The winners of the 2019 Oscars have been revealed and as the red carpet is being stored away for another year, Times Higher Education looked at the winners of the Best Actor and Best Actress Awards over the past 30 years to see where they went to university (perhaps to refine their Oscar winning talents?)
Looking back at the higher education paths of these Oscar winners reveals that University of California system and Yale (four winners each) produced the highest number of Oscar winners.
The relatively high number of University of California alumni winning Oscars, which include Nicholas Cage (for Leaving Las Vegas in 1996) and Michael Douglas (Wall Street, 1988), could suggest that studying in close proximity to Hollywood increases your chances of an Oscar win. Many Oscar winners also studied at community colleges across California, with two of the Best Actor winners (Sean Penn and Dustin Hoffman) and one Best Actress (Hilary Swank) attending Santa Monica Community College.
Yale University also produced four winners with both Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady, 2012) and Frances McDormand (Fargo, 1997, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, 2018) receiving a master of fine arts from the university, and Jodie Foster (Silence of the Lambs, 1992) choosing to study an English literature degree there. Paul Newman (The Colour of Money, 1987) also attended Yale University's school of drama for a year.
The University of Cambridge was responsible for producing three winners, Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything, 2015) and Emma Thompson (Howard’s End, 1993) and Olivia Colman (The Favourite, 2019). Interestingly, none of them chose to study drama opting instead for history of art, English literature and primary teaching respectively. Colman left Cambridge after one term and went on to study at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School.
However, as would be expected the majority of these winners chose to study drama or theatre degrees. Of those who didn’t, English literature was a popular choice as were art, photography or music. Natalie Portman (Black Swan, 2011) was one of the few to buck the arts trend and chose a psychology degree.
While many Oscar winners felt that university was the right course to theatrical success, 12 actors and eight actresses across the last 30 years chose to forgo university altogether. Instead, many stepped into the spotlight early on, and graced the stages of renowned theatre schools or took up less glamorous jobs until they got their big break.
Best Actress winners were more likely to go to university than their male counterparts, but a greater number of them dropped out midway through their courses. These included Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine, 2014), Julia Roberts (Erin Brockovich, 2001) and Helen Hunt (As Good as it Gets, 1998), who dropped out of the University of Melbourne, Georgia State University and the University of California, Los Angeles respectively.
Interested in following in their footsteps?
The Best Actress winners were also more likely to have attended a university featured in the Times Higher Education’s World University Ranking’s top 20, with Harvard University, Yale University, Stanford University and The University of Cambridge all producing winners in this category. In comparison, only Eddie Redmayne and Paul Newman attended universities ranked in the THE top 20 (The University of Cambridge and Yale University respectively).
It seems that the route to stardom is multi-forked, and that little gold statue can be attained in many ways. Ivy League institutions, community colleges and drama schools (and choosing not to attend university at all) have all produced talented actors and actresses. It will be interesting to see which route the 2020 winners will have taken to win the top awards at next years' 92nd Academy Awards.
The winners and their colleges
|2019||Rami Malek for Bohemian Rhapsody||University of Evansville|
|2018||Gary Oldman for Darkest Hour||Rose Bruford College|
|2017||Casey Affleck for Manchester By The Sea||George Washington University & Columbia University|
|2016||Leonardo Dicaprio for The Revenant||None|
|2015||Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything||University of Cambridge|
|2014||Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club||University of Texas, Austin|
|2013||Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln||Bristol Old Vic Theatre School|
|2012||Jean Dujardin for The Artist||None|
|2011||Colin Firth for The King’s Speech||The Drama Centre London (part of the University of the Arts, London)|
|2010||Jess Bridges for Crazy Heart||Herbert Berghof studio in New York|
|2009||Sean Penn for Milk||Santa Monica Community College|
|2008||Daniel Day-Lewis for There Will Be Blood||Bristol Old Vic Theatre School|
|2007||Forest Whitaker for The Last King of Scotland||California State Polytechnic University, Pomona & University of Southern California|
|2006||Philip Seymour Hoffmann for Capote||New York University|
|2005||Jamie Foxx for Ray||Alliant International University|
|2004||Sean Penn for Mystic River||Santa Monica Community College|
|2003||Adrien Brody for The Pianist||Stony Brook University & Queen’s College|
|2002||Denzel Washington for Training Day||Fordham University|
|2001||Russell Crowe for Gladiator||None|
|2000||Kevin Spacey for American Beauty||Juilliard School New York|
|1999||Robert Benigni for Life is Beautiful||None|
|1998||Jack Nicholson for As Good As It Gets||None|
|1997||Geoffrey Rush for Shine||University of Queensland|
|1996||Nicholas Cage for Leaving Las Vegas||University of California, Los Angeles|
|1995||Tom Hanks for Forrest Gump||Chabot College & California State University|
|1994||Tom Hanks for Philadelphia||Chabot College & California State University|
|1993||Al Pacino for Scent Of A Woman||None|
|1992||Anthony Hopkins for Silence Of The Lambs||Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama & Royal Academy of Dramatic Art|
|1991||Jeremy Irons for Reversal Of Fortune||Bristol Old Vic Theatre School|
|1990||Daniel Day-Lewis for My Left Foot||Bristol Old Vic Theatre School|
|1989||Dustin Hoffman for Rain Man||Santa Monica Community College|
|1988||Michael Douglas for Wall Street||University of California, Santa Barbara|
|2019||Olivia Colman for The Favourite||The University of Cambridge and Bristol Old Vic Theatre School|
|2018||Frances McDormand for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri||Bethany College & Yale University|
|2017||Emma Stone for La La Land||None|
|2016||Brie Larson for Room||American Conservatory Theatre|
|2015||Julianne Moore for Still Alice||Boston University|
|2014||Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine||University of Melbourne|
|2013||Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook||None|
|2012||Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady||Vassar College & Yale University|
|2011||Natalie Portman for Black Swan||Harvard University|
|2010||Sandra Bullock for The Blind Side||East Carolina University|
|2009||Kate Winslet for The Reader||Redroofs Theatre School|
|2008||Marion Cotillard for La Vie en Rose||None|
|2007||Helen Mirren for The Queen||National Youth Theatre|
|2006||Reese Witherspoon for Walk The Line||Stanford University|
|2005||Hilary Swank for Million Dollar Baby||Santa Monica Community College|
|2004||Charlize Theron for Monster||None|
|2003||Nicole Kidman for The Hours||University of Melbourne Faculty of VCA and MCM|
|2002||Halle Berry for Monster’s Ball||Cuyahoga Community College|
|2001||Julia Roberts for Erin Brockovich||Georgia State University,|
|2000||Hilary Swank for Boys Don’t Cry||Santa Monica Community College|
|1999||Gwyneth Paltrow for Shakespeare In Love||University of California, Santa Barbara|
|1998||Helen Hunt for As Good As It Gets||University of California, Los Angeles|
|1997||Frances McDormand for Fargo||Bethany College & Yale University|
|1996||Susan Sarandon for Dead Man Walking||Catholic University of America|
|1995||Jessica Lange for Blue Sky||University of Minnesota|
|1994||Holly Hunter for The Piano||Carnegie Mellon University|
|1993||Emma Thompson for Howard’s End||University of Cambridge|
|1992||Jodie Foster for The Silence Of The Lambs||Yale University|
|1991||Kathy Bates for Misery||Southern Methodist University|
|1990||Jessica Tandy for Driving Miss Daisy||None|
|1989||Jodie Foster for The Accused||Yale University|
|1988||Cher for Moonstruck||None|
Methodology: Actors did not have to graduate for their college to be included. For the purposes of the analysis, the University of California system has been treated as a single institution. Individual university information is available in the two tables above