Singing with the Stars

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Actors who moonlight as musicians don’t always strike the right chord. Fan Zhong checks out a few who are music to our ears.


It was her day job that inspired Emmanuelle Seigner’s musical side gig. “I had to sing these horrible songs,” she says of playing a pop star in the 2005 French drama Backstage. “I hated the music. I’m more into rock ’n’ roll.” Just a year later, the actress released her first album in France, a collaboration with the band Ultra Orange. Her vocals drew comparisons with Nico circa her Velvet Underground years, but Seigner sees herself as more of a Lou Reed. “I always imagine I am a man onstage,” she explains. “I just feel like my energy is more masculine.” In Seigner’s mind, her second record—a French-language release that debuted last year, featuring a cameo by Iggy Pop and a racy duet with her husband, Roman Polanski—veered “a bit too pop.” She’d like to record her next album in New York for an American audience, with a proper rock guru, to evolve her sound. “I don’t know if I can get him,” she says, “but my dream is to work with Jack White.”


“People say a lot of actors are just failed musicians,” jokes Jim Sturgess, who broke out in Julie Taymor’s 2007 Beatles musical, Across the Universe. Growing up, the 30-year-old Londoner bounced around the Camden music scene and met his girlfriend, Mickey O’Brien, when their bands shared a rehearsal space. Now they’ve teamed up to form Tragic Toys, which, according to O’Brien—a keyboardist for UK pop sensation La Roux—plays “electro-cockney-gypsy-circus music.” Translation: Sturgess’s vocals ride atop O’Brien’s layered, keyboard-driven electronica in a way that at times recalls Radiohead. Though music is his first love, Sturgess, whose romantic dramedy One Day comes out next month, realizes his growing screen fame may cause skepticism. “I just hope people see that my music comes from a sincere place,” he says, “but it is hard to believe, I know.”


In 2005 Ryan Gosling was dating Rachel McAdams. Zach Shields, meanwhile, was seeing her sister. The two men hatched a plan to start a band together—only it was less band, more concept: They were going to tell ghoulish tales of zombies via choruses sung by the Silverlake Youth Chorale. Released around Halloween 2009, what seemed like a gimmick turned out to be a wonderfully weird album. The duo went lo-fi and DIY, recording and playing most of the instruments themselves (Gosling even learned cello and piano). Occasionally, a ukulele accompanied Gosling’s old-fashioned warble—which those who’ve seen Blue Valentine know can be quite charming. Currently, the two are working on—but not yet talking publicly about—a follow-up.


Aleksa Palladino—an actress on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire—met Devon Church on a train. They connected and then lost sight of each other until, years later, they reunited in Paris, a city where innumerable love stories have been filmed. “We didn’t see those movies for exactly that reason,” says Palladino about Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. While the lead characters of those films, Jesse and Celine, talked endlessly of ideas, Palladino and Church, who plays guitar, bonded through music. These days, the now married couple record their trippy, melancholic tunes under the name Exitmusic. After self-releasing a debut LP in 2007, they’re getting ready to tour with their follow-up album (on a yet-to-be-announced label), which is centered on the theme of loneliness. Says Palladino: “There’s something attractive about the pain.”