Famous Actors Who Also Starred as Athletes
There are plenty of actors and actresses with athletic abilities and chiseled bodies that look like they should really be out on the field or court rather than simply acting.
It doesn’t exactly take the most active of imaginations to guess that the likes of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Terry Crews and Carl Weathers (to name a few) actually spent some time in the trenches of the sports world.
Let’s dive in to see what other Hollywood hot shots stood in the sports spotlight.
1. Denzel Washington
Spike Lee’s 1998 film, He Got Game, starred NBA star and future first ballot Hall of Famer Ray Allen. While Denzel Washington played the supporting role of Jesus Shuttlesworth’s (Allen) father, many may not be aware that this was not Washington’s first experience hooping.
Washington had some legit skills on the court himself. In fact, when the New York native was attending Fordham University, he played for the Rams’ JV basketball team under future NBA coach P.J. Carlesimo. Washington played two seasons (1972-74), boasting an 18-1 record in his sophomore season.
2. Emma Watson
Emma Watson stole our hearts as Hermione Granger in the film adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Of course, Watson wasn’t just acting like a smarty. She demonstrated her brainiac abilities by earning her bachelor’s degree at the prestigious Brown University.
Not only did Watson pull off the impressive feat of earning a college degree between various acting roles, she played collegiate field hockey! The thought of an international star like Watson even having time to attend a game as a fan seems improbable let alone competing.
3. Jon Stewart
We can all agree that comic actor Jon Stewart is a good-looking dude who seemed to – aside from his eventually graying hair – defy the aging process.
Still, it’s hard to imagine the longtime host of The Daily Show being active, as he spent over a decade sitting behind a desk.
Daly’s fantastic flow was likely right at home in his younger years, as the Comedy Central icon spent his undergraduate years on the pitch College of William & Mary’s soccer team. In fact, Stewart even scored a game-winning goal against the NCAA powerhouse Connecticut Huskies to win the ECAC Championship.
4. Matthew Perry
Matthew Perry, one of the stars of the iconic sitcom, Friends, was often in the headlines during the show’s heyday due to prescription addictions that led to repeated fluctuations in his weight. These dramatic changes in appearance likely paint a picture of a far more sedentary life than Perry has far different than the man Perry is.
A younger Perry not only played tennis competitively, he was nationally ranked! Perry was ranked as high as No. 17 in junior singles and No. 3 in junior doubles. The Ottawa native would reportedly put in up to 10 hours of practice a day!
5. Jason Lee
Jason Lee is known to many as the mustachioed star of the hit television series My Name is Earl, while others know him from roles in ‘90s and ‘00s cult classic films like Mallrats.
Before any of that, Lee first made a name for himself shredding.
Lee’s passion for skateboarding is understandable, considering his SoCal roots. Skateboarding wasn’t just a passion, he was a legit pro skater through the ‘80s and early ‘90s with some serious moves.
His recurring roles in Kevin Smith’s “View Askewniverse” somehow makes much more sense knowing his skater roots.
6. Jason Statham
What’s an action movie without our favorite Englishman antihero, Jason Statham?
Before Statham came to be known adrenaline film junkies as the age-defying, shredded, best and baddest dude on the silver screen, he was crushing it as an athlete … and as a model, shocker.
While it’s reasonable to assume that Statham competed in a martial art, Statham was discovered thanks to his time as a competitive diver.
Video of Statham competing as a diver (1 m, 3 m, 10 m) in the 1990 Commonwealth gave a telling glimpse into the acrobatics he’d come to flaunt in countless fight scenes. Most eye-opening of all is the impressive mop Statham sported.
7. Dolph Lundgren
Okay, so by no means should it come as a surprise that Dolph Lundgren also has a history as an athlete. His iconic character as the larger-than-life Soviet boxer, Ivan Drago, in Rocky IV presents all the evidence we need.
Lundgren, who is also famously known to have master’s in chemical engineering, is a third dan (sandan) black belt in Kyokushin karate. That’s not all. Lundgren set the bar in Kyokushin during his peak as a 2x European champion (1980-81) and Australian champion (1982).
8. Ed O’Neill
Eat your heart out Homer Simpson and Peter Griffin, Ed O’Neill is the ultimate king of the couch TV dad. Before O’Neill’s fatherly role in Modern Family, he was the lovable loser living in his high school football glory days as Al Bundy on Married… with Children.
What makes O’Neill’s role as a bitter shoe salesman, nostalgic of his “peak” years as an All-State quarterback for Polk High even better is that he was a legitimate stud on the gridiron!
O’Neill was talented enough in high school to earn a football scholarship to Ohio University.
After transferring to Youngstown State and finishing out his collegiate career as a defensive lineman, the Pittsburgh Steelers signed O’Neill as an undrafted free in 1969, though he was cut during training camp.
9. Gina Carano
Enjoying crazy fight scenes in action movies and real life hand-to-hand combat are two very different things. For that reason, those less familiar with the whole “fighting for realsies” MMA thing may not know that Haywire and Deadpool star Gina Carano also professionally competed in combat sports.
Carano’s incredible 12-1-1 kickboxing record and 7-1 MMA record made her more than qualified to compete as the gladiator “Crush” on American Gladiators. Whether it be in the octagon or on the big screen, Carano is a certified star wherever she takes her talents.
10. Joel McHale
Joel McHale developed into a bigtime celebrity as the host of the wildly popular pop culture show, The Soup. As for his acting chops, adoring fans most notably know him for his star role as Jeff Winger in Community.
McHale has shed his shirt in various scenes, showing that he’s not only tall, but pretty fit too. Well, it turns out he’s more than just “pretty fit,” as McHale was a talented enough rower to be recruited out of high school.
Instead, McHale chose to join his friends at the University of Washington and put his 6’4” frame to use as a walk-on tight end with the Huskies.
11. Tommy Lee Jones
Tommy Lee Jones has been in enough action and western movies for 10-15 lifetimes, but long before he was kicking alien butt Men in Black style with Will Smith, he was putting whooping human butt on the gridiron as a member of the Harvard Crimson football team.
Jones played offensive guard from 1966-69 and earned first team All-Ivy League for an outstanding 1968 season. 1968 was really something special – after winning the Ivy League championship two years prior, Jones and the Crimson earned an undefeated to claim another conference championship.
12. Joe Rogan
Joe Rogan is a stand-up comedian also known for his tenure as the UFC’s animated commentator. Others simply know Rogan as “the Fear Factor guy” or as Joe Garelli from the hit ‘90s sitcom, NewsRadio.
For those who only know Rogan’s body of work outside the UFC, there’s good reason that this comic commentates fights.
Before earning black belts in no-gi and gi jiu-jitsu as an adult, Rogan grew up training and competing in taekwondo competitions. He was a four-time Massachusetts state champion and winner of the 1987 taekwondo U.S. Open Championships at age 19!
After a brief run at amateur kickboxing, Rogan turned to metaphorically killing on stage rather than literally dropping bodies on floors.
13. David Duchovny
David Duchovny has starred in a plethora of great films and television shows, though he is most widely known for his Golden Globe performances as Fox Mulder on the out-of-this-world smash hit The X-Files and Californication’s Hank Moody.
Before Duchovny established himself as an acting phenom, he was flaunting his talents on the hardwood. Duchovny was the captain of his high school basketball team before playing for the JV team at Princeton.
Fun fact: Duchovny desperately wanted to play Woody Harrison’s character, Billy Hoyle, in White Men Can’t Jump and even auditioned for the part.
14. Uzo Aduba
Uzo Aduba may play her part as Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren on Orange is the New Black almost a little to well, because it’s just plain hard to picture her being, well, not crazy.
Before Aduba embarked on her career in theatre and film, her focus was on sports.
Aduba was an incredible sprinter and one of Boston University’s top talents, running the 55, 100 and 200-meter dash. For a little perspective on just how fantastic her time at BU was, her personal best of 7.07 seconds in the 55-meter – that’s only .04 seconds shy of the school record.
15. Tony Danza
Don’t let the unassuming stature and demeanor of Brooklyn’s Tony Danza fool you. America’s beloved star of Taxi and Who’s the Boss? only broke out onto the acting scene after he was discovered …. At a boxing gym.
Boxing wasn’t Danza’s hobby, it was his profession.
Hollywood’s 5’9” Italian Stallion was the real deal in the ring. Before turning to acting, Danza sported a 9-3 record as a pro with all but two of his wins coming in the first round!
The only tough part about playing a taxi driver and boxer in Taxi was that his character wasn’t very good.
16. Kurt Russell
Like many of us did growing up, Kurt Russell took after his father, Bing, in creating a similar career path. Except Russell followed his pops down two particularly unique professions that we could only dream.
Russell’s acting career has blossomed from a heartthrob hero to a transcendent action star. He also played professional baseball just like pops.
Russell already had plenty of acting roles under his belt by the time he decided to give professional baseball a try. His minor league run was no gimmick, however, as he lasted a few years playing at the Class A and Double-A level as a switch hitter.
17. Chuck Norris
The quickest way to a man’s heart is with Chuck Norris’s first.
Watching anything involving the high-kicking martial artist – the star of the Walker, Texas Ranger series amongst a list of action movies – without dropping a Chuck Norris “facts” is borderline unacceptable.
These jokes aren’t simply rooted in his various acting roles, however.
Norris isn’t just some martial arts practitioner, he is a full-on guru. Earning a black belt in any discipline is a remarkable accomplishment. Norris has a collection: 9th degree black belt in Tang Soo Do, 8th degree black belt in taekwondo, 5th degree black belt in karate, 3rd degree black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and black belt in judo.
Oh yeah, he also invented the martial art Chun Kuk Do.
18. Burt Reynolds
Smokey and the Bandit, Deliverance, The Longest Yard, Boogie Nights …. yeah, Burt Reynolds is a legend.
The craziest part about this Hollywood hunk’s unbelievable career is that it may have never even existed had it not been an unfortunate twist of fate.
Reynolds was a star football player in growing up in Florida. An outstanding high school career earned him numerous scholarships, but he chose to play at Florida State.
A standout halfback, Reynolds aspired to go pro until a knee injury in his sophomore season and car accident later that year left him with the difficult decision to pursue another passion.
19. Tom Selleck
Tom Selleck’s acting career is about as diverse as it gets, as the heartthrob acted in widely popular shows and movies like Magnum, P.I. to Friends to Three Men and a Baby.
Selleck’s 6’4” frame also served him well on the court as a basketball player.
Selleck’s high school play was good enough to earn him a scholarship to USC where he would go on to play two seasons with the Trojans.
Though he didn’t much playing time, the fact that he managed to balance playing basketball, joining a fraternity and working as a model while earning a business degree is just plain ridiculous.
20. Jim Gaffigan
Jim Gaffigan is a stand-up comedian first, but his countless film cameos and television appearances make him more than qualified to make the cut as an actor that we cannot believe had his fair share of success as an athlete.
Gaffigan first attended Purdue and was talented enough to get a spot on the Boilermakers roster as a walk-on. After one year, Gaffigan transferred to Georgetown where he finished his collegiate football career with the Hoyas.
How Hot Pockets never signed him as their faux Wheaties spokesman is truly a mystery.