Geek is chic. Nerd culture has taken over mainstream pop culture. These days, it seems like all of your favorite (and least favorite) celebrities are some breed of super nerd. A lot of time, that nerdiness is self-evident. Stephen Colbert? Of course the guy who displays Captain America’s shield and drops an obscure Tolkien reference practically every week is a geek. Felicia Day? She’s a geek whose celebrity status is entirely thanks to other geeks. Lin-Manuel Miranda? His whole career might as well be a dare to see how geeky one can get while still appearing “cool.” But sometimes, it’s not so obvious.
The following list exposes those celebrities whose geekiness is subtler than the outspoken geeks. Some might even call their nerddom a “secret.” Not a secret so serious that it’d be impolite to write about it, but the nerd factor of these celebs manages to go under the radar compared to some of their more vocally geeky peers. This list includes both living and dead famous people. They include musicians, athletes, actors, politicians, and religious leaders. Their interests include a wide range of geeky hobbies ranging from fantasy novels and comic books to cartoons and video games. Which secret geek revelation will surprise you the most?
15. DANIEL RADCLIFFE
Being the star of the world’s most popular fantasy movie series for the entirely of your teenage years would either turn you into a giant nerd of an adult or make you completely sick of anything involving a wizard. Daniel Radcliffe ended up the former. Enjoying traditional nerd pastimes, like conventions, as a celebrity, however, can be an intimidating experience, having to deal with your fans when you just want to be a fan.
Radcliffe has found the ideal nerdy solution to this problem: when he wants to enjoy a convention as a regular fan, he cosplays. Other celebrities have also pulled this trick cosplaying as their own characters (Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man, for instance, or Bryan Cranston as Walter White), but Radcliffe isn’t going to conventions as Harry Potter, he’d be too identifiable. He sticks to face-covering costumes like Spider-Man and Boba Fett.
14. DANIEL CRAIG
James Bond might be picky about having his martinis shaken, not stirred, but when it comes to the Star Wars vs. Star Trek debate, he likes it both ways. Long before he was James Bond, Daniel Craig was a Trekkie who longed to appear in some form of Star Trek media. That hasn’t come to pass, but he took up the opportunity for a secret cameo as a Stormtrooper in The Force Awakens.
Daniel Craig’s science fiction fandom isn’t only limited to the two Star ____ series. He’s also a fan of Doctor Who and Firefly. A self-proclaimed video game addict with a particular fondness for the Halo and Guitar Hero series, he’s been vocal in demanding Activision put more effort into their licensed James Bond games.
13. SERENA WILLIAMS
Can you guess what tennis champion Serena Williams’ favorite TV show is? It’s the Nickelodeon animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender! She was dealing with a series of knees injuries when the show premiered in 2005, and she’s said watching cartoons keeps up her spirits when she’s sick. She was such a big fan of the show that she was able to cameo in the franchise twice, as a prison guard in “The Day of Black Sun” and as a sage in the Legend of Korra episode “Beginnings.”
Airbender isn’t the only “Avatar” she’s a fan of; as pictured above, she attended the grand opening of Disney’s “World of Avatar” attraction based on the James Cameron movie at Animal Kingdom. She also plays video games and appeared in the promo for Overwatch‘s official eSports league.
12. SNOOP DOGG
Nobody tell Snoop Dogg that Game of Thrones is fiction. The famed rapper and Santa Claus of 4/20 says of the show, “I watch it for historic reasons, to try to understand what this world was based on before I got here.” How much history you can learn from a fantasy show is open to question, but why crush his enthusiasm? He wrote the “Lannisters Anthem” for HBO’s Catch the Throne II mixtape.
Game of Thrones isn’t Snoop’s only HBO obsession. He previously wrote “Oh Sookie” as a tribute to the heroine of True Blood. His Tekken fandom earned him a cameo and a song in Tekken Tag Tournament 2. On his social media, he’s also expressed familiarity with the anime Naruto and the webcomic Homestuck.
11. JOHN CENA
Who’d have taken WWE star John Cena for an otaku? Yet in an interview with Men’s Fitness magazine, he declared himself “a big fan of NASCAR and Japanimation. I know the two don’t go together, but I’m just telling you what I enjoy. My favorite anime movie is Fist of the North Star.” OK, so “Japanimation” is a bit of a dated term, but still, pretty cool!
Cena’s also an enthusiastic Star Wars fan. This fact is probably a lot less surprising than him being an anime fan; it’s almost easier to list all the celebrities who DON’T love Star Wars. What is surprising is that he’s a defender of the prequel trilogy. Back in 2012, he did a WWE promo in which he compared recent wrestling plotlines to Star Wars and showed off his Yoda impression.
10. KEANU REEVES
Cowboy Bebop is now in development as a live-action TV show, so presumably the Hollywood movie adaptation is officially dead. That the idea of an American live-action Bebop movie stayed in the cultural conversation so long, though, is entirely due to the efforts of Keanu Reeves. Reeves is a huge fan of the original Bebop anime, and tried for years to produce an adaptation which he’d star in.
His proposed movie was ultimately too expensive, but it’s clear that Reeves remains an anime otaku. It makes sense, given he starred in the extremely anime-influenced Matrix movies. He likes to visit Akihabara, the otaku neighborhood in Tokyo. He’s also a serious fan of classic kung fu movies, Marvel, Star Wars and Frank Miller comics, among other geeky interests.
9. SOULJA BOY
There’s a lot of good rap inspired by anime, and not just in “nerdcore” where you’d expect it. You’ve got Deltron 3030’s cyberpunk operas, Logic’s Toonami-inspired collaborations with Steve Blum, Kanye’s “Stronger” video referencing Akira. There is, however, only one rap song simply titled “Anime,” and it’s by Soulja Boy. It’s not good.
Soulja Boy certainly has a surprising enthusiasm for anime. FUNimation’s actually invited him to the red carpet premieres of some of their movies. In the song “Anime,” he uses the word “anime” as an adjective to describe random objects while also comparing his appearance to various anime characters and series. Other examples of anime influence in his ouvre include a mixtape titled “Death Note” and the self-explanatory but utterly baffling song “B*tch, I Look Like Goku.”
8. DAME JUDI DENCH
Vin Diesel’s love for Dungeons and Dragons is so well publicized at this point that he’s no longer really a “secret” nerd. His Dungeon Master on the set of The Chronicles of Riddick, however, might surprise you: it was Dame Judi Dench. The popular myth goes that Diesel taught Dench how to play, but that is false. She knew how to play already. She DMs regularly with her grandchildren.
One can only wonder how great it must be to play a game of D&D narrated by such an amazing actress. Dench’s geeky interests go beyond just tabletop RPGs, however. In a video on Josh Gad’s Instagram, she pleaded for her Murder on the Orient Express co-star Daisey Ridley to reveal spoilers for The Last Jedi (alas, to no avail).
7. SIR PATRICK STEWART
Given his iconic roles as Captain Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Professor Xavier in the X-Men movie series, you might expect Sir Patrick Stewart to be something of a nerd… but would you have expected him to be a Beavis and Butthead nerd? It turns out he simply loves that dunderheaded duo and collects all of their merchandise. He’s said “It’s borderline addiction, in fact. I have ties, I have all the videos, I have a wonderful collection of T-shirts.”
For someone seen as extremely classy and high-brow, Stewart is refreshingly open about his taste for rude and crude humor. That would explain his collaborations with Seth MacFarlane and his seemingly baffling choice to voice the poop in The Emoji Movie. He’s also longed to play the foul-mouthed Spider Jerusalem should Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan ever become a movie or TV show.
6. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.
Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t just bring about the end of segregation in the ’60s, he also guaranteed space exploration in the 23rd century would remain open to all races! Yes, in addition to all his better known accomplishments, MLK shaped the history of science fiction by convincing Nichelle Nichols to stay for the second season of the original Star Trek!
The production of the show’s first season was a rough experience, and Nichols was originally planning to quit the show to act on Broadway. Then, at a party, she was introduced to a man who claimed to be her “biggest fan”: MLK himself! He emphasized just how important a character Uhura was, a powerful black woman treated as an equal among her crew, and that he’d miss her if she left. Nichols changed her mind and continued to play Uhura for the next two seasons and six movies.
5. POPE FRANCIS
J.R.R. Tolkien was a devout Catholic, his religious views influencing how he designed the world of Middle Earth. That would explain his writing’s appeal to Pope Francis, the current head of Catholic Church. In a 2008 sermon before he was pope, Cardinal Bergoglio (as he was called back then) spoke of Bilbo’s journey in The Hobbit and Frodo’s in The Lord of the Rings as comparable to those of Biblical stories and Greco-Roman mythology.
It seems he’s in good company with fellow Tolkien geeks. The Vatican’s official newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, published a textual analysis titled “Theology of the Lord of the Rings” in 2014. The Pope’s advisor, Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, caused a minor controversy sparring with a critic on Twitter over comparisons to Grima Wormtongue.
4. BARACK OBAMA
Could Barack Obama be America’s geekiest president? Certainly the classical definition of “nerd,” the awkward intellectual obsessed with academic minutiae, could apply to a lot of presidents. But “geek” these days implies a pop culture awareness and affinity for genre fiction, and in that regard Obama wins the “geekiest president” award easily.
Speaking with Popular Science, Obama remarked, “What’s remarkable is the way ‘nerd’ is such a badge of honor now. Growing up, I’m sure I wasn’t the only kid who read Spider-Man comics and learned how to do the Vulcan salute, but it wasn’t like it is today.” Spidey’s his favorite superhero, and he even appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man #583. His geek record isn’t perfect (he once confused a Jedi mind trick and a Vulcan mind meld), but his enthusiasm is undeniable.
3. THE BEATLES
In 1969, perhaps the craziest and nerdiest movie never made almost came into production: The Beatles almost starred in a Lord of the Rings movie directed by Stanley Kubrick before Tolkien, opposed to any movies of his books, shut the project down. This was a combination of two particular geeky passions of John Lennon’s: Lord of the Rings and Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. He claimed to go see the latter once a week in 1968.
Lennon wasn’t the only mega-geek amongst The Beatles, though. George Harrison was such an obsessive Monty Python fan that he pretty much saved the troupe twice! The first time, he wrote a fan letter to the BBC begging to keep Flying Circus on the air. The second time, he paid the equivalent of four million dollars to produce The Life of Brian.
2. MICHAEL JACKSON
There’s a lot you could say about Michael Jackson. He was a genius, he was creepy, he was incredibly sad. But did you know he also had one of the biggest collections of classic arcade games in the world? Looking at the catalog of arcade cabinets auctioned off after his death is mind-blowing, containing everything from Mortal Kombat to the X-Men arcade game to a freaking Virtual Boy.
Jackson was a particular fan of the Sonic the Hedgehog series (wow, that series has ALWAYS had the strangest fans) and even composed music for Sonic 3. Almost as impressive as his video game collection is his model collection, with multiple sculptures of characters like Batman, Superman, Spider-Man and E.T. He even owned the original prop scissorhands from Edward Scissorhands!
1. TED CRUZ
Sorry, everyone. He’s one of us. Ted Cruz isn’t exactly beloved by many. The Democrats find him scary. Many of his fellow Republicans find him annoying. Donald Trump tried to link his dad with the JFK assassination, and the world of internet memes agrees there’s a non-zero chance he might be the Zodiac Killer travelling through time. But one thing is indisputable: Ted Cruz is a geek.
He does (awful) impressions of Simpsons characters. His favorite Star Trek captain is Kirk. His first company, Cruz Enterprises, was named after Stark Enterprises. He compared Obama to Darth Vader and the Terminator. He acted out a scene from The Princess Bride at fundraisers, angering Mandy Patinkin. His favorite My Little Pony is Apple Jack. For a candidate who had difficulty connecting with people, Cruz’s most humanizing quality was his geekiness.
Can you think of any other celebrity geeks? Let us know in the comments!
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