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Toby Keith, Mario headed to Hollywood

Music stars, such as Carrie Underwood and Chingy, pick up movie roles
/ Source: Billboard

In his 1963 hit “Act Naturally,” Buck Owens sang, “They’re gonna put me in the movies/They’re gonna make a big star out of me.”

More than 40 years later, a whole new crop of music artists better known for their singing skills than their acting chops are looking to make their mark on the big screen in 2006.

Toby Keith plays the lead role in the Paramount/MTV Films drama tentatively titled “Angel From Montgomery,” due in the fall.

Keith is Bo Price, whom he describes as a “broke-down songwriter/singer for about 17 years, pretty much borderline alcoholic.” Kelly Preston plays the mother of his child in the movie, which is set in Georgia. Other stars include Burt Reynolds, Tess Harper and Lindsay Haun as Keith’s teenage daughter.

“It was the most creative thing I’ve done in a decade,” Keith tells Billboard. “It massaged my soul and my mind. I sunk into it and found a place I’d never been before, and it was really rewarding. It was like jumping out of an airplane for the first time.”

The movie’s soundtrack includes some new tunes from Keith, and will come out on his new label, Show Dog Records.

R&B singer Mario is working on a new album in 2006, but he is also ready for his close-up.

He will appear in “Freedom Writers,” starring Hilary Swank and Scott Glenn. The drama, directed by Richard LaGravenese, stars Swank as a teacher leading a classroom of at-risk students.

In her first major movie role, Alicia Keys portrays an assassin in “Smokin’ Aces,” an action drama.

Chingy, Kayne and Carrie prepare for their close-ups
Chingy, whose next album, “Hoodstar,” is slated for a March release, has a pair of movies in the can.

First up is February’s urban street drama “The System Within,” about a former male model who gets caught up in a web of corporate corruption. Chingy plays Nick, whom he describes as “a little street thug. He’s got a boss who tells him what to do, and he just does it.”

Later in the year, Chingy will appear in the horror movie spoof “Scary Movie 4.” The film, which also features OutKast’s Andre Benjamin, brings Chingy to a quick end in a takeoff on the alien-invasion blockbuster “War of the Worlds.”

A number of other artists are just starting to explore their celluloid opportunities.

Kanye West tells Billboard his plans for 2006 include “breaking into film, which is my new love. I actually had a meeting with Quentin Tarantino” in December.

“American Idol” winner Carrie Underwood met with her representatives at Creative Artists Agency the same month about taking her from the small screen to the big screen.

“I would like to try new things and do it while you can, so getting in there and having some little bit role somewhere would be awesome,” she says. “I love horror movies, so if I were the first person killed off in a horror movie, that would be awesome. I’m there!” Maybe she should talk to Mario.

Turning to the tube, Pretty Ricky’s Baby Blue tells Billboard the act has two potential projects: a reality show and a cartoon series.

“We just filed a pilot of our reality show for MTV,” Baby Blue says, but he is most excited about the animated series. “It’s called ’Pretty Babies,’ and we’re going to be little babies with super powers.”

Neither show is a go yet, but Baby Blue is already thinking ahead to the branding possibilities for the cartoon.

“The merchandising would be ridiculous, from Pampers to skateboards to roller skates; Pretty Baby everything everywhere. To be honest with you, we’re some hustlers, in the best way.”