There are a few actors in Hollywood who are just known for being in westerns. Sam Elliott, Kevin Costner, Clint Eastwood. Sure, they aren't only in westerns, but they do show up in the Old West more than the average actor. While there are certain famous faces we almost expect to see in a western, there are many Hollywood stars who have surprised us by going against their typical type and taken on the challenge of playing a cowboy or cowgirl.
Here are 12 unexpected actors who have starred in a western film or TV series.
Michelle Dockery is so good at playing Lady Mary Crawley on the drama series Downton Abbey, it almost seems like she really is from another time. The British actress fully embodies the snobby socialite on the series but has also been able to take on more modern roles like Kate Woodcroft on Netflix's legal thriller, Anatomy of a Scandal. She's a seasoned stage actress who has appeared in a slew of thrillers and period pieces, so it was a bit of a surprise when she landed the lead role in the Netflix miniseries Godless.
Denzel is easily one of the most celebrated actors of his generation. He's earned nine Oscar nominations throughout his legendary career, with two wins for Glory and Training Day. He can do pretty much anything from Shakespeare to gritty dramas, and his acting is always top-notch. He's been in a few war films over the years, so it was almost surprising he lasted so many years not appearing in a western film. While we got a taste in The Book of Eli (more of a neo-western), it wasn't a traditional cowboy film.
All of that changed in 2016 when he starred in the remake of The Magnificent Seven. Washington played Sam Chisolm, the leader of the seven who comes to the aid of a small town in need. He looked completely natural riding horses and slinging guns because he's Denzel. The guy is a superstar.
Another actor on par with Denzel is Tom Hanks. Notorious for being the nicest guy in Hollywood, Hanks is one of those actors who really has appeared in just about every genre. He was a rom-com guy in the 90s with hits including You've Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle, but then he absolutely stuns in Oscar winners like Saving Private Ryan and Philadelphia. And, of course, Forrest Gump, which gave him one of his two Oscar wins. He's been around for decades but finally decided to make his western debut in the 2020 film News of the World.
Hanks plays Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a Civil War veteran who escorts a young girl, who was kidnapped by the Kiowa, back to the remaining members of her birth family.
One of the few Brits on this list, Benedict Cumberbatch, has made a career appearing in period pieces. He earned an Emmy playing Sherlock Holmes, portrayed the late Stephen Hawking in a TV film, and even Alan Turing in The Imitation Game. He might be best known for taking on the role of Dr. Stage in the Marvel Universe, who has, so far, appeared in six Marvel films. So it was a bit surprising to see that he signed on to play the lead in Jane Campion's Oscar-winning western The Power of the Dog.
Cumberbatch landed an Oscar nomination for the role of Phil Burbank, a cowboy whose world changes when he and his brother meet a widow and her son. It was a deeply emotional performance and a character unlike anything he'd previously taken on before, helping make the film one of the most memorable of 2021.
It's Sharon Stone; need I say more? She became a worldwide sensation after starring in Basic Instinct and won a Golden Globe for her role in Casino. Her filmography is full of thrillers and action films, with a few comedies thrown in the mix. It seemed to come out of nowhere in 1995 when she signed on to not only star in but produce the western film The Quick and the Dead. She personally helped choose director Sam Raimi and even volunteered to pay Leo DiCaprio's salary so that he could join the cast as well. The end result is a seriously underrated western with Stone starring as a female gunslinger who finds herself in an Old West town run by outlaws.
It's Han Solo. It's Indiana Jones. It's Harrison Ford, the action star known for hits like The Fugitive and Blade Runner while somehow also managing to be hilarious in romantic comedies like Morning Glory. He's a bonafide movie star, bringing two of the most iconic action heroes to the big screen. While some might argue that Star Wars is a space western, sorry, it's a science fiction movie. But Ford did appear in an actual western in 1979 called The Frisco Kid.
The superstar played a bank robber who befriends a Polish Rabbi, played by Gene Wilder, on the road to San Fransisco. The western comedy was initially meant to be John Wayne's opportunity to play a lighter role after his Oscar-winning performance as Rooster Cogburn in True Grit, but disputes over salary and script ended up leading to rewrites and Ford's casting instead.
Kelly Reilly made a name for herself on the British stage before appearing in period pieces like Sherlock Holmes and Pride and Prejudice. She's cool, witty, and sharp, which actually made her perfect for the Paramount Network's hit western series Yellowstone. Reilly may not be playing a cowgirl on the show, but she's the only daughter of a successful rancher who was born and raised in Montana. Reilly's portrayal of Beth Dutton on the series is easily one of the best parts of the entire show, which says a lot considering Kevin Costner is the main star.
Daniel Craig has starred in countless films over the years but let's be honest; he will forever be known for being the best James Bond the world has ever seen. Another British actor who is known to appear in a period piece or two, like Munch and Elizabeth, he was already a household name for playing Bond when he signed on to the science fiction western, Cowboys & Aliens. Craig starred opposite another name on this list, Harrison Ford, as an outlaw, working to save a group of townspeople kidnapped by aliens. Sure, it's not necessarily the most traditional western, but there are guns, outlaws, horses, and cowboys involved.
One of the biggest movie stars of all time is, without a doubt, Marilyn Monroe. She created the blonde bombshell archetype and was one of the biggest box-office draws of the 50s and 60s for her films, including The Seven Year Itch and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Her life was cut short tragically soon but not before she became an overnight sex symbol and won a Golden Globe for Some Like It Hot. Though her resume was mostly full of comedies, she did appear in the western River of No Return, where she played a barroom singer named Kay.
British actor Idris Elba was at one time rumored to be the next James Bond, and it's easy to see why. His resume is full of impressive performances, from the BBC series Luther to HBO's groundbreaking The Wire. He plays an excellent villain, evidenced by his performances in Beasts of No Nation and Hobbs & Shaw. So far, he has appeared in two westerns on Netflix in very different roles. Concrete Cowboy follows a young boy reunited with his estranged father in this modern western set in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, The Harder They Fall brought to life many of the most famous black cowboys of the Old West in a fictional tale of good guys vs. bad guys.
Channing Tatum made his way into Hollywood starring in the dance film Step Up, going on to star in the Magic Mike films and popular comedies like 21 Jump Street and She's the Man. He's got the movie star good looks but the comedic chops that make him a perfect leading man to add some laughs to a thriller. Despite having a fairly consistent resume of films, it was a surprise that he had a small role in Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight. He plays the role of Jody, the brother of the fugitive Daisy Domergue, who is being escorted to her hanging. Jody and his gang show up trying to rescue his sister, but things don't work out the way they planned.
One of the nicest and funniest guys in Hollywood, Adam Sandler is the comedian you'd really never expect to see in a western. The former SNL star defined the 90s with his comedy films -- Big Daddy, The Waterboy, and Billy Madison, to name a few. He's shown off his acting chops over the years in a drama or two like Spanglish and Uncut Gems, proving he really is a talented actor with range. Sure, it's not a serious western, but as part of his overall deal with Netflix, Sandler appeared in the western comedy The Ridiculous 6, no doubt a nod to the classic The Magnificent Seven. He brought in some of his pals he regularly casts in his films for some good old-fashioned fun out in the Wild West.
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