It should come as no surprise that people who are skilled at learning lines, speaking in public, attracting mass attention and – increasingly important in modern politics – who look good on camera, should find favour with voters. And it does not hurt to enjoy wide public recognition either.
The most celebrated actor-turned-politician, Ronald Reagan, appeared in over 50 films between 1937 and 1964 – including Bedtime for Bonzo, in which he co-starred with a monkey.
He may not have set the cinema world alight with his B-list film roles, but Reagan certainly made up for it as a politician.
Reagan wrote the script for US
Like Arnie, he turned to the Republicans and defeated an incumbent to become governor of California in 1966.
Building up his support base with a successful run as governor, Reagan was elected the 40th president of the United States in 1980.
Despite his weak grasp of global politics and notorious slips of the tongue, Reagan achieved his life’s ambition by outspending the Soviet Union in a renewed arms race until the “evil empire” collapsed.
Oscar-winning actor-director Clint Eastwood has been involved in dozens of acclaimed movies since 1954.
He shot to international stardom in the 1960s playing a taciturn gunfighter in the so-called spaghetti westerns: A Fistful of Dollars, A Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
Clint Eastwood: Voters made his
In the 1970s and 1980s, he starred in the Dirty Harry series of police thrillers, then aped Reagan by co-starring with an orangutan in Any Which Way You Can (playing opposite a primate apparently being some sort of political prerequisite for actors in California).
A resident of the Californian town of Carmel, Eastwood ran for mayor after clashing with his municipal council, which refused planning permission to renovate his restaurant. Three quarters of the electorate made his day, and Eastwood served as mayor from 1986-1988.
The most popular Indian actor for a generation, Amitabh Bachchan debuted in 1969’s Saat Hindustani but 1973’s Zanjeer turned him into a superstar.
In scores of films since, the Big B typically played a tough action hero who battled scheming villains, stopping only to break into a song and dance routine before the next punch-up.
Amitabh turned to politics in the 1990s and voters in his hometown of Allahabad elected him as their member of parliament with a massive majority.
But the Big B’s stint in politics was a small affair, and he stepped down after being implicated in the infamous Swedish Bofors arms scandal. However, he remains the highest paid actor in Bollywood.
Two other megastars of India cinema, Vinod Khanna and Shatrughan Sinha, have fared better. Khanna entered politics in the late 1990s and currently serves as a minister of state for external affairs.
Sinha began political campaigning for the now-governing BJP in the early 1990s and is presently state minister for shipping.
Philippines’ Robin Hood
In the Philippines, Joseph Estrada shot to fame in the 1960s with landmark films such as Asiong Salonga and Geron Busabos. Over 32 years, Estrada became the country’s foremost actor, starring in more than 100 mostly action movies.
Estrada had heart of gold on film,
He frequently played a Robin Hood-like figure, a tough action hero with a heart of gold who beat his foes in the end – a character observers say later helped him capture the support of poor voters.
He became mayor of his hometown, San Juan, in 1969 and was elected to the Senate in 1987.
His comeback movie in 1989 was seen as an attempt to boost his popular support. If so, it worked: he became vice-president in 1992 and was elected president – with the largest popular majority in the country’s history – in May 1998.
However, he stepped down three years later, mired in allegations of corruption.
Actresses who turned to the political stage have discovered that appearing naked on film is no barrier to electoral success – and may be a positive advantage.
Britain’s Glenda Jackson, star of such acclaimed films as 1969’s Women in Love (for which she undressed), joined the Labour Party and was elected to parliament in 1992.
A serious politician, Jackson has been an eloquent critic of Tony Blair over the issue of the war against Iraq.
A more notorious example is Italy’s Ilona Staller, better known as Cicciolina. The Hungarian-born porn star entered the Italian parliament in 1987 after a campaign in which she publicly bared her breasts.
Cicciolina continued making pornographic movies two years afterwards, but insisted she was serious and held her seat for the full five years of her term.
In 1991, Cicciolina made the most unusual proposal in the history of Middle East peace-making by offering to have sex with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein if he would release Western civilian captives.
But her bid to become mayor of Monza in May 2002 flopped.