Andy Moore: To an extent, this answer comes down to personal taste. If you grew up watching the NFL and could think of nothing better in the world than one day hoisting the Lombardi Trophy over your head, then you're inclined to go the athlete route. And any misguided youths who actually watched the entirety of each year's Oscar broadcast (uh, not me) would pick actor. Etc, etc.
When looked at objectively, though, there is one clear answer here—and that is being the world's biggest rock star. There are many reasons for this, but for the sake of comparison, let's make the other two professions sound like working the late shift at McDonald's.
Why being the world's best athlete would suck:
To be the best ever, you'd have to put in an unimaginable amount of time practicing, which is boring. You'd also have to become so obsessed with winning that the actual championships you snag don't come close to what you've hyped it up to be. Have you heard Michael Jordan say anything over the past decade? He hates everybody. He spent his entire life mentally and physically preparing to win championships, and when he did win he was briefly satisfied; only now he's retired and bitter and still keeping past grudges.
Additionally, for reasons I will never comprehend, the United States sees professional athletes as moral examples, setting impossibly high expectations for them. (Exhibit A: The fake moral outrage when Tiger was caught screwing 20% of the continental United States.) You can be a huge rock star solely because you're not a good moral example. In fact, everyone usually likes the guy who says whatever he wants, while everyone f*cking hates rockers who try to come off as pious—Bono, Scott Stapp from Creed.
Here are some things Keith Richards has said in his career:
- I've never had a problem with drugs. I've had problems with the police.
- If you're going to kick authority in the teeth, you might as well use two feet.
- I only get ill when I give up drugs.
He continues to be universally beloved. If you're an athlete? You've got to keep your real thoughts to yourself all the time.
(Oh and also there's the ever-present chance of suffering a career-ending injury at any time. Those are fun.)
Why being the world's most popular actor would suck:
Have you ever actually been on a film set before? It's unspeakably boring. Gawker's Cord Jefferson recently wrote this essay on being an extra for the upcoming Ashton Kutcher-led Steve Jobs movie, and the actual process of shooting a film comes across as absolutely nightmarish—take after take after take of you repeating the same line, with long hours spent filming for, like, two minutes of usable footage. Sure, you've got your own trailer to retreat back to, but many times you're stuck in a distant location (a jungle, a desert, Vancouver) with nothing to do other than rack up Halo kills/have your aides set up hooker dalliances.
Meanwhile, rock stars' incomes are mainly from performing kickass shows in front of thousands of people. That's instant gratification you can't find from hitting a line opposite Tom Cruise.
A final perk to being a rock star:
Reggie Noble: The way I see it, life breaks down into three pursuits. There’s the pursuit of body, the pursuit of mind, and pursuit of soul. In a hypothetical like this, I’ll take the route that affords me the opportunity to chase all three concurrently.
That path, of course, is acting.
My esteemed colleague has already pointed out the negative aspects of maintaining a professional sports career. I always knew he was smarter than he looks.
Allow me, then, to peel back the curtain and show take you backstage of this rock star life he so desires. You’ll see it’s not as sexy and fulfilling as it appears from the outside.
Look, being an amazing musician is a life vastly superior to my own. I totally get that reality. But let’s be honest here. The life of a rock star is a life of repetition, hotel rooms, bleach-blond fame whores, and manufactured enthusiasm.
There is no way playing your hit song for the 28,384th time isn’t boring. The problem with being a singing sensation is that you create this animal, this persona, you can’t ever escape.
Give the people what they want, and they’ll want it over and over and over again.
Musicians, too, are forced to become this gregarious cult of personality every time they perform. No matter what is going on in the person’s real life, they have to set it aside and become this caricature. That simply isn’t for me.
No, give me the life of George Clooney or Christian Bale. A life that consists of reading, imagination and introspection. A life where I can selectively pick my projects and live a hermit-like existence in trailers and rural Italy.
For all the bullsh*t intellectualism that Hollywood loves to wrap itself up in, there is something noble about identifying, pinning down, and presenting complex human emotions to a viewing public. For me, movies resonate at a level exponentially more profound than songs. I don’t think I’m alone here.
Along with the emotional enrichment, being an actor would allow you to take on roles that required great fitness or, if you’re lazy, a lack of fitness. Packing on the muscle would be easier if you were getting paid millions to do it. Starving yourself would be OK if there was a big, fat money pie at the end of your self-denial rainbow.
Actors also can ply their craft for life. A five-year-old can stay in the business until he’s 105. The longer you’re around, the more connections you make and the more doors open. There’s space to write, direct, produce and branch out in any direction you so choose. Music? Not exactly the same opportunity there.
Oh, yeah. The money and women aren’t so bad either.