Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea takes an adventurous approach to his second career in acting: “When something comes up and it’s interesting and I have the time, I’ll do it,” he told Grantland in 2014.
He’s been acting almost as long as he’s been with the band, which formed in 1983 in Los Angeles. Despite his fun-loving demeanor, he takes both pursuits quite seriously: “At this point in my life, I have to believe in it to want to do it,” Flea added. “It’s not just like, ‘Acting is fun, it’s fun to go play pretend.’ If it’s some people that I respect doing a project that I believe in, then I’m down for it, if time allows. But I’m not out there pursuing acting gigs.”
Born Michael Balzary, Flea has more than 100 onscreen roles to his name, and they’ve run congruently with the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ recording sessions and tours. They’ve included big blockbusters as well as smaller, independent films. Some of his best-known turns happened in The Big Lebowski, My Own Private Idaho and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, as well as two Back to the Future movies.
“When I play music, it’s like I’m channeling this — I don’t know what you call it: God? Divine energy? Just something that’s way bigger than me?” Flea told Grantland, adding that a goal is to get himself into an “ecstatic trance. … Everything that I do, all the work that I do as a musician, is to get myself into a position so I can do that, so when the time comes, I can let this thing flow through me.”
The clips below highlight Flea’s 20 greatest acting roles in television and movies, including the Disney+ series Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Suburbia was one of two movies featuring Flea as he began discovering his acting ability. He also had a small role in The Outsiders as a rival gang member. Asked about his general approach as a young actor, Flea said: “That was kind of like: Hang out with everybody and memorize lines and get into the groove of it and go for it. It was very unschooled and really fun, but different. It was acting and it was being natural in front of the camera, but it wasn’t being someone drastically different from who I am.”
Back to the Future II (1989)
It was easy to miss Flea in Back to the Future II as a semi-unrecognizable businessman caked in makeup that aged him by 40 years. The ambition of his character, Douglas J. Needles, was to convince an aging Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) to participate in a shady business deal. Needles also called McFly “chicken” at times to get him to do crazy things.
Back to the Future III (1990)
Flea looked a bit edgier in Back to the Future III, which came out the following year. In this movie, his character challenged Michael J. Fox to a drag race and helped shape the future of the lead character.
My Own Private Idaho (1991)
Portland-based director Gus Van Sant owned a home near the set and invited star River Phoenix to stay there during filming instead of a hotel. Keanu Reeves, Flea and others followed. Soon, “the place became an almost nonstop house party with jam sessions every night,” according to Mental Floss. Flea and Reeves played bass while Phoenix played the guitar that he picked up at a Portland music shop. The constant noise forced Van Sant to move out of his own house and rent an apartment downtown.
The Simpsons (1993)
In the episode “Krusty Gets Kancelled,” Bart got the Red Hot Chili Peppers to play a TV special meant to help Krusty the Clown make a comeback after he fell on hard times. Krusty passed the band some “network” suggestions to change the lyrics in “Give It Away” from “What I got I gotta get and put it in you” to “What I’d like is I’d like to hug and kiss you,” which the band initially agreed to albeit with a layer of sarcasm from Flea. The animated rockers didn’t end up changing the lyrics, but they did perform in traditional Flea style – meaning, in their underpants.
A quiet clerk in the original 1960 version of Psycho didn’t appear in the credits, but Flea’s character was given the name Bob Summerfield in the remake. He works for Viggo Mortenson‘s character, Sam Loomis, in the movie and was enticed to go to lunch as Julianne Moore interrogated Mortensen regarding her sister’s disappearance.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)
This Johnny Depp-starring film, adapted decades after the arrival of Hunter S. Thompson’s book of the same name, was shot primarily in Los Angeles. Co-stars Benicio del Torro and Tobey Maguire appeared with Flea, who joined a multitude of other celebrities with brief roles. Christina Ricci popped up as a disturbed painter, Gary Busey as a lonely highway patrolman, Penn Jillette as a carnival barker, and Cameron Diaz as a reporter.
The Wild Thornberrys (2002)
Flea spoke very few actual words as Donnie in the ’90s TV series and 2002 movie, The Wild Thornberrys. The film script found sisters Debbie and Eliza traveling the globe talking to animals as if they were people, with Flea providing comic relief as their brother. “Donnie is a wild, animal-like five-year-old boy,” Flea said in a behind-the-scenes video from the show, offering the bassist a prime opportunity to let high-speed gibberish fly.
Son In Law (1993)
In the Pauly Shore movie, Son in Law, Flea played the small role of a tattoo artist who managed to deliver several memorable lines in his short time on the screen. The ink designer noted that getting a tattoo was “better than getting kicked in the face with a golf shoe.” He also dropped the cult classic line, “You pick it, I stick it,” as small-town Midwesterner Rebecca considered getting a tattoo as she adjusted to life after moving to California.
The Chase (1994)
“I always thought I was a pretty terrible actor,” Flea told Rolling Stone in an interview about The Chase. “But I just lucked into this weird, little obscure cameo-esque film career. I just love being a part of film history.” This film starred Charlie Sheen as a man wrongfully convicted of a crime who then kidnapped a wealthy heiress in an attempt to escape prison. Flea played a fearless truck driver who tried to knock Sheen’s vehicle into the guard rail while screaming “Time to be heroes!” Red Hot Chili Peppers lead singer Anthony Kiedis was also in the movie.
The Big Lebowski (1998)
Flea came into this project with a straightforward goal: “The preeminent thing in my mind is just working with the Coen Brothers and seeing how those guys work and make movies,” Flea told Rolling Stone. “They would finish each others’ ideas and sentences. They were really a two-headed creative monster. For me, they’re just these two stoner brothers who have all these inside jokes.” In The Big Lebowski, Jeff Bridges played an unemployed slacker known as “The Dude,” who (along with John Goodman and Steve Buscemi), encountered some German nihilists who aimed to ruin his easy-going attitude. Flea played Nihilist #2, aka Kieffer, who gave just a few lines in a priceless German accent.
Low Down (2014)
This film about jazz pianist Joe Albany’s struggles with addiction required a new seriousness. Low Down also gave Flea a chance to return to the trumpet, which he played as a youngster. “I went and studied, which I hadn’t done before. I spoke with friends of mine who are really good actors; I got an acting coach. I really learned how to do it,” Flea told Grantland. “With music, I know you’ve got to practice your scales, you got to do this, you got to do that. I know what I have to do to get myself into a position to develop the facility to channel the emotional, spiritual stuff. I learned how to do that for acting on this. It really felt like a higher level of approaching it, and that was cool.”
Inside Out (2015)
Emotions became characters in the Pixar movie Inside Out, as it took a deep dive into the inner workings of the mind. As Joy (Amy Poehler) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) worked their way through the maze of Longterm Memory, they encountered two mind-worker cops along the way, one of them voiced by Flea. The movie was filled with tiny appearances by well-known celebrities, and Mind-Worker Cop Jake was one that some Red Hot Chili Pepper fans might have missed.
Sheriff Callie’s Wild West (2014-2016)
Flea provided the voice for an ocelot named the Milk Bandit over four episodes of Sheriff Callie’s Wild West, a cartoon Western from Disney Junior aimed at preschoolers. (In his premiere episode, Flea’s character walks into Ella’s saloon and exclaims: “This is a milk raid! Gimme all your milk!”) Sheriff Callie, voiced by Mandy Moore, was charged with protecting the town called Nice and Friendly Corners.
Baby Driver (2017)
Flea played the role of Eddie “No-Nose” in this film, which followed the story of a young getaway driver named Baby (Ansel Elgort) who constantly played music in an attempt to drown out a hearing impairment he suffered as a child. His “nihilistic bank robber with no moral compass” wanted to eliminate anything that got in his way, Flea told Collider. “My character is a very single-minded guy, so I’m concerned about his lack of presence in the world because he’s got headphones on and he seems kind of spacy. But, then, of course, I’m very impressed by his prodigious driving skills.”
Family Guy (2017)
Most of Flea’s parts have not involved his bass guitar, until his featured turn on Family Guy. Flea voiced himself in the cameo and managed to deliver a funky groove on the bass before being shooed out. “Go away, Flea! You’re not welcome here. And put on a shirt – you’re 50!” Stewie yelled. “Actually, 54,” Flea corrected before having the door slammed in his face.
Boy Erased (2018)
The movie was based on the true story of Jared, the son of a small-town Baptist pastor who was outed to his parents (Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe) at age 19. The boy learned he must either go through a so-called “gay conversion” therapy program or be permanently disowned by his family, friends and faith. Flea played the role of Brandon, “the creepy boot-camp sergeant who tears down supposedly to build up.”
American Dad (2019)
Flea voices an orderly in an episode named “Stan-Dan Deliver” as an ode to the 1988 movie Stand and Deliver starring Edward James Olmos as a high-school teacher who inspired his class. Roger does become an instructor for a group of inner-city youth – but the similarities, of course, ended there. Unfortunately, the classroom dance party does not include a certain Red Hot Chili Peppers band member.
I Heart Arlo (2021)
This Netflix animated series was a follow-up to the 2021 animated musical film, Arlo the Alligator Boy. In the TV series, Arlo and his pals set out to restore a run-down New York City neighborhood and add their personal touch. Flea played the role of Ruff, one of Arlo’s former adversaries who owned a failing swamp museum.
Obi-Wan Kenobi (2022)
Flea took on the role of a bounty hunter in the Disney+ Star Wars series Obi-Wan Kenobi. His Vect Nokru character was hired to kidnap a young Princess Leia, and initially appears to have gotten away with his crime. The 2022 debut episode quickly become the network’s most-watched premiere globally.
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