Most people consider their favorite actors and musicians the epitome of cool. Sure, they might be famous and ridiculously good looking now, but some of these celebrities were the nerds the cool kids shunned—or even worse: didn’t even know existed—in high school. It’s not surprising to learn many former geeks-turned-A-list stars took refuge in their schools’ bands and drama club, but you’ll also find teacher’s pets and straight-A students who used the same dedication and drive to land on the honor roll to make it after graduation in Hollywood.
We all know high school can be just awful, but these 15 stars are proof that being asked to sit at the popular table during lunch pales in comparison to having a hit film or winning an Oscar or a Grammy. And for more proof that celebs are real people, too, don’t miss 30 Wildly Entertaining Photos of Celebrities Using Public Transportation.
Turns out it was teen angst, not bad boyfriends, that first inspired the Grammy winner. “I remember when I was in school, the whole reason I started writing songs was because I was alone a lot of the time,” Swift has said. “I’d sit there in school and I’d be hearing people like, ‘Oh my god, this party that we’re going to is gonna be so awesome on Friday. Everyone’s invited except for [Taylor].'” We’re pretty sure Swift’s penchant for showing up to surprise her fans has never happened at her high school reunion.
The Maroon 5 singer and The Voice judge has said that his love of music wasn’t exactly a ticket to hang with the cool kids in high school. As he once told Access Hollywood, “When I was 14, 15, I think it was a little less cool to be in a band.”
Levine describes his teenage self as “very uncool” because he had “disgusting long hair and shorts down to [to my knees], cutoff shorts—I desperately wanted to be Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam really badly, and I was just a nerdy, awkward kid and I was obsessed with music.” And for more amazing A-lister trivia, check out 20 Celebrities Who Look Like Their Pets.
The actress and Honest Company founder has said she felt the sting of the mean girl clique when she was a teenager. “I’d eat my lunch in the nurses’ office so I didn’t have to sit with the other girls,” she has said. “Apart from my being mixed race, my parents didn’t have money so I never had the cute clothes or the cool back pack.”
One of Hollywood’s nicest—and most gorgeous—actresses sounds like someone who would have helped us with our homework back in the day. “I was a real nerd. I wasn’t the popular one,” the former Mrs. Ben Affleck told The Mirror. “I was one of those girls on the edge of the group. I never wore the right clothes and I had a kind of natural geekiness. I was in the school band and I think that has a bit of a stigma at the age of 13. If you’d asked me what I wanted to be, I would have said something like a librarian.”
The actor and self-proclaimed “late bloomer,” who gained fame starring in High School Musical, didn’t exactly draw on his own experiences for the role. “I wasn’t a heartthrob at school,” he has said. “I was a geek, I was into musical theater, which isn’t perceived as the coolest thing. There were guys who were 6′1″ with beards and big muscles and I was a gawky 17-year-old, a skinny, awkward kid. I could never get into trouble like the rest of my friends; my parents were very strict and taught me good values.”
The stunning Oscar winner, who always manages to wow on the red carpet, was anything but glam growing up—and even confessed to some stalker-like tendencies while in high school. “I wore really nerdy glasses and the boys didn’t like me. I had lots of crushes, but I wasn’t in the popular crowd. There was a really popular girl at school and I was obsessed with her. I mean you would go to jail for that stuff today. I was in tears one day because I couldn’t sit next to her.”
Despite having a starring role in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace while in high school, the Oscar winner opted to miss the New York premiere of the film to stay home and study for her final exams. While in high school, the actress competed in the Intel Science Talent Search and made it to the semifinals. All her nerdy behavior paid off: Portman graduated with a 4.0 GPA and attended Harvard. And for more on cerebral A-listers, check out 20 Celebrities Who Graduated From Ivy League Schools.
The 19-year-old actor who has played the not-too-bright Luke Dunphy on Modern Family for nine seasons has an IQ 150 and is a member of Mensa International. He likely saved himself a world of hurt by graduating high school at 13. You don’t get much nerdier than that.
The Pitch Perfect actress has described her high school self as a “flat chested theater nerd.” Even though she has said she “had the normal high school experience,” she admits, “I wasn’t, like, socially comfortable, that’s for sure.”
No wonder she was so convincing as an uptight nerd on Community. The star of Netflix’s Glow has said she spent her high school years hanging out with fellow drama club members. “I was a drama nerd. Someone recently said to me, ‘You must have been exactly like your character in high school—really type-A,’ and I wasn’t. I was somewhere in between.”
The pumped-up action star is best known for the popular Fast and Furious film franchise, but back in the day, he was too busy playing Dungeons and Dragons to hit the bench press. He has managed to keep up with his love of game all this time and even had a Dungeons and Dragons cake for his 48th birthday. And for more little-known red-carpet info, don’t miss 30 Shocking Facts about Your Favorite Movies.
Jones has said that she was a “straight up nerd” growing up. “I was in the math club, I was in the National Honor Society. I was in every club. I was like a teacher’s pet.” In his autobiography, her father, music legend Quincy Jones, recounted that she spent much of her childhood reading. After the actress graduated from Harvard and began her acting career, she still found time to nurture her love of technology and often talks about how she has tried out every the state-of-the-art gadget out there.
Back when Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta was a student at Convent of the Sacred Heart, a Catholic girls’ school in New York City, she was constantly being bullied and developed a thick skin—and empathy for outsiders—as a result. The singer told Rolling Stone she was “teased for being ugly, having a big nose, being annoying. ‘Your laugh is funny, you’re weird, why do you always sing, why are you so into theater, why do you do your make-up like that?’ I didn’t even want to go to school sometimes.”
The actress plays a cool blonde on Showtime’s Billions, but she has said that wasn’t the case in high school. “I wasn’t the popular girl in school and didn’t have any boyfriends in high school because I was a nerd. I was a geek.”
The Magic Mike star is the last person we would have pictured as a high school nerd, but Manganiello once shared an old photo of himself on Conan that provided proof that the hunky actor with the ripped body is light years away from the scrawny kid with big glasses he once was. Despite his nerdish appearance while in school, Manganiello did manage to land a spot on the basketball team. Years later he scored the ultimate revenge of the nerd by marrying Sofia Vergara. And for more amazing celebrity gossip, don’t miss the 11 Times A-List Celebrities Became Real Life Heroes.
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