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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Dwayne Grant

Tough guys, nude pioneers and a ‘bogan’ in Bollywood: nine sports stars who became actors

Shane Crawford on Channel Nine's The Footy Show in 2006
Shane Crawford took centre stage after winning an AFL premiership with Hawthorn and performed on The Footy Show, but now he’s been cast in an Andrew Lloyd Webber Musical Photograph: Kristian Dowling/Getty Images

Shane Crawford once stood on a stage in the middle of the MCG and told celebrating Hawthorn fans: “That’s what I’m talking about.” Come November, he’ll stand on a stage in Melbourne’s Regent theatre and try to hold his own in an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.

“In the past I probably got the gig because I was able to kick a football,” the former AFL star said of being cast as Pharaoh in Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. “[But theatre producers] in America and England have no idea who I am and they’re looking at people as performers.”

While cynics may suggest Crawford is kidding himself if he thinks producers were unaware of his footballing roots when casting him in the Melbourne show, he’s not the first athlete to swap the bright lights of sporting stardom for the bright lights of showbiz. Now it’s just a matter of seeing whether he struts the boards well enough to one day end up with his name on a list such as this.

Dwayne Johnson

Before he was the highest paid actor on the planet – and before he was honing his craft in the acting school that is professional wrestling – “The Rock” was winning national titles in college gridiron. While injury cruelled his NFL dreams, an estimated salary of US$270m this year alone must ease his pain.

Former wrestler Dwayne Johnson (left) and former diver Jason Statham team up for Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw.
Former wrestler Dwayne Johnson (left) and former diver Jason Statham team up for the 2019 film Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw. Photograph: UNIVERSAL

Brett Lee

Oh, to have been a fly on the wall when the Aussie fast bowler told steely-eyed skipper Ricky Ponting he had recorded a love duet with an Indian singer. Lee had the last laugh: You’re the One for Me reached No 2 on the subcontinent and Lee went on to star in the 2015 romcom unINDIAN, a film that inspired an Australian critic to declare: “Bollywood goes bogan.”

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Fast fact: the world’s most famous Austrian bodybuilder had a total of 58 words of dialogue in The Terminator – further proof it’s not how much you say on screen but how huge you look saying it. It’s still hard to believe that the 38th governor of California is the same man who gave us the immortal line “It’s not a tumour” from Kindergarten Cop.

OJ Simpson

Having transitioned from pro footballer to budding actor, the 1973 NFL Player of the Year and star of The Naked Gun trilogy once said he sometimes chose non-positive roles to “tear down that picture of OJ Simpson, the clean-cut athlete”. But that was before his most well-known role – as the accused who was acquitted of his former wife’s real-life murder – and his later convictions for armed robbery and kidnapping.

Vinnie Jones

As a self-proclaimed “hard man”, the English footballer was sent off 12 times during his career and once boasted: “I’ve taken the violence off the terraces and on to the pitch.” No surprise then when he turned up in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels as a mob enforcer called Big Chris. Proving that typecasting never hurt anyone, his subsequent roles include a gun-for-hire, a henchman, a football hooligan and a death row inmate forced to fight to the death on a desert island.

Annette Kellermann

Annette Kellerman: the Aqua Queen.
Annette Kellerman: the Australian Aqua Queen. Photograph: GL Archive/Alamy

The sporting world remembers the Australian as the “Aqua Queen”, an International Swimming Hall of Fame inductee who popularised the sport among women in the early 1900s. The film world remembers her as the first major actress to appear fully nude in a Hollywood production. That was in Daughter of the Gods (1916), one of many roles that cemented her status as an agent of change.

Murray Rose

The legendary swimmer made his Olympic debut at the 1956 Melbourne Games, winning three gold as a 17-year-old. The budding thespian made his acting debut in 1962 as “Convict No 2” in the ABC adaptation of My Three Angels. While one reviewer described his performance as “decorative”, that was clearly not a bad thing given he went on to score a variety of other film and TV roles.

Ian Roberts

One of the NRL’s toughest forwards during the 1980s and 1990s, Roberts stepped into an even more brutal arena upon retiring – the audition room. The NIDA-trained actor, who remains the only first grade player to come out as gay, has since compiled a résumé featuring cameos in the Star Wars, Superman and Underbelly franchises, along with a starring role in 2012’s Saltwater.

Jason Statham

Hold on to your budgie smugglers – the “Transporter” represented England in diving at the 1990 Commonwealth Games. “It’s a bit of a sore point I never got to the Olympics,” Statham has said of the life he lived before earning a reputation for playing no-nonsense, ultra-violent action heroes who would eat Commonwealth Games divers for breakfast.

• Dwayne Grant is an award-winning writer from Queensland who once dreamed of being an actor or sports star but now spends his days writing lists about them.

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