Observations: Musical actors call the tune

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The Independent Culture

Jeff Bridges may have lost out to Colin Firth at the Baftas, yet his turn as a down-on-his-luck country singer in Crazy Heart is still odds-on for Oscar glory. Why? Because Hollywood likes nothing more than actors who play their own musical parts.

Take the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line, which features a soundtrack sung by Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix, with the latter learning the guitar from scratch. Result: an Oscar for Witherspoon, and a nomination for Phoenix.

Meryl Streep learned to play the violin from scratch for Music of the Heart, practising six hours a day for eight weeks and won an Oscar-nomination for her trouble. Then there's Adrien Brody, who didn't just learn to play the piano for the The Pianist, but mastered Chopin over many months. The result? An Oscar.

Others had a head start. Holly Hunter performed all the musical numbers in The Piano, but was already an accomplished pianist. She still won an Oscar, mind. And when Jamie Foxx met the makers of Ray – the film about the life of musician Ray Charles – they were initially concerned how they'd fake it, before realising he'd played since the age of five. Guess what? He won an Oscar!

Even if an actor is to be dubbed, they still need to look the part. Geoffrey Rush took the hand-double low-route in Shine and still won an Oscar. Meanwhile, though Sean Penn was generally impressive as a jazz guitarist in Sweet and Lowdown, most musicians agree that his fingering was barely one step up from air guitar – only a nomination for him.

Tom Hulce, who played Mozart in Amadeus, practised for four hours a day despite every note being dubbed. It paid off – music professors found that not one key was struck incorrectly. He got nominated too.

Most impressive of all is the ensemble of Robert Altman's Nashville, with many of the actors not only performing their own songs, but also writing them. It was nominated for five Oscars, and won for Best Music. Bridges, surely, has it in the bag.