Pop stars are taking over the silver screen. Is it a sign of the times?

Pop star Harry Styles is taking his career in a new direction in this epic new war film, but is it all just an act?

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It’s a long running Hollywood tradition with hit and miss results.

Elvis Presley did it, starring in a total of 31 movies to mixed reactions, David Bowie was charming in The Man Who Fell To Earth, Prince was able to pull off a surprise appearance in Purple Rain before it became apparent he couldn’t act, and Madonna proved she’s a natural in A League of Their Own and Evita.

So if you’re in still in shock by (or fuming over) Ed Sheeran’s cameo on the Game of Thrones season seven premiere, the truth is it won’t be the last time that we’ll be seeing a musician leap from the stage to the silver screen.

While it may seem like a natural transition, still keeping within the entertainment industry, the fact is not everyone is cut out to trade lines effortlessly on cue.

So why would singers with zero or minimal acting experience (unless three-minute music videos count?) suddenly decide to take a plunge into uncharted territory?

RnB artist and actor Will Smith, whose impressive film resume includes The Pursuit of Happyness and I Am Legend, took up acting to pay off debts after losing much of his fortune from rapping, while Mariah Carey starred in the poorly received Glitter in an attempt to revive her singing career.

But for some, like Justin Timberlake, acting is seen as a way to escape the pop star bubble and can be an avenue for new beginnings.

Now, Harry Styles of One Direction fame, who will be seen this week across UAE cinemas in the epic war film Dunkirk, is attempting to do the same.

Styles began acting in school, but his opportunity came when news surfaced of an audition for a movie to be helmed by critically acclaimed director, Christopher Nolan (Memento, The Dark Knight).

Set during World War II, Dunkirk relives the encounter between German forces against stranded Allied soldiers on the beaches of Dunkirk, France.

What makes Styles’ involvement in the project impressive is that he got the role based solely on the merits of his audition, with Nolan having no prior knowledge of the singer’s pop superstar status throughout the process.

“I don’t think I was that aware really of how famous Harry was,” Nolan admitted. “I mean, my daughter had talked about him. My kids talked about him, but I wasn’t really that aware of it.

“So the truth is, I cast Harry because he fit the part wonderfully and truly earned a seat at the table.”

Casting director John Papsidera added: “We thought he was fresh and interesting and he won the role. It wasn’t because he’s a well-known pop star – if anything that was more of a detriment, because it could bring the wrong message and we don’t want people pulled out of the film because of who they are.”

So whether Styles has what it takes to stay in the acting game remains to be seen – although critics are optimistic so far. But the 23-year-old singer is now potentially beginning a new journey in his career thanks to Nolan’s casting choice.

“Ever since I cast Heath Ledger as The Joker and raised all kinds of eyebrows, I’ve recognised that this is my responsibility and I really have to spot the potential in somebody who hasn’t done a particular thing before,” reflected Nolan.

“Because whether you’re talking about Harry Styles or Mark Rylance, you don’t really want to cast them in a position where they are doing something they’ve already done. You want to give the audience something different. So you’re looking at their talent and how that can be used.”

Also starring: Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Kenneth Branagh and James D’Arcy
Running time: 110 mins
Rating: PG13

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Sundance Institute | photo by Christian Sprenger

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