10 sports stars who became actors – BBC News

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Flintoff and Beckham are the latest former sportsmen to embark on acting careers

Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff may not be the first name that springs to mind when you think of musical theatre – but that could be about to change.

The former cricketer is to make his stage debut this autumn in a musical version of the Fat Friends TV show.

Flintoff’s casting sees him follow in the footsteps of David Beckham, who was recently seen making a cameo appearance in Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur film.

Here are 10 other former sports stars who have given the acting game a go, either in their free time or after hanging up their boots, gloves and swimming trunks.

Eric Cantona

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Cantona playing for Manchester United in 1997 and at the Rome Film Festival in 2015

The former striker is still known as “King Eric” amongst Manchester United fans thanks to the pivotal role he played in the club’s 1990s revival.

Since retiring from football in 1997, though, Cantona has carved a new career for himself as an actor – thanks in no small part to a certain Ken Loach.

It was Loach who got Cantona to play himself in 2009’s Looking for Eric, a comic fable that made much hay out of the Frenchman’s quasi-mythical stature and his penchant for gnomic utterances.

Though he’s mostly limited himself to French films since, he was more widely seen in 2014 western The Salvation as a burly Corsican enforcer.

Gina Carano

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Carano in the ring in 2008 and on the red carpet in 2013

The Texan athlete’s formidable skills at Muay Thai and MMA (mixed martial arts) so impressed director Steven Soderbergh he built an entire film around her talents.

The result was 2011’s Haywire, a fast-paced spy yarn that saw Carano share the screen with Channing Tatum and Michael Fassbender.

Gina went on to play a malevolent mutant in 2016’s Deadpool, in which she was memorably seen making a “superhero landing“.

“Of course, what I want to do is a romantic comedy,” she revealed last year. “But I’m over here in action land where every actress in Hollywood seems like they want to be.”

John Cena

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Cena in the ring in 2009 and before the cameras in 2017

Given wrestling requires rather more acting than most sports, it’s hardly surprising so many wrestlers have embarked on screen careers.

John Cena, though, has had more success than most, having scored in both action films like 12 Rounds and comedies like Trainwreck.

“I really love my job, so it’s not like I’m trying to quit wrestling to do movies,” Cena told Rolling Stone last year. “They just all seemed like cool things to do.”

John’s next role is playing a bull in the animated film Ferdinand.

Tony Danza

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Tony Danza with Muhammad Ali in 2004

For many people Tony Danza will always be Tony Banta, the good-natured if slow-witted cabbie from US sitcom Taxi.

Yet Danza, pictured above with the late Muhammad Ali in 2004, started out as a boxer who once had hopes of being a world champion middleweight.

“I had 15 pro fights [and] I won 12,” he revealed in 2015. “I won all my fights by knockout. Unfortunately, I lost all my fights by knockout.”

Luckily acting provided a steadier option for the Brooklyn native, who spent five years on Taxi and another eight on Who’s the Boss?

Lewis Hamilton

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Lewis Hamilton with a helmet once worn by Ayrton Senna

Aged just 32, the three-time Formula One world champion isn’t quite ready to give up the driving seat just yet.

But he’s already paving the way for a post-racing career by landing a role in Pixar’s Cars franchise… as a racing car called Lewis.

“I came from a small town called Stevenage,” Hamilton remarked when Cars 2 was released. “It’s not normal I’m in a Hollywood movie.”

Here’s what his character – soon to be seen again in the upcoming Cars 3 – looked like in that 2011 title.

Media captionLewis Hamilton as he appeared in Cars 2

Dwayne Johnson

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Johnson may have dropped “The Rock” but he’s kept all his poses

Like John Cena, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson began his career in the ring. Yet that’s been more than eclipsed now by his post-wrestling career as a Hollywood leading man.

Early roles in The Mummy Returns and spin-off movie The Scorpion King made a virtue of his brawn. The key to Johnson’s success, though, may be his willingness to poke fun and undercut his macho image.

“I always believed that I needed to do all kinds of movies including comedies and family films – and not just action movies – if I wanted to grow as an actor,” he explained earlier this year.

He’s certainly prolific. Already seen this year in Fast & Furious 8 and Baywatch, he’ll next be found rebooting the Jumanji franchise with Central Intelligence co-star Kevin Hart.

Vinnie Jones

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Jones playing for Wimbledon in 1988 and as “Big Chris” in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

David Beckham may have King Arthur: Legend of the Sword under his belt, but he’s got a long way to go before he challenges football’s best-known cinematic export.

Vinnie and Becks don’t just have the beautiful game in common though – they were both been given their shot at stardom by the aforementioned Guy Ritchie.

Having been an infamous hard man on the pitch, Jones had no trouble projecting menace as “Big Chris” in 1998 crime caper Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

The joke has admittedly worn thin in the 19 years since, though that hasn’t stopped Vinnie getting regular work in films and TV shows of wildly varying quality.

Ronda Rousey

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Rousey gave up judo after the 2008 Olympics to focus on mixed martial arts

Having won a bronze medal for judo at the Beijing Olympics, “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey turned to MMA and quickly became one of the sport’s most skilled and dominant practitioners.

That helped land her a role in the third Expendables film alongside such seasoned Hollywood heavyweights as Sylvester Stallone, Mel Gibson and Harrison Ford.

Like fellow fighter Gina Carano, she’s also been seen in the Fast and Furious franchise. Rousey also had a role, as herself, in the 2015 Entourage spin-off.

She’s had mixed fortunes inside the ring though, having lost her last two title bouts – against Holly Holm and Amanda Nunes.

Jason Statham

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Statham at the 1990 Commonwealth Games and at a 2015 film premiere

Another former sportsman who has Guy Ritchie to thank for his career is “The Stath”, who got his big break alongside Vinnie Jones in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

Before that though he dived for England at the 1990 Commonwealth Games, finishing eighth, 10th and 11th in the three competitions he took part in.

“I never really achieved what I wanted to achieve,” he said in 2008. “But I think what I didn’t achieve has probably helped me focus more and take my acting career more seriously.”

Now a fixture of the Expendables, Fast & Furious and Transporter franchises, Statham is currently expecting his first child with his model fiancee Rosie Huntington-Whiteley.

Carl Weathers

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Carl Weathers with Sylvester Stallone in 2016

Before he was Apollo Creed in the Rocky films, Carl Weathers was a professional American Football player who briefly played as a linebacker for the Oakland Raiders.

He went on to play in the Canadian Football League before hanging up his helmet in 1973, three years before landing what would become his signature role.

Weathers went on to appear with Arnold Schwarzenegger in Predator and Adam Sandler in Happy Gilmore. He also played the title role in 1988 film Action Jackson.

“I majored in theatre at San Diego State,” he once revealed. “My one eye was on football, and my other eye was on Hollywood.”


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