal in England.

The L.A. Times was singled out Styles: “Young Tom, engagingly played with a kind of accessibly, dreamy, everyman charisma by actor-pop star-‘it boy’ Styles, is largely such an appealing and affecting character that he carries the day here.”

Styles is just the latest British rocker to take acting seriously.

Though Cliff Richard is best known for the 1980 hit  “Suddenly” duet with Olivia Newton-John, he has sold more than 250 albums worldwide and 21.5 million singles in the UK alone, just behind The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. The 82-year-old came to fame with his group The Shadows as a teenager in the late 1950s several years before the British invasion. Though his music became more subdued when he embraced Christianity, he initially was more of true rocker.

Though he would star in a trio of light musical comedies in early 1960s — most notably Peter Yates’ directorial debut, 1963’s “Summer Holiday,” he showed a less slick side in the 1959 musical satire “Espresso Bongo.” He plays a struggling singer who is discovered in an espresso bar by a slick hustler (Laurence Harvey) always on the hunt for new talent he can exploit. But Harvey gets more than he bargains for with Richard.

The “Old Yorker” blog noted that Richard was “only nineteen when he made the film and his lack of acting experience is plain. He doesn’t get inside the character and his line readings are particularly wooden when Bongo is spouting youth lingo….He probably became a technically more competent actor in the lightweight pop-vehicle films….Yet Richard’s physically presence in ‘Expresso Bongo is strongly expressive. His still chubby face gives Bongo the right increasingly implacable quality. This naïve boy comes to realize his commercial potential-with the realization comes a determination to call the shots. Cliff Richard manages the transition persuasively.”

The Beatles were blessed with the innovative director Richard Lester in their classic and influential rock musicals: 1964’s “A Hard Day’s Night” and 1965’s “Help!,” as were the Dave Clark Five when the Oscar-nominated director John Boorman made his debut with their acclaimed hit film 1965’s “Having a Wild Weekend.”

Wrote the New York Times: “Where the Beatles’ film was, in a sense, a galloping surrealistic satire on the phenomenon of themselves and their fans, this one is almost a wistful romance, laced with surrealistic farce, about the eagerness of overexposed young showfolk to get away from it all and find some peace.”

Marianne Faithful (“As Tears Goes By”) and former GF of Mick Jagger starred in such films Michael Winner’s controversial 1967 “I’ll Never Forget What’s ‘isname,” which was released without a MPAA seal of approval, Jack Cardiff’s X-rated 1968 “The Girl on a Motorcycle” and Tony Richardson’s 1969 “Hamlet” as Ophelia. She has managed to pop up in various projects over the years, even leading her voice to a character in 2021’s “Dune.”

In 1970, Jagger went the X-rated route in Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell’s outrageous noir “Performance.” Supposedly, some of the sex scenes between Jagger and actress Anita Pallenberg, who was Keith Richards’ girlfriend at the time, were so explicit that the processing lab wouldn’t develop it. And according to IMDB.co, the wife of a Warner Bros. executive threw up at a test screening and audiences were offered their money back.

The New York Times’ acerbic often cruel John Simon loathed “Performance,” especially Jagger: ‘There is the supreme horror of the film, Mick Jagger, whose lack of talent is equaled only by a repulsiveness of epic proportions-on those pink blubber-lips alone a comedy ‘Iliad’ and ‘Odyssey could be inscribed.”

Ironically, nearly a half-a-century later, the New York Times praised his performance in the 2019 thriller “The Burnt Orange Heresy” in which he plays a wealthy and manipulative art collector: “Jagger shows a refreshing lack of conventional vanity….His character is a nonchalant Lucifer, and as it happens, the strongest reason to see this movie.”

Perhaps the rocker who found the most success on screen was David Bowie. Of course, not all the films he made were good-did anyone make it through 1978’s “Just a Gigolo”? But his erotic, androgenous stage personality translated beautifully on the big screen most notably in Roeg’s 1976 sci-fi epic “The Man Who Fell to Earth.” The New York Times noted: “Mr. Bowie gives an extraordinary performance. The details, the chemistry of this tall pale figure with black-rimmed eyes are clearly not human. Yet he acquires a movie, tragic force as the stranger caught and destroyed in a strange land.”

Bowie acquired 36 credits as an actor working with the likes of Tony Scott (1983’s “The Hunger”); Nagisa Oshima (1983’s “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence”); Julien Temple (1986 “Absolutely Beginners”); Jim Henson (1986’s “Labyrinth”); Martin Scorsese (1988’s “The Last Temptation of Christ”) ; and David Lynch (1992’s “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me” and 2014’s “Twin Peaks: The Missing Pieces”). And he wasn’t above having fun. He earned a MTV Movie Award for best cameo nomination for Ben Stiller’s popular 2001 comedy “Zoolander” and was the voice of Lord Royal Highness on 2007 episode of “SpongeBob SquarePants,” the classic animated series the singer loved.

Six years after his death at the age of 69, Bowie is back on the big screen with the documentary “Moonage Daydream,” which examines his personal and creative journey. The film, sanctioned by the Bowie estate, was nominated for six Critics Choice Documentary Awards.

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