Famous People You'd Never Guess Are Total Nerds

If you're a famous person, many of your fans likely assume that you're either too cool (or at least too busy) to be a dork with dorky hobbies. That couldn't be further from the truth — many celebrities are just as nerdy as their fans, sometimes even moreso.

Rosario Dawson

It's one thing to be into Star Trek, but it's a whole other thing to be Rosario Dawson and into Star Trek. The actress is a huge Trekkie, to the point where she can (kind of) speak Klingon.

In 2006, Dawson appeared on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, talking about how she and her brother would get together and watch Star Trek together. Then she spat out a couple Klingon words: "Qapla'," which means success, and "p'tach," which means "lowly slave." She did, however, admit to Page Six that she doesn't know a ton of Klingon, and that the Conan appearance made it seem like she knew more than she does. That said, knowing two Klingon words is closer to fluency than most of the general population, so we'll count it. In 2014, MTV News asked her about Trek, and she accordingly gushed about how much she loves Star Trek. Good Trekkie!

What's more, she co-created and co-wrote a comic book mini-series called Occult Crimes Taskforce in 2006. If that doesn't bump up your nerd cred, what does?

Rod Stewart

Rod Stewart seems like the un-geekiest guy around — his whole thing is singing soft-rock ballads to middle-aged women — even his "Maggie May" character kept skipping school to satisfy a lady. And yet, Stewart couldn't be nerdier about his one true passion: model trains.

As he revealed in Model Railroader Magazine in 2008 (as reported by Gibson), virtually the entire third floor of Stewart's Beverly Hills mansion is devoted to a gigantic model train set he'd assembled over 20 years. It's 23 feet wide by 124 feet long, so imagine almost half a football field taken up by toy trains and tracks. And it's not just that — Stewart's designed an entire city in his mansion, with streets, cars, and over 100 buildings, some almost as tall as him. Everything's designed in excruciating detail, to the point where he could probably loan his model train town out to Hollywood for various movie scenes.

He's so devoted to Stewartville, he even took it on tour with him. In 2007, Stewart brought his entire modeling set in seven gigantic touring cases, and would fly to and from his Chicago suite, spending hours building and creating his set in between shows. He wouldn't have it any other way. As he told Model Railroader, "It's just the most supreme relaxation. ... Every person should have one hobby that really captures his interest." He even claimed getting attention for his hobby means more to him than making the cover of Rolling Stone. Don't tell the middle-aged ladies.

Tom Hanks

Being the Everyman of Hollywood, it makes sense that Tom Hanks has a geeky hobby like most of us do. But his is pretty hard to guess: Tom Hanks is ridiculously into typewriters.

As explained in the Telegraph, Hanks owns over 250 old typewriters and loves to talk at length about them and the different sounds they make. (In a 2013 New York Times article, he explained how "Remingtons from the 1930s go THICK THICK. Midcentury Royals sound like a voice repeating the word CHALK. CHALK. CHALK CHALK.") He adores how they're little more than ink and paper, and you can't hack them, nor can the Cloud glitch and erase all your data. As he put it to WBEZ, it's immune from "the forces of evil." He also told WBEZ about how easily you can use a particularly heavy typewriter to commit murder: "You would tape this to their hands and throw them into the pool and they would rest down to the bottom. This thing will drown you." He's got a point: you can't kill anyone with a Chromebook.

Hanks loves the CLACKA-CLACKA-DING machines so much, he wrote a whole book about them. Uncommon Type is a collection of 17 short stories, all of which are linked by typewriters and typing. If you think all this makes him quaint and old-fashioned, look at it this way. If a solar flare destroys all electronics in the world, this article will be lost, but Hanks' writing will survive. He also helped create an app that turns your iPad or iPhone into a typewriter because how else will children learn about history?

Dexter Holland

Dexter Holland, as lead singer of punk band The Offspring, doesn't initially seem like a smart guy. He can rock out like a sucker with low self-esteem as well as anyone, but that's it, right? Not at all: Dexter Holland is a certified genius.

As explained by Rolling Stone, Holland attended the University of Southern California before dropping out to focus on music. But his studies were heavier than the heaviest Offspring tune: he was working on his Ph.D. in molecular biology. He likely would've completed it, but his band's 1994 release Smash quickly sold more records than any independent album ever. When that kind of success comes your way, you run with it, so Holland embarked on a long career of keeping stuff separated and reminding white people how un-hip they are.

But throughout his Offspring run, Holland kept working at his Ph.D., bit by bit. Finally, in May 2017, he graduated, publishing a 175-page dissertation under his real name, Bryan Holland. He entitled it Discovery of Mature MicroRNA Sequences within the Protein-Coding Regions of Global HIV-1 Genomes: Predictions of Novel Mechanisms for Viral Infection and Pathogenicity, and it features lines like, "The miR-4644 miRNA, embedded within the protein-coding region of the HIV-1 genome, may regulate the very enzyme that ultimately catalyzes proteolytic cleavage at precisely the same position, at the amino acid level." That's not quite as catchy as "Na na, why don't you get a job?" but it's still mighty impressive.

Dave Bautista

Dave Bautista, he of Drax the Destroyer and Batista the WWE Champion fame, looks like he has two hobbies: working out and flexing. But his geeky side-hobby might be the most adorable thing ever. He collects vintage lunchboxes.

As Bautista revealed to IGN in 2005, at the height of his WWE career, he's into those old metal lunchboxes kids used to take to school and fight bullies with. He told them, "My favorite is the 1967 Green Hornet lunchbox ... because Bruce Lee is on it." That's as good a reason as any, really. You can see many more of his lunchboxes on his Twitter, where he regularly geeks out over his latest finds, like a 1954 Superman lunchbox he announced as "huge breaking news!!" He's also got lunchboxes for Charlie's Angels, Green Hornet, Star Trek, Star Wars, Jaws, and even the Beatles — all in all, he's collected around 100, according to TMZ.

One of his more recent grabs was a 2014 Drax lunchbox, featuring the inspirational phrase "finger to the throat means death." Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn custom-made the lunchbox just for him because when your star is that big and strong, it's a good idea to keep him happy.

Stephen Colbert

If you think you're a huge Lord of the Rings fan, and you're not Stephen Colbert, you're wrong. The Late Show host is perhaps the world's biggest Tolkien nut — he knows virtually everything about Middle-earth, a trait he's shown off many times on both Late Show and The Colbert Report. Even Peter Jackson, who directed the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies, said of Colbert in 2012, "I have never met a bigger Tolkien geek in my life." It's not just movies — he's spent his life devouring every book of the saga, and probably knows more about Middle-earth than about Earth.

During a Late Show Q&A session, a fan asked Colbert which Lord of the Rings character he'd like to interview. He chose Gandalf, and not because he's a main character. His reasoning, in short: "In Valinor he was named Olarin, and he was one of the Maiar associated with the Valar. ... [He's] been in Arda since Ilúvatar cried 'Eä.'" Got all that?

Naturally, Colbert had a cameo in a Tolkien movie, appearing in Desolation of Smaug as "Lake-Town Spy." But anyone can do that — it takes a special super-geek to call out Brazilian scientists for naming a new species of spider Iandumoema smeagol. As Colbert pointed out on Late Show, they should've named the creepy spider after Gollum, Smeagol's creepy alter-ego. But just to be even geekier, he then argued that they should've named it after Lord of the Rings' spider character, Shelob. Who hasn't heard of her?

Danica McKellar

Kids from the '80s will remember Danica McKellar as Winnie Cooper on The Wonder Years, but '80s kids who are wicked into numbers might know her more as a total math geek.

After Wonder Years, McKellar enrolled in UCLA, expecting to focus on film. Instead, she found herself drawn to math, mainly because she was incredible at it. As she told the New York Times in 2005, "I love that stuff. ... I love continuous functions and proving if functions are continuous or not." Thrilling!

McKellar didn't stop at other people's math problems. Along with a professor named Lincoln Chayes and another student named Brandy Winn, she worked on an original theorem. After months of research, the trio published the 1998 paper Percolation and Gibbs States Multiplicity for Ferromagnetic Ashkin–Teller Models on Z2, introducing the Chayes-McKellar-Winn theorem. We won't even begin to describe it, because it's insanely complicated. Just know it's the work of actual geniuses.

Less confusing is her writing career. McKellar introduces math to young people, particularly girls, through books that sell the beauty of mathematics in their language. With titles like Kiss My Math, Girls Get Curves, and Math Doesn't Suck (something Jimmy Buffett would disagree with), McKellar uses teen talk to make numbers and figures seem less scary and more inviting and awesome. And with over 500,000 copies in print, it's clear people agree with her.

Brian May

Brian May is most famous as the guitar god of Queen, the only guy who could make Freddie Mercury's voice sound extra awesome and legendary. But when he's not making us headbang to the heavy part of "Bohemian Rhapsody," May stays busy studying space as a doctor of astrophysics.

According to his website, May was a doctorate student in astrophysics before Queen became a thing. He even had a thesis going regarding the motions of interplanetary dust. But once Queen got huge, May put his studies on hold because that's just what you do when given the chance to make millions of dollars recording and touring with the greatest singer of all time. Thirty years later, in 2007, May finally completed the program, updating his thesis and completing all Ph.D. requirements. He was now officially Dr. Brian May, which might be the only way to make him more of a rock star than he already was.

In between runs with the new Queen, May continues to do astrophysics work. In 2015, he visited NASA headquarters and worked with other astrophysicists interpreting data sent back from the New Horizons probe. That data helped NASA compile the first-ever high-quality images of Pluto, which May helped assemble. So if you fell in love with the misunderstood dwarf planet because one of its features looks like a giant heart, you have the "We Will Rock You" guy to thank.

Ben Stiller

Through his various movie roles, Ben Stiller comes across as an awkward yet goofy normal guy. But Stiller's got another side to him: total Trekkie. As Nerdist points out, Stiller seems to favor the original series, the one with Kirk and Spock. He's been this way since 1976, when his mother took him to a Star Trek convention and hooked him for life. He tends to subtly reference the show in most of his films, and even his production company, Red Hour Films, is a reference to an event from one of the original series' episodes. If he could breed and raise tribbles, he probably would.

One obvious reference occurred in Tropic Thunder, where Matthew McConaughey's character is seen wearing Spock ears. During an appearance on Neil DeGrasse Tyson's podcast StarTalk, Stiller mentioned how he actually heard from Leonard Nimoy after that movie's release. Nimoy, as you might expect, loved the reference and showed his appreciation by sending Stiller a pair of Spock ears he wore during the first Star Trek movie. That being perhaps the best thing a Trekkie could receive this side of a personal concert from William "Rocket Man" Shatner, Stiller admitted to Tyson he could die that day and be happy. When his time does come, Stiller will almost certainly be buried with those ears. It's only logical.

Natalie Portman

Natalie Portman isn't just a world-renowned actress and mother of Jedis. She's also one of the smartest people you'll ever meet, and one of the most responsible, too: if Hollywood ever threatens her academic side, chances are you'll never see her again outside of a classroom.

According to Nerdist, Portman is huge into psychology and has even co-authored research under her birth name, Natalie Hershlag. Her research is entitled, "A Simple Method To Demonstrate the Enzymatic Production of Hydrogen from Sugar," but it's not actually that simple. Oh, she published this in 1998, when she was just 17, in case you want to feel a little more inferior. Three years later, she co-authored another study, "Frontal Lobe Activation during Object Permanence: Data from Near-Infrared Spectroscopy," proving she wasn't a one-paper wonder.

Outside of published research, Portman is beyond devoted to her studies. She missed the world premiere of Phantom Menace, not because of sickness or embarrassment over Jar-Jar, but because she had high school finals to study for. She made her feelings of "brains over Hollywood" crystal-clear in 2002, when she told the New York Post, "I don't care if [college] ruins my career. I'd rather be smart than a movie star." Years later, it's evident she successfully managed and conquered both.