How These 7 Actors Tuned Up and Turned Up for Their Singing Roles

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Photo Source: “Judy” Credit: David-Hindley/Courtesy LD Entertainment and Roadside Attractions

“If you can talk, you can sing; if you can walk, you can dance”—if only it were always as easy as this Zimbabwean proverb suggests. Even if a performer is genetically blessed with pipes and perfect pitch, singing—especially for a role—still takes some doing. Here, actors talk about their time spent crooning, rapping, and, yes, even yodeling.

Reese Witherspoon, “Walk the Line” (2005)

“I freaked out because I’d never sung professionally before, and, moreover…I have stage fright, terrible stage fright. I sweat—my knees sweat, my ears sweat. When I see more than 20 people, it makes me very nervous…. We practiced; we did six months of voice lessons. And then we recorded an album over six months. That was a long time to rehearse for a movie. We usually rehearse for a week.”

Andrew Garfield, “Tick, Tick… Boom!” (2021)

“I worked very, very closely with an amazing vocal coach, Liz Caplan, and all of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s amazing musical direction team. They enabled me to open my voice up to the point where I could honor  [composer and lyricist Jonathan Larson’s] songs, and feel confident enough to belt them out as he always did when he was doing his one-man show and otherwise. It was a privilege to be able to learn a skill that I’ve always wanted to attain, and do it in service to Jon Larson.” 

John C. Reilly, “Chicago” (2002)

“[The producers] asked me if I wanted to do [‘Chicago’], provided I could sing, which I had to prove to them through videotape. I was thrilled because I’m a big fan of musicals…. I did nothing but musicals, actually, from the time I was about 8 years old to the time I was 18. Not by choice, really—[but] because that’s all there was to do where I grew up: musicals or… crime. So I chose musicals, and that’s where I learned to be an actor, really.”

Anne Hathaway, “Les Misérables” (2012)

“After I was cast, [vocal coach] Joan [Lader] and I began, twice a week, working to improve my vocal stamina so that I could sing for 12 hours a day…. I had prepared for singing while crying, and I’d been practicing that because I didn’t want to get there and cry and sing for the first time on camera. We also worked on subtle things such as voice placement, since you can get congested when crying and you have to still be able to stay on pitch.” 

Tom Hiddleston, “I Saw the Light” (2015)

“There comes a time in a man’s life when he’s asked to yodel, and that time is a terrifying one. So [country musician Rodney Crowell and I] sat in this hotel room in Toronto on Easter weekend, and we both got our guitars out…. I learned you just have to commit to it. It was sort of difficult initially, but Rodney…had no judgment, which is something that was a persistent tone for all of our work together…. [Rodney] understood it was a process, and it was going to take a while to get there. But we just had to keep committing. Anyway…eight hours later, we were still sitting there.”

Bradley Cooper, “A Star Is Born” (2018)

“I had no idea how to breathe. I knew nothing about singing—nothing. It’s such a difficult art form to sing in front of people, because you lose your breath right away when you’re nervous…. I had great teachers. Lukas Nelson [is] an incredible musician who I worked with; he and his band [Promise of the Real, worked with me for] hours and hours and hours and hours. I think it’s because I was a good student and listened to great teachers [that] I was able to do it.”

Renée Zellweger, “Judy” (2019)

“We worked on [the songs] for quite some time beforehand to, most importantly, understand the emotional journey and the telling of the story within that song, sharing that we’re not sure where Judy is at this moment in her life and whether or not she will succeed…and also to sort of animate the struggles that she’s experiencing out of the spotlight. And so, in the rehearsal room at the piano store, [director] Rupert [Goold] asked me: ‘Just come push on this piano.’ And I said, ‘Excuse me?’ He said, ‘I want you to sing and I want it to come from [your core]; and I want it to be the embodiment of her pain at this moment, and the struggle is this piano. Move this piano while you sing this song because I want to hear not you singing a song—I want to hear you struggling in your life.’ And I thought, Oh, OK, I get it.”