Cristiano Ronaldo and the other footballers who caught the acting bug

With Cristiano Ronaldo set to appear in a TV series, he follows in a long line of footballers who have caught the acting bug, writes Jonathan deBurca Butler
Cristiano Ronaldo and the other footballers who caught the acting bug

TOWARDS the tail end of last month, it was announced that one of the world’s greatest footballers would be taking his mesmerising skills to the silver screen. Cristiano Ronaldo, the four-time winner of the coveted Ballon d’Or, is set to star in Hayat Koprusu, a Turkish television series based around the story of a family of Syrian refugees. According to various reports, filming for the show starts in April and will feature cameos from well-known people, including Angelina Jolie.

While cynics might see his impending entrance into thespianism as just another step on the star’s less than modest vanity crusade, it is worth noting that the 32-year-old has been quite outspoken about the refugee crisis in Syria and seems willing to lend his fame to the cause in any way he can. Those who have followed him in recent years will also know that he has spoken about acting before.

In a Q&A with Portuguese fashion label Sacoor Brothers, the handsome Galactico was asked if he ever saw himself acting in Hollywood (he had just released a film... about himself).

“It’s not my goal at the moment,” he said. “But I’ve had some invitations... I wouldn’t want to be a lead or supporting actor. I’d like to do small parts. I’d like to learn, to be surrounded by good actors. That’s the only way to learn... I think I could get there, with practice.”

Of course were he to take the plunge (oh, it’s so tempting to say dive) into acting he wouldn’t be the first to do so. He wouldn’t even be the first ex-Real Madrid player to do so. After a car crash ended a possible career as a goalkeeper for Madrid, Julio Iglesias changed from shouting instructions to defenders to wooing ladies with his incredible singing. Inevitably, he tried his hand at acting too. A Vida Sigue Igua (1969) and Me olvidé de vivir (1980) may well sound lovely but by all accounts were utterly forgettable. More memorable was his cameo as himself in a 1989 episode of The Golden Girls where he showed up as a Valentine’s Day date for Sophia.

The greatest of them all, Pele, also tried his hand at acting.

Pele
Pele

For about 20 years, it seemed there wasn’t a Sunday that went past without RTÉ showing his, eh, fine performance alongside Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine, and several well-known footballers including Ireland’s Kevin O’Callaghan in Escape to Victory (1981).

The movie told the story of a group of Second World War prisoners who are handpicked to play against the best 11 that Nazi Germany has to offer. His acting didn’t win him any awards, though there was no category that year for Best Goal Scored while Holding Broken Ribs Dramatically, the film itself is enjoyable enough. Five years on from that appearance, the Brazilian played a fallen great of football who helps a wayward star in the appalling Hot Shots and that, as they say, was that.

Of course, it’s not just hot-blooded Latinos who go into acting. As a footballer, Vinnie Jones had a fearsome reputation as a cold-blooded defender. Jones was part of the famous Wimbledon FC team known as the Crazy Gang who stunned the English footballing establishment by winning the FA Cup in 1988. His defending technique was unique. If he wasn’t pictured grabbing opponents’ testicles, he was spotted kicking them or abusing them.

Vinnie Jones
Vinnie Jones

When director Guy Ritchie was looking for someone to play the role of an enforcer in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) he thought Jones was perfect. Ritchie’s punt was inspired and was the start of an acting career that has gone from the Hollywood heights of Gone in 60 Seconds to the slightly more avant-garde world of Kazakh cinema. Most recently, Jones co-starred alongside Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Escape Plan (2012) and he provided the voice for Freddie the Dog, who was, yes you guessed it, a bit of a London gurrier in Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted.

For French footballers the move to acting is nigh-on de rigueur. After his playing career, David Ginola, studied at RADA. His first film, a short entitled Rosbeef, premiered at Cannes and went on to win an award at the Festival International de Cinéma et Gastronomie in Dijon. He has not done much to whet the appetite of cinemagoers since. Former Chelsea defender Frank LeBeouf also decided to learn the craft after his retirement from the beautiful game; he recently appeared as a doctor in the Oscar-winning The Theory of Everything.

But of all the ex-ball-wizards who have taken their Gallic flair to the screen, Eric Cantona, if not necessarily the greatest, is certainly the most prolific. Cantona first made an acting name for himself in the blockbuster Elizabeth (1998), playing secretary to the transvestite Duc D’Anjou (Vincent Cassel). Though Cassel steals the show — as Cassel tends to do — Cantona acquitted himself well. He was even more impressive playing himself in Ken Loach’s uplifting Looking for Eric.

In fact, his performance was enough to inspire French Le Point magazine to write: “When so many ‘retired’ sportsmen try and fail to do something else, Cantona deserves his reputation as an artist.” Before taking his next dive, Ronaldo would do well to maybe get some advice from the former King of Old Trafford.

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