When it comes to natural acting ability, you either have it or you don’t (as a lot of the actors and actresses on this list make clear!). Like most things in life, going out of your way to study drama and the acting profession doesn’t always necessarily mean you’re going to become the next De Niro, but it should instill some kind of acting ability in you. At least, that’s what some of these actors were hoping for.
Half of the film stars on this list might have studied the acting craft at a university grade level, but it’s fair to say that they didn’t exactly learn much along the way. Would you believe that Adam Sandler actually went to drama school growing up or that stars like Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp never attended an acting class in their life? It’s strange but true.
Some of Hollywood’s best actors got their big breakthrough friends and even by being stopped on the street by modeling or talent agencies. Some weren’t even looking to take up acting and have gone on to become some of the best in the biz. Take a look at 10 stars who never studied acting (and those who did but sure as hell didn’t take notes).
20 Adam Sandler (Studied Acting)
This dude is targeted so much in the bad actor category that it feels like a cheap shot at this point. Yes, almost his entire career has been a string of bad movies, but it’s only because he’s goofing around and had no real intention of becoming an actor, right? Well, this is where it gets awkward. The worst part is, Adam Sandler did actually study (and graduate) from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University!
Sandler studied drama at one of the most prestigious performing art schools in the US
and ended up in films like Jack and Jill and You Don’t Mess With The Zohan. To rub salt in the wound, the same Tisch School of Arts has also produced talents like Moonlight’s Mahershala Ali, Christopher Guest, Michael C. Hall, and Game of Thrones’ Pedro Pascal. Ouch.
19 Emma Watson (Studied Acting)
As a Harry Potter fan, I’ll always have a soft spot for Emma Watson. My generation grew up watching her as Hermione, so we have (mostly) great childhood memories of Harry Potter. Once you’ve watched the films as an adult, though, the acting from the kids is pretty bad. Make that really, really bad. Don’t get me wrong, Watson and her child co-stars were like Oscar contenders in comparison to the cast of Troll 2, but the acting could seem a little wooden at times. In all fairness to the young Potter cast, they have previously admitted that their performances were not the best.
Watson even acknowledged her lack of acting ability herself when she enrolled in an acting class at Brown University in Rhode Island.
Watson took up her studies again after finishing the Potter franchise and revealed that “I’m actually the worst in my acting class.”
18 Brad Pitt (Never Did)
The original Hollywood hunk has proved over the years that he is as much a great actor as he is a pretty face. With movies like Fight Club, Se7en, and Babel among his impressive filmography, you might think Pitt attended the best of the best when it comes to drama schools. The truth is,
he has never set foot in an acting school before and has simply honed his craft through working at it.
Pitt did come away with great qualifications, though. He majored in journalism and advertising at the University of Missouri, but his love for films spurred him on to try something new after college. Whilst working at McDonald’s and with only $300 to his name, the young Brad Pitt auditioned as an extra in a small TV series, and his career soon went from strength to strength.
17 Jim Carrey (Never Did)
It makes sense that Jim Carrey never attended any formal acting classes, not because he’s bad at what he does but because we’re struggling to imagine him sitting still and taking direction from a teacher for long enough! Carrey has always had so much energy in his films, and this is probably what helped him get to where he is today. Sometimes, it’s not who or what you know but how enthusiastic you are about getting there, and Jim Carrey is definitely that.
The lively funnyman did have aspirations of becoming an actor growing up, but his family couldn’t afford to enroll him in any acting academies.
Instead, Carrey worked a few dead-end jobs before joining comedy clubs around Canada. He soon got his break on SNL and The Comedy Store before taking his natural comedic timing to the big screen. And the rest is history.
16 Zac Efron (Studied Acting)
It’s fair to say that Zac Efron has been trading on his good looks ever since landing his breakout role in High School Musical. And even then, he was probably cast for his appearance far more than for his singing and dancing abilities. It wouldn’t seem so from his lazy filmography of cheesy rom-coms and frat boy spring break-style flops, but
Efron actually enrolled in the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts after high school.
Presumably, he was partying the entire time, though, because his poor film choices leave a lot to be desired. Zac Efron has his old drama teacher to thank for his fame and fortune at such a young age, as she recommended him to an agent in LA. Although, we can’t imagine what she’d make of gems like Dirty Grandpa or Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising.
15 Johnny Depp (Never Did)
Judging by the way Johnny Depp’s life started out, you’d never believe he had the makings of such a gifted actor. For one thing, Depp only ever wanted to be a musician (a passion he still keeps up to this day). The star of Pirates of The Caribbean
spent most of his adolescence getting kicked out of schools and couch-surfing with friends while trying to catch a break in the music industry.
It was only through a chance meeting with fellow actor Nicolas Cage that Depp was turned on to acting. Then, after a few teen movies, he scored the lead in Edward Scissorhands. Depp might’ve made poor film choices in recent years, but it hasn’t spoiled his reputation as one of the best (and completely untrained) actors Hollywood has ever produced.
14 Drew Barrymore (Never Did)
The adorable little girl in E.T. didn’t get there through kindergarten acting classes. Drew Barrymore was lucky enough to have acting run in the family. Thanks to her parents’ experience and connections, she developed a passion for it from a very young age. In fact, her first ever role was at the age of just 11 months old in a dog food commercial. After a small role in Altered States in 1980, Barrymore landed the role of Gertie in E.T.
While her child starlet status caused her personal life to hit the skids more than once, Drew’s acting career went from strength to strength throughout her adolescence, and by her early twenties, she had bagged a handful of acting awards as well as a pair of Golden Globe nominations.
13 Jennifer Lawrence (Never Did)
J-Law hasn’t been in the acting game very long, but she has already achieved the critical acclaim and success of an actress nearly twice her age. To date, Lawrence has won the coveted Best actress Oscar and three golden globes... all before the age of 27. J-Law might have come to our attention through her role as Katniss Everdeen in the adaptation of The Hunger Games trilogy, but her career started much earlier.
Lawrence was lucky enough to be spotted by a talent scout at age 12 while on holiday with her parents which kick-started a brief modeling career.
Once a couple of acting roles were offered to her, Lawrence’s mom wasn’t so keen and convinced her to stick to modeling. Jennifer had the acting bug, though, and small TV roles eventually led her to her first major film role (and Oscar nod) for Winter’s Bone in 2006.
12 Nicolas Cage (Studied Acting)
Nicolas Cage may have won an Oscar once upon a time for Leaving Las Vegas, but it hasn’t helped shield him from the terrible actor reputation he has today. Cage is a strange one because he has possibly made as many good films as downright awful ones. Critically-acclaimed films like Raising Arizona and Adaptation have him some serious acting brownie points and even the respect of his peers. And then, there are the kind of films he chose to make later in his career.
Roles in box-office flops like Ghost Rider, National Treasure, and the Wicker Man remake have caused Cage to become a bit of a laughing stock in the acting world and has even spawned memes of his quotes and face so that bad acting has become pretty much synonymous with Nicolas Cage. It seems like UCLA School of Theater, Film, and TV taught him some things, just not enough.
11 Eddie Murphy (Never Did)
The veteran entertainer may not have an amazing affinity for acting, but he’s managed to have a fairly varied and interesting acting career without any formal education or dramatic training whatsoever. Eddie Murphy has always used his great sense of humor to get him places, and
it’s thanks to a hard life growing up that he developed the knack for improv and quick wit we see in him today.
While growing up, Murphy and his older brother lived in foster care for a while after their dad’s death, and soon after this, he began writing and performing his own stand-up routines by the time he was 15. These led on to catching his big break with SNL, which eventually led to some pretty good films—Shrek, Dreamgirls, Trading Places, etc. He might have made some flops, but his comic timing has led him to some gems too.
10 Meg Ryan (Never Did)
As a fan of Meg Ryan, it’s kind of nice to know that she never had any formal coaching as an actor because I’m not sure anyone could teach that kind of personality we see in films like When Harry Met Sally or Sleepless in Seattle. Throughout the 80’s and 90’s, Ryan cemented herself as the ultimate girl next door with her good looks and natural likability. It sometimes feels like Ryan was born to play those ditsy but adorable rom-com roles of the 90’s.
This wasn’t what a young Meg Ryan had in mind for herself, though. She actually studied journalism at the University of Connecticut and at New York University.
She only dropped out once her role in commercials led her on to a soap opera called As the World Turns, and she discovered she had a passion for it.
9 Ben Stiller (Studied Acting)
Ben Stiller is not the worst actor on this list by any stretch of the imagination, but his tendency to choose lazy and predictable comedies have given us an expectation of his acting style over the years. Similar to Adam Sandler, Stiller had the opportunity to learn an acting craft while at a university.
Stiller enrolled as a film student at the University of California but left after less than a year to pursue acting jobs on his own.
Working his way through auditions and acting classes in New York finally got him where he wanted to be, but it’s kind of a shame that Stiller’s film choices are always a little shallow. Despite having great comical turns in hits like Something About Mary and Zoolander, most of his comedies never seem to land well, and his rare foray into serious roles often go awry too. He does have potential, though.
8 Miranda Cosgrove (Studied Acting)
It might seem harsh since Miranda Cosgrove is still so young, but judging by her many roles on the Disney channel, her acting skills still have a long way to go. So far, there doesn’t seem to be much potential for a serious acting career. Cosgrove has been taking up acting roles since she was a toddler—she was already starring in commercials by the time she was 3 and was later approached by modelling scouts before finding TV work.
Her big break came as playing the know-it-all band manager student Summer in School of Rock in 2003. Around this time, Miranda also began her Disney TV career in shows like Drake & Josh and iCarly, the show she’s since become most well-known for. Despite taking some time out to study at the Southern California School of Dramatic Arts, Cosgrove doesn’t appear to have a desire for serious roles.
7 Christian Bale (Never Did)
To reel off some of the many stand-out performances in Christian Bale’s career, you might assume that he swotted up on method acting in college and had an acting coach on standby since his first ever role.
The truth is, Bale has never had any formal acting training whatsoever.
He left school at the age of 16 and tried his luck auditioning for TV commercials before catching his break with roles like Empire of the Sun and Treasure Island in his teens. The grown actor would eventually take on things like the body-punishing role of The Machinist, as well as big blockbuster turns in the Batman franchise and epic thrillers like Reign of Fire and The New World. With such a diverse acting career, it’s pretty impressive to think that Bale learned his craft as he went.
6 Orlando Bloom (Studied Acting)
The hunky British actor perhaps had one great acting role as the graceful elf Legolas in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but since then, there haven’t been too many film roles that only asked minimal facial expressions of him. Legolas was a great role for Orlando Bloom because his vacant pretty boy stare worked perfectly for the strong and silent Elven race. Unfortunately, Bloom’s lack of acting skills was rumbled soon after. Bloom’s swashbuckling turn as Will in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise distracted us all for a while since he had impressive sword-fighting skills and a great cast around him. But without all the action and special effects, Bloom isn’t all too gifted in the acting department. Kind of awkward then when you realize that
he not only studied a two-year drama course at school but also spent two years at the National Youth Theatre in London
and enrolled in the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
5 Jesse Eisenberg (Studied Acting)
According to his bio, Jesse Eisenberg has always been super passionate about filmmaking and the film industry.
He had understudy roles on Broadway by the age of 12, spent his high school years at the Professional Performing Arts school in New York, and was submitting screenplays to Woody Allen by the time he turned 16.
It’s a tad strange then that with all this passion to break into acting, he doesn’t seem to have much versatility or knack for it at all. Eisenberg’s breakout role in The Social Network earned him some plaudits because of the timely story and the bigger picture of the film’s message, but left to his own devices, Eisenberg can come across as a fairly dull actor with hardly any range besides playing... well... Jesse Eisenberg.
4 Tom Cruise (Never Did)
Okay, so it’s probably pretty obvious that Tom Cruise never set foot in a single acting class, and we’re not sure it would have made a difference even if he had. Cruise is someone we think of as more of a star than an actor, and it’s definitely his good looks and sheer ‘star’ status that has carried him through bad movie after bad movie.
Sure, Cruise has made some decent movies throughout his time, but some of his roles have often highlighted why he perhaps should have studied drama professionally—like the 1992 film Far and Away when Cruise put on the world’s worst Irish accent. We get that he never studied acting as a kid, but he could have at least trained with a dialect coach on that set, right?
3 Keanu Reeves (Studied Acting)
Despite popular opinion, I don’t believe Keanu Reeves is a terrible actor. He just seems to shine in roles that don’t ask for much raw emotive acting. Like Orlando Bloom, Reeves’ slightly wooden acting style has served him well in films like The Matrix and gentle rom-coms like Something’s Gotta Give. But put him up against serious roles and he tends to come across as pretty corny. Keanu’s acting style (if you can call it that) could have been totally different if it weren’t for his wild child past.
Apparently, he studied drama briefly at an art school in Canada but was soon expelled for being, in the words of his tutors, “too rambunctious and shooting his mouth off once too often.”
Whatever remnant of acting ability he did learn in his time, it was enough for the likes of Bill and Ted. And don’t tell me that film isn’t amazing!
2 Natalie Portman (Never Did)
The award-winning actress originally started out as a model before turning her attention to film. Portman was just 11 years old when a talent scout spotted her eating a pizza and asked her to model for a Revlon photoshoot. It helped get her foot in the door but
after a while, Portman became bored with the modeling world and tried her hand at acting instead.
After making a few commercials and landing small TV roles, Natalie hit the ground running once she got her first feature film role, and it wasn’t your typical cutesy child actor fare either. At age 13, she was cast to play wannabe assassin Mathilda in Luc Besson’s violent thriller Leon: The Professional. Who needs acting classes when you have Gary Oldman as your co-star before you even hit puberty, right?
1 Jeff Goldblum (Studied Acting)
Jeff Goldblum is a fortunate actor in the sense that he’s managed to enjoy success from being a fairly average supporting player. Apart from his stellar turn playing the lead in the 1986 sci-fi horror flick The Fly, Goldblum has always managed to play bit parts in huge blockbuster hits, which served him pretty well over the past 30 years.
His film career is littered with some of the biggest films from the 90’s too, including Independence Day and his small but memorable turn as the cool as cucumber Dr. Malcom in Jurassic Park and the sequel The Lost World. Goldblum may not be one of the most gifted actors around–even having studied at New York’s renowned Neighbourhood Playhouse–but he’s definitely made his mark on the big screen.