Video may have killed the radio star, but it certainly didn’t hurt the careers of many actors. There’s a long history of celebrities making appearances in music videos, and for many new actors or models, it can be a major break.
For instance, before Naomi Campbell was one of the world’s first-ever supermodels — when she was just 13 years old, actually — she appeared in two videos for ’80s giants Culture Club: 1983’s “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya” and 1984’s “Mistake No. 3.” She literally went from being an adoring teenage fan of the band to landing quick cameos in its videos. “I used to sit outside [Boy George’s] house with my friend for hours with magazines or whatever else we wanted him to sign,” Campbell said during a 2017 Q&A with Town and Country magazine (via the AP). Years later, Campbell took a truly iconic music video role in George Michael’s “Freedom! ’90,” although she claims that was a complete role reversal, since by that time she was a full-fledged star and Michaels had to beg to get her and her fellow catwalk stars to sign on. “I used to throw eggs at [George Michael’s] van because I was a big Culture Club fan,” she said during the same event.
Think Campbell’s OG MTV past sounds wild? Here are some more celebrities you probably forgot starred in old music videos.
Bruce Springsteen pulled Courteney Cox on stage in 'Dancing in the Dark'
Before she was our friend, Courteney Cox was just a girl in jeans dancing with the Boss. Back in 1984, when MTV still played music videos on a 24-hour loop, Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” appeared on TV sets across America multiple times a day — and it ended up being just the break that then brand-new actress Cox needed.
In the video, Cox plays an all-American girl-next-door type, just dancing with her friends at a Springsteen concert, when she gets the surprise of her life — the Boss pulls her onstage to dance with him! According to author Kelsey Miller’s Friends retrospective, I’ll Be There For You: The One About Friends, the video was only Cox’s “third job,” and she didn’t even know what she was auditioning for when she landed the gig. What’s even more interesting? Springsteen didn’t even know Cox was an actor. According to his own book, Born To Run (via the Star Tribune), he thought he was pulling a random fan onstage, but video director Brian De Palma staged the whole thing. “From then on, [Cox] booked a steady stream of TV gigs, doing guest spots as well on commercials,” Miller wrote.
Given the good fortune she enjoyed from her first music video, it’s no wonder Cox also went on to star in the ’90s band Counting Crows’ “A Long December.”
Aerosmith revived its career via music videos starring Alicia Silverstone
Aerosmith started making records in 1970. In the next decade, the video age killed a lot of ’70s radio stars’ careers, but Aerosmith rode the wave. The band even managed to cross genres and connect to a new generation of fans when it collaborated with Run-DMC on a hip-hop-infused version of “Walk This Way” in 1986. But Aerosmith’s arguably most famous videos were made in the ’90s, and they rebooted the group’s career.
According to Rolling Stone, the magic dust of the rockers’ ’80s revival had fallen away by 1993, and it looked like Aerosmith’s record, Get a Grip, might have ended up a flop, after the first single, “Livin’ on the Edge,” failed to make a real splash. Enter the now-legendary videos for “Cryin’,” “Amazing,” and “Crazy.” Released between 1993 and 1994, the trilogy benefited from the casting of “rising star” Alicia Silverstone, who was fresh off of her breakout movie role in The Crush. Within a year of the Aerosmith videos, she snagged the starring role in Clueless, which officially propelled her onto the A-List.
Fun fact: In “Crazy,” we also get one of our first glimpses of frontman Steven Tyler’s daughter, Liv, who of course went on to be a big star in her own right. And rounding out the band’s apparent goal of creating the ultimate ’90s and early 2000s casting all-star list were Josh Holloway, Steven Dorff, and Jason London, too.
In the 2000s, Aerosmith continued its trend of casting actresses in music videos
After the success the band had with its early ’90’s Silverstone-led music videos, is it any wonder that Aerosmith stuck with the formula of big-budget, cinematic videos starring gorgeous actresses? The rockers were at it again in 2001 when they cast Mila Kunis in their video for “Jaded.”
In the video, Kunis plays an unhappy young girl who seems to have trouble with reality. The video’s style was an artful and surreal departure from the raucous ones the band made in the ’90s. And while Kunis was already appearing as the sassy teenager, Jackie Burkhart, on the sitcom, That ’70s Show, she wasn’t immune to getting starstruck in the presence of rock legends. “It was a huge honor to work with them,” Kunis told the New York Post of the experience. She added, “What’s so rad about it was that Steven Tyler actually introduced himself to me. And it was so cool because he’s so down-to-earth. There’s not one person on this planet who doesn’t know who he is.”
Of course, since then, Kunis has gone on to become pretty internationally recognizable herself, as she eventually parlayed her music video and sitcom fame into a successful career on the big screen. As of this writing, she also stays busy raising her family with husband Ashton Kutcher, her co-star from That ’70s Show.
A young Eva Mendes cruised through Will Smith's 1998 jam, 'Miami'
If you don’t love Will Smith’s music, you might be dead inside. Back in 1998, he made the bop, “Miami,” alongside a music video that gave us a glimpse at a young Eva Mendes. She shows up around the 1:10 mark as a young hottie cruising in a convertible with a friend as they welcome Smith to The Magic City. Between the beaches, parties, and a salsa breakdown, what’s not to love?
In 2016, GQ shared an inside look into Mendes’ appearance. “I was going to be playing a battlefield Nurse that Will falls in love with, like a Florence Nightingale situation, but that plotline got cut at the last minute,” Mendes, who later worked with Smith in the 2005 flick, Hitch, said of her original bigger part. “My house was like half an hour away, so I just grit my teeth and got in the car.” Meanwhile, Smith quipped, “Years later I told Eva … that ‘Miami’ was kind of a prequel to Hitch but she didn’t like that. She said it didn’t make any sense.”
While Mendes became a successful actress in her own right, she actually got her start in other music videos, including the Pet Shop Boys’ “Se a vida é” and Aerosmith’s “Hole in My Soul” (this band sure knows how to cast a video!). And by 2020, Mendes was ready to reunite with Smith once again in a proposed Hitch sequel.
Alyssa Milano played a cheerleader in Blink-182's 'Josie' music video
Alyssa Milano was a child actress who made a name for herself in the popular ’80s sitcom, Who’s the Boss. When that show ended in 1992, she acted in a string of soapy made-for-TV movies and cheesy B-list films, finally landing in the classic ’90s nighttime soap, Melrose Place. In 1998, she made a scorching appearance in Blink-182’s music video for its single, “Josie,” playing the cheerleader love interest to singer Mark Hoppus’ bumbling kid track runner … with comical results, of course.
The duo seemed to get on well behind the scenes, as well, as Hoppus recalled in a since-deleted October 2019 Twitter AMA. After a fan asked, “What was your favorite memory filming the Josie video?” (via All Punked Up), he revealed, “At the end of the shoot, Alyssa Milano handing me a note saying ‘Let’s hang out’ with her phone number on it and me, dumb and oblivious, thinking ‘I wonder if she really wants to hang out?’ and never calling.” Oops.
As of this writing, there’s no word on this particular anecdote of rock star lore from Milano herself. Still, one has to wonder if Hoppus ever kicked himself for failing to follow up, especially since the actress-activist went on to have an even more successful career in television, eventually ending up on shows like Charmed, My Name Is Earl, and Insatiable.
Channing Tatum showed off his dance moves in 'She Bangs' by Ricky Martin
Long before he made viewers swoon from his performance as a male exotic dancer with big dreams in Magic Mike, a 20-year-old Channing Tatum grinded his way through the sexy English-language music video for Ricky Martin’s 2000 hit, “She Bangs.” You can just catch a glimpse of him dancing at the 1:04, 1:31, and 2:59 marks of the murky, under-the-sea themed clip.
Now worth a whopping $50 million, Tatum reportedly earned $400 throughout his five-day shoot, per Metro, which also marked his first-ever onscreen dancing gig. It essentially helped launched his career, but it wasn’t the only music video the actor-dancer’s appeared in: he can also be spotted in videos for songs by Twista, Sean Paul, Ciara, and Pink. And while going from video extra to starring in blockbusters like the Magic Mike, GI Joe, and LEGO movie franchises is not at all a bad career path, Tatum has his doubts that Martin recalls his early performance.
Quipping that “[Martin] would never recognize me ever,” Tatum admitted that he doesn’t remember “very much” about the gig himself on The Late Late Show with James Corden in 2017. “We were in the Bahamas and I was one of three guys … and about 200 women that were more beautiful than anyone I’d ever seen at that time,” he explained with a laugh, adding, “We partied a little.”
Matthew McConaughey broke hearts in Trisha Yearwood's 'Walkaway Joe' music video
Before he told us all to “Watch the leather, man,” in his breakout role of Wooderson in Dazed and Confused, a young Matthew McConaughey played the guy our parents warned us about in the 1992 music video for Tricia Yearwood’s “Walkaway Joe.” The song tells the story of a heartbreaker (McConaughey) who leaves a pretty young girl in a lurch, stranded by the side of a road in her stonewashed denim. It was decidedly not “alright, alright, alright.”
The video marked McConaughey’s second role that year, his first being the portrayal of Larry Dickens, a 1978 murder victim, on Unsolved Mysteries. During an interview with IMDb First Credit, the actor revealed that the murderer was eventually caught when tips from witnesses poured in shortly after the episode aired.
We all know that McConaughey has since gone on to find A-list success — showing off his range with his Oscar-winning turn in Dallas Buyers Club, his embodiment of the strange yet endearing Rust Cohle on HBO’s True Detective, and, of course, making a bunch of goofy rom-coms — but now we know where he came from. As Yearwood herself recalled to People in 2014, “He was cast from local talent in Austin, Tex., where the footage was shot. The performance with [collaborator] Don Henley was shot in Nashville, so I never met Matthew.” However, she quipped, “If he ever wants to be in another Trisha Yearwood video, I won’t make him audition.”
Former child star Elijah Wood made his onscreen debut in Paula Abdul's 'Forever Your Girl'
When he was just a wee babe of 8 years old, Elijah Wood made his acting debut in the music video for Paula Abdul’s 1989 pop hit, “Forever Your Girl.” The video, directed by future Emmy-winner and Oscar-nominee David Fincher, plays with the theme of kids as adults, with Wood portraying the cutest little frustrated businessman you ever saw. Considering the pre-American Idol Abdul was already a megastar in the music world at the time, the gig turned out to be the big break Wood needed to get a jump start on his career.
From there, Wood went on to nab movie roles in the likes of Back to the Future Part II, Radio Flyer, and The Good Son. He even popped up in other music videos, like the Cranberries’ “Ridiculous Thoughts” in 1995. Of course, the former child actor eventually became a bona fide superstar in 2001, when he landed the part of Frodo Baggins The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but he’ll still happily recall his first onscreen gig (as will Abdul herself). “That was so exciting for me. I had never worked as an actor on anything,” Wood told the AV Club in 2014, saying he “[had] fun playing the role.” He added, “But the thing that stands out in my mind the most is getting to meet Paula Abdul. I just thought that was too super cool.”
RuPaul first wowed viewers in the music video for 'Love Shack' by The B-52s
RuPaul’s first onscreen appearance was in this fun music video from 1989. A colossal hit for the B-52’s, “Love Shack” peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and the video featured the fabulous drag queen dancing in a funky afro and matching halter-top-hot-pants combo. “The big story … is that they wanted to do a Soul Train line [in the video],” RuPaul later told Billboard (via Yahoo! Entertainment). “… It wasn’t going right. So I had to step in and say, ‘OK, listen. This is how you do a Soul Train line’ … They were very impressed.”
So, how did this iconic appearance come about? “Ru was a drag queen in Atlanta, and a bunch of people came up to New York and we all started hanging out,” band member Cindy Wilson explained to Billboard. “That was a cool era for us, as well as a really hard time: the AIDS crisis.” She recalled how shooting the video was “really wonderful,” however, “because … there was a wonderful sense of coming together, being silly and hoping for the future.”
While the RuPaul’s Drag Race host went on to become a star in his own right, it all started in a “little old place where we can get together.” Naturally, RuPaul was more than happy to return the favor when he invited the B-52s to guest-judge on the show nearly 30 years later.
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