The Heights Theater and Trylon Roadshow are running a program this summer called Hollywood, MN: Stars from the North Star State. This program created a conversation about Minnesota-based actors, which led me to stumble over the name an actor from Minnesota that I couldn’t quite recall (it was Peter Krause, sorry Peter), so I did what every human in such a situation would do: I googled the phrase “actors from Minnesota.”
This is what google gave me.
That’s right. For all the insight that Google’s algorithms have to offer on matters cosmic and minute, the search engine could only predict results of three people from the great state of Minnesota. Three.
The best part of google’s results is that they’re not really actors. Or at least, not primarily. Two of these men, Senator Al Franken and former Governor/the body Jess Ventura, are better known for their non-acting pursuits, and the third is frontman for The Replacements, Paul Wesbterberg.
So, if you’re seeking celebrity actors from Minnesota, this isn’t sufficient, google.
The North Star State has produced more than our share of great actors to the profession, and I thought I’d pull together a reference guide for those of you who might one day need to search the subject. So here’s a list of actors with roots–deep and shallow–in the land of 10,000 lakes.
Dorothy herself was born in Grand Rapids in 1922. Francis Ethel Gumm, was her name, but she was known as Baby. Baby started performing at the age of 2, and by 4, her parents moved the family to California. Not because of their daughter’s talent, however, but because Baby’s dad was rumored to have been involved with ushers at their church.
Garland, as you might know, became one of Hollywood’s most beloved young stars, singing her way through some of the best musicals of the golden age.
Best known for: Wizard of Oz (duh)
Best movie: Wizard of Oz (ibid)
Don’t miss: A Star is Born
The legendary Chinese actor James Hong was born in Minneapolis in 1929. He graduated from Central High School, and studied Civil Engineering at the University of Minnesota before serving in the Korean War. It was during his time in the military that his prowess for entertaining his peers was discovered. Instead of being sent to Korea, he was asked to stay home and produce live shows for the troops.
After his service, Hong finished his schooling at USC and became one of the go-to Chinese actors of the second half of the 20th century.
Best known for: Maybe Big Trouble in Little China
Best movie: Blade Runner
Don’t Miss: the fight scene from Wayne’s World 2
Tippi Hedren was born in New Ulm in 1930 as Nathalie Kay Hedren. Her father ran a store in town until the family relocated to Minneapolis, where Tippi participated in fashion shows at department stores. Her family moved to California while Hedren was in high school, but as soon as she finished she moved to New York City, and was in the motion pictures before the age of 20.
Hedren would become one of Alfred Hitchcock’s actress obsessions, and in 2016, Hedren talked about how the famed director harassed, assaulted and stalked her.
Best known for: The Birds
Best movie: Marnie
Don’t Miss: Citizen Ruth
Born in Cloquet in 1949, Jessica Lange moved around the state a dozen times before she graduated high school. Lange studied photography at the University in Minnesota starting in 1969, but quit after her marriage to travel. She landed in Paris and studied mime theater. One thing led to another, as they say, and Lange broke into the movies with a very large role: King Kong (not as King Kong).
Two Oscars later, Lange is one of the most celebrated Minnesotans in history.
Best known for: Tootsie
Best Movie: Tootsie
Don’t Miss: Titus
Pete The Farmer and Jeanne Perkins gave birth to their son John Marvin Perkins in 1959, in Alexandria. Hawkes stayed in Alex (pronounced Alec, for non-Minnesotans) until he graduated from high school, when he moved to Austin, Texas where he played in a band called Meat Joy.
Hawkes was nominated for an Oscar for Winter’s Bone, but did his best work, individually in The Sessions.
Best known for: Winter’s Bone
Best Movie: Me and You and Everyone We Know
Don’t miss: The Sessions
Stars of the 80s, 90s and Today
A necessary inclusion, as she bears the name of her city of origin, Winona, where she was born in 1971. Rider’s dad was the archivist for the psychologist/writer/LSD promoter Dr Timothy Leary (who is also Rider’s godfather). Her family left Minnesota when she was seven years old, for a commune in California, but her connection to Minnesota can never be lost so long as she carries the name of her home state.
Ryder is a two-time Oscar nominee, and undergoing a Winonassance in her career now, becoming a powerful mid-career actor, with terrific turns in Stranger Things, Show Me a Hero, and the 2014 film Experimenter.
Best known for: She’s was a hug star, so, take your pick.
Best movie: Heathers or Age of Innocence (too close to call).
Don’t miss: Experimenter
Heartthrob of the MSP, Josh Hartnett was born in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1978. He graduated from South HS in Minneapolis, and though after graduation he moved to New York City and later to Los Angeles, he’s also been a fixture of Minneapolis/St. Paul. Living in the cities, you heard regularly about Josh Hartnett sitings at certain local haunts (notably Bryant Lake Bowl 15-ish years ago, but my info is outdated).
In 2015, Hartnett sold his Lake of the Isles home for 2.3 Million bucks to some “lucky” buyer.
Best Known for: Probably Black Hawk Down or 40 Days and 40 Nights?
Best movie: Virgin Suicides
Don’t Miss: O
Rachael Leigh Cook
Born in 1979 in Minneapolis, Rachael Leigh Cook is as Minnesota as they get: one of her first national gigs was modeling in a print add for Target when she was seven. Cook graduate from South HS, a year after Josh Hartnett, so whatever is going on at South was working in the 90s y’all.
In addition to a long and successful career in film and television, Cook also starred in the 1997 “This Is Your Brain On Drugs” public servant announcement, and remade that video this year with a “This Is Your Brain on Drug Policy.” Minnesotans care about things.
Best known for: She’s All That
Best movie: Josie and the Pussycats
Don’t miss: 11:14
Seann Williams Scott
The doofy blonde actor in your favorite early oughts comedies was born in Cottage Grove in 1976. He graduated from Park High School in Cottage Grove, and worked at the local movie theater as an usher, where he was inspired to pursue acting by Tom Hanks Forrest Gump, and Jim Carrey’s Lloyd Christmas.
That actually makes perfect sense. Stifler has to fall somewhere on that spectrum.
Best known for: American Pie
Best movie: Role Models
Don’t miss: Dude, Where’s my Car? (for the SWS fans, anyway)
The doofy blonde actor in your favorite 90s comedies was born in Marshall, Minnesota, in 1967. Unlike most of the actors on this list, Steve Zahn stayed in Minnesota for most of his formative years, going to high school in Mankato and eventually graduating from Gustavus Adolphus College in 1990. If that doesn’t prove his Minnesota bona fides, his dad was a Lutheran pastor, to boot.
Zahn’s type is the goofy-guy, but he’s found a way to be remarkably pliable, finding himself in an action movie directed by Werner Herzog (Rescue Dawn) and playing the bad ape, Bad Ape, in War for Planet of the Apes.
Best known for: That Thing You Do
Best movie: Shattered Glass
Don’t miss: SubUrbia
Lynch was born in Golden Valley, in 1958. She studied dance in the Twin Cities, and spent a couple summers studying directing at the Guthrie Theater. Then she left the state for New York, was discovered in modeling, became a lovely actress who never got the recognition she deserved and ended up in roles far beneath her value.
Let’s blame Tom Cruise.
Best known for: Road House
Best movie: Drugstore Cowboy
Don’t miss: Drugstore Cowboy
Peter Krause is the second actor in this list from Alexandria. Born in 1965, his family quickly relocated to Roseville, MN, just north of St. Paul. After high school, Krause attended…Gustavus Adolphus College, where he was a few years ahead of Steve Zahn. Krause is still seen around Minnesota, from time to time, including a return for a 4th of July Twins game (against the Yankees, boo).
Best known for: Six Feet Under
Best movie: The Truman Show
Don’t miss: All that TV stuff he does.
Chris Pratt: Born in Virginia, Minnesota. His dad worked the iron mines before his family relocated to Washington.
Jessica Biel: Jessica was born in Ely in 1982, but the Biel family wasn’t long for Minnesota. She moved often and went to High School in Colorado.
See: Rules of Attraction and Illusionist
Jane Russell: Born in Bemidji in 1921. Nine days later, he parents moved to Edmonton, Ontario, Canada.
Lea Thompson: Born in Rochester, Lea was a star ballerina until Mikhail Bayrshnikov told her she would never be a prima ballerina because of her body shape.
See: Some Kind of Wonderful
Vince Vaughn: Born in Minneapolis, Vaughn was raised in the wealthy Chicago suburb of Lake Forest, Illinois, where he presumably perfected his brosefness.
See: A Cool, Dry Place
Kevin Sorbo: Hercules was born in Mound in 1958. He went to Minnesota State University Moorhead, and now he’s in Christian stuff.
Garrett Hedlund: Born in Roseau in 1984, Hedlund was raised on a cattle farm in Wannaska. Then, like everyone else on this list, he left.
See: Inside Llewyn Davis
–Christopher Zumski Finke