Having already had to deal with eyes on their every move on the pitch (or in the stadium), it almost feels natural for some athletes to put on convincing – and even award-winning – performances when dipping their toes into the entertainment industry.
While some actors’ athletic histories are known to many (think Dwayne Johnson and John Cena’s wrestling careers), you’d be surprised by how many of them actually started their professional careers on the pitch.
1. Dwayne Johnson
Do you smelllll what The Rock is cookin’?!
We were all introduced to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as the WWF superstar whose’s right eyebrow had a life of its own, but did you know that he briefly pursued a career in professional American football? A young Johnson played for the Miami Hurricanes in college and won a national championship as part of the 1991 lineup.
His dream, however, was cut short when he was let go from the Canadian Football League’s Calgary Stampeders in his first season. Following in his father and grandfather’s footsteps, he decided to pursue a career in professional wrestling instead and signed on to the WWE (then known as WWF) in 1996.
Johnson made his acting debut in 1999 playing his father Rocky Johnson in “That ‘70s Show” before making his theatrical debut in 2001’s “The Mummy Returns”. He has since starred in countless movies and even co-founded production company Seven Bucks Productions in 2012, which has churned out films like “Baywatch“, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle“, “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw”, and upcoming heist comedy “Red Notice” starring Johnson himself alongside Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot.
2. Dave Bautista
To wrestling fans, he will always be ‘Batista’.
Known for his hulking muscular frame, Bautista began his professional wrestling career in 1999 and signed with the WWF the next year. He quickly rose to fame under the aforementioned ring name and would go on to become a six-time world champion, winning the World Heavyweight Championship four times and the WWE Championship twice.
Bautista’s early filmography consisted of guest appearances and cameos as himself in TV shows like “Smallville” and “Chuck”. In 2014, he played Drax the Destroyer in “Guardians of the Galaxy”, paving the way for more appearances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as well as starring roles in major blockbusters such as “Spectre”, “Blade Runner 2049”, Zack Snyder’s “Army of the Dead“, and most recently, “Dune“.
3. John David Washington
Despite making his first ever on-screen appearance at the tender age of seven in Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X”, which starred his father Denzel Washington in the titular role, John David Washington did not immediately follow in the latter’s footsteps when it came to pursuing an acting career.
Having excelled in football, basketball, and track in high school, Washington continued playing football at Morehouse College and signed with the St. Louis Rams as an undrafted free agent in 2006. For four years, he served as the running back for the United Football League’s Sacramento Mountain Lions until the league ceased operations in October 2012.
Washington scored his first major role when he was cast in HBO drama series “Ballers”, which he starred in until 2019. He was also cast in lead roles for Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” and Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet”, and played the titular characters in “Malcolm & Marie” and “Beckett”.
4. Uzo Aduba
Crazy Eyes has crazy fast feet!
As a child, the Emmy award winning actress dabbled in competitive figure skating. “The Orange Is the New Black” star also won a track scholarship to Boston University where she became one of its top sprinters and even holds the record for sprinting there.
5. John Cena
If you can’t see him then, you sure can see him now!
Before his days of spouting witty one-liners and flexing his muscles on the big screen, John Cena was spitting rhymes and winning championship belts in the WWE. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time, tying with former pro wrestler Ric Flair for the most world championship reigns in professional wrestling history.
Cena’s acting career began with starring roles in “The Marine”, “12 Rounds”, and “Legendary” — all three of which were produced by WWE Studios, the motion pictures arm of the WWE. Since then, he has brought his charismatic presence to comedies such as “Trainwreck” and “Blockers”, as well as high-profile blockbusters like “Bumblebee” and “The Suicide Squad”.
6. Jason Statham
In the days before Jason Statham stopped growing out his hair, the action superstar was part of Britain’s national diving team, which he was a member of for 12 years and even competed in the 1990 Commonwealth Games. He was also an avid footballer and practiced Chinese martial arts, kickboxing, and karate in his youth.
After making his film debut in Guy Ritchie’s “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” in 1998, Statham broke into Hollywood at the turn of the millennium with notable action movies such as “Snatch” and “The Transporter”. In the years that followed, he carved a niche for himself playing stoic, tough characters in films like “Mechanic: Resurrection” and even teamed up with some of the world’s most iconic action stars in the “Expendables” films and the “Fast and Furious” franchise.
That’s not to say he doesn’t have range; he did, after all, flex his comedic chops as a debonair yet incompetent spy in “Spy” alongside Melissa McCarthy, Jude Law, and Rose Byrne.
7. Terry Crews
Way before ‘A Thousand Miles’ was anyone’s jam, Terry Crews played football in college and even went on to pursue a professional football career. His time in the NFL included stints with the Los Angeles Rams, the Green Bay Packers, the San Diego Chargers, the then-Washington Redskins, and the Philadelphia Eagles before he retired in 1997 and moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting.
Nowadays, he is mostly known for his memorable rendition of “A Thousand Miles”, “White Chicks”, Old Spice commercials, and as yoghurt-loving Sergeant Terry Jeffords in “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”.
Brazilian footballer Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior had dabbled into acting when he did a double take after briefly appearing in two episodes of “Money Heist Part 3“. In the show, Neymar played João, a monk at the Italian monastery where Berlin and Palermo plotted their Bank of Spain heist.
It doesn’t seem like he’s about to quit football anytime soon though, having just extended his contract with Paris Saint-Germain F.C.
Images courtesy of Netflix.