15 True Hollywood Renaissance Men (They’re Much More Than Their Screen Credits)

The term “Renaissance Man” is tough to define. Most people would define it as a person with a wide variety of interests and knowledge. Others may mix the term with the old adage“Jack of all trades, master of none.” In Hollywood it tends to be used for any actor, musician, or producer who produces, makes music, or acts on the side. We would like to narrow it down a bit more, aligning the modern Hollywood Renaissance Man with those whose interests branch out into art, sciences, politics, academia or even all four subjects. Here is a list of 15 True Hollywood Renaissance Men and, before you go, keep on the lookout for our follow-up list of Renaissance Women, to come.

Brian May

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This Queen guitarist was working on a PhD in astrophysics when the band went legit. He would finally finish that degree in 2007 and was installed as Chancellor of Liverpool John Moores University in 2008. He is also a lifelong animal activist and is an award winning expert in early stereoscopic photography.

Viggo Mortensen

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Academy Award nominated actor Viggo Mortensen is far from just a master thespian. He’s also a painter, writer, poet, photographer, musician, and singer. He’s had sixteen books of paintings, poetry (written in Danish, English and Spanish), and photography published and has also racked up sixteen albums in his discography. He currently holds an honorary doctorate from St. Lawrence University.

James Franco

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Franco, another Academy Award nominated actor, is a filmmaker, writer, musician, and teacher. As a writer, he’s had Scribner publish the collection Palo Alto: Stories By Franco, many of which saw print in McSweeny’s and Esquire. His band, Daddy, has released one EP. As a filmmaker, Franco's directed several short films, viral videos, and multi media projects. He currently holds an MFA from Columbia and PhD from Yale.

Wes Craven

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Though he’s best known to worldwide audiences as the director of such splatter classics as A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) and Scream, Wes Craven is also a screenwriter, producer, actor, novelist, and birder. Before becoming a filmmaker, Craven earned his Master’s in Philosophy and Writing from Johns Hopkins University. He's taught English at Westminster’s College and humanities at Clarkson College. While he would abandon academia for filmmaking in the 1970s, his educational background continues to inform his work, which includes his films and two novels. He is also an avid birder and is a member of the California Audubon Society’s board of directors.

Clive Barker

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Clive Barker is best known as the novelist behind such works as Abarat and Everville, but he’s also a prominent filmmaker, painter and video game developer. Barker has written countless novels, comic books, plays, screenplays, and collections of short fiction. He received immediate acclaim as the filmmaker behind the classic 1987 horror film Hellraiser, though he’s only followed it up with two other features to date. Clive Barker’s Undying and Jericho, though greeted with mixed reviews, were generally well-received by the video game community. As a painter, his art has been featured in galleries around the world and has been published in two collections. His next work, The Scarlet Gospels, will bridge the gap between his literary cannon and his Hellraiser cinematic universe.

Ethan Hawke

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Though his credits are not as vast as many on this list, Ethan Hawke has distinguished himself as a legitimate writer and director. He has written two novels, Ash Wednesday and The Hottest State, which were critically acclaimed. Hawke adapted the latter to the big screen personally, marking his second feature as a director. He’s also directed several Broadways plays, music videos, and is developing a documentary on famed pianist Seymour Bernstein.

Bill Cosby

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Comedy legend Bill Cosby is also an actor, writer, producer, musician, teacher, and activist. His television achievements acting, writing, and producing Fat Albert, I-Spy, The Cosby Show, and Cosby are well known. He’s also responsible for 21 classic comedy discs, 14 albums of music and twelve non-fiction books. Cosby continues supporting such humanitarian causes as The Jazz Foundation of America and holds a doctorate in education.

Frank Oz

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Frank Oz is an actor, director, writer, and puppeteer. Though he may be best known as the director of such films as Little Shop of Horrors, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Death at a Funeral (2007), Oz gained fame first as a puppeteer and chief collaborator with Muppet creator Jim Henson. The man brought to life such characters as Miss Piggy, Fozzy Bear, Grover, and Bert for The Muppets and Sesame Street from 1963 until 2011. His most iconic puppet role, however, is best remembered to fans as a non-Muppet, Yoda from George Lucas’ Star Wars saga.

Clint Eastwood

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Though most celebrated for his over fifty-year run as one of America’s favorite actor/producer/directors, Clint Eastwood’s resume offers much more diversity than that. On top of his obvious achievements, Eastwood is a politician, musician, and composer. His political achievements include a two-year term as mayor of Carmel, California and two terms on the California State Park and Recreation Commission from 2001 to 2008. He’s also a life long jazz and blues enthusiast and musician - knowledge he has put to good use composing music for six of his own films.

Steve Martin

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Besides being one of the biggest comedy stars in the world, Steve Martin is a writer, musician, playwright, and producer. After having become one of the biggest stand-ups in the world in the 1970s, Martin would retire from his career as a comedian in the early 80s. Since then he’s juggled movie stardom with writing and music. Martin has published several books, including plays, screenplays, essays, short stories, novels, and non-fiction. He’s also a Grammy Award winning bluegrass musician, having won for his album Crow: New Songs for the Five String Banjo in 2009.

Seth MacFarlane

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Seth MacFarlane’s achievements are probably the most popular of any on this list. He's an actor, voice actor, writer, director, animator, comedian and musician. In the past two years alone he’s juggled voicing, producing, and writing three animated shows (Family Guy, The Cleveland Show and American Dad), did the same (and directed) for a hit feature film (Ted), and released a Grammy-nominated album of Sinatra-style singing, Music Is Better Than Words. He is also co-producing an updated version of the Carl Sagan series Cosmos: A Personal Journey and is a regular participant in Comedy Central’s Roasts.

Sam Shepard

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Shepard is a novelist, playwright, screenwriter, actor, and director. He’s best known for playing supporting roles in such films as Black Hawk Down, Safe House, and The Right Stuff, for which he was nominated an Oscar. As a screenwriter he is responsible for scripting the classic film Paris, Texas. He’s published seven books since the 1970s and won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama with his play Buried Child.

Andre Benjamin

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As one-half of OutKast, Benjamin is best known as a rapper, singer-song writer, and record producer. On top of his musical achievements, Benjamin has acted in such films as Semi-Pro, Fracture, and Four Brothers. He’s also received a mild modicum of success as a painter and was a member of Quentin Tarantino’s production company, A Band Apart, until its closing in 2006.

Michael Madsen

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Another name closely aligned with Quentin Tarantino, the eccentric Kill Bill actor is also a writer, poet, and photographer himself. He has had seven books of poetry published in the last ten years with an eighth, Expecting Rain, hitting shelves in December. His first book of photography was published in 2006—Madsen dedicated it to his late friend and Reservoir Dogs co-star Chris Penn.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt

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Joseph Gordon-Levitt has racked up no less than four starring roles this year in such high-profile films as Looper, The Dark Knight Rises, Lincoln and Premium Rush. Though best known as an actor, Levitt is also a filmmaker and new media guru. His first feature, Don Juan’s Addiction, will be released next year. He also continues to own and maintain the cross-media, community based, for-profit production company HitRecord.

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