Popular Culture

15 Celebrities with the Best Educations


We tend to think of celebrities as excessively pretty people who get paid for doing practically nothing. It takes serendipity rather than smarts to a land a job in Hollywood – or at least a really nice ass. But strangely enough, some of them have pedigrees and aren’t afraid to use them. Here are some of the best educated of modern stardom, from dropouts to psych majors and everything in between.

Natalie Portman

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Ever since she busted onto the scene in 1994’s The Professional she’s had people talking about her kittenish beauty and obvious intelligence. Portman not only speaks three languages and somehow snags the most dignified roles to compliment her eternal ingenue persona, she graduated from Harvard with a 4.0 and a degree in Psychology.

Russell Brand

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In the short period of time before he was a junkie, Brand was educated in modest but generic English comprehensive schools that probably shove loads of Donne and Johnson down your throat. But the turning point, excluding the influence of drugs, was his acceptance at RADA in 1995. In a characteristic Brand move, he got expelled his final year for pulling a crazy, but theatrically appropriate stunt. A bad reception of his performance made him go all Norma Desmond and break a bottle over his head. Of course, we can’t say all that schooling hasn’t paid off, for now the man’s in the limelight and a Shakespearean clown to boot.

Tommy Lee Jones

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What could be better than a Harvard cum laude man? How about one who also epitomizes hard man ethics in the post-western era. Nobody fits this description quite like Tommy Lee Jones. At Harvard he was a both a football hero and Al Gore’s roommate and his onscreen persona is nearly as varied. It’s that mix of Harvard distinction and John Wayne-style grit that make him him a real badass in even his most ridiculous endeavors (i.e. Men in Black 2).

Kate Beckinsale

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It’s not like she’s kept her literary talent a secret. As an adolescent she won writing competitions for her short stories and when she did venture into film it was with stalwart productions like Masterpiece theater and Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing. It’s no coincidence that she seems like the perfect Austen heroine – she has the pedigree for it. She left Oxford without a degree but with a wealth of knowledge of French and Russian literature.

David Duchovny

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Though he’s now known as the libertinous, perpetually writer’s-blocked Hank Moody in Californication, the real David Duchovny is a true academic. After graduating Yale in ’87 he began a doctorate on the subject of ‘Magic and Technology’ in poetry and prose. The doctrate remained unfinished, but is there any doubt that the man behind Fox Mulder would have gotten an A?

Ed Norton

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From schizophrenia to neo-nazism and dissociative identity disorder, Norton’s characters have run the gamut of madness. While on the screen, his psychopathia seems to know no bounds, The real Norton’s head is on perfectly straight. So straight, in fact, that before he made his name in the shocking American History X, he had graduated from Yale with a degree in History.

John Krasinski

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You probably know him as the slacker salesman always playing pranks on an unsuspecting Dwight Shrute, but John Krasinski’s former classmates also know him as the man that they voted the ‘sexiest alum’ of Brown University. After his graduation in ’02, it only took him a few years to be cast in his breakout role as Jim Halpert in The Office in 2005.

Maggie Gyllenhaal

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Before she was the Sundance crowd’s consistent drink of choice in films like Secretary and Donnie Darko, she was busy studying religion at Columbia (with Uma Thurman’s dad as her professor, no less) and sampling the academic offerings of RADA before that. Her eclectic education is a cut above most actresses who get to play sadomasochists and almost-superheroes girlfriends, even if her non-dropout status might not earn her points with her indie audience.

Jodie Foster

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The elusive actress who was ubiquitous in the nineties has been out of the spotlight in the decade past with less than 10 film credits since 1999’s Anna and the King. She resurfaced for the box office hit Panic Room and picked up massive street cred starring in The Brave One. But in order to hunt down psycho killers and play socially inept woodland children, one has to have an education as diverse and well-rounded as the sampling of Hollywood roles Foster has found herself playing. The Yale alum graduated in ’85 and has seemingly never looked back.

Matt Damon

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Matt Damon must have felt right at home playing the misunderstood intellectual in Good Will Hunting. Having dropped out of Harvard himself, Matt must have a hard time convincing people he meets that he’s more than just a pretty face. Poor guy.

Claire Danes

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America first met Claire as the tortured and introspective freshman Angela in My So-Called Life. The real life Danes was a real achiever. Though she dropped out in the midst of earning a psych degree from Yale, she’s stayed true to her prestigious pedigree in her choice of roles from Shakespeare’s Juliet to a period actress of Shakespeare in Stage Beauty.

Emma Watson

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It’s not really a surprise that Emma Watson gets her learning on at Brown – it seems completely appropriate for the teen star whose made her name in Hollywood playing hot nerd Hermoine of Harry Potter fame. As a class of 2013-er we can’t know exactly how Watson’s education will turn out, but after that topless photo scare we can certainly be worried about her going all Lindsay on us.

James Franco

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There’s no use in pretending we’re all not completely sick of hearing about Franco’s prodigality in bi-coastal academics. He’s hitting up all the ivys and new-ivys including Yale, Columbia and NYU, and apparently still isn’t clear on the fact that he might not actually need any of it. For most of us, college is a way of avoiding a future in manual labor. For Franco it’s just rubbing it in. Dude, you’re famous, go have fun.

Lady Gaga

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Gaga serves as an education for everyone else, but uncharacteristically enough she’s nearly received one herself. The NYU dropout haunted the campus hangout The Bitter End performing her own pieces before she became megafamous during her sophomore year, who can blame her for dropping out?

Brooke Shields

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A babe from way back, Shields also contains the second sexiest feature in a television starlet – a prolonged interest in Balzac. She studied at Princeton and graduated in ’87 with a BA in French literature. The Lipstick Jungle tycoon she plays always does seem to know a bit too much about Dangerous Liaisons tactics than was entirely healthy, and now it’s clear why.


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