Over the weekend, Olympic medalist and professional MMA fighter Ronda Rousey successfully defended her title as UFC Women's Bantamweight Champion. It's great news for her and even better news for The Expendables 3, which is getting some an extra bit of publicity via the win. Rousey costars in the upcoming sequel alongside Sylvester Stallone and many other action stars, and she'll be in Fast & Furious 7, which isn't surprising given how much that franchise likes to employ former and current athletes in its roster of players.
The last Fast & Furious movie, for instance cast fellow female MMA fighter Gina Carano, who had already proven her acting talents in Steven Soderbergh's Haywire, as well as bodybuilder-turned-actor Kim Kold and of course pro-wrestler-turned-movie-star Dwayne Johnson. A number of these action series have been increasing the size of their ensembles, and it would appear that it's easier to recruit people actually known for action in real life rather than finding pretty faces who also require stunt doubles.
Also this week, Star Wars: Episode VII brought on parkour star Pip Andersen for an undetermined role. Again, he'll probably just play a character whose performance involves more action than acting, so they got someone who can perform the stunts over someone who can do Shakespeare. Does he qualify as an athlete? I'd say so, as are fellow parkour stars David Belle and Sebastien Foucan, both of whom have made movie appearances of their own.
In the past, the idea of athletes turned actors consisted of mainly martial artists, including Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris, and football players, such as Jim Brown, Bubba Smith, Fred Williamson, O.J. Simpson, Carl Weathers, Alex Karras, Terry Crews (also in The Expendables 3) and Joe Namath. Later, basketball stars tried to be movie stars, and we got awful vehicles for Shaquille O'Neal, Dennis Rodman and Michael Jordan. A similar trend happened with WWE wrestlers, Johnson being the most successful and undoubtedly the most talented (sorry Andre the Giant).
You could throw bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger (also in The Expendables 3) in the bunch, too, but he's never really been respected as an actor so much as a package of muscles with some charm attached. I'd rank Kold as a better thespian via his feature debut, Teddy Bear. I'd also consider Esther Williams, who became such a popular actress that it's easy to forget that she'd been a competitive swimmer, although she did exhibit her aquatic skils in a number of Hollywood musicals. Another swimmer, Johnn Weissmuller, is also best known for the movies, specifically in the role of Tarzan.
Here are two you might not think of: Jason Statham (also in The Expendables 3 and Fast & Furious 7), who was a member of the British National Diving Team and then a sports model before hitting the big screen, and Jason Lee, who was a pro skater.
What athlete turned actor has shown the best acting talent?
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