11 actors who learned to play a musical instrument for movies (and one who …

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February 19, 2021, 12:14 | Updated: February 19, 2021, 12:28

Adrien Brody and Nicholas Cage playing musical instruments in movies.

Image: Focus Features / StudioCanal / Universal Images


Among the annals of actors who have made uncomfortable attempts to mimic an instrument (looking at you, Jeremy Irons), here are a few who have done it for themselves …

  1. Ryan Gosling – La La Land

    It’s a huge compliment to Gosling that most people assume his piano close-ups were played by a jazz double – but while the music was recorded separately by seasoned pianist Randy Kerber, the keyboard work that you see in the movie is fully Gosling.

    He said: “I had to play ‘City of Stars’ for six months, hours a day. It’s a lot of alone time, and you get a little anti-social. Every time I tried to have a conversation with someone during this rehearsal time, I felt like Bambi on the ice.

    Read more: The best covers of the La La Land soundtrack>

  2. Rami Malek – Bohemian Rhapsody

    Malek gives an excellent performance as Freddie Mercury, given that he had little or no musical experience. Determined not to pretend with cutaways from the hands of another pianist, he began the process by learning the intro to the first verse of “Bohemian Rhapsody”.

    The Oscar winner said iNews: “There were times when I thought, ‘This is not my bag. I don’t think I will be able to do this part.

  3. Bradley Cooper – A Star is Born

    To inhabit the role of country singer Jackson Maine, Bradley Cooper took guitar, vocal and piano lessons for 18 months. He even made a surprise appearance at Glastonbury on the set of Kris Kristofferson (who played the character of Cooper in the 1969 film version of A star is born) in preparation for the role.

    And all thanks to his co-star, Lady Gaga. “Because she is so confident and supportive, I felt quite comfortable once I got there. It gave me the courage to come out, ”Cooper said in an interview with Barbara Walters.

    In the final cut, the guitar playing we hear was recorded by composer and musician, Lukas Nelson, who dubbed Cooper’s lines. The actor’s voice, meanwhile, was live and unaltered.

  4. Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon – Walk the Line

    Joaquin and Reese’s performance as country singer duo Johnny Cash and June Carter was ridiculously impressive. Trained by Roger Love, the actors would have almost given up due to the difficulty of learning to sing and play the guitar at the same time. But just watch them together on ‘Time’s a Wastin’ – their musicianship is perfect, and their chemistry? Through the roof.

  5. Adrien Brody – The pianist

    To prepare for his role as Chopin Szpilman’s virtuoso, Roman Polanski forced Adrien Brody to practice the piano for four grueling hours a day. Moreover, in order to truly live in a man who had lost everything, Brody also left his girlfriend, abandoned her apartment, sold his car, starved himself and lived in isolation in Europe. Yeah acting!

    It all (sort of) paid off in 2003, when Brody became the youngest to win the Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role. Here he is, playing Chopin’s beautiful Ballad in G minor without any dubbing.

    Read more: The Pianist: what is music, is it a true story and did Adrien Brody really play the piano? >

  6. Matt Damon and Jude Law – The Talented Mr. Ripley

    Damon and Law learned to play the piano and saxophone respectively to create this memorable jazz club scene. However, although Damon’s piano training allowed him to play all the appropriate fingerings, the music we hear is actually played by pianist Sally Heath and Gabriel Yared, who composed The talented Mr. Ripley soundtrack.

  7. Robert Downey Jr – Chaplin

    To channel Charlie Chaplin, the silent movie legend who always carried his violin with him, Downey Jr. learned to play the violin (and tennis, for that matter) with his left hand – just like Chaplin did. 10/10 for the effort.

    Robert Downey Jr as Charlie Chaplin

    Robert Downey Jr as Charlie Chaplin.

    Image: TriStar Images


  8. Bill Murray – Groundhog Day

    Despite using a double for close-ups, Bill Murray learned just enough piano to play part of Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Paganini Theme”. Some mimes seem a little questionable, but in the larger shots, it was apparently all of Bill.

  9. Hugh Grant – About a Boy

    Grant had guitar lessons from British composer Paul Englishby to create this cringey scene from About a boy. Sure, the actor’s acting and vocals are musically questionable, but we want this scene to be horribly awkward – and that’s exactly what Grant is giving us.

  10. Rachel Weisz – The Bloom Brothers

    Weisz’s role in The brothers bloom required her to play accordion, violin, guitar and banjo within 10 seconds – so she took lessons on all four instruments. It’s not entirely clear whether the music we hear in the movie is actually played by Weisz, but the precision of his fingering certainly gives it a good impression.

  11. Nicholas Cage – Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

    Before Paul Englishby taught Hugh Grant guitar, he was busy making sure Nicholas Cage’s mandolin skills were ship-shaped for Captain Corelli’s mandolin.

    “Cage played it and there’s a lot of footage of him doing it. It was amazing,” said Englishby. “He’s really, really talented. Nicolas was going on a weekend. He had a private jet. and one weekend he asked me to go to Venice with him so he could take his music lessons.

But not all actors braved the real deal …

Christopher Walken – A Late Quartet

Despite his friendliness, there is no way that Walken could have passed off this illogical cello bow action as genuine. We suggest a direct line to Yo-Yo Ma for the rest …



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