By Jason Iannone
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To become an actor, you often have to spend years training and learning the craft. You have to immerse yourself in every character, torture and deprive yourself of rest and relaxation to reach a deeper understanding.
Or, you can be really good at sports. That works, too.
Yes, some of the finest, funniest and most memorable roles in cinematic history have been played not by accomplished thespians, but by goofy jocks whose only previous acting experience was pretending to be hurt in order to draw penalties.
Here are five of our favorites. Disagree? Let us know in a comment, written on a note inserted into an envelope containing $2,000 in small, unmarked bills. Slip it discreetly under our office door. We promise to read every single one.
5. Bubba Smith as Hightower (Police Academy)
Yes, we know his real name was Charles. And no, we don’t care. He was Bubba, and shall always be Bubba.
Or you can call him Hightower. His turn as Officer/Sergeant/Lieutenant Moses Hightower in the “Police Academy” series was a wonderful piece of comic goodness. A lot of “gentle giants” don’t know their own strength, but this guy certainly did, regularly breaking things or tearing them apart if somebody annoyed or insulted him. One time, he lifted an entire squad car just to freak out the guy inside. Another time, he ripped apart the front seat of a car so he could more easily drive from the backseat. That might be illegal, but good luck finding a cop who would tell him that.
The best part was that Hightower was a florist before joining the academy. He was a shockingly sensitive soul who was likely in the wrong profession mentally. Physically, however, he probably could have been the entire academy all by himself, since all he had to do was look at a criminal and they’d respond by running away.
4. Carl Weathers as Apollo Creed (Rocky)
Perhaps you don’t remember Carl Weathers as an athlete. He actually played professional football, albeit briefly (25 games in two years). But acting became his main thing fairly soon afterwards. His biggest, brightest role was in “Rocky,” as Sylvester Stallone’s archenemy turned best buddy, Apollo Creed.
Weathers used his natural athletic ability to effectively portray a man who wasn’t just a boxing champion, but rather THE boxing champion. Remember, this guy beat Rocky in the first film. (It’s not a spoiler if the film is damn near 40 years old.) You can’t cast just any old schlub as the guy who beat Rocky, then trained him to beat Mr. T. Luckily, Weathers was no schlub.
3. Bob Uecker as Harry Doyle (Major League)
And now we have a guy who was an athlete in a technical sense, though certainly not the most accomplished or awe-inspiring. After a subpar baseball career during which he barely managed to bat .200, Bob Uecker became a comic actor, most notably in the “Major League” franchise. He played Harry Doyle, a longtime, long-suffering Cleveland Indians broadcaster. He can’t think of many nice things to say about the team, which can seemingly never stop losing, so he drinks instead. During the game. While commentating.
Most likely, if any Indians fans turned on the TV to watch the team attempt to play, it wasn’t for them, but to hear Doyle slur witticisms, such as “the Indians have a runner. I think I’ll wet my pants.”
2. O.J. Simpson as Officer Nordberg (Naked Gun)
Before becoming famous for … other things, O.J. Simpson was a Hall of Fame football legend. Shockingly though, when he turned to acting, he didn’t do so as a hulking bruiser or a superior athlete. Rather, he was a chronically injured patsy. As Officer Nordberg in “Naked Gun,” Simpson got himself shot up by the bad guys early on in the first film, and spent much of the run time either in a hospital bed, in a wheelchair or getting thrown from a wheelchair.
His role was reduced in the other two films, but since most people prefer the original anyway, forever-wounded is how we remember Nordberg, and thus Simpson. Well, some people remember Simpson for other things. Just a few though.
1. Roddy Piper as John Nada (They Live)
Yes, professional wrestlers count as athletes. Try it for a day if you don’t think they are.
“Rowdy” Roddy Piper was never the strongest or most athletic wrestler. He was, however, one of the most colorful and charismatic grapplers in history. So it only makes sense that his foray into acting proved successful and entertaining. Well, for one film anyway.
That film was “They Live,” in which Piper played John Nada, a vagabond who stumbles upon special X-ray glasses that allow him to see people’s true faces. He finds that many of the well-to-do ones are actually aliens out to control the lower class through propaganda and media manipulation. Nada himself was sarcastic, intense, angry and more than a little crazy. In other words, Piper was playing himself, only with a different name and a distinct lack of bubble gum.