Incredibly Smart Actors Who’ve Become Famous Playing Idiots

by Jennifer Lafferty

Incredibly Smart Actors Who’ve Become Famous Playing Idiots

Some of the smartest actors in Hollywood are rumored to be dim simply because they’ve had a history of portraying characters who aren’t particularly bright. Playing dumb onscreen, especially in comedy, isn’t as easy as it looks. Going back to Marilyn Monroe, many intelligent stars have cleverly built careers on entertainingly ditsy roles. Check out these actors who are smarter than they may seem.


Sylvester Stallone



Because of his slow speech pattern and mannerisms, Sylvester Stallone was convincing as the simple-minded Rocky Balboa, but we should remember he also wrote the Rocky screenplay and penned subsequent hit films. Stallone reportedly has a genius level IQ of 160.


James Franco



Popular actor/filmmaker James Franco is just beginning to live down his airhead image. The UCLA graduate has been embracing a lot of intellectual projects, even directing and starring in an adaptation of John Steinbeck’s novel In Dubious Battle.


Lisa Kudrow



Lisa Kudrow became famous playing the flaky, dim-witted Phoebe Buffay on Friends, but Kudrow, who graduated with a BA in science from Vassar College and did biology research, reportedly has an IQ registering at a whopping 154.


Nolan Gould



Nolan Gould keeps his brilliance well-hidden, playing a dumb teen on TV’s Modern Family. The young actor was smart enough to graduate from high school at age 13 and is a Mensa member with an IQ of 150.


Steve Martin



Another card-carrying member of Mensa who started out playing goofballs is Steve Martin. Also an accomplished writer/producer, Martin has gone from roles like the absurdly funny Navin in The Jerk, to characters with an intellect closer to his own.


Marilyn Monroe



To many she’ll always be the ultimate dumb blonde, but Marilyn Monroe’s persona as a ditzy sex goddess was carefully crafted by the brainy actress. Monroe was surprisingly intellectual, and was once married to legendary playwright Arthur Miller.


Kal Penn



Best known as Kumar from the Harold & Kumar franchise, Kal Penn is actually very smart, even teaching a course at the University of Pennsylvania, and serving as Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement (2009-2011).


Lucille Ball



She’s best remembered as the wacky title character of TV’s I Love Lucy, but Lucille Ball was a smart businesswoman who co-founded Desilu with her husband/co-star Desi Arnaz, making her the first woman to head a TV production company.


Adam Sandler



Adam Sandler is never more popular than when he’s playing the fool. But Sandler, who graduated from NYU, has also been the force behind many of his films, co-writing and producing hits like The Waterboy and Grown Ups.


Goldie Hawn



Goldie Hawn was so good at playing a ditzy sex kitten on 1960s Laugh-In, she was typecast for years, until she started producing vehicles for herself like Private Benjamin, where she could show off her smart side.


Ashton Kutcher



Although Ashton Kutcher’s goofy onscreen persona has served him well as a comedic actor, his reported IQ is 160. In his acceptance speech at the 2013 Teen Choice Awards, he said “The sexiest thing in the entire world is being really smart.”


Mira Sorvino



Her most famous role is total airhead Romy, in the hit comedy Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion, but Mira Sorvino is anything but dumb, graduating magna cum laude from Harvard with a degree in Chinese.


Dolph Lundgren



His body made him famous, but Dolph Lundgren’s brain is just as impressive. The Swedish-born action star was a Fulbright Scholar at MIT, majoring in chemical engineering, and is said to have a genius level IQ.


Monty Python troupe



Monty Python dumbed down the image of several actors. The troupe met while attending two of England’s most prestigious universities. Terry Jones and Michael Palin were studying at Oxford with John Cleese, Graham Chapman and Eric Idle at Cambridge.


Kate Upton



Kate Upton didn’t become a popular model/actress by showing off her intellect, but former co-star Cameron Diaz insists she has one, saying of Upton: “It’s incredible how smart she is and how wise she is…She doesn’t miss a thing.”