For all actors, winning an Oscar is a major accomplishment that few achieve. With only four individual acting categories every year, it’s a tough competition between actors that usually involves a lot of politics.
With the 13.5 inch trophy in high demand, any actor can come out of woodwork and snatch it up, even if they aren’t winning it specifically for acting. Plus, the longer the career, the better chance an actor has of scooping one up.
There are some pretty famous and successful actors out there who have failed to win an Oscar in an acting category, so they’ve moved on to win their trophy by producing, directing, or writing instead. On the other hand, there are other actors out there who you’d recognize, but wouldn’t necessarily consider them to be Oscar winners, even if they are.
Since Oscars are the most desired prize in all of Hollywood, Oscar winners come from all different types of backgrounds. Beyond that, positions in film and television-making are extremely fluid, which provides actors with the ability to try on other hats within the business. There are many actors you never would have imagined are Oscar winners.
With that said, here are the 15 Actors You Didn’t Realize Won Oscars.
15. Anna Paquin
Paquin made her film debut as Flora in The Piano in 1993. The film is about a mute woman, played by Holly Hunter, who plays the piano and has a young daughter, played by Anna Paquin. The movie was based in New Zealand which is where Paquin lived for a long time. She was born in Canada, but moved from Canada to New Zealand when she was only four years old.
Paquin auditioned against over five thousand other young girls for the part of Flora. Part of why she fit the role was due to Holly Hunter being on the shorter side, standing at only a 5’2 feet. Producers needed to find a girl who had the same small stature as Hunter, but who could also act.
The movie received a lot of great reviews. It also was on the receiving end of many awards, including Anna Paquin’s Oscar. Paquin won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress at the young age of eleven years old. She’s the second youngest Oscar winner in history.
14. Isaac Hayes
Isaac Hayes is a major musician who is known more for his music than his acting. That said, you’d probably recognize his voice on South Park, where he used to portray the school cafeteria chef and mentor to the boys.
As a voice actor, Hayes pulled off the voice of Chef perfectly. Chef was always scolding Cartman, teaching the kids about things through song, and hanging out with the other adults in town, such as Randy and Mr. Garrison.
Hayes was on South Park for a long time, but ended up parting ways with the show due to a few unfortunate circumstances, one being his devotion to Scientology. Contrary to popular belief though, Hayes didn’t leave the show due to his dislike of the show’s somewhat strong humor.
Besides South Park, Hayes has seventy acting credits and over two hundred soundtrack credits. In 1971, Hayes won an Oscar for Best Original Song for “Theme from Shaft” from the movie Shaft.
Sadly, Hayes passed away only a few years after leaving his role as Chef on South Park. His cause of death was up in the air for awhile, but medical examiners came to the conclusion that a stroke was the ultimate cause.
13. Jim Rash
Jim Rash is one of those guys who you always recognize, but always seem to forget his name. This probably doesn’t matter much to him, though, since he has a shiny Oscar and a pretty regular acting career.
Most people recognize Jim Rash as Dean Pelton on the fan-favorite show Community. He’s also made appearances in other movies and television shows, such as The Way Way Back, That ’70s Show, and Mike Tyson Mysteries.
Besides being a familiar face on television and film screens everywhere, Rash is also an acclaimed writer. He co-wrote the screenplay for The Way Way Back, which he also starred in, as well as The Descendants, which starred George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, and Amara Miller.
In 2012, Jim Rash won Best Adapted Screenplay at the Oscars for The Descendants, along with co-writers Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon. Alexander Payne is known for co-writing Jurassic Park III, while Nat Faxon is known for also co-writing The Way Way Back.
Everyone knows who Cher is. The ultra famous singer is known for hits such as “Believe”, “I Got You Babe”, and “If I Could Turn Back Time”. Her interesting tone and voice are difficult to replicate, which makes her completely unique.
While singing is Cher’s main thing, she’s also been in her fair share of movies such as Burlesque, The Witches of Eastwick, and Suspect. She even won an Oscar for Best Actress in a leading role for her portrayal of Loretta Castorini in Moonstruck in 1987.
In Moonstruck, Cher portrayed a widowed woman who falls in love with someone she’s not supposed to. The film also stars Nicolas Cage and Danny Aiello. Not only did Cher win a golden statue, but the film also won in the categories of Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress.
11. Brad Pitt
Brad Pitt might not be the biggest surprise. The guy has acted in so many movies, it’d be easy to assume that he has an Oscar, which he does. However, his Oscar isn’t from acting. Instead, Brad Pitt received his Oscar for having produced 12 Years a Slave.
Being on screen so much, a lot of people don’t realize how renowned of a producer Pitt actually has become. Brad Pitt has produced many major films such as The Departed, Kick-Ass, Eat Pray Love, The Time Traveler’s Wife, and The Big Short.
However, it was 12 Years a Slave that Brad Pitt provided Pitt with his one and only Oscar. The film follows a free African American man who is stolen and then sold into slavery, and has some pretty major actors starring in it.
Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Cumberbatch, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael Fassbender, and Sarah Paulson all star in the movie. With all of these major names, it’s no wonder that Pitt decided to stay in the background of this one.
10. Marisa Tomei
You might recognize Marisa Tomei as Mimi Whiteman from Empire, as May Parker from the recent Spider-Man: Homecoming, or as Cassidy from The Wrestler. Tomei is an extremely talented actress who is very versatile when it comes to what she can do on screen.
In 1993, Marisa Tomei won an Oscar for best actress in a supporting role for her part in the film My Cousin Vinny. The film also starred seasoned actors Joe Pesci as Vinny Gambini and Ralph Macchio as Bill Gambini.
My Cousin Vinny is a movie about an Italian-American family dealing with a traumatic situation where their son has been accused of murder. Vinny is the lawyer who is not only inexperienced, but also a boaster and a chatterbox. Tomei portrays Mona Lisa Vito in the film, Vinny’s fiancée.
9. Emma Thompson
A lot of people know that Emma Thompson is not only amazing, but that she’s also an Oscar winner. She won has won Best Actress in a leading role for her portrayal of Margaret Schlegel in Howards End. However, did you know that she also won an Oscar for Best Writing Adapted Screenplay based her work on Sense and Sensibility in 1996?
Thompson not only starred in the movie based on of the Jane Austen novel, where she portrayed the character of Elinor Dashwood, but she was also the sole writer of the screenplay. So, while you might have known that Emma Thompson won for best actress in a leading role, you might be surprised to learn about her Oscar for writing a screenplay.
Most people know Emma Thompson for her awesome acting, lovable personality, and strong-willed nature. She’s been in many fantastic films having portrayed Professor Sybil Trelawney in the Harry Potter series, Karen in Love Actually, Mrs. Potts in Beauty and the Beast, and P.L. Travers in Saving Mr. Banks.
8. Goldie Hawn
Known for her roles in The First Wives Club, Death Becomes Her, and Private Benjamin, Goldie Hawn is a regular in Hollywood. Hawn is married to Kurt Russel who was recently in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and The Hateful Eight. The two seem to have broken the curse when it comes to Hollywood relationships, as they have been together since 1983.
Beyond her personal life and the success of her family, Hawn has done very well for herself. In 1970, she took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her performance as Toni Simmons in Cactus Flower.
A lot of people don’t remember Hawn winning an Oscar because she wasn’t actually at the ceremony to receive the award. Actress Raquel Welch accepted the award on Hawn’s behalf because Hawn was filming a movie in London at the time. She claims she didn’t even remember the Oscars was happening and didn’t know she won until she received a call about it at 5:00 in the morning.
7. Fisher Stevens
Yes, the psychiatrist Phoebe dates on Friends has, in fact, won an Oscar. Fisher Stevens won an Oscar for Best Feature Documentary based on his work on The Cove in 2009.
The Cove is about a group of activists who attempt to expose the abuse of dolphins in a cove in Japan, where dolphins are often trapped by hunters. Fisher Stevens is actually known for producing documentaries more than acting, though he’s still acting to this day.
You might recognize Stevens from The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Blacklist, and Lost. He has also produced movies such as Before the Flood, Beware of Mr. Baker, and Balls Out: Gary the Tennis Coach. He’s still acting and producing to this day, and has even dabbled in directing as well.
6. Whoopi Goldberg
Whoopi Goldberg is somewhat legendary, so, of course, she has an Oscar. She’s been a co-host on The View, a nun in Sister Act, and has even hosted the award ceremony that gave her her shiny gold trophy of hers.
Goldberg is more of a personality these days than simply an actress, so the fact that she won an Oscar might come as a surprise, especially for the younger audiences. That being said, Goldberg won her Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Oda Mae Brown in the 1990 film Ghost.
Ghost was a movie that starred both Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore. It was about a man who was murdered and becomes a ghost in order to warn his wife of oncoming danger. Goldberg played Oda Mae Brown, the medium who could contact spirits.
Eminem can be classified as an actor due to his portrayal of Jimmy “B-Rabbit” Smith in the movie 8 Mile. The movie was a great success and Eminem’s music was heard throughout the entire production. 8 Mile is about a rapper in Michigan. Set in 1995, the movie follows B-Rabbit as he tries to make it big in rapping in order to get him and his daughter out of the trailer park they live in.
While Eminem didn’t win the Oscar for his acting performance, he did win Best Original Song for the song “Lose Yourself”, and shares the award with Jeff Bass and Luis Resto. No surprise here, though neither Eminem nor Jeff Bass showed up for the Oscars to receive their awards. Nevertheless, Eminem has an Oscar which he certainly deserved.
4. Peter Capaldi
Some fans will be surprised to discover that the Twelfth Doctor has an Oscar. Even though you might know him now as the lead in Doctor Who (who is about to move on), Peter Capaldi is a seasoned actor who is known for not only acting, but also directing and writing.
In 1995, Peter Capaldi won an Oscar for best live-action short film for his movie Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life, which he wrote and directed. However, his documentary actually tied with another film called Trevor.
A tie in the Oscar world is rare, but it does occasionally occur. It used to be that a tie would be announced if two winners were within three votes of each other, but the rules have since changed. There have only been six ties in Oscar history. So, not only has the Twelfth Doctor won an Oscar, but he’s part of a rare category of those who’ve tied.
3. Kevin Costner
Kevin Costner has been acting since the 1980s. He’s been in movies such as Bull Durham, Robin Hood: Prince of Theives, and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. While he’s a relatively known actor, not everyone is aware that he is an Oscar winner.
Costner won his Oscar not for acting, but for directing. In 1990, Costner not only starred in Dances with Wolves as Lieutenant Dunbar, but he also directed the movie. Therefore, while Costner didn’t win that year for best actor in a leading role, he did still leave the building with the famous Oscar statue.
Costner only has three directing credits, with Dances with Wolves being the very first film that he’s ever directed. He’s also known for producing, and has co-produced many of the movies he’s been in.
2. Matt Damon
If you don’t know who Matt Damon is, then you probably live under a rock. The actor is known for a lot, including his work in Saving Private Ryan, the Bourne franchise, Ocean’s 11 and all the others associated with it, True Grit, and The Martian.
Damon is another actor who likes to go behind the scenes. He has over twenty producing credits and has dabbled in both directing and writing. Speaking of writing, Damon actually won his Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Good Will Hunting. Damon starred as Will in the film, which also provided him with a nomination for Best Actor in a leading role.
Damon and Ben Affleck also wrote the movie together, though there have been rumors and jokes about how Damon was the one who mostly wrote the film. With that said, Damon has also won a few other Oscars for his acting talents.
1. Maggie Smith
While a lot of die-hard fans may know this, not everyone knows about Maggie Smith’s Oscar. Many people might recognize Smith as Professor McGonagall from the Harry Potter series. That being said, Smith has had an incredible career that started long before she became a teacher at Hogwarts.
Maggie Smith is known for other things besides Harry Potter, such as Downton Abbey, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and Richard III. She’s a world renowned actress who has impressed audiences for years.
Some people pick on Smith for never showing up to award shows, and, of course, she didn’t show up the first time she won an Oscar. That’s right: Maggie Smith has won more than one Oscar. Smith won the Best Actress in a leading role in 1970 for her part as Jean Brodie in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and didn’t show up to the ceremony because she was in a play in London.
Smith also won an Oscar in 1979 for Best Supporting Actress for the movie California Suite, but made sure to show up for that one.
Which actor surprised you the most? Do you know any other actors who most people don’t realize have Oscars? Let us know in the comments!
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