Back in the old days of Hollywood, producers, agents, and directors would allegedly tend put looks first, talent second, and intellect last. They didn’t seem to realize that intellect, especially brilliant intellect, play a massive role in an actress or actor’s ability to thrive in the field of acting. And some actors have more of it than others. Plenty of actors on this list even managed to juggle both acting AND school and went on to have extremely successful careers because of it.
We’re living in a time where education and brains are extremely coveted after in the working world and Hollywood is cashing in on it. A lot of these celebrities almost gave up everything in pursuit of an education and need to be highlighted for it. But where there are highs, there are also lows.
Living in the spotlight can be extremely difficult and some actors who tend to mess up in front of the paparazzi on a normal basis often are referred to as “not very bright” when they’re simply just trying to survive fame.
Here we highlight 15 celebrities who are far intelligent beyond their years and 5 celebrities who just basically trying to survive life in Hollywood the best way they know how.
20 Brown-Educated, Feminist Approved - Emma Watson
Actress Emma Watson is not so different from the character that helped make her dent in Hollywood. She’s brilliant, a prodigy, outspoken, and focused on being an active voice for women’s rights. The one thing she doesn’t have? Well, literal magic powers and a degree from Hogwarts. In real life, Watson is a trained Oxford actress who ended up graduating from Brown University with a bachelor’s degree in English literature.
“Ignoring fame was my rebellion, in a funny way,” the young actress told W Magazine. “I was insistent on being normal and doing normal things.”
Watson has claimed to not really care for her time at Brown (mainly because she couldn’t exactly ignore fame during her time there since she was already too famous). Regardless, she appears to have put her education to good use and stands up for women’s rights on a daily basis.
19 The Harvard Darling - Rashida Jones
You may not have known this, but actress Rashida Jones is actually music royalty in a sense. The Parks and Recreation darling is the beloved daughter of music legend Quincy Jones (and it actually shows in her singing voice and in her producing skills). Rashida came into most of our radars back when she played Karen Filippelli in The Office before she completely stole our hearts as Ann Perkins in Parks and Rec. Jones also happens to be a Harvard graduate who spoke to the graduating class of 2016 about her under (and over) dog experiences. “America loves an underdog, and you’re not underdogs,” she said to the graduates. “It doesn’t matter if your application was a sob story, or if you were the first person in your family to graduate college. No one cares because now you’re Harvard graduates. You’re overdogs. Get used to it.”
18 "When Choosing Brown" Leads To Huge Things - John Krasinski
We always saw him as “the funny guy” in almost everything he did. For most of us, he will always be “Jim Halpert,” that fun loving, goofy, and romantic guy who fell in helplessly in love with the receptionist on NBC’s hit comedy series The Office. But John Krasinski is more than just the “funny guy” we see and adore – he’s actually so much more.
Before graduating from Brown University and moving on to acting, directing, producing and writing, Krasinski actually taught English as a foreign language in Costa Rica.
Since then, he has become one of the world’s most famous faces (along with being in one of the world’s most famous couples with wife Emily Blunt). We have no doubt he’s actually going to do more, and even greater things.
17 Seeking A Normal Life At Yale - Jodie Foster
From the time she was even a child star, actress Jodie Foster radiated pure intelligence. Even at a young age, Hollywood producers could tell she was unlike any child actor they had ever met. Unlike most precocious actresses, Foster was put into the field by her parents at the age of 3 and from there on out, she managed to take control of her own career. Also, every role she took reflected her insane intelligence – from Taxi Driver to Silence of the Lambs, she always managed to play someone wise beyond their years. After high school, she attended Yale and graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s in literature in 1985. In 1997, Yale even gave her an honorary doctorate of Fine Arts degree. Jodie shows that it’s possible for a woman to actually have it all.
16 A Brilliant Academic Role "Model" - Cindy Crawford
The world sees Cindy Crawford as one of the most iconic supermodels of all time. But what they don’t know, that she’s literally one of the most intelligent people around. Yes, she’s way more than just a pretty face. According to her high school resume, Crawford knew exactly what she wanted and how she was going to go about to get it.
Thing is, most people don’t even know that Cindy actuality studied chemical engineering at Northwestern University before she made the decision to drop out of college in order to pursue modeling.
Since then, she basically slayed her way to the top of the ladder. Just saying, we believe that she would have slayed as a chemical engineer, too (though we wouldn’t have been graced with her sensational career).
15 To Princeton And Beyond - Brooke Shields
Model/Actress, Brooke Shields has one of the most memorable faces of all time (and most memorable eye-brows to boot). The road to Princeton was a bumpy one due to her fame as a child actress (Pretty Baby, The Blue Lagoon, Endless Love), so when she finally was able to go to school, she immediately felt homesick and wanted to drop out at first. “The paparazzi tried to sneak onto campus, dressed like what they thought college students looked like, and follow me around,” Shields wrote in her memoir, There Was a Little Girl: The Real Story of My Mother and Me. “The students were great and they alerted the school and me if anyone saw anybody suspicious.” Even though the pressure almost got to her, Shields’ own mother convinced her to push through and stay.
14 When The Best Art Reflects The Best Reality - Matt Damon
In the movie Good Will Hunting, Matt Damon plays Will Hunting, a young night janitor at MIT who ends up being a bonafide genius. In it, he falls in love with Minnie Driver’s character, who happens to be Harvard student. The movie ended up nabbing Damon his first Academy Award (for Best Original Screenplay – an honor he shares with Ben Affleck) and sort of reflects Damon’s real life as a Harvard student.
Turns out, Damon actually started the script back when he was attempting to juggle both work and school.
When trying to succeed at both became too daunting, Damon left Harvard (just 12 credits shy of graduating). It all worked out great for him, though: he eventually became one of Hollywood’s most bankable actors and even received the 2013 Harvard Arts Medal. Not too shabby.
13 Brains Run In The Family - Allison Williams
We all know her familiar beautiful face from the HBO series Girls and Jordan Peele’s film Get Out, but did you know that Allison Williams is also the daughter of one of the most recognized news journalists of all time? That’s right, she’s the daughter of Brian Williams, so she’s no stranger to the spotlight. Allison was accepted to Yale (her dream school) and fell in love with her college life, which she referred to as a “colorful, wonderful collegiate experience.” She was accepted into the acting improve group Just Add Water. “I’m so happy I was accepted into the group because it made me the actor I am today.” Allison ended up graduating from Yale in 2010 and moved to Los Angeles where she worked as a tutor while going to auditions.
12 "Education Will Make You A Better Actor" - Connie Britton
You may know actress Connie Britton from her ABC drama Nashville, however, you may not know that Britton is actually extremely intelligent and decided to put her education ahead of her acting career and majored in Asian studies at Dartmouth in her youth.
“In college, I always said I believe that having as extensive an experience of other cultures and other people as possible will make me a better actress,” she once told The Dartmouth Post.
“I still believe that to this day.” Britton graduated back in 1989. The college experience helped mold her as an actress in that she wasn’t afraid to take risks in her craft. “The thing about taking risks is, if it’s really a risk, you really can fail. It’s only a pretend risk if you really can’t fail.” So true, Connie.
11 Standing Up For Women's Rights Everywhere, Every Day - Elizabeth Banks
When most people look at Elizabeth Banks, her character Effie Trinket from The Hunger Games trilogy comes to mind. Or perhaps her hilarious turns on Pitch Perfect or 30 Rock or Scrubs comes to mind. While Banks is a brilliant actress, she also happens to be intellectually brilliant as well. She attended the University of Pennsylvania where she graduated magna cum laude in 1996 (she also was a member of the Delta Delta Delta Sorority) with a major in communications and a minor in theater arts. She then went on to complete her education at the American Conservatory Theater, where she earned an MFA degree. Banks has a heavy hand in politics (she was a very upfront and vocal supporter of Hillary Clinton in 2016) and champions for women’s rights daily.
10 Even As A Student At Penn, He Captivated - John Legend
He has one of the most unforgettable voices of our generation, but little do people know that songwriter/singer/actor John Legend is also quite the brainiac. Well, you could get some sort of sense of that if you catch him on Twitter, where he commonly enjoys making short, clever, quips about different musings (he and wife Chrissy Teigen often enjoy trolling each other in the most loving way possible.) In his career, he has won 10 Grammy Awards, a Golden Globe, and a Tony Award.
Legend graduated early from high school at 16 and was offered admission to Harvard, Georgetown, and Moretown, but decided to attend the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied English and African-American literature.
He was also a member of senior societies like Sphinx Senior Society and Onyx Senior Honor Society as an undergrad.
9 "I'd Rather Be Smart Than Be A Movie Star" - Natalie Portman
There was always something different about Natalie Portman. From the second she stepped onto the screen as a bright, precocious pre-teen in 1994’s The Professional. There was just something unique and iridescent about Portman that made her stand in a wonderful way. Portman managed to juggle both her professional life in Hollywood and her private life in school for a couple years before she decided that her education was more important. She ended up graduating from Harvard University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology. Portman put her education over everything, even when people told her it would ruin her career. “I don’t care if it ruins my career,” Portman said in 2002. “I’d rather be smart than a movie star.” And she managed to be both and eventually won an Academy Award for her performance in Black Swan.
8 Shattering Glass Ceilings At A Young Age - Lupita Nyong’o
Thanks to this year’s phenomenal film Black Panther, Lupita Nyong’o’s name is on the map. Though, it should have been on the map years ago when the young Kenyan-Mexican actress won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for 2013’s drama 12 Years a Slave.
The 35-year old Lupita is actually the daughter of Kenyan politician Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o and was actually born in Mexico City and moved to Kenya when she was one.
She ended up coming to the states in order to obtain her bachelor’s degree in film and theater studies from Hampshire College. After her acting debut in 2008 (in a short film called East River), she actually wrote, produced, and even directed a documentary called In My Genes, after of which she decided to pursue her master’s degree in acting from the Yale School of Drama. Now THAT’S a brilliant resume.
7 Why Stop At Just One Ivy League Degree? - David Duchovny
57-year old actor/writer/producer/director David Duchovny has really lived. Even though he’s probably best known for playing FBI agent Fox Mulder on the suspense TV series The X-Files, but since then he has played Hank Moody in Californication, which earned him numerous Golden Globe awards. What most don’t know about Duchovny is that he graduated Phi Beta Kapa from Princeton University in 1982 with an A.B. in English literature and even played varsity basketball for the university as well. He then went on to receive a Masters of Arts in English literature from Yale University and went to attempt to go for his Ph.D. there as well (though he never finished). From there, Duchovny became one of the most well-known television actors of a generation.
6 Don't Forget To Call Him Professor - James Franco
When most see his face or hear his name, they just think of the fun-loving, goof-ball. But, as it turns out, actor James Franco is actually a college professor.
Franco has taught film classes at New York University, the University of Southern California, UCLA, Studio 4, and Palo Alto High School.
Early on in his career, Franco wasn’t too happy with how he seemed to keep falling flat on his face with his acting gigs, so he decided to go to UCLA as an English major and a creative writing concentration. There, he actually received permission from the school to take 62-course credits per quarter (the normal limit is actually 19) while CONTINUING to act. In 2008, he received his undergraduate degree and was selected as the commencement speaker in 2009, but ended up backing out months before.
5 Entering The No Advice Zone - Justin Bieber
Canadian pop singer Justin Bieber tends to be the butt of a lot of jokes since he first broke into the music scene years ago. You have to admit, it’s difficult to be a child star in the spotlight, so when Bieber actually does mess up, it’s highlighted a billion times over. He once actually got a monkey and then abandoned it in a foreign country (he had no documentation for the monkey when it attempted to bring it through customs in Munich, Germany, so he left it there where it was re-homed in a zoo), he made some very questionable videos that featured some tasteless jokes, he spit on fans from a balcony, and he even got banned for life from a skydiving facility. Sure, we all do some pretty weird stuff in our youth, so here’s hoping that Bieber’s days of being silly are behind him.
4 Hopefully, She Was Misspoken - Brooke Hogan
Brooke Hogan, the daughter of uber-famous wrestler Hulk Hogan, got her start in the music world by appearing in the reality television series Hogan Knows Best in 2005 which showed her attempting to boost her music career with her overprotective father constantly looking over her shoulder. She eventually attempted to dive into her own spin-off reality show, Brooke Knows Best in 2008, which also didn’t pan out so well.
Brooke took a lot of slack back when she was doing her own reality show after she said that she “wasn’t into voting” and that she thought that a woman running for president was crazy because “women deal with a lot of emotions and menopause and PMS and stuff,” and because of that, they’d be “too moody” to run the country.
We all say some bizarre things in our youth, so we'll chalk it up to that.
3 Tripping Over Words - Farrah Abraham
Not many people actually know who reality TV personality Farrah Abraham even is, let alone what’s she’s said in the past that managed to get her into hot water. Abraham was actually cast in the reality series 16 and Pregnant, which followed young mothers. She then was cast on the spin-off series Teen Mom, which helped her release her studio album later down the line. However, audiences didn’t take too well with Abraham since she actually was made to seem like a villain in the shows she starred in. She was encouraged to get mad on camera and lose her temper by MTV producers, especially when it came to shooting scenes with her mother, whom she seemed to be extra mean to. People even made her out to be opportunistic when it came to her own daughter. Hopefully, this isn’t the case in real life.
2 Side-Stepping The Point - Paris Hilton
People had always assumed that socialite Paris Hilton must have been lacking in the brains department because she was handed everything on a silver platter thanks to her family’s wealth. But even though she sometimes slips up and says the wrong thing, Hilton has never been one to let talk hold her back.
After boosting her fame with the reality TV show The Simple Life with her then-best friend Nicole Richie, she wrote and published her memoir Confessions of an Heiress, which actually became a New York Times bestseller.
Sure, her singing career didn’t go anyway, but she’s actually a very successful DJ these days. It seems like Hilton is always attempting to prove to the world that’s she’s not just another stereotypical blond, and maybe it’s time the world actually listens.
1 Think What You Will, Jaden Will Be Jaden - Jaden Smith
A lot of pressure must come with being the son of one of the most talented couples on the face of the planet. At least that’s what we gather about Jaden Smith, the son of music/TV/film superstar Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith. Early on in his life, Jaden attempted to follow in his father’s footsteps by stepping in front of the camera (The Pursuit of Happiness, The Karate Kid), but then it quickly seemed like the pressure was just too much for Jaden, and it started showing in some odd ways. He often takes to Twitter and Instagram with his off-the-wall musings, and even posted a video last year after failing his driver’s test, going on a long rant about having “failed” his parents (given, he was speaking of his driver’s test) and that he wanted to quit the Hollywood lifestyle.
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