- If you think the biggest actors and actresses were only in drama club and musicals growing up, think again.
- They were cheerleaders, prom kings, and homecoming queens, sang in choir, and governed their student bodies.
- If you’ve ever wondered what kind of students your favourite celebrities were, we rounded up what some of the biggest names in Hollywood were up to during their formative years.
- Melissa McCarthy went through a goth phase in her final two years of school.
- Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.
High school is a wild time in everyone’s lives, including your favourite celebrities, from Ted Danson to Jennifer Lopez.
Some of what we learned about these A-listers was unexpected: “The Martian” star Jessica Chastain dropped out of high school, and Bill Murray paid his way through Catholic school.
Keep reading to see what your favourite celebrities were like and what they were doing in high school.
Patricia Arquette rocked a dramatic haircut in high school.
Arquette went to Catholic school, and even wanted to become a nun when she grew up, she told NPR.
Ted Danson played basketball at his Connecticut boarding school, and called himself a “frustrated athlete.”
Danson told the Washington Post that he was probably a “frustrated athlete.” He continued, “I mean, I love basketball with a burning passion, it’s what got me through high school. I may not be an athlete, but I feel I have the soul of an athlete.”
Jerry Seinfeld graduated from Massapequa High School in the ’70s, rocking a very ’70s ‘do.
Seinfeld graduated from high school in 1972. He and fellow Massapequa native Alec Baldwin did an episode of “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” in their shared hometown, and even paid a visit to their favourite diner.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus did theatre in high school.
While the “Veep” star was in high school, she watched “Saturday Night Live” religiously with her family. Just a few years later, during her junior year of college, she was cast on the show.
Stephen Colbert barely graduated high school after experiencing the tragic death of his father and two of his brothers at age 10.
Colbert told GQ in 2015 that he “barely graduated” from his Charleston, South Carolina, prep school, Porter-Gaud School. Instead of doing homework, he would read books. “I read a book a day. Spent all of my allowance on books. Every birthday, confirmation, Christmas – books, please, stacks of books,” he told the magazine.
“Queer Eye” star Karamo Brown attended Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the site of the Parkland school shooting.
“When I saw on the news a few weeks back that my alma mater was being called the site of the world’s deadliest school massacre, you all cannot imagine how much my heart broke,”Brown said at the March For Our Lives in 2018.
Bob Odenkirk’s friends used to call him “Bobnoxious” in high school.
Odenkirk grew up in Naperville, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. According to Chicago Mag, Odenkirk “hated school,” but was a good student. Since he graduated at the age of 16, and began attending the College of DuPage immediately after, clearly Odenkirk was a sharp kid.
Chris Pratt was voted class clown in high school.
Dave Bautista wasn’t the only wrestler in “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Pratt was someone who got along with all of his classmates, participating in wrestling, track, and football at Lake Stevens high in Washington. He even placed fifth in the state wrestling competition his senior year in 1997. When he wasn’t playing sports, he was making burgers at a bingo hall part-time.
He hasn’t forgotten about his high school. He worked on a documentary on his school’s wrestling team which premiered at ESPN’s film festival. Pratt also gave back to his high school by raising funds for a recreation center.
Anna Faris said she didn’t date until senior year of high school.
“I liked guys, but no one really liked me,” Faris told People magazine in 2001. Instead, the “Mum” actress said she considered herself a drama club “dork.”
Matthew McConaughey was voted the most handsome.
McConaughey played golf and tennis at Longview High School in Texas. He was also in the yearbook and Pan Am clubs.
He told GQ his first job in high school involved raking sand traps starting at 3 a.m. at a country club. Sometimes he had to shoot and kill armadillos that were on the golf course.
Halle Berry was prom queen in high school, but it didn’t come easily.
According to People, Berry beat out a girl with blonde hair and blue eyes and she and her friends were accused of faking votes. Only after a coin toss was Berry named queen.
“I felt like I was accepted there until it came to being prom queen,” said Berry. “It took me a long time to get over it.”
Throughout high school, Berry was a good student. The actress was a cheerleader, on the honour society, and an editor for the school paper.
Reese Witherspoon went to an all-girls high school in Nashville, Tennessee.
Witherspoon went by her real name Laura Jeane in school and has described herself as one of the popular nerdy girls who loved books growing up and received good grades.
“I was a big dork who read loads of books,” Witherspoon told The Times in 2006. “But I was a popular dork because I learnt how to be funny.”
Witherspoon was extremely busy in high school. Not only was she dividing her time between cheerleading, Spanish club, and Amnesty International, but she also started acting. At 14, she tried out for a background role in “The Man in the Moon,” but ended up cast as the lead, a tomboy teen who fell in love with her 17-year-old neighbour.
Comedian Will Ferrell was voted best personality.
Ferrell also read the school announcements in the mornings over the P.A. system at University high school in Irvine, California. He played soccer, basketball, baseball, and football, the latter of which he set a school record for most field goals. Ferrell was also part of the reptile club.
Tina Fey worked on the school newspaper.
In her book “Bossypants,” Fey recalled how she was a night box-office manager at a youth theatre program in 11th grade. The “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” co-creator was also in choir singing alto, though she was sometimes a second soprano.
According to Time, she was also on the tennis team and was an honour student.
Her gal pal Amy Poehler played basketball, softball, and soccer.
“I was a cheerleader for a while. I did student council,” she wrote. “I started to hang with the popular crowd but was never considered the prettiest or most interesting. I tended to blend.”
Will Smith got his Fresh Prince moniker in high school.
Smith started rapping at a young age. When he was 16, he met Jeff Townes and the duo started rapping together under the names DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. His first album came out when he was a senior.
Smith later ended up naming a production company, Overbrook Entertainment, after his high school.
Blake Lively was quite the busy bee in high school.
“I was class president, on the cheerleading squad, in a competitive show choir, and in, like, six different clubs,”Lively told Cosmopolitan in 2008.
Lively, who took AP courses, also found time to film “The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants” during her junior and senior years.
Her husband Ryan Reynolds, on the other hand, didn’t make it through drama class.
Bruce Willis’s classmates said he had the most school spirit.
That may have been because Willis was voted president of Student Council. The actor also played baseball and was part of the drama club, acting in some of the school plays. Willis found it to be therapeutic.
“I had a horrible stutter when I was a kid, from the time I was 9 until the time I was about 17. And a miraculous thing happened when I was in high school,” told Reader’s Digest. “I was doing this goofy play. It wasn’t a goofy play, we just did it in a goofy way. Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. When I got onstage, I stopped stuttering. When I stepped off the stage, I started stuttering again. And I went, ‘This is a miracle. I got to investigate this more.'”
Amy Adams didn’t really enjoy school, but she was always working.
One of seven children, Adams started working at the age of 12. In high school, she worked at a local dance company as she balanced her extracurriculars of choir and track.
She told The Hollywood Reporter her real passion was dance and she pursued that after high school instead of furthering her education before she began acting.
“I didn’t go to the university because there weren’t options in my family. And I stopped the athletic options. I was supposed to stick with track because I was really quick and I could run fast, but I told them, ‘I want to dance.'” said Adams in 2008. “I taught kids when I was in high school. That’s how I paid for my dance classes. I worked in a dancewear store. I just waited to get out of school. I wasn’t one of those people who enjoyed being in school.”
George Clooney was on the varsity baseball and basketball teams.
Clooney told Larry King he had bell’s palsy, where half of his face was paralysed, when he first started high school at age 13.
“It takes about nine months to go away,” said Clooney who came down with symptoms after watching the film “The Pride of the Yankees.” “It was the first year of high school, which was a bad time for having half your face paralysed.”
Clooney told NPR it forced him to make fun of himself which is an important part of being famous.
The actor told Esquire he was a good student, receiving A’s and B’s, at least in elementary. “I was a much better student than I thought I was. I had all A’s and a B. So that’s not so bad,” said Clooney in 2008.
Clooney was also part of drama club and was prince of his senior prom.
His buddy Brad Pitt was one of the popular kids and was voted best dressed.
According to “Brad Pitt, Biography of a Superstar,” Pitt received good grades while playing tennis, golf, and being a part of the debate team. Pitt also acted in school plays and musicals. Despite being in the movie “Moneyball,” Pitt wasn’t a baseball player, but he did play a few other sports.
“Baseball and I didn’t get along that well,” he told Sports Illustrated. “I wrestled one year. I dove one year. Everything but baseball.”
Oprah Winfrey was voted most popular.
Winfrey attended several different high schools growing up. She graduated from East High School in Nashville, Tennessee where she was in the Honour Society, National Forensic League, and was in the student government.
On an episode of her talk show, Oprah told her audience that she was voted most popular during the first year the school was desegregated with 80% white students.
Ben Affleck had nearly perfect SAT scores.
Though Affleck was a brainy kid, The New York Times says the “Batman v Superman” actor’s grades varied because he was often absent and uninterested in school.
Matt Damon attended high school with his good friend, Affleck.
Damon participated in theatre classes in high school and performed in some of the school’s productions. In 2010, he told Parade it was his friendship with Ben Affleck which encouraged and inspired his acting.
“We obsessed over acting,” said Damon, who was convinced by Affleck to sign up with a casting agency at the age of 16. “I know it’s odd. But Ben was my best friend. We shared this dream. We enabled each other. Without Ben, I wouldn’t have known where to start.”
Damon continued starring in plays while attending Harvard.
Julia Roberts was in her school band and played the clarinet.
Roberts told Access Hollywood she definitely wasn’t one of the popular kids.
“[I was] just mediocre, just getting through the hallways with my girlfriend Paige,” said Roberts in 2011. “We weren’t losers, but we weren’t popular, we were just coasting.”
Sandra Bullock was a cheerleader in high school.
“I had no idea what I was cheering about,” Bullock told Jimmy Kimmel of her time on the squad. “I was not well-versed in basketball terminology. But, I had spirit and I was a good bottom at the pyramid.”
According to People, Bullock was voted by her senior class as “most likely to brighten your day.”
Tom Hanks was not popular in high school.
Hanks told Rolling Stone he was a “geek” and “spaz” as a kid. “I was horribly, painfully, terribly shy. At the same time, I was the guy who’d yell out funny captions during filmstrips. But I didn’t get into trouble. I was always a real good kid and pretty responsible.”
According to Matt Green’s “The Amazing Life of Tom Hanks,” he was in high school performances of “South Pacific” and “Twelfth Night” and won his high school’s best acting award in 1974.
Jennifer Lopez went to an all girls Catholic high school.
According to “Jennifer Lopez: The Great Hispanic Heritage,” Lopez said she wasn’t the most popular girl.
“I had my friends, but I was comfortable with myself. There’s always those most popular girls and I wasn’t one of those,” said Lopez.
While in high school, she landed a part in her first movie, 1987’s indie “My Little Girl” where she played a teen who was being tutored.
Alex Rodriguez played football — and was really good at it.
Rodriguez was a quarterback at Westminster Christian Academy starting his junior year where he also played baseball.
He was so good at football that the eventual Yankees’ star was recruited in college for both baseball and football.
Leonardo DiCaprio dropped out of high school.
DiCaprio left John Marshall High School in Los Feliz, California after his junior year. He got his GED later in life.
Meryl Streep was the homecoming queen when she was 17.
Streep went to Bernards High School in Somerset County, New Jersey, where she was a cheerleader, and participated in plays like “Oklahoma!” and “The Music Man.” She also did gymnastics among a long list of extracurriculars, but in no way would she have considered herself the popular girl.
According to Michael Schulman’s “Her Again: Becoming Meryl Streep,” Streep said while young, kids would “chase me up into a tree and hit my legs with sticks until they bled” and thought she was “ugly.”
Streep turned to magazines like “Seventeen” and “Vogue” to transform herself in high school and opened up about her evolution during a 2010 commencement speech at Barnard College.
“Empathy is at the heart of the actor’s art,” said Streep. “And in high school, another form of acting took hold of me. I wanted to learn how to be appealing. So I studied the character I imagined I wanted to be, that of the generically pretty high school girl.”
Snoop Dogg played some football in high school.
According to “Snoop Dogg – Biography of Calvin Cordozar Broadus,” the rapper played football for two years at Long Beach Poly High School. But Snoop Dogg also was involved with drugs, and, following graduation, was in and out of jail for several years.
Snoop Dogg and Cameron Diaz actually attended the same school, though he was a grade above her. On an episode of George Lopez’s old late show, she claimed that he once sold her some weed. Snoop said it probably happened.
His classmate Cameron Diaz was a cheerleader.
At 16, Diaz started her modelling career in high school. In June 1990, she was featured on the cover of Seventeen. According to the magazine, she dreamed of being a zoologist and studying lions, but imagined she would model “until I’m old and grey.”
Emma Stone dropped out of high school after one semester.
Stone started acting when she was 11 and after appearing in multiple theatre productions in middle school, dropped out of high school in her freshman year to pursue acting.
According to an interview from 2009, she made a PowerPoint presentation to convince her parents of her dream to move to Los Angeles called, “Project Hollywood.”
“I was like fourteen. It had the Madonna song ‘Hollywood,'” said Stone. “I was trying to prove the point that I needed to move to Hollywood and be an actor in movies.”
Nicolas Cage said he was a straight-A student until he lived with his famous uncle.
Cage told the New York Times in the early ’90s he was a straight-A student until he moved in with his uncle Francis Coppola for a year after his parents divorced and he went to a small country school.
“I went suddenly from being the cool guy to the geek. My grades went from straight A’s to straight F’s,” he said. “I was in this wonderful house with wonderfully generous people, but it wasn’t my stuff, it wasn’t my house. I didn’t know why I was there. I was frustrated beyond belief.”
Natalie Portman was a straight-A student and has some serious science cred.
Portman told Marie Claire in 2009 she wasn’t one of the kids who went to high school parties. Instead, while at Syosset High School on Long Island, Portman competed in the Intel Science Talent Search, which is considered one of the most demanding research competitions for high school students. The Oscar-winning actress made it to the semifinals.
At the same time, Portman was balancing an early acting career. At 11, she had already starred in her first film, “Léon: the Professional.” She wore a dress from the “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” premiere to her prom. Her life was anything but typical.
Ellen DeGeneres wasn’t fond of school.
“I hated school,” she told New Orleans magazine in July 1994. “I started college because everyone else was going. I majored in communications, I think. Or communications and drama. And I just remember sitting in there, and they were talking about the history of the Greek theatre or something, and thinking, ‘This is not what I want to know.'”
Classmates and teachers remember her as being “quiet in class,” but having a positive attitude and “great sense of humour,” according to “Ellen: The Real Story of Ellen DeGeneres.”DeGeneres also played tennis and sang in choir.
Jack Nicholson was a bit of a troublemaker.
The actor told The Independent in 1993 he made a record out of getting in trouble at school.
“I was always against authority, hated being told anything by my teachers, by parents, by anyone,” said Nicholson. “At school I created a record by being in detention every day for a whole year.”
Melissa McCarthy went from preppy to goth in high school.
In high school, she went by the name Missy and was a cheerleader, tennis player, and was on student council. As a junior and senior, McCarthy started dressing in black and “piercing her ears with safety pins.“
“I was pretty lame, though, and much more of a goody-two-shoes than I looked,” she told Rolling Stone. “Maybe occasionally I’d make out with some guy, but never anything further. I was usually the dork surrounded by a bunch of my gay friends.”
“I acted like a maniac and looked like a really angry, violent punk,” she added. “But I was always too chatty to be really angry.”
Kevin Spacey was co-valedictorian of his graduating class.
Spacey moved around a lot as a kid with his family growing up, but took an interest in drama and music. He went to several high schools, including Canoga Park High School, where, when he was in 11th grade, he had an epiphany during a performance of Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons.”
“Something happened as I walked off the stage that had never happened to me before. The audience applauded me in the middle of the play. It was the first time I realised I had an effect on people,” Spacey told Parade. “It was puzzling, confusing, slightly frightening, and it was liberating. Finally acting gave me something to focus on, something I enjoyed that offered me a chance to go into different worlds. All these imaginary games that you played with your friends in the neighbourhood – I didn’t have to put those games away. I just kept playing them onstage.”
He then transferred to Chatsworth High School in California his senior year where he became co-valedictorian.
Renée Zellweger participated in a lot of school activities.
Her high school boyfriend, Rhett Baker, told the DailyMail in 2014 Zellweger was a well-rounded, popular varsity cheerleader and track runner.
“She was in multiple crowds because she was very good at multiple things,” said Baker. “People respected that. She didn’t flaunt that.”
“When you put her on stage she had the biggest personality in the room,” he added. “Beyond that she was much more reserved than a lot of people and that was one of the things even back then a lot of people would talk about.”
Jamie Foxx originally wanted to be a football player.
Matt Green writes in “The Amazing Life of Jamie Foxx,” that the actor was popular with teachers and classmates.
Foxx, whose real name is Eric Marlon Bishop, had aspirations to play for the Dallas Cowboys. In high school, he played basketball and was a quarterback on the football team. He was the first player in his school to make a pass for over 1,000 yards.
However, music was also a big part of his life. Foxx was also a part-time pianist and choir leader at his baptist church. In addition, he was in a short-lived band called Leather and Lace. Foxx ended up receiving a music scholarship from the United States International University.
Jessica Chastain dropped out of high school.
“I was not a hard worker. I was a terrible student. Eventually I got my adult diploma, but I did not graduate. And it wasn’t that I just dropped out and never went back-at the end of the year I had too many absences to graduate,” Chastain told Entertainment Weekly.
Chastain said she often skipped school and sat in her car reading Shakespeare.
Robert Downey Jr. also dropped out of high school.
According to “Born to Be an Actor,” Robert Downey Jr. had poor grades and school attendance coupled with drug and alcohol use. When he was told at the end of 11th grade he’d have to attend summer school to graduate, Downey Jr. decided to drop out to pursue an acting career in New York.
“For me, you know, growing up in school was just, you know, smoking pot all the time,” said Downey Jr. in a CNN profile. “I consider myself someone who needs to express himself creatively, and acting seems to be the most lucrative and attention- getting way of working it out right now.”
Viola Davis gained an interest in acting at high school.
Davis immersed herself in the arts while her family grew up in poverty. The actress told A.V. Club she performed plays in high school and skits in the park. She also entered in high-school theatre competitions.
“I was a theatre geek, I was a complete nerd,” said Davis.
“I would take knitting classes and crocheting classes at the local community center, because it was something to do,”she added. “But also, you need a kind of positive conduit to just release all that pent-up energy and frustration, because it’s frustrating being poor. You don’t have access to things, and you’re not seen in a great light … It really helped me to be able to express myself, and to be kind of rewarded for expressing myself well. It kind of built my self-image. I was so painfully shy.”
Her “Fences” costar Denzel Washington went to a private all boy’s high school that he said changed his life.
Washington spent his early years working in a barbershop and with The Boys & Girls Club of America (then called Boys Club). When his parents started drifting apart, he began acting out and getting into fights in school.
After his parents divorced, Washington’s mother sent him to a private boy’s high school and he said it was one of the best things that could have happened to him.
“I wouldn’t have survived in the direction I was going,” Denzel told Parade magazine in 1999. “The guys I was hanging out with at the time, my running buddies, have now done maybe 40 years combined in the penitentiary. They were nice guys, but the streets got them.”
Elizabeth Banks had brown wavy locks in high school.
The “Hunger Games” star won the award for class couple before she graduated in 1992. The actress participated in cheerleading, choir, and Latin Club.
Bill Murray worked jobs as a teen to pay for his Catholic school tuition.
Robin Williams was voted least likely to succeed and most humorous.
The comedian was shy, but enjoyed high school. Williams played a variety of sports including football and wrestling. He also was on the track team and holds a relay record at Redwood High School in California.
“I loved school, maybe too much really. I was summa cum laude in high school,” Williams told the Detroit Free Press in 1996. “I was driven that way. I can’t say it was easy to fit in. I just went out of my way to fit in. It was a private boys school, Detroit Country Day, and I played soccer. I was on the wrestling team. Mr. All-Around, you know?”
Macklemore started rapping in high school with a name he came up with for an art project.
The singer started writing lyrics in high school and went by the name Professor Macklemore, a name he came up with for a project.
Freshman year, he went to Garfield high in Seattle, the same one Jimi Hendrix and Quicy Jones attended, where he and some students started a group called “Elevated Elements” that performed around town. His parents transferred him after a year when Macklemore started getting into drugs to Nathan Hale in Seattle.
“Garfield was just a wild school. The teachers had given up before they had even started,” Macklemore told Complex in 2012. “Classes were hella disruptive. Nathan Hale was more tamed. I needed a school like Nathan Hale. Because being kind of the kid [who] was getting into drugs and was rebelling against whatever my teachers said or whatever my parents said, getting into fights.”
“Hale took me out of my environment. I didn’t really have friends there. I never really liked it,” he continued. “It made me focus on music. That’s when I really didn’t have else to do. I kind of stopped smoking weed at school. It just became more about writing raps and focusing on music.”
Kesha was writing her own music back in high school.
The singer went by Kesha Serbert when she attended Brentwood High School in Tennessee. Her senior year, she dressed up as Ginger Spice alongside friends for a Spice Girls’ performance.
“I’ve been singing forever, and I write my own music that I sing,” she was quoted in her school’s yearbook.
Paul Rudd still looks really young compared to his high school yearbook photos.
Lady Gaga always had dreams of making it big.
She may be known as Mother Monster now, but in high school, she was Stefani Germanotta. According to the school’s 2004 yearbook, she had nicknames, including Stefi and “The Germ.”
She wrote that she one day dreamed of headlining at Madison Square Garden. Mission accomplished.
Chadwick Boseman was on the basketball team in high school before he became interested in acting.
The “Black Panther” star played on the varsity team all four years of high school.
During the film’s press tour, Boseman said he saw and faced racism head-on in high school seeing Confederate flags on trucks. Basketball inspired him to begin acting.
“One of my friends on that team was shot and killed,” Boseman told Elle. “My emotional response was to start writing. So I wrote-essentially it was a play. I was just writing about how the community allowed this to happen. I got my friends together; we performed it. I had never done anything quite like that before. It wasn’t like I’d been doing ‘Oliver Twist.'”
Farrah Fawcett was voted most beautiful three times in a row.
Fawcett graduated in 1965.
Her romantic partner of nearly 30 years Ryan O’Neal described her as someone who didn’t let anyone step all over her.
“There’s a strange stubbornness in her. She won’t take sh–,” O’Neal told Vanity Fair. “She didn’t in high school; she didn’t in college; she didn’t from Hollywood moguls. She had a stubborn streak of pride and righteousness.”
Alec Baldwin played on the football team.
The “30 Rock” star was also on the lacrosse team and was class president. He graduated in 1976.
Brie Larson graduated from school at 15.
At age six, she was attending the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, California. Three years later, her first job was appearing in sketches with Jay Leno for “The Tonight Show.” A year after graduating, she released an album called “Finally Out of P.E.”
Jake Gyllenhaal was in a boy band and said he was made fun of for his love of theatre.
Gyllenhaal told Ellen DeGeneres he was a lyricist for a high school band, Holeshot. The “Nightcrawler” actor also described himself as a “nerd” to Magic Radio citing the really thick glasses he wore.
“I was constantly made fun of [because] I was a performer,”said Gyllenhaal during an interview for “Demolition.” “I played sports, but the fact that I loved to sing or that I loved to act and stuff, [I was] constantly made fun of.”
But he added that in time, it became better.
“It’s really interesting actually growing up and meeting people who, in high school, made fun of me and then having now grown up themselves just realising that their bullying was ridiculous and supporting me and actually being really proud of the work I’ve done and vice versa.”
Madonna was a straight-A student.
The Queen of Pop was also a cheerleader.
The singer received a dance scholarship to University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance. She later dropped out of the school.
- Read more:
- 17 famous people you didn’t know were home-schooled
- 13 celebrities who actually attended prom with their fans
- Adults reveal what they miss the most about high school
- 14 vintage photos that show how high schools have changed in the US
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