Natalie Portman is a household name. A powerhouse in her own right, she’s been the leading lady of critically acclaimed films such as “Jackie”, “V for Vendetta” and “Black Swan” as well as taken the box office by storm with her roles in the “Star Wars” prequels and “Thor”. This summer, she’s making her triumphant return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe as The Mighty Thor in “Thor: Love and Thunder”, bringing to life a powerful storyline comic readers are eager to see on screen.
Despite her stardom, however, Portman has always been relatively low-profile in her efforts. Notably, she’s known for always putting her education first — famously skipping a premiere for “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace” because she was studying for her high school exams. It was a natural choice for her to continue her education at university.
Portman is not the only MCU actor who pursued a university education, though. Many of the Marvel cast are not only big Hollywood stars, but intelligent scholars in their own right.
Here’s a look into where four MCU actors went to university and what they studied.
Natalie Portman: Harvard University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Higher education was always in Natalie Portman’s line of sight. After graduating high school, she applied and got into Harvard University, studying for a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
From the get-go, it was clear that Portman was not just another actress who gained admittance into an Ivy League college due to her reputation. In fact, she applied through her real last name, “Hershlag”, to ensure this as well as to protect her privacy.
Her former professor, Alan Dershowitz, says he still cites a paper she wrote which debunked a new method of lie-detector tests. She received an A+ for it, the highest grade in the class. “She was really on the cutting edge,” Dershowitz said of Portman, adding that she later became his research assistant. “I think there were a lot of people in the class who really were taken with this new methodology. She just ripped it apart.”
Portman continued to pursue her acting at the same time, making sure to balance her studies while doing so. “Natalie never once asked for an extension or to be excused from her responsibilities,” said Abigail A. Baird, one of Portman’s former mentors at Harvard. This often meant that she would submit papers early if she had any scheduled appearances, for example.
After graduating from Harvard and accumulating a few more successful performances, Natalie Portman went to Hebrew University in Jerusalem for six months, studying spoken Arabic, spoken Hebrew, the history of Israel, the history of Islam, and the anthropology of violence.
Tom Hiddleston: The University of Cambridge
Aside from being a talented, award-winning actor, Tom Hiddleston is a lover of language. It’s precisely why, after graduating from the prestigious Eton College, he was accepted into the University of Cambridge — specifically Pembroke College — to study classics. There, he gained a Double First in Classics.
Like Portman, Hiddleston made sure to pursue his acting at the same time, too. He threw himself into the acting community at Cambridge, participating in stage plays whilst also joining the rugby team. He was eventually noticed by a casting director during a performance in “A Streetcar Named Desire”.
Following that, Hiddleston went on to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, which produced tremendous talents such as Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman, and Kenneth Branagh.
“I enjoyed my academic studies hugely,” he wrote in a reflection of his education for TeachWire. “I sort of realise how that background is so helpful and such an advantage; an education is an extraordinary gift, and it’s funny how much I lean on it now.”
Chadwick Boseman: Howard University
The late Chadwick Boseman was — and continues to be — beloved the world over for his performance as King T’Challa in 2018’s “Black Panther”. He broke onto the scene with a lead role in baseball film “42” and continued to astound audiences in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”, “Get On Up” and “Da 5 Bloods”.
Before that, though, Boseman pursued an education at Howard University, where he received a bachelor of fine arts in directing. Whilst there, he led a student protest against the absorption of the College of Fine Arts into the College of Arts & Sciences, and continued to be an active alumni member long after graduating.
Upon the actor’s death, Howard University renamed the College of Fine Arts in honour of Boseman’s memory.
“Chad fought to preserve the College of Fine Arts during his matriculation at Howard and remained dedicated to the fight throughout his career,” said Howard President Wayne A. I. Frederick. “His time at Howard University helped shape both the man and the artist that he became, committed to truth, integrity, and a determination to transform the world through the power of storytelling.”
In 2021, Netflix also established a 5.4 million US dollar scholarship to Howard University in Boseman’s honour.
Gemma Chan: The University of Oxford
Unlike most other stars in Hollywood, Gemma Chan didn’t naturally drift to acting from the beginning. In fact, she started out by studying law at the University of Oxford. There, she chose to go to Worcester College because it had an even male/female split and upon graduating, and got a job at a prestigious law firm.
Despite her relatively successful legal career, Chan was always drawn towards acting. To realise her dreams, she took night classes at the London Central School of Speech and Drama — and eventually made the decision to quit her job to pursue acting full-time.
“In all honesty, it was really painful,” Chan told British Vogue. “My dad was always very much like, ‘Work for something that they can’t take away from you.’ That was the mentality. Hence: get your qualifications. Hence: it was such a scary or completely inconceivable thing to pursue an unknown career in the arts.”
While Chan never did realise her career as a lawyer, she says she has certainly found her education useful as an actor.
“It is quite helpful with memorisation,” she was quoted saying. “I had to learn about 2,000 cases by heart, so I am fairly good at learning scripts quickly. On the whole, it is quite a different part of the brain: Law is very analytical, and acting is more instinctive and emotionally driven. But, it does come in handy with learning lines ― and reading my own contract.”