Actors and creative polymathy: Mayim Bialik, James Franco and others

Mayim Bialik

A number of well-known actors are multitalented, with interests and experiences in other creative areas.

Actor Mayim Bialik earned a Ph.D. from UCLA in Neuroscience, and on “The Big Bang Theory” she plays Amy Farrah Fowler, a neurobiologist and “not-girlfriend” of physicist Sheldon Cooper.

In a Los Angeles Times article, Bialik comments, “The first episode I did for them, the executive producer said, ‘Do you really have a PhD?’ I hadn’t told him, because, well, where do you list that on your theatrical resume exactly?. So he tweaked the character’s profession.

“But having an understanding of both mental illness and neurosis has been tremendously helpful to me in my acting career.”

[Note – There are many posts on my various TalentDevelop sites about acting and psychology, mental health, the psychology of creativity etc – see the list of posts on The Inner Actor by clicking on ‘Archives’ in the menu at the top – and see Mental Health posts on the main site.]

The article also notes, James Franco…has been perhaps the most active actor-scholar of late: He is enrolled in Yale University’s English PhD program and North Carolina’s Warren Wilson College for poetry. In May, he earned a master’s degree from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and Columbia University’s MFA writing program, after already graduating from Brooklyn College for fiction writing last year.”

From article Picking their next role: Joe College or hot young star?, by Amy Kaufman, Los Angeles Times, June 12, 2011 – which also mentions Emma Watson, Blake Lively, Brad Pitt, Jodie Foster, Natalie Portman, James Franco, Shia LaBeouf and others.

[Photo of Bialik from]

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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 my post James Franco on being a loner.

Creative polymathy

In his post “That’s DR. Winnie to you: A New Child Star Stereotype”, 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 cites: “Danica McKellar (‘Winnie’ on The Wonder Years) earned her Ph.D. from UCLA in mathematics, currently writes books promoting math.”

From my post Developing multiple talents – the pleasures of creative polymathy – includes Emma Watson, Viggo Mortensen and other multitalented creators.

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Is Amy Farrah Fowler a positive image of high ability?

In her article How Pop Culture Stereotypes Impact the Self-Concept of Highly Gifted People, Sarah Williams declares, “Pop culture perpetuates two stereotypes of highly gifted people: the wisecracking whiz kid or the tortured genius. There is no grey area.

“On the more light-hearted side, we have characters like Doogie Howser…a 16-year old resident surgeon and bona fide genius…On the other side you have the troubled John Nash of A Beautiful Mind or Will Hunting of Good Will Hunting.”

[Photo of Bialik from her official website.]

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Personally, I don’t think it is that simple: that there are only two stereotypes.

Amy Farrah Fowler and other characters on “The Big Bang Theory” are certainly extreme for the sake of comedy – but they are a lot of fun (although I have given up watching the show on account of the annoying laugh track).

John Nash as portrayed in the movie, and the character Will Hunting are also extreme and uncommon.

But all of them can point to some of the ‘uncommon’ personality qualities and giftedness traits that help distinguish high ability people – but which can also make it hard for many of us ‘outsider’ people to be relatable or even understood by those who are not so exceptional.

For more, see

High Ability site

High Ability / Facebook


Article publié pour la première fois le 17/10/2015