Over the years of reading about and interviewing creative people, one of my main interests has been in the lives and perspectives of gifted and high ability women in the arts, including actors, writers and other artists.
Many of these dynamic women create powerful characters and stories in movie and TV projects, and are also often multitalented, with academic and creative achievements in a variety of areas.
One of my articles (created a number of years ago, and published in Mensa Bulletin), for example, includes references to and quotes by Tama J. Kieves, Barbara Kerr, Hilary Swank, Barbra Streisand, Jodie Foster and others: Gifted Women: Identity and Expression.
To start off this page, here are some names and descriptions based on a list on the site Ranker.com, with some additional images and text by me:
“Graduated magna cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania. Member of the Massachusetts Junior Classical League. Profession: Film Producer, Actor, Voice acting, Film Director.”
[Photo from her Facebook page.]
“Won the W.H. Smith Young Writer’s comptetition twice in her teens for short stories and poems.
“Studied French and Russian literature at New College Oxford. Fluent in French, Russian, and German.”
Has the same Erdős–Bacon number as Carl Sagan.
[“A person’s Erdős–Bacon number is the sum of one’s Erdős number—which measures the “collaborative distance” in authoring academic papers between that person and Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdős—and one’s Bacon number—which represents the number of links, through roles in films, by which the individual is separated from American actor Kevin Bacon. The lower the number, the closer a person is to Erdős and Bacon, which reflects a small world phenomenon in academia and entertainment.” – Wikipedia]
A profile on her site mckellarmath summarizes:
“A summa cum laude graduate of UCLA with a degree in Mathematics, Danica has been honored in Britain’s esteemed Journal of Physics and the New York Times for her work in mathematics, most notably for her role as co-author of a ground-breaking mathematical physics theorem which bears her name (The Chayes-McKellar-Winn Theorem).”
The site “McKellar Math was born in 2007, a few years after Danica McKellar spoke before a Congressional Committee about why kids in the United States are far behind kids of many other countries in math scores, and why girls especially begin to shy away from math in middle school.
“McKellar pledged to Congress that she would be a part of the solution.
“Identifying the problem as largely cultural – kids in the US tend to view math as boring, scary and just for nerds – McKellar challenged these stereotypes with her first book, aimed at middle school kids: Math Doesn’t Suck.
“This how-to book was a runaway bestseller; and McKellar was named ‘Person of the Week” on ABC World News upon the book’s release for her positive contribution as an author and as a role model for kids everywhere. The incredible success of Math Doesn’t Suck led to three more books in the series, Kiss My Math, Hot X: Algebra Exposed, and Girls Get Curves: Geometry Takes Shape.”
One of her newer books: Do Not Open This Math Book: Addition + Subtraction.
[Photo is from her Facebook page.]
“Studied at Brown University and Worcester College, Oxford University. Had eight A* grades at GCSE and two As.”
“Semi-finalist in the Intel Science Talent Search competition in high school [for her investigation in converting waste into clean energy].
“Studied neuroscience and psychology at Harvard University. Attended graduate school at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
“Fluent in Hebrew; has studied Japanese, Arabic, French, and German. Has the same Erdős–Bacon number as Carl Sagan (6).”
[Photo from www.facebook.com/IFeakingLoveScience.]
[See more about her below.]
“Studied economics at University of Amsterdam before attending Columbia University. In addition to her native Dutch, speaks English and French. Profession: Film Producer, Model, Screenwriter, Actor, Film Director.”
“Studied psychology at Yale. Attended the Dalton School, the New York City Lab School for Collaborative Studies, the Professional Performing Arts School, and the French-speaking Lycée Français de Los Angeles.”
“Has a Mid-Career Masters degree in Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School. Graduated with Honors from University of Kentucky, major in French, quadruple minor in anthropology, art history, theater, and women’s studies. Profession: Etymologist, Spokesperson, Television producer, Actor.”
“Graduated from Dartmouth with a degree in Government with a minor in Environmental Policy. Fluent in French, Russian, and Swahili.”
“Member of Mensa. Plays piano, organ, flute, and drums. Fluent in Swedish. Has a B.A. from Boston University.”
The above text descriptions are from a slideshow: The Hottest Female Geniuses – a list of 38 women described by the Ranker site as “the smartest female celebrities, proving so by being multilingual, earning degrees from top universities, and/or studying and working in all sorts of complicated academic fields.”
Originally I had included this slideshow on this page – as, perhaps, a lazy shortcut to presenting the text material, but upon reading the comments by Crystal at the bottom of this post, and others, I realize that many women may be offended by having to look at glamour poses in order to read the information.
[I am not the right gender to really understand that, but I certainly don’t want to alienate women readers of any of my sites.]
A comment, though, on one of these images, which I think is a beautiful photo: Natalie Portman lying topless (on her stomach) on a sofa for a Dior ad campaign. There are, of course, many reasons she and other actors and performers might agree to these kinds of photo shoots – but in her case, it might have had to do with Dior contributing profits to benefit Portman’s chosen charity, the Free the Children Association.
The photo of Aisha Tyler is from one of my posts and pages related to body image; she has commented: “It’s more about people looking at you and deciding that you didn’t have anything important to say if you were attractive.”
From my post: Acting and image – The dark side of sexy photos.
More creative and accomplished women
Shonda Rhimes is the creator, head writer, executive producer and showrunner of the drama television series Grey’s Anatomy, its spin-off Private Practice, political thriller Scandal, and the series How to Get Away with Murder, among other projects.
In May 2007, Rhimes was named one of TIME magazine’s 100 People Who Help Shape The World.
She studied screenwriting at the University of Southern California, was ranked at the top of her class and earned the Gary Rosenberg Writing Fellowship. She obtained a Master of Fine Arts degree from the USC School of Cinematic Arts. [From Wikipedia profile.]
In her TIME post titled Shonda Rhimes, Sandra Oh – who plays Cristina Yang on Grey’s Anatomy – writes:
“When I met Shonda Rhimes at my audition for Grey’s Anatomy in 2004, I thought, whether or not these people like my work, at least she’s going to get me. But she didn’t just get me, she got everybody. She also got everybody to tune in to the characters and world she created every week.
“No one expected it—no one. Overnight she went from independent screenwriter and single mom to a public figure, the guiding force and creative engine for more than 200 employees. Shonda, 37, suddenly had this immense responsibility and pressure, which has changed her life in a way that no one can possibly prepare for.
“In real life, she’s a rather shy, private person who prefers living in her head to dealing with the myriad producers and studio executives and associations who all want something from her—to write for them, to sell for them, to speak for them.
“And watching that introverted, creative and independent spirit struggle and learn so quickly to manage and balance and truly own all that power was like watching a butterfly emerge from its cocoon. She did it with self-deprecating humor, brutal honesty and no small amount of grace.”
Rhimes comments on her role as a working mother:
“If I am succeeding at one, I am inevitably failing at the other. That is the trade-off. That is the Faustian bargain with being a powerful working woman who is also a powerful mother. You never feel one hundred percent okay. You never get your sea-legs. You are always a little nauseous.”
She also said of creative ambitions:
“A lot of people dream. And while they are busy dreaming, the really happy people, the really successful people, the really interesting, powerful,engaged people? Are busy doing. I wanted to be Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison. That was my dream. I blue-skied it like crazy. I dreamed and dreamed. And while I was dreaming I was living in my sister’s basement. Dreamers often end up living in the basement of relatives.”
[Quotes from imdb profile.]
[See more perspectives by other creative women in my post Motherhood and creative work – an excerpt from my main book.]
Photo of Rhimes from her Facebook page – with this caption:
“Showing my #strengthie in solidarity #WithStrongGirls everywhere. Join me! Because #PovertyIsSexist. Go to ONE.org for ways to help!”
Jodie Foster graduated from the French-speaking high school Lycée Français de Los Angeles. She studied Literature at Yale, reportedly “understands German and Spanish, speaks Italian, and dubs her own films in French.”
In one of multiple articles on my sites that include her, Foster comments about an “affliction” of many gifted and high ability people:
“I always feel like something of an impostor. I don’t know what I’m doing.”
She made that comment when she was guest of honor at a Hollywood Reporter Women in Entertainment Power 100 breakfast, as recipient of the Sherry Lansing Leadership Award.
A highly accomplished actor-director-producer, Foster said, “I don’t feel very powerful. I feel fragile… unsure, struggling to figure it all out.”
Read more in post: Jodie Foster on impostor feelings and faking it.
[Photo: Sherry Lansing is “an American former actress and film studio executive. She is a former CEO of Paramount Pictures, and when she was the president of production at 20th Century Fox, she was the first woman to head a Hollywood movie studio.” Wikipedia]
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Emma Watson has commented about her character Hermione in the “Harry Potter” films:
“She’s not scared to be clever. I think sometimes really smart girls dumb themselves down a bit, and that’s bad.”
Covering up, not acknowledging, or discounting our talents and abilities is something many high ability people do – perhaps especially girls.
Sally M. Reis, Ph.D. found that “gifted girls do not want to be considered different from their friends and same-age peers. Indeed, a tendency exists for many females, regardless of age, to try to minimize their differences.”
Like many of the women in this article and in others on my various sites, Emma Watson identifies as highly sensitive or introverted. She has commented:
“People say things to me like, ‘It’s really cool that you don’t go out and get drunk all the time and go to clubs,’ and I’m just like…
“I appreciate that, but I’m kind of an introverted kind of person just by nature, it’s not like a conscious choice that I’m making necessarily. It’s genuinely who I am.”
From article: Introverted, Shy or Highly Sensitive in the Arts.
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News stories reported:
“Before graduating from Harvard with a psychology degree in June 2003, Portman was credited — under her given name, Natalie Hershlag — as a research assistant to Alan Dershowitz’s “Case for Israel” and had a study on memory called “Frontal Lobe Activation During Object Permanence” published in a scientific journal.”
The Harvard Crimson noted:
“Law School Professor Alan M. Dershowitz considered Portman an exceptional student. ‘She was in my seminar called Neuropsychology and the Law…she was a terrific student.’
“Portman’s paper on new methods of lie detection earned her an A+ from Dershowitz—the highest grade in the class. After that, Dershowitz hired Portman as a research assistant for a book he was writing.”
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Actress, Producer, Director, Writer (and singer in one of her movies), Joan Chen has commented about some of the challenges many exceptional people experience, such as being an outsider, or shy:
“I remember thinking how I had never seen a film like Edward Scissorhands (1990) when I first watched it in 1990. It was unique cinema that felt like pure magic.
“The bizarre beauty of the film and the gentle hero with his lethally sharp scissorhands stayed with me through out the years.
“Looking back, after almost 20 years, I now understand better the fierce longing and intense loneliness that the film had stirred in me.
“Like the protagonist, Edward, I was the shy, misunderstood outsider for a large part of my life in America, and again later in China.
“Having experienced the adulation of the millions in my late teens, I became a much reviled traitor, who brought shame to China after leaving for the US and later for playing the part of the mistress to the white man in Tai-Pan (1986).
“The capricious and precarious nature of the mob sentiments was a nightmare, which I knew well. I empathize with the conflicting desire of the artist to retreat to his lonely tower and to be loved by people who appreciate his talent.”
(Singapore Sun Film Festival, October 2009 – via her imdb page).
Photo from my post Being Bold To Be Creative.
“I don’t think I’m even close to fulfilling my potential. And I think also that, unlike a pianist or a flutist, an actor has an instrument that is constantly changing.”
Washington earned a Presidential Arts Scholarship to attend George Washington University and graduated Magna Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa.
From post: Living Up to the “Gifted” Label – Or Not.
Read more about her accomplishments, and see quotes by other multitalented artists including Julia Cameron, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jane Seymour, Natalie Portman, Mayim Bialik, Jeff Bridges, Viggo Mortensen, David Lynch and others in my article: “Multitalented Creative People” [an excerpt from my main book].
Erin Cressida Wilson was “a Professor of Playwriting in the Department of Theater and Dance at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
She also is affiliated with the Department of Film and Media Studies at UC Santa Barbara. Wilson formerly was a professor at Brown University, and before that at Duke University.” [imdb bio.]
She is the screenwriter of the movies “Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus” and “Secretary” and comments:
“A big part of the way I write is to combine humor with sex. It’s not salacious. It can be fun. “Secretary” doesn’t politicize the sexuality or the relationship. It doesn’t insist on taking sides.”
Read more in my post Erin Cressida Wilson on “Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus.”
Many actors, musicians, authors and other artists identify themselves as being shy, or consider themselves introverted or highly sensitive. But some people may use this term “shy” and really mean highly sensitive or introverted, especially if they are not familiar with those personality traits.
Also see my list: Gifted / talented arts celebrities. Here are a few items, from dozens more:
Tori Amos Started playing piano at age 2 1/2; at age five, was accepted to the Peabody Conservatory, the youngest person to be accepted to the school. At age 11, she was kicked out.
Allison Anders MacArthur Fellow
Laurie Anderson Appointed NASA’s first artist-in-residence.
Kathy Baker Graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a degree in French.
Angela Bassett Won a scholarship to Yale.
Kathy Bates Member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Board of Governors; graduated from Southern Methodist University in Dallas with a BFA in Theater.
Emily Bauer Double major in Business and Theatre at NYU; graduated Cum Laude and also received the Presidential Honors Scholar award for maintaining one of the highest cumulative G.P.A.’s. [info & photo from emilybauer.com] [Played an art history student in “Mona Lisa Smile” (2003).]
Jennifer Beals Yale grad in American literature.