In most cases, once someone becomes a celebrity their past endeavors and successes become irrelevant. They just become a celebrity, and are known for the roles they play in the entertainment industry. It turns out, many celebrities were intelligent enough to have chosen other career paths or transitioned to acting after already have successful careers. Here are 10 celebrities who are most definitely smarter than us…
10. Ken Jeong
Famous for his role as Ben Chang on the hit show Community and his infamous guest appearance in The Hangover, Jeong has made a name for himself as a comedic actor. But his path into the industry wasn’t a traditional one. As he was finishing his internal medicine residency, Jeong was developing his stand-up comedy. It was difficult for Jeong to decide to quit his job as a physician and pursue acting full-time, but he credits his wife, also a physician, for giving him the courage to make the move.
Jeong’s big break was his role in Knocked Up, as – coincidentally enough – a doctor. Jeong’s known for his impressive improvisational ability and has showcased these talents in his appearances in Pineapple Express, Role Models, All About Steve, The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard, and Couples Retreat, among others.
9. Dolph Lundgren
Known as Ivan Drago, who fought Rocky Balboa in the fourth installment of the Rocky franchise, many are unaware that Dolph Lundgren’s career in the entertainment industry was that of chance, and that he is just as much brains as he is brawn. Lundgren graduated with a degree in chemical engineering in Sweden and earned a master’s degree from the University of Sydney, finishing at the top of his class.
While working as a bouncer, he won a Fulbright scholarship to attend MIT, but rejected it after being hired as model Grace Jones’s bodyguard. Soon after moving to New York with Jones, Lundgren got his break in a small role as a KGB henchman in the Bond film A View to a Kill. He would go on to appear in more than 40 action films, and more recently has starred in the blockbuster franchise The Expendables and will also appear in the upcoming Creed 2.
8. Natalie Portman
Although Natalie Portman starred in the film Leon: The Professional at the young age of 13, she did not follow in the steps of most other child actors. Portman continued her studies, and while in high school, authored a paper that would be entered in the Intel Science Talent Search. Portman was accepted and enrolled in Harvard University where she majored in psychology. In 2002, she contributed to a study called “Frontal Lobe Activation During Object Permanence: Data from Near Infrared Spectroscopy.” Portman has also demonstrated an affinity for language; she’s fluent in Hebrew and has studied French, Japanese, German and Arabic.
Her scholastic accomplishments eventually made way for her acting career, and it’s safe to say Portman made the right choice. She’s starred in such iconic roles as Padmé Amidala in the Star Wars prequel trilogy, and more recently as Jackie Kennedy in the biographical drama Jackie. Portman has starred in both box office hits and critically acclaimed films, earning several Academy Award nominations and winning an Oscar for her work in the film Black Swan.
7. Mayim Bialik
Like Ken Jeong, Mayim Bialik had a successful career before she returned to acting (after becoming a young star on the show Blossom). Bialik earned a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience with minors in Hebrew and Jewish studies, continuing her studies until she earned a PhD in neuroscience from UCLA in 2007. Her eventual starring role on The Big Bang Theory might have been just the part for someone whose dissertation title was the “Hypothalamic regulation in relation to maladaptive, obsessive-compulsive, affiliative and satiety behaviors in Prader–Willi syndrome.”
Bialik’s acting career wasn’t something that occured out of thin air; she had landed roles as a child actress, including TV appearances in The Facts of Life and Beauty and the Beast. As an adult, Bialik struggled to get roles, and worked as a voiceover actress for several Cartoon Network shows before being cast on screen. Bialik made appearances on Curb Your Enthusiasm before finally landing the role of Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler in the season 3 finale of Big Bang Theory.
6. Jerry Springer
One of the most surprising career turns on our list goes to Jerry Springer. Although he’s now solely known for his salacious television show, Springer was, at one point, a highly respected lawyer with a promising political career. After graduating from law school, Springer met Bobby Kennedy and began working on his campaign for president. Only three months after he began on the campaign, Kennedy was assassinated. Springer believed he had to continue to fight for the causes that Kennedy believed in, and began a life of public service. He spearheaded a movement to lower the voting age from 21 to 18 in Ohio, and went on to serve on the Cincinnati City Council for five terms before becoming mayor at the young of 33. Springer would serve two terms of mayor before an unsuccessful run for governor.
Television networks courted Springer after his defeat and he was hired as the anchor and managing editor for Cincinnati NBC affiliate WLWT. After Springer’s hiring, the broadcast vaulted to first place in the news rankings, with Springer going on to win seven Emmys. He was voted television’s best anchor for five consecutive years by Cincinnati Magazine. As a result of his tremendous success as an anchor, he was rewarded with a television show. What began as a serious, politically charged show devolved into a show known solely for brawls and debauchery.
5. Conan O’Brien
While it’s arguable whether he’s the funniest, Conan O’Brien is certainly the smartest man in late night. O’Brien graduated as the valedictorian of his high school class before enrolling at Harvard. While attending the most prestigious university in the country, O’Brien was a writer for the Harvard Lampoon, serving as President for two years, and majored in History and Literature. Coincidentally enough for Conan, Jeff Zucker, his future boss at NBC was serving as president for the school’s newspaper The Harvard Crimson at the time.
After graduating, Conan joined the writing staff of HBO’s Not Necessarily the News. One of the difficulties Conan faced was the lack of success of the shows that he worked on. He wrote for the short-lived The Wilton North Report and later wrote the pilot for Lookwell, which was not picked up. However, Conan did find success: he was hired by Saturday Night Live’s Lorne Michaels as a writer, where he worked for three years. After the rejection of Lookwell, Conan decided to leave SNL and decided to move to New York. He had no plans, and looking back depicts that period as one of the most trying in his career. Soon after moving to New York, he was hired to write for The Simpsons which he credits as saving him. The rest, as they say, is history. Conan’s success on the The Simpsons led to his position in late night.
4. Steve Martin
It might come as a bit of a surprise how many comedians are actually quite brilliant. Steve Martin is no exception. A true renaissance man, Martin is an accomplished banjo player, is credited for having invented the “air quotes,” and is also a member of Mensa. He even penned a New Yorker article about his experience in the society. Martin has claimed an IQ of 142, and considered becoming a professor while studying at Cal State. He seems to have made the right decision.
Martin is famous for his numerous iconic roles, from The Jerk, Planes, Trains and Automobiles and The Three Amigos to Father of the Bride. Steve Martin has certainly become of the most beloved comedic actors in the world.
3. Jodie Foster
Another actress who started at an early age, Jodie Foster is also exceedingly brilliant. Foster graduated from Lycee Francais of Los Angeles in 1980 as valedictorian, and went on to graduate magna cum laude from Yale with a BA in literature. Like Natalie Portman, Foster is gifted with language and is fluent in French and conversational in both German and Italian.
She’s gone on to star in several iconic roles, most notably as Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs. Foster’s intelligence has also served her well as she’s transitioned to directing. She’s directed episodes of House of Cards, Black Mirror, and Orange is the New Black. As a two-time Academy Award winner, the recipient of three BAFTA awards, as well as three Golden Globes, Foster will surely go down as one of the best actors in her generation.
2. Rowan Atkinson
Another funnyman to make our list is Rowan Atkinson, known as the ridiculously stupid Mr. Bean. Atkinson was not always destined for comedy; he studied engineering at Newcastle University, and went on to the prestigious Oxford University for his Masters in Science. While attending Oxford he met director Richard Curtis, who encouraged Atkinson to pursue acting. They created the Mr. Bean character together, and Atkinson began following a path in the arts.
He began in radio, starring in comedy shows for BBC radio 3, and their success led to a television spot for Atkinson and Curtis. After several successful shows on BBC, in 1990 the character Mr. Bean made his debut. The character was such a success that Atkinson gained an audience in the United States as well, prompting, the filming of Johnny English, a spy comedy film that combined Mr. Bean’s character with a general spoofing of James Bond.
1. Edward Norton
Although Edward Norton has proved to be not exactly the easiest person to work with, it’s likely due to his resounding belief in his own intelligence and vision. Norton graduated from Yale with a Bachelor’s in history in 1991. While attending Yale, he acted in productions alongside Ron Livingston and Paul Giamatti. After college, Norton moved to Osaka, Japan to work for his grandfather’s consulting company. In order to be successful, Norton studied and became fluent in Japanese.
Norton’s breakthrough role was acting alongside Richard Gere in Primal Fear. His career would only ascend, culminating in his Oscar nomination for Best Actor in American History X. During the post-production process of American History X, Norton and his director feuded over the edit of the film, with the studio eventually siding with Norton. The result? A critically acclaimed film.