18 celebrities you didn’t realize were immigrants
Entertainers from all over the world flock to the United States since its entertainment industries — whether for movies, television, music, books, or theater — are some of the biggest in the world.
In addition to a surprising number of celebrities who are refugees from other countries, there are also quite a few celebrities who immigrated to the US before becoming citizens.
Here are 18 celebrities you probably didn’t realize were immigrants.
Michael J. Fox, who was born in Canada, uses his fame to campaign for government-funded medical research in the US.
Marty McFly actually hails from Canada and got American citizenship in 1999. Fox has Parkinson’s disease, and he frequently advocates for medical research into stem cells, which has produced breakthroughs in understanding and treating the disease.
“I’m real proud of the fact that if you say ‘Russia’ to the average American he thinks ‘Cold War’ and if you say ‘Russia’ to a Canadian he thinks ‘hockey,'” Fox said in 1987.
When Neil Young came to the United States, he was an undocumented immigrant without a work visa.
Neil Young is also Canadian, having moved to the United States in 1966, right around the time he started making folk-style records with “Buffalo Springfield.”
According to Rolling Stone, Young didn’t have proper papers at the time and lived “in perpetual fear of getting pulled over for a traffic violation.”
In an interview for his biography “Shakey,” Young described the quintessential Canadian characteristic of constant ambivalence.
“There’s something in Canada that teaches you that you always gotta look at both sides,” Young said. “Even the things that I believe in the most, I doubt.”
Salma Hayek also spent some time in the US undocumented before she got her green card.
The actress was born in Mexico and started her career making telenovelas there. In 1991, she moved to Los Angeles to study acting and straddled the Hollywood and Mexican acting worlds. She overstayed her US visa and was undocumented for a while before getting her green card. She acquired US citizenship in 2013.
Hayek remains an active part of her Mexican community, she told E!, making an effort to represent the country in her work and life.
“I have taught my child to embrace her Mexican heritage, to love my first language, Spanish, to learn about Mexican history, music, folk art, food, and even the Mexican candy I grew up with,” she said. “I have tried my whole life to represent my Mexican roots with honor and pride.”
M. Night Shyamalan added “Night” to his name when he applied for citizenship.
Shyamalan was born in India but raised in Philadelphia’s suburbs. He added “Night” to his name when he turned 18 and applied for US citizenship.
After graduating from New York University’s film school, Shyamalan made a film called “Praying with Anger” about an American’s spiritual journey to India, according to “The Philadelphia Reader” by Robert Huber. It won an award at the American Film Institute and landed him an agent.
“Modern Family” premiered in 2009, but Sofia Vergara didn’t officially become a US citizen until 2014.
After her brother died, Colombian-born actress Sofia Vergara and her family moved to Miami in 1998. Vergara became a US citizen in 2014.
In an interview with Jimmy Kimmel, the “Modern Family” star revealed she completely nailed the test, even though it was a long time coming.
“It took me a lot of time to get my residence even though I was working here for a long time. But it was fun and I got all my questions perfect,” she said.
Kumail Nanjiani describes struggles and racism he’s faced as an immigrant.
Kumail Nanjiani has included anecdotes about his immigration from Pakistan to the US in his stand-up comedy routines. However, in April 2017, he revealed a little bit more about how hard it truly was to move to the US.
“America is the hardest countries [sic] to visit, let alone emigrate to. I remember my dad shaking during his visa interview. The process is scary,” he posted on Twitter, according to Bustle. “The system is very dehumanizing. I remember after I got my green card, they lost my passport. They just said it like it wasn’t a big deal.”
More recently, he again tweeted about negative experiences he’s had as an immigrant in the US, despite achieving a great amount of success through hits like “The Big Sick.”
“I’ve heard ‘Go back to your country’ many many times. Most recently was about a month and a half ago in LA. It hurts my feelings every time,” he said.
Pamela Anderson is “the ultimate Californian girl,” but she’s from Canada.
The “Baywatch” star grew up in British Columbia, Canada, and became a US citizen in 2004, around the time she began focusing on animal rights.
Anderson makes fun of her reputation as a Californian sex symbol.
“People say I’m the ultimate California girl, which is funny, being that I’m Canadian,” she told Esquire.
Jim Carrey became a US citizen to vote in the 2004 election.
Another Canadian! Carrey was born in Newmarket in Ontario. He became an American citizen in 2004, well into his acting career, to vote in the 2004 US election.
“This country has helped define me and make my dreams come true,” Carrey said in a statement at the time.
He kept his Canadian citizenship, too, though.
“I have no intention of giving up my Canadian heritage, and all those who loved and supported me,” Carrey said in the statement. “My upbringing in Canada made me the person I am. I will always be proud to be a Canadian.”
Eddie Van Halen, who was born in the Netherlands, gave a talk at the National Museum of American History about “What It Means to Be American.”
The guitarist moved to the United States when he was around 7 years old. He later became a naturalized citizen.
In 2011, Van Halen donated his guitar the Frank 2 to the National Museum of American History. And in 2015, he gave a talk at the museum about “What It Means to Be American.”
“We showed up here with the equivalent of $50 and a piano,” Van Halen told the Associated Press. “We came halfway around the world without money, without a set job, no place to live, and couldn’t even speak the language.”
He said donating his guitars was an honor and a symbol of how his music became part of the American fabric.
“What more could you ask for to be recognized as being part of having contributed to change, you know?” he said. “All I can say is only in America.”
Natalie Portman’s directorial debut was in Hebrew and honored her Israeli roots.
Portman was born in Israel to an Israeli father and American mother. She moved to Washington, DC, when she was 3 years old, then Connecticut, then Long Island. She holds dual American and Israeli citizenship.
In 2015, Portman made her directorial debut with “A Tale of Love and Darkness.” It’s in Hebrew and based on the semi-autobiographical novel by the Israeli author Amos Oz.
“The relationship to Israel, conflicted and complicated and always changing, founded in mythology and dreams,” Portman told the Jerusalem Post. “All Jews have the Holocaust on our backs as this dominant part of our cultural story that is a heavy thing. The pressures of being a woman, of being a mother. The dual-pull of being an immigrant, idealizing where you’re going and once you get there, idealizing where you left. All of that I relate to.”
Dave Matthews attended anti-apartheid rallies in South Africa.
The head of the Dave Matthews band was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. He moved to the suburbs of New York City when he was 2 years old, then England, then New York again, and back to South Africa by the time he turned 11. He moved to Virginia a few years later, where he obtained US citizenship.
In South Africa, Matthews attended anti-apartheid marches and rallies, which inspired some of his later work.
“In a way, the fertile ground for revolution is oppression, you know?” Matthews told CNN in 2005. “Although it’s very ugly, a revolutionary spirit comes out of just the will that we have. It’s inside of us all, that will that we have inside. I think it taught me that.”
Charlize Theron moved to the US to work as a model.
Theron is more commonly associated with her home in South Africa, but she obtained US citizenship in 2007 so she could vote and travel more easily.
“When you have a South African passport, you have to get a visa for every country and it’s a bit of a nightmare,” Theron told the Irish Examiner. “It’s nice to feel like I’m actually really home here.”
She first moved to the US to work as a model in New York. When she was 19, she went to Los Angeles to try acting.
“[My mother] bought me a one-way plane ticket,” Theron told The New York Times. “When I arrived in California, I got in the cab and said, ‘Take me to Hollywood.'”
Liam Neeson got turned down for a lot of roles because of his Irish accent.
The actor was born in Ireland and worked as an actor in Great Britain before moving to Hollywood in the late 1980s. He became a US citizen in 2009.
He had some trouble when he first started acting in the US. Casting directors would praise him, but ask him to change his accent.
“I would say ‘of course we can change our accent’ because we’re actors, that’s part and parcel of what we do,” Neeson told the Irish Times. “In those days, there’d be lots of auditions where you’d get ‘well you’re just a bit too tall, you’re just a bit too Irish, your nose is a bit too this.’ There’s always rejection in this business. You have to develop a tough skin.”
Neeson still sticks to his Irish roots, however. He narrated Ireland’s bid video to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
Anthony Hopkins almost lost his knighthood when he got his US citizenship.
As you can tell from his accent, Hopkins is Welsh. But the actor moved to California in the 1990s and got US citizenship in 2000.
By doing so, some reports suggested he lost his title of “sir” and his Order of the British Empire because the US pledge of allegiance includes the phrase “I further renounce the title of nobility to which I have heretofore belonged.” But Hopkins kept his UK citizenship and maintains his knighthood.
Hopkins told the BBC that he chose to become a US citizen because the country was “generous” to him.
“I thought it would be good to give something back,” he said. “It was a decision of the heart.”
Rachel Weisz wanted to vote in American elections.
Weisz worked in Hollywood with a green card for years, then decided to get citizenship in 2011 so she could vote and continue to work in the US.
“When I come back into the country now and they stamp my passport they say ‘Welcome home, Ma’am.’ I think that’s a lovely formality,” Weisz told the Express. “No one in England would say that, would they?”
Pierce Brosnan put off his US citizenship test for decades.
Even James Bond wants to be an American. The Irish actor became a US citizen in 2004.
Brosnan lived in the US for 22 years before getting his citizenship. He said he put it off because he didn’t want to take a citizenship test.
“I’ve kind of had this allergic reaction to tests and it goes back to school, and I never did well at tests in school,” Brosnan said at the time. “I didn’t show up for them. [To get my citizenship], I’ll have to know American history and they’ll ask me questions and suppose that I get them wrong and they say, ‘No, next!'”
Emily Blunt felt sad about renouncing her full British citizenship.
Emily Blunt has lived in the United States since 2008 but became a half US citizen in 2015. The British-born actress revealed in an interview on Jimmy Kimmel Live! that she had mixed emotions about becoming a US citizen, however.
“I’m not sure I’m entirely thrilled about it,” she told Jimmy Kimmel. “People ask me about the whole day. They were like, ‘Oh, it must have been so emotional.’ I was like, ‘It wasn’t! It was sad!’ I like being British.”
When asked about how she prepared for the citizenship test, she spoke about how difficult it was.
“It is the hardest test I ever had to take,” Blunt said. “I guarantee most Americans would have no idea how to answer any of these questions.”
Camila Cabello crossed the US border with her mother when she was 6 years old.
The “Señorita” songstress is now a pop music icon. However, before her music became a hit in the United States, she lived in Cuba.
Cabello was born in Cojímar, Cuba, to a Cuban mother and Mexican father. At the age of 6, Cabello moved from Cuba to the United States, crossing the US border with her mother. According to Marie Claire, Cabello’s mother told her they were going on a trip to Disney World.
Cabello spoke about her experience as an immigrant and gave her support for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program at the 2018 Grammy Awards.
“Just like the Dreamers, my parents brought me to this country with nothing in their pockets but hope. They showed me what it means to work twice as hard and never give up. And honestly, no part of my journey is any different from theirs,” she said. “I’m a proud Cuban-Mexican immigrant, born in eastern Havana, standing in front of you on the Grammy stage in New York City, and all I know is, just like dreams, these kids can’t be forgotten and are worth fighting for.”
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