Top 10 actors who changed careers as a result of playing a part

Top 10 actors who changed careers as a result of playing a part
People whose lives took a different course after pretending to be someone else

Robert Hutton, researching an article about Corbynites being released from captivity in the shadow cabinet, learned that the Born Free Foundation was set up not by Joy Adamson but by Virginia McKenna, the actress who played her in the film.

1. Melissa Fitzgerald. Played Carol (CJ’s assistant) in The West Wing, one episode of which featured the death of a homeless Korean war veteran, and now runs Justice for Vets, an advocacy group for veterans in Washington DC. Nominated by Rob Fuller, Richard Morris and Peter Sigrist.

2. Volodymyr Zelensky. Played the role of president of Ukraine in a TV series before being elected president of Ukraine. Thanks to Andy McSmith, Schards and Steven Fogel.

3. Lewis Collins. Two years after playing the former paratrooper and SAS soldier William Bodie in The Professionals, he joined the Territorial Parachute Regiment as a private. A year after playing Captain Peter Skellen of the SAS in Who Dares Wins, he applied to join the Territorial SAS, passing the selection tests but ultimately being rejected due to his public profile, said Stewart Slater.

4. Boris Johnson. Went from being a backbench second-rate Eurosceptic hack to prime minister as a result of playing a buffoon on a BBC comedy news panel show. Thanks to Conor Downey.

5. Megan Markle. Role in a legal drama resulted in her becoming a princess. Nominated by Conor Downey, Nicholas Beale and Mike Fielden.

6. Ronald Reagan. “If Bobby Kennedy had let Ronald Reagan continue hosting his successful TV show, would my father have run for governor? Doubtful. And if he had not been elected governor, he certainly would not have run for president of the US,” said Michael Reagan. So Reagan’s political career was sparked by his losing, rather than playing, a role, said Allan Holloway.

7. Michael Palin. Set up the Michael Palin Centre for Stammering shortly after his part in A Fish Called Wanda. Thanks to David Boothroyd.

8. Peter Ostrum. Played Charlie Bucket in the original Willy Wonka film, and bought a horse with some of his earnings which led him eventually to becoming a vet, said Sam Freedman.

9. Justin Timberlake. Bought social network MySpace soon after playing Napster founder Sean Parker in The Social Network. Nominated by David Gentle.

10. Vicky Hall. Appeared as a nurse in Casualty, Holby City and Doctors, decided “the universe was trying to tell me something”, trained as a nurse and is now working in A&E. Thanks to Cherry Canovan.

Not quite qualifying for inclusion: Fred Dalton Thompson, the character actor, who portrayed numerous politicians on screen before trying to get the 2008 Republican presidential nomination – but he had previously been a senator. Honourable mention for Paul T Horgan.

Next week: UK towns of disproportionate political significance, after Owen Paterson was appointed steward and bailiff of the manor of Northstead as a way of resigning as an MP.

Coming soon: Headlines in the form of questions to which the answer is yes, or Anti-QTWTAINs.

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