16 Celebrities Who Are Smarter Than You Think

In general, it doesn’t take a lot of brains to make it in Hollywood, especially if you’re gorgeous and lucky. There are a bunch of celebrities who we know are smart (see: Natalie Portman) and there are many, many more who we know don’t have two brain cells to rub together (Matthew Mcconaughey, Tara Reid). However, if you keep you eyes open, eventually you’ll see an actor or actress who are much smarter than you gave them credit for. People who are actually kinda sharp, but have made a living by appearing vapid. Like these 16 folks.

16. Alan Rachins

Alan Rachins is most well remember these days for being in the extremely banal sitcom Dharma and Greg, where he played Dharma’s aging hippie father Larry. He pretty much spent the entire run of the show doing his best to emulate Tommy Chong, looking spaced out and reminiscing about things that may or may not have happened. It also turns out that Rachins is a pretty sharp tack. He had a successful stage career, and was accepted as a fellow in the writing and directing programs at the American Film Institute. Oh, and he’s a member of MENSA, which means he’s at least pretty smart.

15. Kate Beckinsale

See, I’d suggest you’d have to be not-very-smart in order to not only star in the Underworld movies, and then do an even worse vampire/werewolf crossover with Van Helsing. Plus, you know, Pearl Harbor. Despite being used mostly as eye candy in the movies she’s been in, Beckinsale was an accomplished writer as a teen. She twice won the W. H. Smith Young Writers’ competition — once for three short stories and once for three poems. While at University, she studied French and Russian Literature, but didn’t finish her degree, instead focusing on acting. Then again, maybe she’s not so smart: Click, Vacancy, Whiteout, and she’s even signed up for another Underworld movie.

14. Claire Danes

Claire Danes’ Hollywood choices have been pretty mixed. She’s been in some great, great films: Romeo+Juliet, Shopgirl, The Hours, and also some utterly, utterly terrible ones: Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Yeah, that was not a good movie. Not at all. Yet, even having been on screen since the age of 15, she still managed to get into one of the country’s most prestigious universities: Yale. she got Oliver Stone to write her a recommendation letter, and studied Psychology there for two years. Now, it’s arguable that she got in because of her name, the fact that she’s a legacy, and that she couldn’t hack it as she dropped out after two years to “focus on acting,” but getting that far is still pretty impressive considering many other actors out there.

13. Asia Carrera

Asia Carrera was a prominant pornstar in the 90s and early 2000s who defied people’s expectations of adult entertainers by being blisteringly smart. How smart? IQ of 156, member of MENSA, performed at Carnegie Hall on the piano twice by the time she was 15, taught English in Japan at the age of 16, won a full scholarship to Rutgers University. Yeah, she’s smart. She decided to push back against the academic aspirations of her family, and instead went into skinflicks, but at the same time she was a major nerd — back before it was cool. She coded her website from scratch — which looks horribly dated now, but was cutting edge in the 90s. She also used to be a fixture in the Unreal Tournament community, which is pretty sweet.

12. Steve Martin

Steve Martin’s an utter goofball. His comedy tends towards slapstick and absurdist, and he almost always plays roles that portray him as not quite all there. Yet, if you do a bit more digging, you find he’s blisteringly smart. I mean, just mindblowingly talented. He’s an incredible fiction writer, a talented playwrite, a music composer, a member of MENSA, and a Grammy winner. That’s bordering on polymath levels of smart, he just seems to excel in entertainment. You watch him in something like Cheaper by the Dozen or Pink Panther or Sgt. Bilko, and you wouldn’t think that this man is so ludicrously smart.

11. Famke Janssen

It’s generally not wise to make assumptions about the intelligence of Bond girls (coughcoughDeniseRichardscoughcough), but Famke Janssen is surprisingly smart considering that she’s usually cast as eye candy. She’s a former model who broke into the blockbuster movie world as Xenia Onatopp in Goldeneye, and played Jean Grey in the X-Men films. So, why’s she on this list? She attended Columbia University to study creative writing and literature, and I believe she may even have finished her degree, unlike some of the others on this list. She had also studied Economics at the University of Amsterdam, and was a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for Integrity at the Second Conference of the States Parties to the United Nations Convention against Corruption.

10. Heddy Lamarr

Not enough people today recognise Heddy Lamarr’s name, but for years she was considered one of the most beautiful women in the world, the archetypal vamp of the silver screen. Any time you needed a classy seductress, it was Heddy you tried to get hold of. She was a major star of MGM’s Golden Age of cinema, and once called “the most beautiful woman in Europe.” She was also a badass inventor, and thanks to her we have cellphones. Wait, what? Lamarr was the co-inventor of the technology behind “frequency hopping,” which they originally devised to make American torpedoes harder to jam, because they could switch quickly between a number of radio frequencies. However it went on to form the basis of frequency hopping for WiFi and cellphones, allowing your devices to seamlessly transfer between different frequencies without dropping a call — unless you have an iPhone on AT&T.

9. Matt Damon

For contrast, I present to you: above, Matt Damon as portrayed in popular culture, thanks to Team America: World Police, and below, him in an interview talking about Sarah Palin. He’s angry, frustrated, eloquent, educated and verbose. Contrary to the view of him as a goofball, Damon’s astonishingly smart. Sure, he’s got a chip on his shoulder, but even his love of starring in bad action movies doesn’t diminish the head he’s got on his shoulders. Keep in mind that him and Affleck wrote the script for Good Will Hunting, including that incredibly powerful scene about American wars. You might not agree with him on many things, but there’s no arguing that this Masshole is smart.

8. RZA

There’s this steroetype that gangster rap is made by angry young thugs without two brain cells to rub together, and there certainly is a bit of that, but you look at some of big names in some of the older stuff, their politically charged lyrics and keen minds definitely come through. None are more obvious than the RZA, leader of the Wu-Tang Clan (who by all accounts ain’t nothing to fuck with). He personally orchestrated their rise to success, is an excellent musician in his own right, an author, actor, director and screenwriter. And a huge, huge, chess nerd. He’s a major part of the Hip-Hop Chess Federation, and is the champion of a large move to get kids in the ghetto playing the game in order to keep their minds sharp. That’s pretty freaking badass.

7. Shakira

My knowledge of Shakira is pretty shaky. It’s pretty much limited to the fact that she’s tiny, and that her hips apparently don’t lie. However, I’m informed by reliable sources (read: the internets) that she’s much smarter than your typical tiny popstar, and has an IQ of 140. Now, I haven’t been able to track down anything to back that up, but if true, that’s bordering on genius levels of the test — as fundamentally flawed as it is. As evidence of her intelligence, I point to her speaking three languages fluently, another three basically, is a major philanthropist for poor children, is a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, and has been honored twice by the UN for her work with children. Even if her IQ isn’t that high, she seems to be doing pretty smart things with her money and fame.

6. Stoya

Stoya is another adult film star, but this time one still involved with the industry. And while she might not have the educational acclaim of some of the other entries on the list, she’s still one of the more eloquent commenters on sex, technology and alternative culture to be found on the internet. If you read her blog or follow her twitter, you quickly get the feeling that she’s an incredibly smart, well spoken and interesting person who really, really likes fucking. Interspersed with nudity she talks about hand-designing clothing, the impact of technology on the world, and is just a genuinely interesting source of information. Plus, her spelling and grammar is immaculate, which is something deserving of respect and admiration.

5. Cindy Crawford

To say that Cindy Crawford is still mind-blowingly gorgeous at 45 is the understatement of the century. She was arguably the most well known model fo the 90s, and possibly the most gorgeous woman of the decade — an even years later she’s utterly stunning. So, what about the brains? She was valedictorian of her High School class, had a 4.0 grade average, and was awarded a full ride to Northwestern to study chemical engineering. Getting a full academic scholarship to one of the best universities in the country is a pretty good indicator to me have some brains to back up those looks. Yeah, she dropped out after a semester to pursue modeling full time, but looking at how well she did out of it, strikes me as probably the right move for her.

4. Rowan Atkinson

In the USA Rowan Atkinson is best known for his near-silent goofy role of Mr. Bean, the hapless, gormless and generally oblivious manchild with a limited intellect. It’s very easy to think that Atkinson would be somewhat similar, given his love for that role and his other ventures into goofball comedy, like Johnny English. However, Atkinson, by all accounts, is a quiet and fiercely intelligent man. He’s politically active in preserving free speech and gay rights. He has a Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering from Oxford. He’s also famously reclusive, rarely giving interviews, and listing his profession as “engineer” on his passport.

3. Lisa Kudrow

Kudrow is still most famous for playing airheads, specifically Phoebe on Friends and one of either Romy or Michel in Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion (I can never remember which was which). Yet despite her reputation as your typical dumb blonde, she’s actually pretty sharp. She has a Bachelors in biology from Vasser, and spent eight years being a lab rat, working in her father’s research institute, and garnering herself a publication — she’s one of the few celebrities to have a peer reviewed publication to their name. She was also the Friends star with the first Emmy win and most nominations, though that doesn’t really speak for her intelligence.

2. James Franco

James Franco looks permanently stoned. There’s no getting around that. Even when he’s not playing it up like he did in Pineapple Express, he just has this perennial goofy grin and squint-eyed look that makes him seem like he’s pretty much always toked up to his eyeball. Which hides the fact that he’s bordering on being a polymath. He’s been a stage director, had stories appear in Esquire and McSweeney’s, had an art exhibit, fashion photographer, and he recently directed his first dance-theater piece. At UCLA he enrolled doing 62 course credits (the usual limit is 19). Since receiving his degree there, he moved to New York and simultaneously enrolled in Columbia University’s MFA writing program, New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts for filmmaking (NYU), the Brooklyn College for fiction writing and North Carolina’s Warren Wilson College for poetry. He’s also now a PhD student in English at Yale University, will attend the Rhode Island School of Design, and has been accepted for a PhD at the University of Houston. Apparently in order to still make movies and do everything else, he has aides take notes in the classes, and then he reads and writes everything. That’s fucking insane.

1. Dolph Lundgren

Lundgren is the stereotypical European meathead. He’s huge, ripped, and blond. Aryan superman, Communist devil, whatever you need him to be. He’s there, and he’ll punch through a wall for you. He must be pretty stupid, right? Not so fast, this famous Swede was almost an academic before becoming an action movie star. He’s has a Masters in chemical engineering from the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm and the University of Sydney in Sydney, Australia, graduating with the highest marks in his class. He was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to MIT to continue his studies. He speaks speaks Swedish, English, Spanish, some German, some French, some Japanese, and some Italian. Yeah, the dude’s really fucking smart. And during Rocky IV, he punched Stallone so hard he was hospitalized. He’s a brainy badass.