Why Acting May Be Beyoncé's Secret Weapon
Photo: user uploaded image

Why Acting May Be Beyoncé's Secret Weapon

Beyoncé is arguably the greatest pop star of our time. But in all the frenzied excitement over her music, her fashion, and her private life, one aspect of the Bey phenomenon that flies under the radar is her acting chops. She may not yet have a movie-star career like Cher and Barbra Streisand did, and she may not yet have an Oscar like Jennifer Hudson and Lady Gaga do, but Beyoncé has proven she can be just as stellar on the silver screen as she is in a recording booth or a Super Bowl stage.

Never one to shy away from a big splash, Beyoncé returns to the big screen for one of the most hotly anticipated pop-culture events of 2019. The Lion King needed its queen - so who else but Queen Bey? Disney's photorealistic remake of its beloved animated classic arrives in theaters on July 19, and Beyoncé is the crown jewel of its star-studded cast.

Prior to her coronation into Disney royalty, Hollywood has often cast her, unsurprisingly, as a singer. But before you assume she's just sticking close to what she knows, consider the diverse range of performers she's portrayed. From a classic Bizet heroine to a jazz legend, from a satiric disco diva to a struggling lounge singer, she's assumed the identities of a varied assortment. If there's one thing that should be abundantly clear by now, it's that Bey is a true multi-hyphenate.

  • She Made Her Acting Debut In A TV-Movie Version Of The Opera 'Carmen'

    She Made Her Acting Debut In A TV-Movie Version Of The Opera 'Carmen'
    Photo: MTV

    In 2001, Beyoncé made her acting debut in a surprising role: the heroine of Carmen, Georges Bizet's classic opera. But this version was a radical update of the original, set in modern-day urban America rather than the 19th century Spanish countryside. Subtitled A Hip Hopera, the Robert Townsend-directed Carmen switched out the operatic score for hip hop and R&B. Bey shared the screen with Mekhi Phifer, Mos Def, Da Brat, Wyclef Jean, Lil' Bow Wow, and Rah Digga.

    In a tale that swayed between comedy and tragedy, and a role that required her skills as both singer and dancer, Carmen gave Bey an early chance to show off the extent of her talent.

  • She Made Her Feature Film Debut In 'Austin Powers In Goldmember'

    Austin Powers in Goldmember was released in 2002, a year after Carmen. While it probably won't be remembered as a seminal moment in movie history, the film isn't without its charms - and it made nearly $300 million worldwide. In her big-screen debut, Beyoncé plays Foxxy Cleopatra, Powers's sidekick and an adversary of the eponymous villain, Goldmember (Mike Myers). Foxxy is a blaxploitation-inspired FBI agent who goes undercover as a disco singer.

    One of the hardest parts of the role? Keeping a straight face while acting alongside those Austin Powers teeth. "The first time I saw those teeth," Bey said, "I couldn't do my scene because I couldn't stop laughing."

  • Roger Ebert Was Impressed With Her First Starring Feature-Film Role In 'The Fighting Temptations'

    The late Roger Ebert was never known to hold back in his reviews. And from his review of The Fighting Temptations - featuring Bey's first starring role in a feature film - Ebert signed on as an early member of the Beyhive. He called her performance as a small-time lounge singer "warm and sympathetic." He went on to say:

    Beyoncé is singing 'Fever' the first time we see her, and later does a wonderful job with spirituals. There's no attempt to force her own music into the movie, and that works well, I think; after some supporting work (including the most recent Austin Powers movie), here we get to see her in a lead and sense that she can play dramatic parts and need not always be a version of herself.

  • She Played A Pop Singer - And Sang The Film's Theme Song - In 'The Pink Panther'

    In the 2006 remake of The Pink Panther, Steve Martin took on the character made famous by Peter Sellers. By Martin's side was Beyoncé, who tackled yet another singer role. This one was a pop star named Xania, the girlfriend of the murder victim (Jason Statham) at the heart of the movie's central mystery.

    While the movie may be forgettable (it holds a 21% on Rotten Tomatoes as of 2019), it's largely remembered for its theme song, "Check On It." And that was (mostly) Bey's doing. She performed and co-wrote the number, which reached the top spot on the Billboard charts. She also performed another song, "A Woman Like Me," on the Pink Panther soundtrack.

  • She Was Nominated For A Best Actress Golden Globe For 'Dreamgirls'

    Beyoncé had her juiciest role to date in the 2006 big-screen version of the musical Dreamgirls. She portrayed Deena Jones, a Diana Ross-like singer in a Supremes-like girl-group who emerges as the breakout star of the trio. Beyoncé earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy for her performance.

    Jennifer Hudson stole the show in Dreamgirls - and took home an Oscar - but Bey was nothing but supportive. "I knew that the character that I played wasn't the star," she told People. "I did this because I wanted people to know that I can act and I can play someone so different from myself."

  • She Played Music Icon Etta James In 'Cadillac Records'

    In 2008, Beyoncé did something truly difficult - even for the most seasoned actors. In Cadillac Records, she took on the role of a fellow musical icon: Etta James. Not only was she tasked with embodying a well-known persona (and voice), but James was, at the time, still alive. The challenge for that type of performance is walking the delicate line between imitation and taking ownership of the role. Direct comparisons are perhaps unfair, but inevitable.

    How well did Beyoncé walk that line? The Atlantic, for one, called her work in Cadillac Records a "career-best." A.O. Scott of The New York Times praised her "revelatory" performance: "She is as volcanic and voluptuous as an Italian movie star. Or, more to the point, a real soul diva of the old school."

    Bey recorded five songs for the movie's soundtrack, including a cover of "At Last" - a rendition she went on to perform a month after the film's release, at the Neighborhood Inaugural Ball of Barack Obama's presidential inauguration.