Famous Actors Who Also Starred as Athletes
Actors are such talented people. They know how to transform their personalities for an entertaining or teachable moment and deliver amazing performances. It is just astonishing how people recognize their talent and work their way up. However, before they set their foot in Hollywood and savor the life of millionaires, they were very much ordinary people, like your next-door neighbors.
With that in mind, you should mind that they also had different dreams, ideas, passions, activities, and goals before acting careers. Some of them worked as a repairman, some were in sales, and some were even in sports. When you see which actors starred as athletes, you will understand why you notice them in so many movies with physically demanding scenes. Read on to see if your favorite actor made the cut.
30. Burt Reynolds
Smokey and the Bandit, Deliverance, The Longest Yard, Boogie Nights… You name it, and Burt Reynolds was definitely in. Burt is a real acting legend. Before he made the jump into the acting water, he was into the sport.
In his college days, Burt was passionate about sport, and he played for Florida State Seminoles. Moreover, he was a real football star. Thanks to his sports talent, he was able to choose between various scholarships, but he chooses to play at Florida State. He would go for a pro if there wasn’t for a knee injury in his sophomore season. Luckily, that didn’t stop him from becoming a movie legend.
29. Chuck Norris
Do you know any actor with so many memes like Chuck Norris? Probably not, and there is a good reason for it. There is this belief that Chuck Norris can do anything. When you think about this physically demanding performance in his movies, it makes sense. After all, he was the only man to stood up to mighty Bruce Lee.
Chuck Norris isn’t just a sports lover and a martial arts practitioner, and he is a full-on guru. Did you know that he has a black belt? Chuck has a collection: 9th-degree black belt in Tang Soo Do, an 8th-degree black belt in taekwondo, a 5th-degree black belt in karate, a 3rd-degree black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and a black belt in judo. On top of that, he invented a martial art. If you want to see how his sport looks like, try Chun Kuk Do.
28. Terry Crews
Terry Crews has the body of a giant. He is also passionate about sport, healthy eating habits, and overall staying healthy. Before he started entertaining us in various movies, he was into the sport.
Before Crews hit major roles, he was laying out running backs and quarterbacks at the college and pro level. Crews won a MAC championship during his time at Western Michigan before seeing action at the NFL level with the Rams, Chargers, and Redskins.
27. Sean Connery
The ultimate charmer, Sean Connery, was a real athlete before he became James Bond. This fantastic actor is an action hero, but he is also a hero in real life. Plus, he has that Bond charm before his acting career.
A young Connery was a competitive bodybuilder. His appearance was so impressive that he competed in the prestigious Mr. Universe competition. Doesn’t this info leave you shaken, not stirred?
26. Phil Robertson
Phil Robertson become famous when his reality show, Duck Dynasty, premiered. If anything, he is often described as an eccentric hunter. But, did you know that he was a real football start before he grew that beard?
Robertson played quarterback for Louisiana Tech. He was even on scholarship. Moreover, he was so good that he was offered a shot at playing for the Washington Redskins. However, he decided to ditch that change and try his luck with hunting.
25. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
This man runs the Hollywood right now. It seems like a real multitasker. Did you know that his day starts at 3 a.m.? By the time you wake up, he already had two meals and three workout sessions. Needless to say that he has been forever into the sport, not only acting. Or singing. Or painting and so on.
In his teenage years, before he entered the wrestling world, Dwayne was fast and furious on the football field. However, his big break came with wrestling in the WWF/WWE as “The Rock.” Furthermore, he was a part of the iconic Miami Hurricanes 1991 National Championship team before a very brief stint in the CFL.
24. Jim Gaffigan
Jim Gaffigan is mostly known as a stand-up comedian, but some see him more as an actor due to his television appearances. Can you imagine this hilarious man as a passionate football player? It’s not common for comedians to be into the sports world, but Jim did it.
Gaffigan first attended Purdue and was talented enough to get a spot on the Boilermakers roster as a walk-on. One year later, Gaffigan made a transfer. He went to Georgetown, where he finished his collegiate football career with the Hoyas. From there, he went on to become a famous person and a great comedian.
23. Andre The Giant
Real wrestling fans know Andre, The Giant. If you are not so into this sport, you probably know him from the movie The Princess Bride’ as Fezzik alongside actors, Mandy Patinkin and Cary Elwes. As expected, he played a giant character with a bit of comedic side, because that’s him in real life.
Eighth Wonder of the World, that’s how many called this athlete. He is a real legend in the wrestling industry. His fight with Hulk Hogan is compared to David and Goliath style storyline. Still, Andre managed to balance his sport and acting career entirely after sport being his first love.
22. Sheryl Crow
Sheryl Crow is a famous musician who has won nine Grammy awards and sold over 50 million albums worldwide. She also had increased popularity due to her relationship with famous cyclist Lance Armstrong. Before she rocked the world stage of entertainment, she was a member of a track team.
Crow was an all-state track star at Kennett High School in Missouri, medaling in the 75-meter low hurdles. She knew how it feels to be a winner, and that confidence helped her through her music career.
21. Emma Watson
Is there anything that young Emma Watson can’t do? Probably not. To everyone, this young actress is mostly known from the global phenomenon Harry Potter, and later on for her role of Bella, in the remake of the movie Beauty and The Beast. To others, she si knew as a strong advocate for various issues, including women empowerment.
While filming, Emma earned her bachelor’s degree at the prestigious Ivy-League school, Brown University. While studying, she also had time playing field hockey. How did she do it all? Still a big mystery.
20. Matthew Perry
Matthew Perry is known as one of the beloved characters from Friends, Chandler. His role of Chandel Bing was terrific, and it opened him door to more significant movie projects, such as The Whole Nine Yards, and 17 Again. When he is not filming movies, he is busy doing voice-over gigs. Could it be any more awesome?
Younger Perry played tennis. Not only that he played tennis for his enjoyment, but he was also nationally ranked. He was ranked as high as No. 17 in junior singles and No. 3 in junior doubles. He was so passionate about this sport that he would practice ten hours a day.
19. Jason Lee
My Name is Earl was a big hit, and people discovered fantastic Jason Lee. His career stater in the early 90’s when he participated in cult classic films such as Mallrats. Before that, he was known for this unusual sport.
Lee is a passionate skateboarder. This is kind of expected when you know that his Southern California roots are based out of Huntington Beach. For his skateboarding wasn’t only a passion, but also a source of income. Lee was a legit pro skater through the ’80s and early ’90s with some serious moves.
18. Dolph Lundgren
You are probably not too surprised that Dolph Lundgren has a history as an athlete. After all, who can forget his iconic character as the larger-than-life Soviet boxer Ivan Drago in Rocky IV? Did you know that Dolph holds a master’s degree in chemical engineering?
Yes, he is all about the balance between mind and body. Lundgren is a third dan (Sandan) black belt in Kyokushin karate, plus he set the bar in Kyokushin during his peak as a 2-time European champion (1980-81) and Australian champion (1982).
17. Ed O’Neill
If you have never watched Married… with Children, then you know Ed O’Neill from the TV show Modern Family. Before he delivered terrific performances, Ed was an All-State quarterback for Polk High.
O’Neill was talented enough at football in high school to earn a football scholarship to Ohio University. At Youngstown State, he had a steady career as a defensive lineman. In 1969 Pittsburgh Steelers signed O’Neill as an undrafted free agent. However, he was cut during training camp, after which he switched to acting.
16. Gina Carano
MMA is reserved for ladies as well, and Gina Carano proves it. Nowadays, she is more known for her movie roles and crazy fight scenes in action movies, but initially, she is a true sportsperson. Moreover, she participated in professionally in combat sports.
Her kickboxing record is 12-1-1, while her MMA record is 7-1, which makes her more than qualified to compete as the Gladiator “Crush” on the TV series, American Gladiators. All in, she is a real star inside and outside the ring.
15. Joel McHale
Joel McHale is a real celebrity. His show The Soup is globally famous, and his face is almost everywhere. Plus, people went crazy about him after his role as Jeff Winger in the NBC hit comedy Community.
McHale showed that he is not only excellent in running a business and standing in front of the camera. Jeff showed the world that he is into the sport so much that he looks great without his shirt on. He was recruited out of high school, and you know that only real talent is recruited at that age. However, he decided 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.
14. Steven Seagal
Steven Seagal is a multi-talented person. He is an actor, musician, produces, and screenwriter. Steven is known for his unique mark on movies, for always delivering impressive fight scenes. Moreover, he does those scenes on his own. So as you may guess, he is prone to mastering martial arts.
For 15 years, Seagal spent his life in Asia studying Eastern philosophy and choreographing martial arts scenes for films before moving to Hollywood. Upon his arrival in the States, Steven first started his career as a bodyguard for Hollywood celebrities. With time he built his way up into the movie industry as ana ctor, landing him his first role in the 1988 film, Above The Law. Everything from there on is history.
13. Tom Selleck
Tom Selleck is one of the few actors with a really diverse career. He acted in widely popular movies and shows including Magnum, P.I. to Friends to Three Men and a Baby. In general, Selleck is a well-built and tall man, whos appearance helped him land some of the most exciting roles.
Plus, his 6’4″ frame helped him a lot 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. He didn’t play a lot, because it was challenging to balance all obligations, including fraternity life, and a model. Plus, at the same, he was working hard to earn his business degree.
12. Joe Rogan
Joe Rogan is known as a different persona for different people. Some know him through his Fear Factor guy experience, others as Joe Garelli from the hit ’90s sitcom, NewsRadio, and some know him through his occupation as the UFC’s animated commentator.
Only a few know that 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! Rogan also holds black belts in no-gi and gi jiu-jitsu. Still, Joe decided to change his career of amateur kickboxing for the stage. And he is still killing it.
11. David Duchovny
It’s no secret that David Duchovny is a talented actor. His role of Fox Mulder in hit series The X-Files was so unique that it shaped the world of TV series as we know it today. He is also known for his hit shows, Californication and Twin Peaks.
Before Duchovny established himself as an acting phenom, he was showing his talents a bit differently. He was the captain of his high school basketball team before playing for the JV team at Princeton. It turns out that David really wanted Woody Harrison’s character, Billy Hoyle, in White Men Can’t Jump. He auditioned for the part but didn’t get it.
10. Uzo Aduba
Uzo Aduba is best known for her role as Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren on Orange Is the New Black. Before she decided to put the orange on, her focus was entirely on sports.
Aduba was an incredible sprinter and one of Boston University’s top talents, running the 55, 100 and 200-meter dash. Moreover, she had a personal best of 7.07 seconds in the 55-meter dash– that’s only .04 seconds shy of the school record.
9. Tony Danza
Tony Danza is one of the most beloved American actors. Did you know that an agent discovered Danza in a boxing gym? At the time, Danza was professionally into boxing, and it wasn’t just a hobby.
When it comes to acting, he is best known for playing a taxi driver and boxer in Taxi. His other noticeable role was in Who’s the Boss, for which he was nominated for an Emmy Award and four Golden Globe Awards.
8. Denzel Washington
Denzel Washington’s breakthrough was in Spike Lee’s 1998 film, He Got Game. His role in that movie launched his carer. He is the most Oscar-winning (two) and most nominated (five) black actor/actress in Academy history. His acting success is a real fairy tale, but not much is known about his sports career.
Washington attended the Fordham University, where he played for the Rams’ junior varsity basketball team under future Golden State Warriors coach P.J. Carlesimo. In total, Denzel played two seasons, boasting an 18-1 record in his sophomore season.
7. Tommy Lee Jones
Tommy Lee Jones is best known for his roles in some of the biggest blockbusters ever, including Men in Balck and the Fugitive. Before he learned that he is comfortable with being in front of the camera, Tommy was 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. The year 1968 was a big year for Jones – after winning the Ivy League championship two years prior, Jones and the Crimson earned an undefeated to claim another conference championship. Tom also played int he popular Harvard comeback “victory” vs. Yale, in 1968 that ended in a 28-28 tie.
6. Kevin James
Kevin James has a long history of wrestling before he made it to the big screen. The King of Queens, TV show where he played Doug Heffernan, skyrocketed his career. Before that role, he had a serious wrestling career.
James was, in fact, on the same high school wrestling team as pro wrestling star Mick Foley. He also said once that he would take down Foley all the time. Who knows, if he never pursued acting, he might be another Foley.
5. Mark Harmon
Mark Harmon loves action creations. If there is a drama, action moves, and serious conspiracy, he will be in that show or movie. Just remember series as West Wing, NCIS, and JAG. Before he became a Hollywood regular action figure, Harmon had a different focus.
After completing his associate degree at Pierce College in Los Angeles, Harmon transferred to nearby UCLA, where he was the Bruins’ starting quarterback for two years. Harmon took a team coming off a dismal 2-7-1 season in 1971 and led the Bruins to an 8-3 and 9-2 record in the following years.
4. Vinnie Jones
Vinnie Jones is a huge UK star. He may not be so popular overseas as much he is at home, but if you watch just a single Jones role, you would love him. This English bad boy has made a number of classic roles, including the Juggernaut in X-Men: The Last Stand and his legendary role as the crazy soccer firm leader in EuroTrip.
Jones was a member of one of Britain’s most notoriously tough teams, Wimbledon FC’s “Crazy Gang.” In a way, you can say that he has the necessary experience to play bad boys.
3. Carl Weathers
Do you love Rocky movies? If you do, then you know just how much Carl Weathers did for the series popularity. Apollo Creed is one of the most memorable characters in the Rocky series. But did you know that Carl Weathers has his history as an athlete?
Before he started his acting career, Weathers play Division I football at for the San Diego State Aztecs. He also played a pair of NFL seasons with the Oakland Raiders and spent a season in the Canadian Football League.
2. Lou Ferrigno
Many compare Lou Ferrigno with Hulk. After all, he is massively built, and he can’t go unnoticed. He is mostly popular for The Incredible Hulk series, during the 1970s.
As you may guess already, Hulk-body-type doesn’t just happen overnight. You have to work for it. Before he becomes the Hulk, Lou Ferrigno was a professional bodybuilder.
1. Jason Segel
Can you really imagine How I Met Your Mother without Jason Segel? His roles as Marshall was amazing, and his performance was simply perfect. Plus, this role made him a loveable actor that we can’t get enough of. However, it turns out that he was stealing hearts in high school, as well.
The 6’4″ Segel was a fan favorite on Harvard-Westlake School’s (Los Angeles, CA) basketball team. He served as the backup center, but he was still named Dr. Dunk after winning a dunk contest. Segel’s team won back-to-back state championships in his time there. Interestingly, the player he was backing up was former NBA center, Jason Collins.