15 Athletes Who Started An Acting Career

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While many actors have spent most of their lives working towards getting the role of their dreams, others came from another successful career before doing some acting. A lot of people would be surprised at how many professional athletes decide to start acting. Some of them take on TV and movie roles while still actively participating in their sport of choice, while others don't get into Hollywood until they've ended their athletic career.

Some of these are obvious -- almost everyone knows that Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson started as a professional wrestler before he became an extremely popular actor. But there are plenty of popular actors who no one knew did some sort of sport first. Since being a professional athlete is usually something that can't be done forever, it only makes sense that they would look for a more long-term job option -- and acting is a fun way. Here's a look at athletes who started an acting career.

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson

Dwayne Johnson, better known as "The Rock" to many, shot to popularity as a professional wrestler for WWE. He spent eight years as a wrestler before switching to acting, where he became immensely successful. Fans know Johnson from movies like Fast & Furious, Jumanji, Baywatch, and as the voice of Maui in Disney's Moana. He has also been successful on television, in shows like Ballers and Young Rock. His acting career doesn't seem to be settling down any time soon.

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Dave Bautista

Another professional wrestler, Dave Bautista worked with WWE for almost 20 years before retiring. He started acting while still wrestling and has made even more of a name for himself in Hollywood since leaving wrestling. Bautista can be seen in films like The Man with the Iron Fits, Spectre, Blade Runner 2049, and Dune, and is well known as Drax the Destroyer in the Guardians of the Galaxy films and other MCUproperties.

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Shaquille O'Neal

One of the best basketball stars of all time, Shaquille O'Neal played in the NBA for 19 years. He never let his busy basketball schedule stop him—O'Neal has released four rap albums and worked as a music producer and DJ in addition to occasional acting and TV commentary. He had two reality shows and can be seen in films like Steel, Scary Movie 4, and Grown Ups 2. He has also done some voice-over work and appeared in a few music videos as well.

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Terry Crews

Terry Crews is such a well-known actor with so many big roles under his belt that it's easy to forget that he started out as a professional football player. Crews played as a defensive end and linebacker for the NFL for years before retiring in 1997. He quickly pursued an acting career, and it paid off. Crews is recognizable from his roles in classic comedy shows like Everybody Hates Chris and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. He has also been in films such as White Chicks, Idiocracy, Expendables, and Rumble.

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Ed O'Neill

Ed O'Neill was close to making it big as a professional athlete before he began his acting career—and judging by how successful he's been in Hollywood, it seems things worked out the right way. Back in 1969, O'Neill was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Pittsburgh Steelers before being cut in training camp. In 1984, he took on a breakthrough role in Married... with Children, where life imitated art as he played a former high school football star who never went pro and was always reminiscing about the old days. O'Neill is also well-known for his main role in Modern Family.

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Burt Reynolds

Burt Reynolds was a huge movie star whose life could have ended up differently if not for an injury in college. He went to Florida State University on a football scholarship and probably could have aimed to go pro. Unfortunately, he lost his spleen and badly injured his knee in a car accident and ended up leaving football altogether. He went on to pursue acting, which worked out much better for him. Reynolds is still an iconic Hollywood figure, with a long list of roles in TV shows and film, though he sadly passed away in 2018.

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Sonja Henie

Norwegian star Sonja Henie is one of the few female athletes to make the jump into acting. Henie was a professional figure skater who won three Olympic championships in the 1920s and '30s. She has one more Olympic and World titles than any other female figure skater and is a legend in the sport. Once she was done with figure skating in 1936, she moved on to pursue an acting career. She became known for roles in films like One in a Million and Everything Happens at Night.

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LeBron James

LeBron James is hailed as one of the greatest basketball players in history and needs little introduction. Although he is still playing basketball and has no plans to retire on the horizon, James has made time to pursue a little acting work. He has had small roles in the HBO show Entourage and the film Trainwreck, and starred in Space Jam: A New Legacy. He also co-owns a production company that has produced several successful shows and movies, so it doesn't seem unrealistic to say he may do some more acting roles in the future.

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John Cena

Add John Cena to the list of professional wrestlers who have gone on to succeed in Hollywood. He's been a wrestler for the WWE since 2001 but has only wrestled part-time since 2018. In 2006, he began to take on some acting roles, and can be seen in movies like The Marine, Trainwreck, Blockers, Fast X, and The Suicide Squad. He is also in the TV series Peacemaker. Cena hasn't given up wrestling completely yet, and he seems perfectly happy doing both wrestling and acting currently.

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Jim Brown

Considered to be one of the greatest players in NFL history, Jim Brown was a running back for the Cleveland Browns from 1957 to 1965. His football career was extremely impressive and earned him many accolades. When he was close to retirement, he sought out acting and ended up excelling at that too. Brown has over 53 acting credits and is known as Hollywood's first Black action hero.

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Jason Statham

Jason Statham is known for his roles in action and thriller movies, so it makes sense that he's also an athlete. When he was younger, Statham did Chinese martial arts, kickboxing, and karate, and he also played football and was a member of Britain's national diving team, competing in the 1990 Commonwealth Games. After gaining some exposure, he began modeling and eventually took on acting. He's known for movies like The Transporter, The Italian Job, Cellular, and The Expendables.

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Esther Williams

Although Esther Williams might be more commonly known as an actress, she started out as a swimmer. She did competitive swimming when she was younger, setting regional and national records for her team, and was supposed to compete in the 1940 Summer Olympics before World War II occurred. That's when she started acting–and she managed to bring swimming into some of her roles as well. In one of her more notable films, Million Dollar Mermaid, Williams played an Australian swimming star.

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Arnold Schwarzenegger

Arnold Schwarzenegger has worn many hats. He made a name for himself as a professional bodybuilder and quickly became known as one of the best of all time. When he retired from that, he became an actor mostly in the action genre, some of the most notable being Conan the Barbarian, The Terminator, The Running Man, and Total Recall. He even took on comedy roles and founded a film production company before becoming the governor of California.

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Chuck Norris

Chuck Norris' success in the martial arts world is what led him to become an actor. A professional martial artist, he has multiple black belts and championship wins. He started out in Hollywood as a martial arts trainer for celebrities before starting to score roles of his own, with his very first role being in the Bruce Lee film The Way of the Dragon. After small roles in a few films, he starred in some hit action films and his career took off.

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Gina Carano

Gina Carano is another martial artist to make it big in Hollywood. She is a former mixed martial artist who became well-known in the competitive world and was one of the first women to headline a huge MMA event. After retiring from that career, she landed some acting roles. Many know her from films like Fast & Furious 6 and Deadpool, and she also had a role in the series The Mandalorian.

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