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Are All American Actors Posh? A Serious Pajiba Investigation

By Petr Knava | Lists | September 21, 2017 |

By Petr Knava | Lists | September 21, 2017 |

Working class actors in Britain are a dying breed. They do exist, but they are a marked minority.

James McAvoy, son of a psychiatric nurse and a builder, addressed the increasing preponderance of the posh and wealthy in the arts thus:

“That’s a frightening world to live in, because as soon as you get one tiny pocket of society creating all the arts, our culture starts to become representative not of everybody but of one tiny part, and that’s not fair to begin with, but it’s also damaging for society.”

Julie Walters, daughter of a postal clerk and a builder and decorator, has also expressed her thoughts on the matter in the past:

People like me wouldn’t have been able to go to college today. I could because I got a full grant. I don’t know how you get into it now. Kids write to me all the time and I think: I don’t know what to tell you.

Working-class kids aren’t represented. Working-class life is not referred to. It’s really sad. I think it means we’re going to get loads more middle-class drama. It will be middle-class people playing working-class people, like it used to be.

In Britain, the arts are once again becoming the preserve of those who can afford to dabble in them, and this is a quiet cultural tragedy. It is something that saddens and angers me on a regular basis. Just the other day, as I was stewing in righteous class indignation, I caught myself looking Westwards. ‘But what about across the pond?’ I thought. America, despite occasional self-mythologising claims to the contrary, has a pretty incredibly class-stratified society—but there are still differences to how things are in Britain, with its centuries of heavily hewn and deeply worn divides. Maybe there, in the Land Of Opportunity, things were different.

I decided to investigate.

All those famous American actors—are they American Posh?

This would of course be a rigorous and scientific investigation, so it would need units, a scale.

But how to measure the poshness?


With the Knava patented Walters-Cumberbatch Scale. One one end, Julie Walters—as already mentioned the daughter of a postal clerk and a builder and decorator. And on the other end, Benedict Timothy Carlton Cumberbatch—whose grandfather was a well-known and prominent member of London high society, and whose great-grandfather was Queen Victoria’s consul general in Turkey and Lebanon (!).


And for the test subjects? A random cross section of prominent figures and Pajiba favourites.

Boom, let’s go.

Test Subject 1: Chris Pine

Pine is from Los Angeles. His father is Robert Pine, a prominent actor himself, and his mother is a former actress who became a psychotherapist.

One of his grandmothers was also an actress, and one of his grandfathers was an attorney who became the president of the Hollywood Bar Association.


Test Subject 2: Chris Evans


Evans is from Boston. His mother is artistic director at a youth theatre and his father is a dentist.


Test Subject 3: John Cho


Cho was born in Seoul, South Korea. His family moved to the United States in 1978. He was raised in Los Angeles. His father, originally from North Korea, was a minister in the Church of Christ.


Test Subject 4: Donald Glover


Glover is awesome. Apart from that, he was born in California at an air force base, and was raised in Atlanta, Georgia. His mother was a daycare provider, and his father was a postal worker.


Test Subject 5: Robin Wright


Wright is from Dallas, Texas, and her mother was a cosmetic saleswoman, and her father worked for a pharmaceutical company.


Test Subject 6: Emma Stone


Emily Stone is from Scottsdale, Arizona. Her mother was a homemaker and her father was the founder and CEO of a general-contracting company.


Test Subject 7: Channing Tatum


Tatum was born in Cullman, Alabama. His mother was an airline worker, and his father was in construction. According to Wikipedia:

His family moved to the Pascagoula, Mississippi area when he was six. He grew up in the bayous near the Mississippi River, where he lived in a rural setting.


Test Subject 8: Chris pratt


Chris Pratt is from Virginia, Minnesota. His mother worked in a supermarket and his father was a miner who later remodelled houses.

As per Wiki:

Pratt dropped out of community college halfway through the first semester and, after working as a discount ticket salesman and daytime stripper, he ended up homeless in Maui, Hawaii, sleeping in a van and a tent on the beach.


Test Subject 9: Zooey Deschanel


Zooey Deschanel is the daughter of an actress and a cinematographer and director. She is from Los Angeles.

Wiki: She attended Crossroads, a private preparatory school in Santa Monica, where she befriended future co-stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Kate Hudson.


Test Subject 10: Paul Rudd


Paul Rudd is from New Jersey. His father was a historical tour guide, and once before that the former vice-president of Trans World Airlines. His mother was a sales manager at a television station.


Test Subject 11: Mahershala Ali


Mahershala Ali is from Oakland, California. His mother was an ordained minister and his father appeared on Broadway.


Test Subject 12: Timothy Olyphant


Timothy Olyphant is from Honolulu, Hawaii. His father was vice president of production at Gallo Winery.

Olyphant is also a motherfucking Vanderbilt. As per Wiki:

His paternal fourth great-grandfather was family patriarch Cornelius Vanderbilt and his third great-grandfather was William Henry Vanderbilt, who doubled the family’s railroad fortune. Olyphant’s great-great-grandmother was socialite Emily Thorn Vanderbilt, his great-grandmother was socialite Emily Vanderbilt Sloane and his granduncle was music producer John Hammond. His paternal fourth great-grandfather, Dr. David Olyphant, was born in Scotland and served as director-general of the Southern hospitals during the American Revolutionary War. His third great-grandfather, David Olyphant, and great-great-grandfather, Robert Morrison Olyphant, were both prominent businessmen.


Test Subject 13: Michael B Jordan


Jordan is from Santa Ana, California. His mother was an artist and his father a high school guidance counselor.


Test Subject 14: Anna Kendrick


Kendrick is from Portland, Maine. Her mother was an accountant and her father a history teacher who also worked ‘in finance.’


Test Subject 15: Jennifer Lawrence


Jennifer Lawrence is from Kentucky, and her father was a construction worker and her mother a summer camp manager.


Test Subject 16: Viola Davis


Viola Davis is from St. Matthews, South Carolina. Her father worked as a horse trainer while her mother was a maid, factory worker and homemaker.

Wiki says:

Her mother was also an activist during the Civil Rights Movement. At the age of two, Davis was taken to jail with her mother after she was arrested during a civil rights protest.

Two months after she was born, her family moved to Central Falls, Rhode Island, with Davis and two of her sisters, leaving her older sister and brother with her grandparents. She has described herself as having “lived in abject poverty and dysfunction” during her childhood, recalling living in “rat-infested and condemned” apartments.


Test Subject 17: Rosario Dawson


Dawson is a luminescent human being from New York City. Her mother was a writer and singer of Puerto Rican and Cuban descent. She had Rosario when she was sixteen. Her step-father was a construction worker.

As per Wiki:

At the age of 21, Isabel moved the family into an abandoned building, a squat on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where she and her husband renovated an apartment and installed the plumbing and electrical wiring for the building, creating affordable housing where Rosario and Clay [her brother] would grow up. Dawson has cited this part of her history when explaining how she learned that, “If you wanted something better, you had to do it all yourself.


Bonus: Andersoon Cooper



Cooper is from New York City.

This is exhausting so I’m just gonna let Wiki tell the story:

Cooper was born in New York City, the younger son of the writer Wyatt Emory Cooper and the artist, fashion designer, writer, and heiress Gloria Vanderbilt. His maternal grandparents were millionaire equestrian Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt and socialite Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt, and his maternal great-great-great-grandfather was business magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt, who founded the prominent Vanderbilt shipping and railroad fortune. He is also a descendant, through his mother, of Civil War brevet Major General Hugh Judson Kilpatrick, who was with General William T. Sherman on his march through Georgia. Through his “Vanderbilt” line, he is a second cousin, once removed, of screenwriter James Vanderbilt.

Cooper’s media experience began early. As a baby, he was photographed by Diane Arbus for Harper’s Bazaar. At the age of three, Cooper was a guest on The Tonight Show on September 17, 1970, appearing with his mother. At the age of nine, he appeared on To Tell the Truth as an impostor. From age 10 to 13, Cooper modeled with Ford Models for Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Macy’s.


I mean…



Petr Knava lives in London and plays music

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Petr is a staff contributor. You can follow him on Twitter.