Anthony Hopkins took aim at drama schools this week, branding courses run by ‘egotistical failed performers’ a ‘waste of money’.
The Oscar-winning Welsh actor, 83, who won his second gong this year for his role in The Father, told GQ magazine that some teachers at performance academies are more interested in themselves than their pupils.
When asked about acting schools, he said: ‘Don’t waste your money… They’re failed actors that set themselves up as gurus.’
Hopkins attended the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in 1957 before training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London, and was then spotted by Laurence Olivier who invited him to join the Royal National Theatre in 1965.
But while the likes of Hopkins, James Norton, Benedict Cumberbatch and Olivia Colman honed their craft at prestigious schools such as RADA, the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) and Bristol Old Vic respectively, some of which carry fees of up to £10,000 a year, formal training isn’t always a prerequisite of success in the industry.
Many household names from the UK and further afield have enjoyed illustrious careers despite never taking a single acting lesson. Here FEMAIL reveals the stars that went it alone.
Though Keira, 36, never attended drama school, she did have a headstart – she was born to actor parents (Will Knightley and Sharman Macdonald) and had an agent by the age of six (pictured in March 2020)
From independent flicks to big-budget blockbusters, Keira Knightley’s career has gone from strength to strength – so much so that in 2018 she was appointed an OBE for services to drama and charity.
Her accolades include two Empire Awards and nominations for two Academy Awards, three British Academy Film Awards, three Golden Globe Awards, one Screen Actors Guild Award and one Laurence Olivier Award.
Though Keira, 36, never attended drama school, she did have a headstart – she was born to actor parents (Will Knightley and Sharman Macdonald) and had an agent by the age of six.
With a few commercials and TV films under her belt, in 1999 she played Sabé, Padmé Amidala’s handmaiden, in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace before landing her breakthrough role in Bend It Like Beckham, catapulting her to stardom.
She became a household name after playing Elizabeth Swann in Pirates of the Caribbean in 2003, and that same year appeared in Love Actually. Her portrayal of Elizabeth Bennett in the 2005 film Pride and Prejudice secured her an Academy Award nomination at the age of 20 – making her the third-youngest Best Actress nominee at the time. She went on to star in a number of period dramas and historical films before foraying into more contemporary films.
After several TV roles, Jennifer Lawrence’s breakthrough role came in 2010 in the independent drama Winter’s Bone (pictured in March 2014)
American sweetheart Jennifer Lawrence was the world’s highest-paid actress in 2015 and 2016, with her films grossing over $6billion worldwide to date – but had she listened to her mother, she might have never made it.
Having performed in school and church plays in Louisville as a child, Jennifer was spotted on the street by a model scout while on a family holiday in New York aged 14, who arranged for her to audition for agents.
It was at this point that she decided she wanted to be an actress, not a model, and said she’d only sign with an agency if they’d let her audition for commercials and act as well.
While her mother Karen wasn’t keen on her pursuing an acting career and encouraged her down the modelling route, Jennifer previously told Vanity Fair that when an agent gave her a script to read, it was ‘the first she’d ever understood anything’.
She told the Globe and Mail: ‘They said it was the best cold read they’d ever heard from a 14-year-old. My mom told me they were lying. My parents were the exact opposite of stage parents. They did everything in their power to keep it from happening. But it was going to happen no matter what. I was like, “Thanks for raising me, but I’m going to take it from here”.’
After several TV roles, her breakthrough role came in 2010 in the independent drama Winter’s Bone. She played 17-year-old Ree Dolly, a poverty-stricken teenage girl in the Ozark Mountains who cares for her mentally ill mother and younger siblings while searching for her missing father.
The film won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival while Jennifer was awarded the National Board of Review Award for Breakthrough Performance, and received her first nominations for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama and Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role as well as for the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, becoming the second-youngest Best Actress nominee at the time.
She went on to win roles in X-Men: First Class, The Hunger Games and Silver Linings Playbook.
At 18 Tom Cruise (pictured in 2019) moved to New York to pursue his acting career, where he worked for a time as a busboy. He then moved to Los Angeles to try out for TV roles and signed with the talent agency CAA
Tom Cruise had a difficult upbringing, and once described his late father as a ‘bully’ and a ‘coward’ who beat his children. He moved around due to his father’s job in the Canadian Armed Forces, and spent part of his childhood in Canada and Ottawa.
He became involved in drama in grade four, but had aspirations of becoming a Franciscan priest before he was expelled from his Catholic Church scholarship for drinking and becoming interested in acting.
At 18 he moved to New York to pursue his acting career, where he worked for a time as a busboy. He then moved to Los Angeles to try out for TV roles and signed with the talent agency CAA.
Following a bit part in the 1981 film Endless Love, he won a supporting actor role in the film Taps – but his ‘career-making’ part was in Risky Business.
In 1985 he played the male lead in the Ridley Scott film Legend, and by the time Top Gun came around the following year he’d already achieved superstar status.
Sir Ian McKellan
Sir Ian immersed himself in the acting scene while studying English literature at Cambridge University
His career spans six decades with seven Laurence Olivier Awards, a Tony Award, a Golden Globe Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award all under his belt – but Sir Ian McKellan never formally trained as an actor.
Having taken an interest in theatre from early childhood, after his parents took him to see a production of Peter Pan in Manchester when he was three, Sir Ian immersed himself in the acting scene while studying English literature at Cambridge University.
He was a member of the Marlowe Society and appeared in 23 plays during his three years of studying. Sir Ian starred alongside the likes of Trevor Nunn and Derek Jacobi, and was directed by Peter Hall, John Barton and Dadie Rylands, all of whom would have a significant impact on his future career.
An audio recording of the Marlowe Society’s Cymbeline, in which he played Posthumus opposite Margaret Drabble as Imogen, went on sale as part of the Argo Shakespeare series.
Sir Ian made his first professional appearance in 1961 at the Belgrade Theatre, as Roper in A Man for All Seasons. He spent four years in regional repertory theatres before making his first West End appearance in A Scent of Flowers, and was a member of Laurence Olivier’s National Theatre Company at the Old Vic.
He became a well-known figure in British theatre, particularly in Shakespearean roles, and also won acclaim on Broadway.
While he already had a string of film credits to his name, more recently he was cast in the big budget X-Men films and as Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
James Corden attended after-school drama classes and attended lots of auditions without much luck until he was 17
At the age of four, James Corden got the bug for entertaining after standing on a chair at his younger sister’s christening, pulling faces while people laughed.
He wrote in his autobiography – May I Have Your Attention, Please? – that it ‘felt amazing’ to have people looking at him, and from that day forward every day became a quest to be noticed.
James attended after-school drama classes and attended lots of auditions without much luck until he was 17. He began a B-Tech in performing arts but ditched it and landed a one-line role in the musical Martin Guerre aged 18 in 1996.
He turned down another small role in Les Miserables to focus on building up his screen career and landed roles in Shane Meadows’s Twenty Four Seven, Hollyoaks, Mike Leigh’s All or Nothing and ITV’s Fat Friends – where he met Ruth James, his Gavin and Stacey co-writer and star.
His big break came when he won the role of Timms in Alan Bennett’s The History Boys, while proved a big hit at the National theatre, then went on to Broadway before being made into a film.
Matt Smith had aspirations of becoming a footballer while growing up, but a serious back injury pushed him into acting instead
Long before he won the role of Dr Who, Matt Smith had dreamed of becoming a professional footballer, playing for the youth teams of Northampton Town, Nottingham Forest and Leicester City.
Following a serious back injury which resulted in spondylolysis, he took up acting – but only by virtue of his drama teacher who signed him up for theatre productions without his consent.
He twice refused and wouldn’t attend a drama festival his teacher signed him up for because he saw himself as a sportsman and was worried acting might damage his social life, but he eventually caved and joined the National Youth Theatre in London.
His second theatre role there – Bassoon in The Master and Margarita – won him an agent and his first professional jobs, Fresh Kills and On the Shore of the Wide World.
He was studying drama and creative writing at the University of East Anglia at the time, and struck up a deal that enabled him to graduate without attending lectures in his final year.
His first major TV role was in the BBC’s Party Animals in 2007, and he got down to the final two for the role of Will McKenzie in the comedy series The Inbetweeners in 2009, eventually losing out to Simon Bird for being ‘too dashing’.
In January 2009 he was revealed as the eleventh Dr Who, replacing David Tennant.
Charlize was sent to boarding school at 13 and began studying at the National School of the Arts in Johannesburg, with aspirations of becoming a professional ballerina – but an injury saw her turn to acting
It was a chance encounter at a bank which saw South Africa-born Charlize go from a struggling dancer to one of the world’s highest-paid actresses.
Having grown up with an alcoholic father who was shot and killed by her mother after he attacked them while drunk, Charlize struggled to fit in at school and was frequently unwell with jaundice.
She was sent to boarding school at 13 and began studying at the National School of the Arts in Johannesburg, with aspirations of becoming a professional ballerina.
At 16 she won a modelling contract at a local competition in Salerno and moved to Milan with her mother, working across Europe. The pair then moved to the US, but a knee injury put paid to her ballet career, causing her to spiral into depression.
After flying to Los Angeles on a one-way ticket bought for her by her mother with just $300 to her name, she met talent agent John Crosby after getting into an argument with a cashier at a bank on Hollywood Boulevard.
The cheques she was trying to cash were rejected because it was out-of-state and she wasn’t an American citizen, so Crosby cashed it for her and gave her his business card.
In her early roles, Charlize won attention for her striking looks, but she refused to be typecast – a mentality which led to her star turn as serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster, for which she became the first African to win an acting Oscar.
Jim Carrey dropped out of school on his sixteenth birthday and began doing comedy gigs in downtown Toronto in between his shifts at a factory
Canadian actor Jim Carrey started out as an impressionist, having discovered his talent at the age of eight while making faces into a mirror.
His family struggled financially, with Carey spending some of his teenage years living in a van when they became homeless. His father eventually found work at a tyre factory, where Jim later worked as a caretaker.
He dropped out of school on his sixteenth birthday and began doing comedy gigs in downtown Toronto in between his shifts at the factory, progressing from open mic nights and stand-up contortionist impressions to regular paid shows.
His first acting gig came in the form of struggling impressionist comic Tony Maroni in Introducing… Janet, a made-for-TV film that premiered in September 1981 on CBC. It was a hit with viewers and cemented his status as a well-known comic in Canada.
He moved to Hollywood in 1983 and began doing regular gigs at The Comedy Store and doggedly auditioned for Saturday Night Live, but was rejected three times.
Between 1990 and 1994 he was a regular on the comedy TV series In Living Color, which helped him land his first few major film roles – Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask and Dumb and Dumber.
Meg Ryan was the daughter of a former actress-turned-English teacher, so to earn extra cash while at university she acted in TV commercials and as an extra in feature films
Unlike many budding actors, Meg Ryan didn’t move to New York to study performance – she was in fact a budding journalist.
She was the daughter of a former actress-turned-English teacher, so to earn extra cash she acted in TV commercials and as an extra in feature films, and ended up with a part in the CBS soap opera As the World Turns.
Her unexpected success as an actress led her to leave university a term early. When she joined the Screen Actors Guild, she used the surname ‘Ryan’ – her grandmother’s maiden name.
Several TV films and smaller film roles followed, including appearances in Charles in Charge, Armed and Dangerous, Amityville 3-D and Promised Land.
In 1986, she played Carole Bradshaw in Top Gun, and the following year she appeared in the film Innerspace with her future husband Dennis Quaid. Her first leading role in When Harry Met Sally… came not long after in 1989.
Joaquin Phoenix made his acting debut aged eight alongside his brother in the TV series Seven Brides for Seven Brothers in the 1982 episode Christmas Song
Joaquin Phoenix can largely thank his mother for getting him into acting. When his father had to stop working due to a back injury, his family moved to Los Angeles where his mother met the high profile child talent agent Iris Burton.
She got him and his siblings into TV commercials and bit parts on TV shows; Joaquin made his acting debut aged eight alongside his brother in the TV series Seven Brides for Seven Brothers in the 1982 episode Christmas Song.
He told how he felt ‘instantaneous joy’ and knew from his first scene that he loved it – admitting it’s ‘the feeling I’ve been chasing ever since’.
In 1984 he once more starred opposite his brother in the ABC Afterschool Special entitled Backwards: The Riddle of Dyslexia, for which they shared a nomination for Best Young Actor in a Family Film Made for Television at the 6th Youth in Film Awards.
He also made guest appearances in Murder, She Wrote, The Fall Guy, Hill Street Blues and Kids Don’t Tell.
To supplement their income, the Phoenix children busked for money in matching yellow shirts and shorts singing original songs they’d penned. They also studied dance, with Phoenix becoming an avid break dancer.
He made his feature film debut in the adventure film SpaceCamp in 1986 and guest starred in the anthology series Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode ‘A Very Happy Ending’ in the same year.
His first starring role was in the direct-to-video film Russkies in 1987 about a group of friends who unknowingly befriend a Russian soldier during the Cold War – though his subsequent role in Ron Howard’s comedy-drama Parenthood was more of a box office success.