Celebrities Born in Surprising Parts of the World

Those of us who follow the entertainment industry can get used to seeing familiar actors and singers in their current surroundings, which helps to obscure the fact that many of them were actually born somewhere quite different than where we might assume.

In many cases they can switch an accent on or off at will like a chameleon, and in other cases they were born in an unusual place by circumstances that brought them far away from their traditional homes.

If you are the type who loves to collect trivia nuggets then you may know quite a few of these below, but chances are there will be at least a handful that you would never have suspected.

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Natalie Portman

Jerusalem, Israel

Natalie Hershlag, who uses her grandmother’s maiden name of Portman as her stage last name, was born to an American mother and Israeli father in Jerusalem, Israel, in 1981. Her mother Shelley moved to Israel several years earlier to be with her father, Avner, whom she met at Ohio State University.

When Natalie was 3, the small family moved to Washington DC, and then later to Connecticut and Long Island, New York. She still goes back to Israel often, and she claims to feel most at home there.

Keanu Reeves

Beirut, Lebanon

In one of the more mysterious stories on this list, Keanu Charles Reeves (his real name, by the way), was born to a British mother and a Chinese-Hawaiian father while the pair were together in Lebanon. Reeves’ mother became a performer and costume designer as she moved the family to Australia and then New York City, while divorcing Reeves’ father in the process.

The family (including a new baby sister born in Australia) finally settled in Toronto in the late sixties, which is where Keanu lived until he moved to Los Angeles in 1986.

Mel Gibson

Peekskill, New York

Depending on your age, this may not even be too surprising, but during the early part of his career, Mel Gibson was known to all as an “Australian actor.” He first gained international fame by starring in the Mad Max series of films, which were made in Australia and released between 1979 and 1985. He’s always been able to turn his Australian accent on and off at will, due to the fact that he was born in Peekskill, New York in 1956, and lived there for the first 12 years of his life, before moving to Sydney with his parents and 10 brothers and sisters.

He’s now known more for his escapades in and around his home in Malibu, California, but the trivia doesn’t end there. His mother, Anne Reilly Gibson, was born in Ireland, and Mel himself has both an American and an Irish passport.

Emma Watson

Paris, France

Known to the whole world as the very British Hermione Granger and friend of Harry Potter, Watson herself was born in the City of Lights in 1990. Her parents are both British-born lawyers (though her mother has some French blood) who lived for an extended period in Paris, and who divorced and moved back to Oxford when Emma was five.

She performed in school plays and on the debating team, but a chance audition at the age of nine led to her first-ever professional job, on the first Harry Potter film.

Joe Strummer

Ankara, Turkey

With a father who was born in India and who worked as a foreign-service diplomat for the UK, it’s not terribly surprising that John Graham Mellor, as he was known until he changed his name, was born outside of England. His mother was Scottish, and the family lived in Egypt, Mexico, and Germany during the punk legend’s youth.

Strummer finally heard London calling when he was 9 years old, as he and his brother were sent to a boarding school just outside the capital. He stayed in the UK after that, and died of a heart problem in late 2002.

Nicole Kidman

Honolulu, Hawaii

Known as arguably the most famous female film star in the history of Australia, it’s an odd bit of trivia that the actress was actually born in Hawaii in 1967. Her parents are both full-blooded Australians, who just happened to be living in Honolulu at the time due to an extended assignment by her father at the National Institute of Mental Health.

The family moved back to Sydney when Kidman was four years old, where she spent the rest of her youth. She still has dual American and Australian citizenship.

Mischa Barton

London, England

Being closely associated with a fictionalized version of Orange County, California, you might not guess that Barton actually spent the first five years of her life in her native England. She was born in London in 1986 to an Irish mother and a British father, who moved with Mischa and her two sisters to New York City in 1991, where the family stayed.

More interesting Mischa Barton trivia includes that she had small but memorable roles in Notting Hill and The Sixth Sense, several years before she became famous as the annoying Marissa Cooper on the hit Fox show.

Charlize Theron

Benoni, South Africa

This one actually shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who was paying attention. Born in 1975, Theron spent the first 16 years of her life in the area in and around Johannesburg, and her first language was actually Afrikaans, which comes from Dutch rather than English. She went to Milan, Italy on a modeling contract when she was 16, and then she settled in New York City after that, on her way to her current home in Los Angeles. Theron’s flawless American accent has helped many forget her interesting roots, and her being named the “Sexiest woman alive” and winning a Best Actress Oscar in 2004 have made it so no one really cares how she got here.

Tommy Lee

Athens, Greece

Yet another celebrity who moved away from their birth country at a very early age, Tommy Lee Bass was born in Athens in 1962, and his family relocated to California the following year (though some sources say it was when he was 4).

His mother, Vassilikki ‘Boula’ Papadimitriou, was Miss Greece of 1957 (who was unplaced in the Miss Universe pageant the following year), and his father was an American serviceman of Welsh decent. Lee dropped his last name, and has lived in and around Los Angeles ever since.

Amy Adams

Vicenza, Italy

A rising star with an American-sounding name and no accent, Adams is typical of a “military brat”. Her father Richard was stationed in Vicenza, near Venice, when Amy was born in 1974. The family that would grow to include 7 children moved from base to base for several years. The family finally settled in Castle Rock, Colorado in the early 1980s, and Amy began getting involved in ballet and the choir, on the long road that finally led to her breakout role in starring Junebug, which was released in 2005, shortly before her 31st birthday.

Joaquin Phoenix

San Juan, Puerto Rico

The entire Phoenix acting family is full of quirks, so perhaps it shouldn’t be too surprising that Joaquin was born in a place most wouldn’t expect. His parents are both Americans, and his four siblings (River, Rain, Liberty, and Summer) were all born in the continental United States, but the family did spend several years in the Children of God religious cult traveling around Latin America. This partly explains Joaquin’s 1974 birth in Puerto Rico. The family finally gave up on the sect, and moved to the Los Angeles area in 1978. Joaquin’s erratic behavior is well documented, including his 2008 “retirement” from film to focus on his musical career.

Kiefer Sutherland

London, England

Considering how many times Jack Bauer has patriotically saved the United States from total destruction, it’s a bit odd to consider that Kiefer was actually born in England to Canadian parents. It turns out that he and his twin sister Rachel were only born in London because his famous Canadian-born father, Donald Sutherland, happened to be working there in 1966. The family moved to the Los Angeles area not long after the twins were born, and Keifer moved to Toronto with his mother after she divorced his father in the early 1970s. He stayed in Canada until he shot the 1986 film Stand By Me. His sister Rachel still lives in Canada as a TV producer.

Mila Kunis

Kiev, Ukraine

Best known as Jackie Burkhart on “That 70s Show,” Kunis is now being taken more seriously after her acclaimed performance in Forgetting Sarah Marshall in 2008. None of that would help you guess that she lived the first 7 years of her life in Ukraine, and is said to have learned English partly from watching American game shows such as “The Price is Right.” Her parents are Jewish, and most of their families had long left Ukraine for Israel, Germany, or the United States by the time they decided to leave in 1990. Mila has lived in and around Los Angeles ever since, and has yet to make it back to Ukraine.

Gene Simmons

Haifa, Israel

The man we all know as Gene Simmons has somehow managed to hold on to his fame long after most people stopped caring about KISS. His real story is not typical for a rock star, as he was born in the coastal town of Haifa in Israel in 1949, and lived there for the first 8 years of his life. He was born with the name Chaim Witz, and sometime after arriving in New York City with his brother and mother in the late 1950s, he changed it to Eugene Klein, and then later to Gene Simmons in his late teens. Most of his mother’s family were killed in concentration camps during WWII.

Kim Cattrall

Widnes, England

Kim Cattrall seems to live to break stereotypes, including the common belief that all British women are proper and demure. The woman now best known as Samantha Jones from “Sex and the City” was born in the Liverpool suburb of Widnes in 1956. Her family moved less than a year later to Courtenay, British Columbia, which is on Vancouver Island (and where Pamela Anderson was born). At the age of 11 Cattrall went back to England to care for a sick grandmother, and she didn’t return to Canada until she was 16. She left Canada for New York City right after high school in 1972, and appeared in her first film only 3 years later.

Dominic Monaghan

Berlin, Germany

Whether you know him as Merry from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, or as Charlie Pace from his years on “Lost,” he definitely comes across as a pure Brit, even though he lived his first 11 years in Germany. His parents are actually both British, and were living in Berlin to support the military installments based there. Dominic learned English first and foremost, though he also speaks German. The family moved to the Manchester area in the late 1980s, where they settled, as the young man began pursuing his interest in theater and entertainment.

Portia de Rossi

Geelong, Victoria, Australia

In another case when someone’s flawless American accent can easily masquerade their origins, De Rossi was born in Australia in 1973, and remained in the Geelong area (not far from Melbourne) for more than 20 years before moving to the United States. Her memorable performances on “Ally McBeal” and “Arrested Development” have made it easy to assume she’s a Yank, as has her tendency to carry on with the American accent even when the camera isn’t rolling. She was born Amanda “Mandy” Lee Rogers, and legally changed her name to something more exotic at the age of 15, which she later said helped her form a new identity as a lesbian.

Rose McGowan

Florence, Italy

With the last name of McGowan, you might not first think of Italy as her birth country, but that’s where her American mother and Irish father were living when Rose was born in 1973. Her father was running an Italian chapter of the controversial Children of God cult (which is the same cult the Phoenix family was involved in), until 1978. Her parents got divorced when she was around 10 years old, and she alternated living with her father in Europe and Canada, and with her mother in Oregon.

Freddie Mercury

Zanzibar, Tanzania

The Queen front-man never looked like a typical Brit, so it may not be surprising that he was born elsewhere. But unless you really know your trivia, the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar probably wouldn’t be one of your first guesses. Born Farrokh Bulsara in 1946, Mercury’s parents are both of British-Indian descent, and the family relocated to Zanzibar for his father’s government job. They went back to India for most of the singer’s youth, and then back to Zanzibar shortly before the revolution, after which they settled in London in 1964.

Samaire Armstrong

Tokyo, Japan

Not yet on everyone’s radar, Samaire has already broken many hearts while appearing on her fair share of popular television shows, most notably in memorable stints on “Entourage,” “The O.C.,” and “Dirty Sexy Money.” She was born in 1980 in Tokyo to a Scottish father and Italian mother, and she lived there for the first few years of her life. Her father teaches close combat techniques to armies, and that job kept the family moving, including stops in China and Malaysia, as well as Hawaii, Arizona, and California. She finally moved herself from Tucson to Los Angeles after leaving the University of Arizona.

Wentworth Miller

Chipping Norton, near Oxford, England

Either you’ve never watched “Prison Break” or you totally love this guy. Being born with the first name ‘Wentworth’ is one of the very few tip offs that this fictional prison escapee is not just another Yank. Miller was born just outside of Oxford, England, in 1972. His father, who is a black mixed-bred American, was a Rhodes Scholar studying at the famous university, and his mother is Russian-Dutch-French-Syrian-Lebanese, according to the actor himself. The family moved to Brooklyn when he was one year old, where he lived until he moved himself to Los Angeles in 1995 to pursue acting.

Further reading:

Photos by: rachfog, kjd, ursulakmJOE KERRIGANfriskytunasom sol’n forlat, edenzaNick Slide Anirudh KoulMegan Mallenwmc1111Pulicciano, mtlin, others on Wikipedia Commons

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Leave a Comment

  • Kia Sibtain Kielty said at 2012-10-21T17:17:11+0000: Am I the only person who noticed "black mix bred" about Wentworth Miller's father? Erm...politically incorrect much.
  • Floyd Whited said at 2012-10-09T20:10:39+0000: John Mccain in Panama.
  • Richard Murfin said at 2012-06-16T09:16:58+0000: Guy Pearce was born in the UK as was Carry Grant, one of Laurel and Hardy ( cant remember which) and a ton of movie stars in the black and white days.
  • Stefan Müller said at 2011-11-28T13:11:01+0000: Not born there, but lived most of her first 12 years there: Sandra Bullock, Nuremberg (Germany). She still speaks German quite well btw

Older comments on Celebrities Born in Surprising Parts of the World

Sean Keener
13 January 2009

Love this article. Just interesting.