Multitalented Creative People
My Talent Development Resources series of sites, and main book featured on this site, include many examples of multitalented actors, musicians, painters and other creative people.
Below are a few examples, in addition to those in the book. Also see the excerpt articles listed at the right.
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Benedict Cumberbatch attended the prestigious English boarding school Harrow on an arts scholarship and painted large oil canvases. (As an adult, he has donated several small, self-portrait drawings of himself to charity auctions.)
After finishing at Harrow, he took a year off to volunteer as an English teacher in a Tibetan monastery in Darjeeling, India. After his return, he studied drama at Manchester University, then continued his training as an actor at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, graduating with an MA in Classical Acting.
He also sang “Can’t Keep It Inside” in the movie August: Osage County.
Photo above from “The Imitation Game”, in which he portrays Alan Turing – see post: Asperger’s: Clearly Bright and Imaginative.
He is engaged to another multitalented person: Sophie Hunter, a British theatre and opera director, and playwright (the 2013 experimental play The Shackleton Project; writing and directing the play The Terrific Electric), actress (Vanity Fair, starring Reese Witherspoon), and singer (French-language music album “The Isis Project with Guy Chambers”).
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Xavier Dolan has credits in multiple films including: Actor | Writer | Director | Producer | Costume designer | Editor | Sound department | Art department and more. [imdb.com]
At age 25, he has directed five features in five years, notes an interview article.
“I don’t know that I’m being prolific, I’m just responding, I’m being authentic and I’m just listening to my needs in terms of expression,” he said.
“And I’ve been so lucky to have the means to express myself and not wait in the corner for years.”
Another interesting comment of his:
“I do feel that technically I’m still a neophyte, and that scares me. But I am a nerd, I learn fast, I’m passionate and I’m curious. I don’t doubt myself, but I have my doubts.”
From In ‘Mommy,’ Xavier Dolan looks things in the eye by Mark Olsen, Los Angeles Times.
In her interview with Dolan, actor Jessica Chastain asks: “Do you feel that with your writing and directing and acting you can delve into what it was like to be an 8-year-old kid watching Titanic and trying to figure out their sexuality? Is it a way for you to explore that within yourself?”
Dolan responds: “I think it’s a way to channel rage. I was a very violent kid. I think movies and writing and art have been a way of channeling this. But I have this will to defend people—it can be all sorts of people.”
From interview: Xavier Dolan By Jessica Chastain.
[Many well-known creative people have experienced bullying, abuse and trauma, including Sarah Polley, Halle Berry, Lady Gaga, will.i.am, Jennifer Lawrence, Jonathan Safran Foer and many others. A number of them have commented about making use of traumatic experiences in their creative work – see my article Creative People, Trauma and Mental Health.]
The photo is from his article Montreal from A to Z: X is for Xavier Dolan by Brendan Kelly (Montreal Gazette), who comments that “after making five films in six years, the frantic pace is starting to take a toll on Dolan.”
“For the past two weeks, I’ve been thinking …‘I’ve really gotta slow down a bit because I’m burning myself out,’ ” Dolan said. “It seemed like I was at the end of my rope. I couldn’t edit any more. I was very stressed. Now I’m doing promotion for this film, and I’m in post-production for the next one. It’s two things at the same time…
“I had to take a break. I think it has to change. I want to do a minor (degree) in art history, which is not necessarily a break. But I’m just going to try to do some things for myself. Live my life a bit, spend some time with my family.”
[Many multitalented people feel inspired and energized to pursue multiple creative projects, often at the same time. One potential downside is physical and emotional burnout. See one of my articles on this topic: Multiple Passions and Talents But Potential Burnout.]
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Actress, dancer, poet, painter Juliette Binoche comments about her drawing and painting:
“The heat and emotion to be generated, like the physical stamina to be supplied, are part of an actor’s life. Whatever was left over, whatever surged forth despite myself, and whatever I had hoped for, I then put down on paper.
“None of it is definitive; it’s just a record—a fleeting and subjective perception—of one moment in life. Technique simply came with the desire to paint, without preconceptions.”
In an article of her own, she commented:
“I really don’t see art as being an expression of something outside of myself. Whether it’s writing, or painting, or dancing – which I have never done before on a stage – the medium changes because of what it is you are trying to express.”
She talks about dancing in a theatre production co-created with choreographer Akram Khan:
“It’s not a question of my being desperate to get back on to the stage. Even on a film set there are lots of people watching you. It’s the same kind of involvement; it’s just moving from an intimate to a more exposed space in the theatre. But the terror is the same.”
From her article: Juliette Binoche: My step into the unknown, The Independent 02 September 2008. The article includes a poem of hers dedicated to the late Anthony Minghella.
[Her remark about “the terror” may refer to stage fright, which affects many actors and other people – see my article Performers With Stage Fright and Anxiety.]
In another interview she talks about the passion to create:
“I think that our life is here for us to try something. I’m here for a purpose and not to fall asleep. It’s an awakening. There’s an urgency.
“I don’t mean I feel I am going to die soon, but an urgency of being where I am supposed to be. I’m put in this situation of being an actor, which is related to the public, and I need to connect to people’s creativity. ‘Wake up you creators, wake up. Do things, paint, express yourself and make life possible, whether it’s having children, whatever. Just wake up; it’s time for you to do things.’ That’s I want to say.”
From Juliette Binoche takes to the stage — this time to dance by Nobuko Tanaka, The Japan Times, Mar 6, 2009.
The photos above are from her movie “Words and Pictures” (2013).
An articles talks about her role and creative work in addition to acting:
“Her character, Dina Delsanto, is an art instructor suffering from severe rheumatoid arthritis, forcing her to adapt her artistic process to accommodate her deteriorating physical condition…
“Before she became a movie star, Binoche studied art, and she has remained engaged with the visual arts even as she has received accolades for her career in cinema. An earlier brush with onscreen art came in 1991′s The Lovers on the Bridge, in which Binoche played a street artist. As in Words and Pictures, she created the film’s prop art.”
From Juliette Binoche Learned to Paint Like Pollock for New Role, by Sarah Cascone, artnet.com:
“Photography, painting or poetry – those are just extensions of me, how I perceive things, they are my way of communicating.” – Viggo Mortensen
Reading about actors, writers and other artists over the years, and doing interviews with many creative people myself, I have been struck by how many of these accomplished people are multitalented and active – even exceptional – in more than one area of creative expression.
One of my main inspirations for developing my series of sites and this book “Developing Multiple Talents” has been to explore the inner lives of high ability creative people, to learn more about how they realize their talents in multiple forms and areas of creative expression, and to help others more fully realize their own abilities and passions, especially by understanding emotional issues and beliefs that can interfere.
Here are some excerpts from the book, plus some additional text and images not in the book :
In his post Creatives With Multiple Talents (on his blog The Artist’s Road), Patrick Ross writes about meeting two students in a Masters in Writing program who are about to graduate.
“They told me about a talent show their class held at their last on-campus residency. One of them said he had performed on the violin. The other told me he has acting experience but didn’t want to do a one-man show, so he performed magic tricks. I said it was interesting that all of these writing students had another talent they could perform.
“The violin player looked at me as if I had just expressed bafflement that an orange was the color orange.
‘All creative people have multiple talents, don’t they?’
“They do, scientists tell us, even if they don’t realize it,” Ross adds. “After all, if you’ve never picked up a musical instrument, you may not realize you have a predisposition to excel at it. But the creative brain knows how to both master a skill and think in ways others would find counter-intuitive to breathe new life into that skill.”
Examples of multitalented people
You may find these examples of well-known people interesting and even inspiring. But a warning: Just because we don’t match some of these people in terms of achievement, doesn’t mean we are not in fact multitalented.
There may be many issues that affect how fully we can know about and realize our potentials. That’s one of the main points of my book.
Julia Cameron is well-known as the author of The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, and has been a writer since the age of eighteen, creating short stories, essays and political journalism articles, and more than thirty books including a crime novel plus volumes of children’s poems and prayers.
She is also an award-winning poet and playwright, with extensive film and theater credits, including writing an episode of the TV show Miami Vice, and writer and director of the movie God’s Will. She collaborated with her former husband Martin Scorsese on three films. For her musicals, Cameron serves as composer as well as libretto-writer and lyricist.
She has a quote on her site that I really appreciate:
“Most of us have no idea of our real creative height. We are much more gifted than we know.”
She also leads Julia Cameron Live – an online course and artists’ community based on The Artist’s Way.
[Photo from post: The mind of gifted adults: Julia Cameron on her mental health challenges]
Bryce Dallas Howard is an acclaimed actor in many movies including The Help; Hereafter; The Twilight Saga: Eclipse; The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond, and others, and also has credits as a vocalist for a movie soundtrack, for musical production, and as a producer, screenwriter and director.
Jamie Lee Curtis has written a number of children’s books. Jane Seymour is author of several books and art kits, and is an accomplished and widely published painter.
Before graduating from Harvard with a psychology degree, Natalie Portman was credited as a research assistant to Alan Dershowitz and was co-author of a study on memory in 2002 titled “Frontal Lobe Activation During Object Permanence: data from near-infrared spectroscopy” in a scientific journal under her name Natalie Hershlag.
Photo at lectern from post: Natalie Portman published a paper.
In high school she made it to the semifinals of the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search.
[Some information from article: The Hidden Talents Of Wildly Successful Women By Emma Gray, The Huffington Post.]
[Also see article: Natalie Portman, Oscar Winner, Was Also a Precocious Scientist, By Natalie Angier, NY Times.]
She wrote an article about Anne Frank that appeared in the June 14, 1999 edition of Time magazine, and recorded songs for the 1991 album “World Patrol Kids: Earth Tunes.”
She also has credits as a movie producer and director.
James Franco was enrolled in Yale University’s English PhD program, and has earned a master’s degree from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and Columbia University’s MFA writing programs.
Speaking of his role in the television series ‘Freaks and Geeks,’ Franco said it echoed his own high school experience.
“I was a little freak, a little geek. High school was a big party the first couple of years, but that gets old, so I broke away and just was a loner.
“I did a lot of painting, and I was a member of a local art league.”
From post James Franco on being a loner.
[Photos from post Actors and creative polymathy: Mayim Bialik, James Franco and others.]
See video clip of James Franco on The Charlie Rose Show on the page:
Interested In So Many Things: Creative and Multitalented.
Mayim Bialik earned her Ph.D. from UCLA in Neuroscience. On “The Big Bang Theory” TV series, she plays Amy Farrah Fowler, a neurobiologist and “not-girlfriend” of physicist Sheldon Cooper.
Bialik has commented that “having an understanding of both mental illness and neurosis has been tremendously helpful to me in my acting career.”
Bialik “received her B.S. in Neuroscience and Hebrew and Jewish Studies from UCLA in 2000 and earned a Ph.D. in Neuroscience in 2007 from UCLA, specializing in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in adolescents with Prader-Willi syndrome. She is the celebrity spokesperson for the Holistic Moms Network, a national non-profit organization dedicated to supporting holistic and green parenting and living.”
[From her official website.]
[Photo of Mayim Bialik with Jim Parsons referencing their characters on The Big Bang Theory, from https://www.facebook.com/official.mayim.bialik]
Jeff Bridges, 61, an Oscar winner for his acting, will release his first music album, a 10-song collection called “Jeff Bridges.” He comments, “People like to put things in a box — and they do that with their own lives too, they limit things — but it’s all art to me…all art is truth.
“People try to define things and make it easier for their mind to digest things, I guess. But music has been part of my life since I was a kid. Music meant more to me when I was young, but I went into acting because of family and because it was the path of least resistance.” He added, “So many actors play music, and so many musicians want to act.”
[From “Jeff Bridges plays to his musician side,” By Geoff Boucher, Los Angeles Times, August 15, 2011.]
Gordon Parks (1912-2006) was often referred to as a Renaissance Man, as noted in an obituary by Dennis McLellan [Los Angeles Times March 8, 2006], and lived up to the label:
“In addition to his photography, film work and poetry, he composed a symphony, sonatas, concertos, film scores, and wrote novels, instructional photography manuals, essays and three memoirs. He received numerous honors over the years, including the National Medal of Arts from President Reagan. He was a high school dropout.”
[Photo from post Being “scattered” and proud of it.]
That phrase – Renaissance Man – refers to a Polymath, a person “whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas.” [Wikipedia]
Unfortunately, its counterpart – Renaissance Woman – does not seem to be very popular.
Here is one artist I admire who does use it:
“The difficulty for me is that I’m interested in so many different things. I could never really imagine myself doing one thing, and I’m pretty sure that I’ll end up doing four or five different things.
“I want to be a Renaissance woman. I want to paint, and I want to write, and I want to act, and I want to just do everything.” Emma Watson
[From 10 Questions for Emma Watson, TIME mag. Nov. 29, 2010.]
Photo above: Watson in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” (2012). She attended Brown University for 18 months, then announced she was deferring her courses to promote “Harry Potter” films and other projects, and enrolled as a visitor student at Worcester College, Oxford University for the 2011–12 academic year. [Wikipedia]
One of her projects outside of acting has been helping design a collection of ethical fashion for People Tree. [‘Ethical Emma’ by Lauren Milligan, vogue.co.uk 01 February 2010.]
Photo: July 2014: UN Women, the United Nations organization dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women, announced the appointment of Emma Watson as Goodwill Ambassador.
See link in my Facebook/Developing Multiple Talents post.
Her quotes are ones I also used in my article Underutilized Talents, Too Many Aptitudes
In the article, Sally M. Reis, PhD, a professor at the University of Connecticut and Principal Investigator of The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, notes that high potential and multiple interests, multipotentiality can benefit many women [and men, of course], but others “often cannot find their niche, make it on their own, or choose a vocational path…”
“What I love about photography, and it’s the same thing I love about acting, really, is that it forces you right into the moment, where you can’t be distracted, where you can’t be thinking about other things, or ahead of yourself or behind yourself.”
“I find photography a most mysterious process—capturing that moment in time and space, elusive and fleeting, and crystallizing it. You have made a photograph. It is its own thing now. To me, that is thrilling.”
“It is a way of working that is the opposite of acting. Photography doesn’t depend on collaboration; it can be solitary and private.”
[One of many related articles: Nurturing creativity in solitude.]
Quotes from Jessica Lange interview by Tavis Smiley – October 8, 2013.
Images: Jessica Lange in “American Horror Story: Coven”;
one of her photographs, from her book 50 Photographs (Patti Smith, Introduction);
cover of her children’s book: It’s About a Little Bird, story and hand-tinted photographs by Lange.
In my Creative Mind post Amber Benson on Writing: Creating is Kind of Intoxicating, I wrote about the actor (she played ‘Tara’ on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) who also has multiple credits as a novelist and screenwriter, director and producer.
One of her quotes I like:
“I think just the act of creation itself is kind of intoxicating and enthralling. Because I see it all in my head when I’m writing prose anyway. It’s like I made a movie with Death’s Daughter.” [One of her novels]
“Because I see everything, I know what everybody looks like, I know what the world is, I know how it smells and feels and tastes. I play the whole movie in my head.”
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Viggo Mortensen is well-known for his acting in the The Lord of the Rings movies and many others, including Eastern Promises, and The Road. He portrays Sigmund Freud in the movie A Dangerous Method.
In addition to acting, his creative pursuits include painting, photography, poetry, music, plus spoken-word recordings. In 2002, he founded Perceval Press to publish the works of his and other artists and authors.
Mortensen once commented:
“Photography, painting or poetry – those are just extensions of me, how I perceive things, they are my way of communicating.” (imdb.com).
He has made other comments that also relate to introversion or high sensitivity, and other topics in my book, such as these:
“If I don’t get a little time by myself every day, it makes me uncomfortable. I really need that. Even if it’s a minute or two. I think it was Robert Louis Stevenson who said this. It was about meandering through a career, or the arts in general, without seeming to have a deliberate plan. He said, ‘To travel hopefully is better than to arrive, and the true success is in the labor.’ That’s a great line, ‘To travel hopefully.’ That’s what I’d like to do.
“People who are creators create. People say to me all the time, ‘Why don’t you just focus on one thing?’ And I say, ‘Why? Why just one thing? Why can’t I do more? Who makes up these rules?'”
[From the site “Viggo Mortenson: Movies to Art to Politics” www.brego.net]
A profile says he “Speaks fluent English, Spanish, Danish, and French, but he also speaks Swedish and Norwegian reasonably well.” [imdb.com]
This language ability is shared by many uncommonly intelligent and creative people – but intellect and creativity are not the same talent, of course, nor do they always go with each other. [I cover more about that in the book.]
Video: “Viggo Mortensen on Being Childlike”
– see post: Viggo Mortensen on The Social Power of Art and Staying Childlike To Be Creative
“Viggo Mortensen on Being Creative” – audio excerpt from
video interview: “10 Questions for Viggo Mortensen” by TimeMagazine
[original at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dWexFvaC5n4 ]
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David Lynch is another well-known example of a multitalented creator, and has commented about being a creative polymath:
“I started out as a painter, and then painting led to cinema…Then cinema led to so many different areas—it led to still photography, music . . . Furniture is also a big love of mine. I started building these kind of sculptural lamps. Then I got into lithography…And I’ve always been painting along the way, as well as doing drawings and watercolors…There are just so many things out there for us to do.”
[From Interview magazine.]
[Quotes also used in my post An Intense Inner Pressure to Create.]
[Click image of Lynch to view larger size, to read quote of his.]
In an article about the release of his album The Big Dream, Lynch says, “I’m a painter, and I like my paintings to have little stories, and music is sort of the same way…In a way they’re very similar,” he said of the experience of making films and music. “It all connects to the world of ideas,” Lynch said.
“I always say the same thing: Everything starts with an idea. I may have an idea for a different chord progression, or a beat… But you’re always starting with some kind of idea. In painting you get what you call painting ideas. You catch an idea you really love, and it’s instilled with so much inspiration, it makes you leap out of the chair and go toward it.”
[From Exclusive: David Lynch unveils his new album, ‘The Big Dream’ By Randy Lewis, Los Angeles Times July 15, 2013.]
[Also see one of his books: Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity.]
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Melora Hardin has wide-ranging creative passions including acting, directing, dancing, writing and singing. She sang as Fantine in “Les Miserables” at the Hollywood Bowl, played “Jan” on the TV series “The Office.”
She commented in our interview about being constantly focused and attentive toward ways to engage her talents. “I’m always very very keen to keep my eyes and heart and ears open to opportunities to be creative.
“That’s really my reason for being on this Earth, is to find more and more opportunities to be creative, and as long as I’m looking for those, and walking through those doors, and receiving those, and participating in those, I’m going to be fine.”
Milla Jovovich was born in Kiev, is an international model, actress (“The Messenger,” “The Fifth Element,” the “Resident Evil” series, and many more), musician (soundtracks, singles, album coming in Fall 2012), and fashion designer (co-founded the Jovovich-Hawk fashion line).
(Her name is pronounced “mee-luh” “yo-vo-vitch” according to her site millaj.com.)
She is an ambassador for amfAR (The Foundation for AIDS Research), supports several other charities, and is ambassador for Tommy Hilfiger’s initiative to support Breast Health International.
Kerry Washington comments:
“Arts are not something you add to a school when it’s doing well. It’s what you do to unlock the problems of the country.” [Variety.com]
“I don’t think I’m even close to fulfilling my potential. And I think also that, unlike a pianist or a flutist, an actor has an instrument that is constantly changing.” [imdb.com]
Washington earned a Presidential Arts Scholarship to attend George Washington University and graduated Magna Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa in 1998 with a degree in Performance Studies.
She directed Common’s video “I Want You.”
“In November of 2009, Washington was appointed by President Barack Obama to the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities.
“She is also a member of America’s for the Arts, which honored her with their Young Artist Award for Artistic Excellence in 2005, celebrating her incredible accomplishments and exemplary leadership.” [From her Facebook page, which lists multiple other awards and accomplishments.]
In his post “That’s DR. Winnie to you: A New Child Star Stereotype” (on his Psychology Today blog), creativity researcher James C. Kaufman, Ph.D. writes about a number of people well-known as child stars, now grown, who have explored talents outside of acting.
He writes: “One of the research topics in creativity that has always fascinated me has been creative polymathy – the ability to be creative in more than one domain.”
One example he gives is Danica McKellar (‘Winnie’ on “The Wonder Years”), who earned her Ph.D. from UCLA in mathematics, and currently writes books promoting math.
[Read more in post: Developing multiple talents – the pleasures of creative polymathy]
Another creative polymath / multipotentialite:
“As much as I love acting, I also like telling stories, making little short films, music, art, writing, etc.” Joseph Gordon-Levitt, founder of hitRECord, an open collaborative production company.
One of their projects: The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories, an edited and curated collection of original art from 67 contributors.
Stan Lee (born in 1922) “is an American comic book writer, editor, publisher, media producer, television host, actor, voice actor and former president and chairman of Marvel Comics.
“In collaboration with several artists, most notably Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, he co-created Spider-Man, the Hulk, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Thor, and many other fictional characters.” [Wikipedia]
Photo from Geeks of Doom post: Happy 90th Birthday To The Unstoppable Stan Lee!
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That term “multipotentialite” comes from Emilie Wapnick.
Like many multitalented people can say, she notes her “resume reads like it belongs to ten different people…”
She designed her program Renaissance Business “specifically for the Multi-Passionate Entrepreneur.”
See her video “What is a Multipotentialite?” in the article: Interested In So Many Things: Creative and Multitalented.
A related term is “scanners” as described by Barbara Sher – see post:
Are you a scanner personality?
Laurie Anderson is one of my favorite examples of a multitalented artist, with creative skills in many directions.
Here are some highlights from her Wikipedia profile:
“She is an American experimental performance artist, composer and musician who plays violin and keyboards and sings in a variety of experimental music and art rock styles.
“Initially trained as a sculptor, Anderson did her first performance-art piece in the late 1960s…
“She also starred in and directed the 1986 concert film Home of the Brave.”
In an interview, she talked about her life as an artist.
Do a little of this and a little of that…
Q: You have carved out your own place in culture, touching on elements of performance art and pop and new music and other things. But there remains no easy explanation or categorization for what you do. Is that actually a sign of success, from your viewpoint?
Laurie Anderson: You have to think about if you want to be pinned down as one thing or another. It’s hard to create an image that is so concrete and stable. That takes PR people. Nobody’s like that. I much prefer being able to flit around.
Read more in post: Laurie Anderson: Be something different every day if you want.
[Photos are from her Facebook page.]
Video: All power to the polymath: Ella Saltmarshe at TEDxLSE
“Ella Saltmarshe is a screenwriter, journalist, strategist, campaigner and entrepreneur. She is one of the founding directors of The Point People, a company that harnesses the power of those who work across disciplines…”
Do you appreciate, and perhaps relate to, any of these multitalented creative people?
For more details, reviews and order links for my book “Developing Multiple Talents: The personal side of creative expression” see About the book.
“Part book about creativity, part compendium of useful tidbits, quotations and research, and part annotated bibliography, this is a wildly useful and highly entertaining resource.” – Stephanie S. Tolan, writer and consultant on the gifted.
“Packed full of insights and resources for the creative life, this book offers new ways to thrive as a creative person.” – Cynthia Morris, Creativity Coach