Years of training have led a number of sports stars to pull off some of their strongest performances in not only the ring, on the track or even the field, but also in film.
From sports idols to Hollywood heroes they’ve taken what they know, added a couple of acting classes and for many, built a whole new acting career…
To celebrate the release of the hilarious sports-comedy Uncle Drew, starring the NBA superstars Kyrie Irving and Shaquille O’Neil, coming to cinemas on July 6, we’re taking a look at some of Hollywood’s elite who started off as sports stars before making the jump to acting.
Starting his career in the ring, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson climbed the ladder to become one of the most famous wrestlers of all time. His first stint in acting outside of wrestling came as an appearance on That 70’s Show in 1999, who can be heard in the episode referring to himself as ‘the most electrifying man in sports entertainment’ – talk about humble beginnings! From this small start, his new career built momentum and he’s now seen as one of the most bankable actors in Hollywood solidified by the variety of roles he’s undertaken, from action hero in Fast and Furious to comedic soul in Jumanji and showcasing his vocal talents in Moana. Not only has Dwayne Johnson proven a versatile talent, but he is also one of the highest-grossing actors of all time.
Carl Weathers’ transition to acting saw him switch sports styles completely, taking the leap from American Football to boxing when he starred as Apollo in the Rocky films. Weathers’ professional peak came while playing American football for the Oakland Raiders before hanging up his helmet in 1973, three years before landing his signature role in Rocky. He also went on to appear in Predator and Happy Gilmore. Now a staple of US television featuring in the Chicago Fire TV universe, he’s still at the forefront of his new career.
Michael Jordan is just one of many NBA players who briefly swapped out the basketball court for the big screen when he played himself and showed off his skills in Space Jam. As he leads a team of literal cartoons to victory over a group of alien monsters, his years of professional training come into play. We see him play alongside fellow NBA stars including Larry Bird and Charles Barkley, as well as everyone’s favourite Looney Tunes including Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Porky Pig which culminates in Jordan’s arm humorously stretching the length of the court to score a game-winning dunk.
Not unlike other wrestlers, John Cena dreamt of Hollywood throughout his wrestling career. Given that wrestling requires more acting than most sports, it’s hardly surprising that so many take the leap into careers on the silver screen. With his reputation in the ring rising, his acting career began with action films including The Marine and 12 Rounds before moving into comedies, cracking out the jokes in Trainwreck and this year’s Blockers. He also ticked the voice acting box playing the titular character in animated children’s film Ferdinand, displaying how his versatility as an actor has progressed over the years – should The Rock watch out?
As a former professional bodybuilder, Arnold Schwarzenegger was dominating the competitive bodybuilding circuit by the age of 20 and became the youngest person ever to win Mr Universe before going onto win the title a total of five times. His move into acting came while playing the colossal Conan in Conan the Barbarian which relied on his towering physique and reputation as the ultimate bodybuilder. This soon led to his role as the formidable Terminator which he perfected as a mean-machine cyborg on a killer mission. Typecast as the mighty action man has never been a problem for Schwarzenegger, gaining role after role and sealing his status as one of Hollywood’s greats.
From being part of Wimbledon FC’s FA-cup winning ‘crazy gang’ to Hollywood hard man, Vinnie Jones certainly took his career in a new direction after retiring from the pitch. When most professional footballers look to coaching or management to stay in the game, Vinnie traded the football field for the bright lights of Hollywood. Due to his imposing stature, he has starred as many the bad guy in the likes of Snatch, Gone in 60 Seconds and X-Men: The Last Stand. Predominantly cast as villains, it may surprise you that he has also starred in the animated family films Madagascar 3 and Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties.
It’s time to go really old school as Kyrie Irving brings the laughs in Uncle Drew. Starting his basketball career with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2011 before joining the Boston Celtics in 2017, his professional repudiation has only grown over time, also competing for Team USA in the Olympics. He’s merged his big-time NBA career with starring as everyone’s favourite old man with a twist, Uncle Drew in the famous Pepsi adverts and now in the film, Uncle Drew on the big screen. Kyrie Irving takes his skills from the court, applies some comedy and slam-dunks his role alongside Shaquille O’Neal, Tiffany Haddish, and Nick Kroll when he’s convinced to return to the court one last time to help Dax (Lil Rel Howery) defeat his longtime rival.
Uncle Drew is in cinemas on July 6
Loaded staff writer Jack Beresford has produced content for Lad Bible, Axonn Media and a variety of online sports and news media outlets.