Can an actor who is a RL nerd play a cool character?

The terms have different uses, but I’m using “nerd” to mean someone who lacks personality, social grace and poise etc., and “cool” to mean someone who possesses these qualities.

Question is if someone who lacks these qualities IRL can act having them on screen.

Because you would think if the person could act them onscreen, then why wouldn’t they already be actiing that way IRL, which would surely enhance their life in social situation? OTOH, it’s possible that they could technically pull it off but lack the social self-confidence to actually do it, but when acting, then social self-confidence is not an issue (i.e. there’s no chance that acting “cool” will lead to rejection and ridicule because they’re being specifically directed to do that) so they can pull it off.

One way to settle this is if there are actually characters who successfully acted “cool” roles but are known to be dorky IRL. (Though it’s possible that it’s technically feasible but that most such people would have a hard time breaking into such roles.)

Yes, Benedict Cumberbatch according to Simon Pegg:

Nathon Fillion has mentioned in interviews that his mom told him he’s a geek but he looks mainstream.

I’d start with the single coolest character in TV history. The Fonz.

Here’s a quote from Henry Winkler:

Because, growing up, there was nothing cool about me.

I was a bowl of jelly. Maybe it was my dyslexia or lack of confidence, but my self-image growing up was pretty much around my ankles."


Yeah, acting let’s those who are not cool pretend to be cool.

One thing to remember that most actors were not the cool guys growing up. They were the theater nerds.

There’s tons of "cool guy’ actors with nerdy hobbies. Vin Diesel is into D&D. Henry Cavil is into Warhammer.

“When I was looking for the original Fonz I was looking for a tall Italian guy on the streets of New York and I get a short Jewish guy from Yale.” - Garry Marshall.

I think some people here are underestimating how much skill there is involved in (good) acting.
Good actors can burst into tears in moments and then do a scene where they are the life of the party.
It would be a pretty lame actor that couldn’t switch between “geek” and “cool”.

In terms of why a RL geek doesn’t just act cool all the time, well I bet at least some of the time they do – when they deem it necessary.
However, the rest of the time they may revert back to their more natural, comfortable behaviour, because why not?

This is pretty much how I am.
I’m not a great actor. I’m just a shy person that is aware that sometimes “acting” sociable, talkative, assertive etc can be useful.

“Everybody wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant.”
Archibald Alexander Leach

To expand upon this, from Wikipedia:

"Everybody wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant.** I have spent the greater part of my life fluctuating between Archie Leach and Cary Grant; unsure of either, suspecting each. I pretended to be somebody I wanted to be until finally I became that person. Or he became me.

  • Quoted in “Cary Grant: A Biography” by Marc Eliot

Isn’t Nicolas Cage a total comic book geek? Yeah, he’s often ridiculed for some of his roles, but he also sometimes played the cool guy.

Simon Pegg himself deserves at least an honorable mention in this thread. I obviously don’t know him personally but I get the impression that his real life persona isn’t that far off from characters that he has played in movies like Shaun of the Dead.

And then he did the movie Inheritance. I don’t know if I’d call that character “cool” but he was seriously frightening and downright intimidating, which is a description that I never expected to ever be applied to a Simon Pegg character.

I know this isn’t quite what the OP is looking for, hence it only gets an honorable mention, but the transformation between Simon Pegg’s real personality (nerdy, class clown) and Inheritance’s Morgan Warner is rather notable just the same. Simon obviously isn’t known for playing cool characters, but that part did show exactly how much he is capable of changing his demeanor.

The thing about acting is someone else provides the dialogue, and you also know ahead of time how the scenario is going to play out. Real life does not provide that; indeed real life is very rarely as smooth as anything in fiction even if you said it all the exact same way.

Confident people don’t care, they just barrel on through. Socially awkward people are anxious about every moment, and it effectively can fall apart before they even begin.

And building his own PCs to play games on. He occasionally posts on Reddit’s PC building boards showing his builds and stuff.

I remember reading an interview with Nick Offerman where he was musing about being considered some sort of icon of manliness, despite having been a theater kid growing up, not some sort of jock or macho type. He seemed bemused by the whole thing, as by his own admission, he’s not Ron Swanson or particularly macho.

I’ll add in that Harrison Ford is known for being quite shy and afraid of a big audience. I don’t have any reason to believe that he’s a nerd, just that he’s not the cool, outgoing guy that he is in his movies.

Russell Crowe. Total doughboy who few women would look at if not for his success on the screen.

One of the surprising ones for me is watching Detective Rosa Diaz on Brooklyn Nine-Nine and then watching Stephanie Beatriz in real life.

Dean Martin

And though he commanded attention on stage, off stage he wasn’t much for chitchat and was a loner at heart.

“Dean had a persona of that being bigger than life and being basically a womanizer, and a skirt chaser, which he was not. He was just a sweetheart of a guy,” said [Patti] Gribow, who worked with Dean on and off for about 15 years in the ’70s and ’80s.

“On stage, he was in control and acted like he was a drunk or he was going to chase the girl. He was always mischievous and he’d get off stage and he was shy,” she said.

As is Joe Manganiello.

Some say that to be an exceptional actor, you must have no personality of your own. Peter Sellers said something like that.

The Total War: Warhammer devs even snuck him into the game when they learned that he was a huge fan:

… who admitted he had no idea who HE was because he’d played so many characters that he couldn’t turn that off. I saw him on Cavett once, and he started going “Now I think this is my real voice, no, more like this… I think. No…” Pretty sad.