Think of the famous faces we see every day on the big and the small screen, the stars of cinema and television that fill the pages of glossy entertainment magazines. To look at the acting world, you’d be forgiven for thinking that most celebrities live a life far removed from the commitment and concentration necessary for further educational study. It may come as a shock, then, to find that the following well-known actors have all achieved master’s degrees ñ with some attaining even more advanced qualifications – in their chosen subjects. Brace yourself for 10 surprising actors you never knew had master’s degrees!
10. Rowan Atkinson
Atkinson is known across the globe for his bungling slapstick creation Mr Bean and his eponymous role in the spoof spy Johnny English franchise. These characters (particularly Bean) are not exactly blessed with a terrific amount of intelligence ñ usually any attempt from Bean to use his brain ends in disaster. So it may come as some surprise to learn that an actor who excels at playing the ultimate dim-wit is a highly educated individual. Following his undergraduate degree at Newcastle University, he completed his Masters in Electrical Engineering at that renowned center of learning, Oxford University. As a further feather in his jester’s cap, Oxford made Atkinson an honorary fellow in 2006.
9. Ilan Mitchell-Smith (Weird Science)
In the minds of movie geeks everywhere he will be forever associated with his role in John Hughesí Weird Science, an everyday story of high school nerds conjuring up a dream girl (Kelly Le Brock) out of their computer. But Ilan Mitchell-Smith has a lot more to his CV than this fondly remembered teen classic. The wholly implausible plot – lovingly complemented by bouffant 80s fashions and a party pop soundtrack – isn’t exactly a master class in IT. However, Mitchell-Smith survived the experience with his brain intact and moved away from acting in 1991 and hit the books. He followed a BA in Medieval Studies from UC Davis with a Master of Arts degree from Fordham University and then a Ph.D. from Texas A&M. After a stint on the English faculty at Angelo State University he joined California State University Long Beach, where he is currently Assistant Professor of English.
8. Ron Jeremy
For a particular type of – ahem – fan, Ron Jeremy is the no.1 star of stars. But the well-known adult entertainer has more strings to his bow than the ability to take his clothes off and get busy on demand. The mustachioed performer and star of such ëspecialistí fare as Orgazmo and One-Eyed Monster is a very well educated man. Following his bachelorís degree in Education and Theatre he earned himself a master’s in Special Education from Queens College, New York. Before finding his true calling as a pornographic actor, Jeremy taught special-education classes and filled in as a supply teacher in the New York area.
7. Kathleen Noone
Best known for her roles in glossy soaps All My Children, Knots Landing and Sunset Beach, Noone is a mainstay of the kind of fluffy, superficial dramas that keep television stations in business. Perhaps surprisingly, she is the proud possessor of the sort of qualifications that one doesn’t normally associate with soap actors. Noone holds a BFA degree from Ithaca College and West Virginia University and a Master of Fine Arts degree from Southern Methodist University. Recently she went back into education to complete a master’s in Spiritual Psychology. She has used her training to set up a company entitled Kathleen Noone’s Emotional Fitness, which aims to help budding actors with the stresses and emotional demands of the business.
6. James Franco
In Pineapple Express, James Franco played a grade-A stoner, the kind of guy who’s only reason for flicking through a book would be to rip out its pages to make a roach. In real life, Franco – who made his name as a slacker in the cult TV show Freaks and Geeks before becoming a major Hollywood star with the Spider-Man movies, 127 Hours and the recent Rise of the Planet of the Apes – couldn’t be further from the loser stereotype. Described as having “an unusually high metabolism for productivity,” Franco earned his undergraduate degree in Creative Writing in 2008. He went on to attend graduate school at Columbia University and received his MFA in 2010. The intellectually motivated star is currently a Ph.D. student in English at Yale University whilst still finding time to attend the Rhode Island School of Design. Which is saying nothing of the six films he has coming out this year alone…
5. David Duchovny
To most television fans he is Agent Fox Mulder, the FBI man who “wanted to believe” in the long-running series The X-Files. However, his early acting career was punctuated by roles of a rather different nature. First came his performance as an altogether different sort of federal agent, the cross-dressing Denis or Denise Bryson in the genre-bending cult series Twin Peaks. Following that Duchovny enjoyed a spell as the narrator and host of soft porn TV show The Red Shoe Diaries. Yet despite extraterrestrial abductions, transgenderism and softcore eroticism, Duchovny holds a Master of Arts in English Literature from Yale. Duchovny also began work on a Ph.D. thesis about magic and technology in contemporary literature, but is sadly yet to complete it.
4. Sigourney Weaver
Whether battling the Alien Queen as Lieutenant Ripley in the terrifying Alien saga or getting possessed by the demonic spirit Zuul in Ghostbusters, Sigourney Weaver has consistently brought an energy and vivacity to her acting work that has held her in good stead throughout a long career. While subsequent roles in Working Girl and Heartbreakers show off her comic timing they don’t necessarily make her powerful intellect apparent. Before her acting career truly took off, Weaver earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from Yale University School of Drama in 1974. With an education that has doubtless served her well in her Hollywood years, Weaver remains an object lesson in astuteness and longevity in the movie business.
3. Peter Weller
Immortalized in the 1987 science-fiction/action film RoboCop, Peter Weller, who played the titular crime-busting cyborg, is perhaps not the first person you’d expect to have a thoughtful side. But when not decked head-to-toe in metal armor, Weller has a hunger for intellectual and artistic pursuits. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre from North Texas State University in 1969, Weller concentrated on his acting ambitions. He returned to his studies more than thirty years later, completing a Master’s degree in Roman and Renaissance Art at Syracuse University in 2004. He is due to finish a Ph.D. in Italian Renaissance art history in 2012.
2. Bill Cosby
Bill Cosby has had a long and illustrious career as standup comic, actor and all-round entertainer. In what can be an unpredictable profession, Cosby has managed to stay ahead of fashions and tastes, and his ability to make audiences laugh has undeniably stood the test of time. So too, it seems, has his intellect. The star of TV’s The Cosby Show and the lesser-known movies Leonard Part 6 and Ghost Dad spent much of the 1970s in full-time education. He received a master’s degree from the University of Massachusetts, and went on to gain his doctorate in education (also from UMass) in 1976.
The Swedish-born Dolph Lundgren has had a pretty full career. Catapulted to fame while still plying his trade as a bouncer, Lundgren first became known as the bodyguard (and later boyfriend) of singer and actress Grace Jones. Movie roles followed, all of which made the most of his imposing 6ft 5in frame. Debuting with a small (but very noticeable) role in the Bond film A View to a Kill, Lundgrenís real breakthrough came in boxing drama Rocky IV, starring alongside Sylvester Stallone as the seemingly superhuman Russian Ivan Drago. A career of heavyweight action roles followed, with a fondly-received comeback in 2010ís The Expendables. But far from being a musclebound meathead, Lundgren has proved he has brains as well as brawn. In the late 1970s he graduated with a degree in Chemical Engineering from the Royal Institute of Technology in his native Stockholm. A master’s, also in Chemical Engineering, followed from the University of Sydney, Australia, where the well-traveled Swede finished with the top marks in the class. He was about to embark on further educational pursuits at Massachusetts Institute of Technology when he met Jones, who swept him off his feet (and then to New York) with a very different type of chemistry!