These actors, comedians, and TV personalities have all called Morningside Heights home.
Best known for playing an FBI agent in the crime-thriller series The Blacklist, Amir Arison ’00CC also had recurring roles on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, Homeland, Girls, and other TV shows.
Kelly Killoren Bensimon
Kelly Killoren Bensimon ’98GS, a socialite, author, entrepreneur, and — as of recently — real-estate agent, has been in the public eye since her days as a teenage model. From 2009 to 2011 she was a full-time cast member on the reality series The Real Housewives of New York City.
Known for his pop recordings and his foray into Christian conservative political commentary, Pat Boone ’58GS has also acted in numerous films since the 1950s, including April Love, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and, more recently, God’s Not Dead 2 and A Cowgirl’s Story.
Jesse Bradford ’02CC started out as a child actor in films such as the 1993 Steven Soderbergh drama King of the Hill and 1995’s Far from Home: The Adventures of Yellow Dog. As a young adult, he starred in the 2000 teen cheerleading classic Bring It On and in Clint Eastwood’s 2006 World War II drama Flags of Our Fathers, among other movies.
Spencer Treat Clark
Spencer Treat Clark ’10CC has played supporting roles in dozens of films and TV series, including Gladiator, Mystic River, and the 2009 remake of The Last House on the Left. He was a regular cast member on the crime drama Animal Kingdom from 2016 to 2019.
A prolific stage and screen actor celebrated for his performances in Eugene O’Neill plays, Brian Dennehy ’60CC appeared in hundreds of films and TV series between 1977 and 2020, when he died at age 81.
Brandon Victor Dixon
Brandon Victor Dixon ’07CC is best known for starring in Broadway musicals like The Color Purple, Motown: The Musical, and Hamilton. In 2018, he appeared in the televised live-concert version of Jesus Christ Superstar and received an Emmy nomination for his portrayal of Judas Iscariot. He has also acted in episodes of Law and Order: Criminal Intent, The Good Wife, Power, and She’s Gotta Have It.
After studying economics at Columbia, Matthew Fox ’89CC starred in the family drama Party of Five from 1994 to 2000, followed by the supernatural thriller Lost from 2004 to 2010. In 2007, the actor returned to Morningside campus to give the Columbia College Class Day speech.
James Franco ’11SOA, an actor and filmmaker known for his performances in the Spider-Man series, Milk, 127 Hours, and other movies, was already a celebrity when he attended Columbia’s fiction-writing MFA program. It was around that time Franco also portrayed beat writer and fellow Columbian Allen Ginsberg ’48CC in the 2010 indie drama Howl.
Although Dan Futterman ’89CC has mostly worked as a producer and screenwriter in recent years, he was a star of the legal drama Judging Amy from 1999 to 2005. He also had prominent roles in films such as The Birdcage and A Mighty Heart and appeared in episodes of Sex and the City and Will & Grace.
Before his 2010 death of a prescription-drug overdose at the age of forty-four, Greg Giraldo ’87CC was a stand-up comedian and Comedy Central star who participated in many of the network’s famous celebrity roasts. He was also a frequent guest on late-night talk shows and served as a judge on Last Comic Standing.
Columbia College alum Asher Grodman ’10CC has appeared in episodes of popular shows including Succession, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and Chicago Med. He is a regular cast member on the CBS sitcom Ghosts.
Maggie Gyllenhaal ’99CC burst onto the scene in 2002 with the offbeat black comedy Secretary after appearing the year before in a supporting role in the cult classic Donnie Darko. The latter film starred her younger brother, Jake, who also attended Columbia but didn’t graduate. Since then, Gyllenhaal has made many notable films, including Sherrybaby, The Dark Knight, and Crazy Heart, for which she was nominated for an Oscar, as well as the TV series The Deuce alongside fellow Columbian James Franco ’11SOA.
Julia Jones ’05CC had recurring roles on ER, Longmire, Westworld, and Goliath, and has appeared in films such as the last three installments of The Twilight Saga, Wind River, and Cold Pursuit.
A finance professional turned celebrity chef and restaurateur, Judy Joo ’97SEAS hosted the Cooking Channel series Korean Food Made Simple from 2014 to 2016 and appeared as one of the four “iron chefs” on Iron Chef UK in 2010.
Jean Louisa Kelly
Jean Louisa Kelly '94CC made her film debut in the 1989 comedy Uncle Buck before going on to act in a number of movies, including The Fantasticks and Mr. Holland’s Opus. She was a star of the sitcom Yes, Dear and appeared in episodes of Mad about You, Grey’s Anatomy, CSI, and other TV shows.
Robinne Lee '00LAW has appeared in a variety of films and television series since the late 1990s, including Hitch, House of Payne, and both of the Fifty Shades of Grey sequels. Lee is also the author of the 2017 novel The Idea of You.
A political columnist and TV personality, Meghan McCain ’07CC, daughter of the late senator John McCain, co-hosted the Fox News program Outnumbered before joining the cast of ABC’s The View as a permanent co-host in 2017.
A comedian and actress known for her impersonations of political figures and celebrities including Hillary Clinton, Ruth Bader Ginsburg ’59LAW, ’94HON, and Justin Bieber, Kate McKinnon ’06CC has won two Emmy Awards for her work on Saturday Night Live. She has recently taken on more film roles, appearing in Ghostbusters, The Spy Who Dumped Me, and Bombshell, among other movies.
Since her breakthrough role in the 2014–2019 Amazon show Transparent, model and actress Hari Nef ’15CC has appeared in a variety of productions such as the series You and The Idol. In 2023, she appeared as "Doctor Barbie" in Barbie, cowritten and directed by Greta Gerwig '06BC.
Amanda Peet ’94CC had a streak of supporting and lead roles in the 1990s and 2000s in such films as The Whole Nine Yards, Something’s Gotta Give, and Syriana. More recently she starred in the TV series Togetherness and in season two of Dirty John.
One of the world’s original celebrity chefs, Jacques Pépin ’70GS, ’72GSAS, ’17HON has been a fixture on food TV since Today's Gourmet premiered in 1990 and is the author of more than thirty cookbooks.
James Rebhorn ’72SOA, who died in 2014, was a longtime character actor who appeared in a wide range of movies, including Scent of a Woman and Meet the Parents, and had recurring roles on TV shows such as White Collar, Homeland, and Enlightened.
Emily Robinson ’21CC started out as a child actor and model, appearing in TV shows such as Transparent and Saturday Night Live and films like Once Upon a Time in Venice and Eighth Grade. The former Columbia creative-writing major recently started writing and directing her own work.
Amanda Seales ’05GSAS, an actress, comedian, musician, and television personality, is a costar of the TV series Insecure and the host of the comedy-competition show Bring the Funny. In 2020 she joined the cast of the syndicated daytime talk show The Real.
Actor and musician George Segal ’55CC, who died in March 2021 at age 87, led a prolific screen career from the time he broke into Hollywood in the early 1960s. Notable works include the films Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and A Touch of Class and the sitcoms Just Shoot Me! and The Goldbergs.
Since graduating from Columbia, actress and comedian Jenny Slate ’04CC, who was a cast member of Saturday Night Live for the 2009–2010 season, has appeared in numerous film and television comedies for adults and children — Parks and Recreation, Bob’s Burgers, and Zootopia, to name just a few.
Sarah Steele ’11CC made her screen debut in the 2004 comedy-drama Spanglish alongside Adam Sandler. She is best known for her recurring role on the drama The Good Wife, which turned into a main role on its spinoff, The Good Fight.
Best known for her lead roles in Y2K-era teen films like 10 Things I Hate about You and Save the Last Dance, Julia Stiles ’05CC was also a star of the 2019 blockbuster Hustlers and has appeared on TV shows such as Dexter and The Mindy Project.
Rider Strong ’04CC starred as Shawn Hunter in the family sitcom Boy Meets World from 1993 to 2000 before enrolling at Columbia. More than a decade later, he returned for the show’s sequel, Girl Meets World, for which he also served as a director.
A Columbia College graduate, Preslaysa Williams (formerly Edwards) '03CC played Cindi Ornette in the children’s series The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo, which aired on Nickelodeon from 1996–1998. Williams has also authored several books, including the 2021 romance novel A Lowcountry Bride.
A former star sprinter on the Columbia track team, Robert Wisdom '76CC is best known for his supporting roles in popular crime shows, including The Wire, Prison Break, and The Alienist. He has also appeared in movies such as Ray, The Dark Knight Rises, and Motherless Brooklyn.
This article was originally published in January 2021. It was last updated in August 2023.