Good Sports: Australian Athletes Who Act

July 12, 2019
We spotlight 10 Australian (and Kiwi) sports stars, who turned to acting after their athletic career retirements.

Snowy Baker

Perhaps the greatest sportsman of his day, the day being the 1900s, when Baker represented his country in rugby union, swimming, diving, and boxing, and being pretty good at a handful of other sports too. This versatility earned him national fame which he parlayed into an acting career, becoming a genuine box office draw in a series of action adventure tales cleverly designed to show off his physical prowess, such as The Man from Kangaroo (1920).

Baker went to Hollywood in the 1920s and starred in some B movies like The White Panther (1924) and The Sword of Valor (1924).

… then segued into managing a polo club in Hollywood, where he befriended many Hollywood stars.

Desert Gold

A successful race horse of the 1910s, who won 19 races on the trot… leading to Beaumont Smith creating a fictionalised biopic, Desert Gold (1919), starring the horse as herself. Like many a famous Australian horse, Desert Gold was originally from New Zealand.

Dave Smith

A New Zealand boxer who became Australian heavyweight champion in the 1910s and had an unsuccessful shot at the world title. He starred in two Australian movies, neither particularly successful, From Bondage to Freedom (1911) and In the Last Stride (1916), playing a fictionalised version of himself in the latter.

Murray Rose

A swimming legend of the late 1950s and early 1960s (four Olympic gold medals), very popular due in part to his good looks, he  tried to make a go of it as an actor in the 1960s. He appeared on Australian TV in an adaptation of My Three Angels (1962), then hot footed it to Hollywood where he had small roles on some TV shows like Dr Kildare as well as films like Ice Station Zebra (1968) and Ride the Wild Surf (1964) (where he played an Aussie surfer called “swag”).

Brett Lee

Cricket player who took 310 test wickets and who parlayed his popularity with Indian cricket fans into an Australian-Indian  film, Unindian (2015). His acting career (as of writing) remains short lived.

Ian Roberts

A rugby league international who is probably best known to non-Souths fans as the highest profile gay athlete in that code. Roberts went to NIDA after his football career ended and has popped up in a fair few films, notably Superman Returns (2009) where he weirdly held a video camera in most scenes. He had a decent role in an American indie Saltwater (2012). We get the impression (we could be wrong) that Roberts is one of those actors who isn’t financially reliant on the craft, just does it for sheer fun, so you probably have a good chance of getting him for your short film if you gave him a call.

Annette Kellerman

Top Australian swimmer who parlayed her international success in the pool to aquatic shows and eventually a few movies such as Neptune’s Daughter (1914) and A Daughter of the Gods (1916) in which she appeared nude (apparently the first nude scene by a major star).

Her life was immortalised by another athlete-turned-actor, Esther Williams, in Million Dollar Mermaid (1952).

Grant Taylor

Professional boxer, he moved into acting and found stardom in Forty Thousand Horsemen (1940) as a prototype for the swaggering ocker roles later perfected by Jack Thompson. World War Two interrupted his career momentum and a fat gut and receding hairline saw him segue into character roles in movies, though he became a notable stage draw.

Ron Haddrick

The legendary actor of countless Australian films, TV shows and stage plays (and father of writer Greg Haddrick), he was a good enough cricketer to play three first class games for South Australia in the 1950s.

Ernie Dingo

The popular actor and presenter was a good enough basketball player to play in the West Australian state leagues in the 1970s.




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