Stage fright

wsc303Footballers can be overacting show-offs, but very few make a decent play of it when given their chance on screen, says Ashley Clark

Though it is easy to see why those engaged in one performative discipline awash with cash and fan adulation may be eager to try their hand at another, history is littered with examples of footballers turning to acting with distinctly mixed results. In largely well received new thriller Switch, Eric Cantona brings his usual brooding charisma to the role of Damien Forgeat, a detective on the trail of a young woman accused of murder. With the talent, versatility and self-confidence to match his ambition, Cantona has carved out an impressive acting career, beginning with a small role in Shekhar Kapur’s period drama Elizabeth, packing in a host of serious-minded French-language fare and peaking with a sly, perfectly judged turn in Ken Loach’s drama Looking For Eric.

For every Cantona, however, one must allow room for the likes of Geoff Hurst, who popped up earlier this year in dreadful bribes ‘n’ hoodies thriller Payback Season as the trusted agent of a flashy young Premier League player. Presumably drafted in by the film-makers to lend proceedings an air of verisimilitude, Hurst looked way out of his depth, often seeming unaware if the cameras were still rolling. He ought to have been wise enough not to get involved but, like a host of others down the years, he found the temptation too great to resist.

Other than King Eric, perhaps the most successful example of a footballer-turned-actor is Vinnie Jones. In the late 1990s he cut a distinctive swathe playing viciously charismatic thugs in Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, and a convicted footballer in the prison drama Mean Machine. A career in Hollywood beckoned and he soon found himself starring alongside the likes of Nicolas Cage in Gone In 60 Seconds and John Travolta in Swordfish. However, hampered by an almost total lack of range, Jones, though working consistently, has since drifted like a tumbleweed into the acrid desert of straight-to-DVD obscurity, only resurfacing recently to star in a bizarre British Heart Foundation advert set to the strains of the Bee Gees’ Stayin’ Alive.

Though one could be forgiven for not knowing it existed in the first place, the acting career of Cantona’s compatriot David Ginola is also worth a mention. After studying briefly at RADA, he appeared in the 2004 short film Rosbeef as an amorous butcher setting hearts aflutter in rural France. “Word soon spread about bon rump on display, and the shop was buzzing with excited female patrons!” said the promotional material. A year later came a slightly wobbly turn as Nazi sniper Dieter Marx in war film The Last Drop. His last acting role was a brief cameo in long-running US soap The Young and the Restless.

As amazing as it still seems today, back in 2006 Stan Collymore was cast as Sharon Stone’s lover in the wholly unnecessary Basic Instinct 2: Risk Addiction. Sadly for Collymore, his character was dispatched in a car trapped underwater before the opening credits had even rolled. Odder still, the late George Best had a fleeting cameo in Percy, which featured Hywel Bennett from 1980s sitcom Shelley as the recipient of the world’s first penis transplant.

In keeping with the theme of “men’s health”, a luxuriously bearded Pelé (who could forget his plaintive erectile dysfunction adverts?) cropped up in 1987’s appalling Hotshot to mentor US soccer hopeful Jimmy Kristidis. His tears at the film’s conclusion were those of a man who knew his film career, which had started six years earlier with Escape To Victory, was over. The less said about Ian Wright’s manic turn in last year’s nightclubs and Nazis caper Gun of the Black Sun, the better.

It is almost forgotten now, but back in 2000, while taking a break from playing for Kilmarnock and appearing on A Question of Sport, Ally McCoist was cast as the romantic lead in Robert Duvall’s schmaltzy drama A Shot At Glory, which focused on fictional Scottish side Kilnockie FC. “Hoosiers with rowdier fans”, parped the LA Daily News. The film flopped but McCoist did exceptionally well to keep a straight face when confronted with Duvall’s mesmerically atrocious Scottish accent, which sounded like an Indian Alex Ferguson with a mouth full of toffee.

Others players have simply appeared as iterations of themselves. This is not as easy as it sounds, as proved by Alan Shearer, who comprehensively failed to adequately portray Alan Shearer not once, but twice (in Goal!, alongside a similarly wooden David Beckham, and Purely Belter). Others to have struggled include bluff ex-Sheffield Wednesday defender Mel Sterland (as Sean Bean’s nemesis in the unconvincing When Saturday Comes) and a reticent Bryan Robson, who popped up in an episode of Jossy’s Giants, a kids’ TV show created by darts legend Sid Waddell. With a handful of exceptions, acting is probably best left to the professionals.

From WSC 303 May 2012