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10 Actors Who Nearly Became the Musicians They Portrayed

With the swoony "Gossip Girl' star Penn Badgley portraying Jeff Buckley in an upcoming biopic, we take a look at 10 actors who basically became the iconic artists they played

1 / 11

More Than Just Another Role

Tribeca Film / Focus World / Universal / Getty Images

Biopics seem to be all the rage these days. With a James Brown film in the works and a Jeff Buckley movie debuting at Tribeca last week, there's a lot of buzz on the Internet about how to properly do these iconic musicians justice. 

For an actor, whether to take on the challenge of portraying a beloved musician is a tough call. There's a lot of emotion that us viewers and listeners wrap around these artists -- if an actor blows the role and doesn't represent the musician well, all hell may reign down upon them in the ensuing backlash.

So with Penn Badgley taking on the persona of Jeff Buckley in the recently debuted Greetings From Tim Buckley biopic, we took a look back at other actors who become heavily invested in playing an important musician. 

From Johnny Cash to Elvis to Joan Jett to Buddy Holly and everyone in between, there is plenty of material to evaluate. The real question is...just how seriously did these actors take their roles? 

Using a scale of 1 to 10 -- with 1 being a pretty standard acting job and 10 being "I WILL BECOME HIM!,"-- we rate 10 memorable performances in order of most impressive dedication.

Note: Since we have yet to see Badgley's take on Jeff Buckley, we have his entry coming in last on the list. We're not judging a book by its cover...or, um, movie trailer.

2 / 11

Val Kilmer in "The Doors"

Val Kilmer’s obsessive commitment to playing Doors frontman Jim Morrison started before he was hired—he reportedly spent thousands of dollars to make his own video to show Oliver Stone that he could both sing and look like Jim Morrison.  

For almost a whole year, Kilmer dressed like Morrison and regularly visited the Sunset Strip clubs the singer spent time in. In response to rumors that he stayed in character on set while filming, Kilmer said, “Being called Jim made it easier for Oliver and probably for me.” This level of "no seriously, I am the Lizard King" intensity did pay off, and The Doors brought a 1960s icon back to life for future generations.

If you're interested in checking out Kilmer's awesome portrayal of the rock icon, tune into Fuse at 9/8C to catch The Doors. Find Fuse in your area using our Channel Finder.

3 / 11

Jamie Foxx in "Ray"

In the role that cemented Jamie Foxx’s “serious actor” cred, Foxx got to showcase his piano skills and worked with Ray Charles to learn the film’s songs. Foxx also learned Braille and wore prosthetics over his eyes that really made him unable to see while they were shooting. In what would probably be anyone’s reaction to watching an actor uncannily portray their father, co-producer Ray Charles, Jr. said, “There were times it was just too real.”

4 / 11

Gary Oldman and Courtney Love in "Sid and Nancy"

Gary Oldman lost so much weight to play Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious that he ended up in the hospital. Courtney Love didn’t play Nancy Spungen but it wasn’t for lack of trying—to quote her audition tape, “There’s nobody else, I’m not going to leave you alone.” Her tenacity did earn her a small part, and how much does she look like Frances Bean here

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Kristen Stewart in "The Runaways"

Joan Jett had this to say about K-Stew’s devotion to capturing her on film: "When we were hanging out together on set, it was like I had a mirror image. Even just sitting around, we'd do the same thing at the same time. It was just great-and it wasn't creepy. It was wonderfully special.”   

Glad to hear it “wasn’t creepy,” Joan! Kristen and her co-stars spent a month rehearsing and recording Runaways songs before filming, and Kristen infamously chopped her hair into Jett’s shag instead of wearing a wig, making a nation of Twihards’ brains short circuit.

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Gary Busey in "The Buddy Holly Story"

Long before Busey turned into a weirdo/go-to Internet joke, he was praised for losing a lot of weight for the role and actually singing Buddy’s songs. He nailed them too—check it out above.

7 / 11

Shane West in "What We Do is Secret"

Fortunately for everyone involved, West didn’t actually pull Darby Crash’s infamous onstage stunts such as cutting himself with broken glass. But he did make such a convincing Darby that the reunited Germs asked him to tour with them as their frontman—he played with them on Warped Tour in both 2006 and 2008. 

8 / 11

Michael Pitt in "Last Days"

The Boardwalk Empire star actor wrote some of the songs that his character Blake, a thinly-veiled version of Kurt Cobain, performs in the 2005 Gus Van Sant film. In 2011 some photos fueled speculation that Pitt was dating Courtney Love, further blurring the line between art and life and generally weirding everybody out.

9 / 11

Jonathan Rhys Meyers in "Elvis"

Rhys Meyers didn’t sing as the King in this mini-series and said he ‘didn’t try to over-research’ —but you wouldn’t know it by the Irish actor’s ability to eerily mimic Elvis’s accent and electric performing style.

10 / 11

Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon in "Walk the Line"

Reese and Joaquin took singing lessons pull off the Johnny Cash and June Carter songs they performed throughout the film. While Joaquin learned the guitar, Reese took autoharp lessons from the same teacher that taught cast members in the mock-documentary A Mighty Wind.  Reese got an Oscar and Joaquin got…the notion that rapping should be his next film-meets-music endeavor.

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Penn Badgley as Jeff Buckley in "Greetings from Tim Buckley"

The former Gossip Girl star said portraying the late singer-songwriter was “intense,” but he “didn't really feel like the rigid, methodical approach made any sense.” However, Penn recorded nearly all of the performances in the film completely live and the results are already earning praise from critics and his costar Joe Bello  of Anthrax.

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