Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, Essays

Acting Like a Rock Star

In Rock of Ages, the big-screen incarnation of Broadway’s heavy metal /’80s power pop juke box musical, Tom Cruise shouts, jumps, pumps and preens as Stacee Jaxx, rock ‘n’ roll legend and hair band frontman on the downside of his career. He’s a completely fictional creation, of course, but he’ll be channeling the legacies of Axl Rose, Jon Bon Jovi and others, while trying to hold the stage against the real-life music stars of the cast, including Mary J. Blige and Julianne Hough.

Val Kilmer in 'The Doors'

Hollywood has long had a love affair with music stars making the transition to the screen, either for a song or to anchor a film, and a few of them have made the transition brilliantly. But what about actors trying to method their way into playing rock ‘n’ roll legends? It’s not just about the pipes; it’s about the style, the swagger, the stage presence, convincing a screen audience that this is someone who can hold an audience in thrall to their delivery, on and off the stage.

Cruise is hardly the first actor to take on the mantle of rock ‘n’ roll legend, fictional or not, and he’s following some impressive acts. Here’s our look at the best of the screen legends of rock ‘n’ roll.

Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison in ‘The Doors

The film may be called “The Doors,” but it’s less the making of a band than a portrait of the artist: Jim Morrison, the poet, the performer, the icon, the self-destructive artist. It’s eerie how much Val Kilmer looks like Morrison, but he digs much deeper than simple physical resemblance. The way he takes the spotlight onstage, feeding off the attention to push his performance into an almost primal state of expression, and gets under Morrison’s skin offstage with his loose swagger and smoldering looks, makes his incarnation electric. At the very least, Kilmer suggests the turmoil of the frustrated poet and the unapologetic sensualist as conflicted superstar, embracing the image and rebelling from it at the same time.

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