The announcement that Harry Styles would be starring in Christopher Nolan’s war movie Dunkirk raised its fair share of eyebrows. Nolan has crafted a reputation as one of his generation’s leading filmmakers, with his films generally eschewing levity for epic set pieces and complex plotlines. Therefore the news that pop sensation Styles would be starring in perhaps Nolan’s most serious film yet produced concern for fans of the director.
Yet this concern has proven to be misplaced. Nolan has made some of the defining movies of this century, with his Dark Knight trilogy shaking perceptions about what a superhero movie can be while films like Inception and The Prestige balance blockbuster fare with innovative storylines. Therefore, his judgment has rarely shown to be anything less than exemplary, and so Nolan’s approval of Styles’; casting should have been sufficient to quash any doubts about the One Direction star.
Nolan was keen to stress that the movie’s strength was derived from its ensemble cast, an array of actors that spanned from Nolan stalwarts Tom Hardy and Cillian Murphy to relative newcomers Fionn Whitehead and Barry Keoghan. No character dominated the screen time, displaying a lack of prejudice regarding perceived star quality. Hardy, for example, only has a handful of lines of dialogue, but Nolan’s direction and the strength of the acting dictate that there is no relenting in quality as the action flits between characters.
Reviews have praised the immersive nature of the movie, with events gripped and propelled by constant tension. When Styles comes on to the screen, the first response is not “oh, there’s that guy from One Direction;” because at that point of the movie Nolan has already established a harrowing and extremely vivid world. This is a vast contrast from Ed Sheeran’s cameo appearance in Game of Thrones, where the justification of the character was so contrived that it shattered any semblance of meaning that the scene may have otherwise had.
This is not the first occasion that Nolan has elected to work with a musician who has tried their hand at acting. In his 2006 movie The Prestige, an underrated thriller that deals with magic and mystery, David Bowie plays the reasonably major role of Nikola Tesla. This was not Bowie’s first dabble in the world of acting, with the charismatic singer having famously played the lead role of the Goblin King alongside eerie puppets and a young Jennifer Connelly in Labyrinth.
Others have also enjoyed successful transitions from the stereo to the screen. The inherently performative nature of being a musician has surely enabled this switch for many. Will Smith’s turn as Deadshot in Suicide Squad is a far cry from his early days in the hip-hop duo DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. Landing a major role in a superhero movie is a fair barometer of an actor’s star quality. We are in an age where the calendar is stocked with superhero movies, a genre that is truly in vogue. DC’s characters are a powerful force in popular culture; they dominate video games such as Injustice 2 and form the basis for games such as Green Lantern and Batman & Mr. Freeze Fortune at Casino.com, just one of many of the online casinos listed by Oddschecker that deploy superhero themes.
Therefore Smith’s role in Suicide Squad might be one of his biggest in terms of finances and audiences, although he displayed more nuanced acting performances in Ali and The Pursuit of Happyness. Justin Timberlake is another global star who traded singing for acting. Although Timberlake made acting appearances in his childhood, he rose to prominence as a member of boy band NSYNC. Timberlake used his popularity in the group to launch a solo career, but he put that career on hiatus to star in movies such as The Social Network and Friends With Benefits.
Madonna is one of the leading pop stars of all time but showed her acting credentials in Desperately Seeking Susan, Dick Tracy and, most notably Evita. The latter was based on a musical of the same name, so it certainly made it a particularly appropriate role for Madonna who married her impressive musical capabilities with a capacity for acting. Unlike some movies based on musicals, such as Les Miserables and Mamma Mia, Evita utilized the talent of an established singer to give the movie more weight.
Whilst Madonna is still most known for her music career, some who have made the switch have become defined by their acting career instead. Mark Wahlberg is one who shifted paths with positive results. His music career as the rapper Marky Mark, frontman of Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, is somewhat less illustrious than the musical works of Smith and Timberlake (and far less illustrious than Bowie’s), but Wahlberg has shown that acting was a wise move with serious roles in critically acclaimed movies including The Departed and The Fighter.
So what does the future hold for Harry Styles? Smith and Timberlake sacrificed their musical careers for the pursuit of acting, whilst Bowie and Madonna appeared more sporadically in movies to concentrate on their prodigious musical talents. Styles is undeniably a talented singer with a dedicated fanbase, so he is an enviable position of having attractive options in front of him. He has since released his own solo album following the beginning of One Direction’s hiatus. Perhaps his interest in acting and pursuing a solo career will prevent a One Direction reunion due to scheduling.
Nolan is notable for working with the same actors on multiple occasions. With reviews of Styles performance almost unanimously positive, perhaps Nolan will want to utilize his skills in future movies. It would be interesting to see Styles take on the lead role in a serious movie, or to maximize both his acting and singing capabilities in a musical on screen.