Game of Thrones' Peter Dinklage and more television, movie stars from New Jersey
Ever since the days of Thomas Edison, New Jersey has been at the heart of the film world.
It should come as little surprise then that the galaxy of stars shining in cinema and television is heavily populated by Garden State natives.
Here's a look at 15 of the New Jersey celebrities starring on movie theater and television screens near you:
1. Peter Dinklage
Born in Morristown and raised in Mendham, Peter Dinklage has achieved Emmy-winning TV icon status for his work as Tyrion Lannister in HBO's hit dark fantasy epic "Game of Thrones."
It makes sense that "Thones" heavily features a New Jersey talent; the series is inspired by the "Song of Ice and Fire" novels by Bayonne author George R.R. Martin.
2. Danny DeVito
Danny DeVito, the Emmy-winning and Oscar-nominated actor and filmmaker from Asbury Park, was raised just a few blocks from the ocean. That upbringing had a profound effect on him, he said during a 2018 homecoming visit to the Asbury Park Music and Film Festival.
Listen to highlights from Danny DeVito's Asbury Park appearance on the "Fan Theory" podcast:
“I felt like there was a freedom," DeVito said. "The Atlantic Ocean’s there, you know what I mean? And you’re home, whatever you’re doing, doing schoolwork or this or that or trying to get by with stuff, you always had the Atlantic Ocean to run to. And that’s what I’d do. I’d get on my bike. I lived on Second Avenue and New Street … so I would get on the bike and just ride, without any kind of inhibitions.
3. Zoe Saldana
Passaic native actress Zoe Saldana has become one of the biggest science-fiction stars of her generation thanks to key roles in three world-dominating franchises.
She stars as Gamora of the "Guardians of the Galaxy" in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is the co-lead in James Cameron's "Avatar" franchise set to to continue for at least four more films through 2027, and took over for Nichelle Nichols as Uhura in the latest trilogy of "Star Trek" films.
4. Susan Sarandon
An Oscar winner who grew up in Edison, Susan Sarandon has been a must-see on-screen presence since her turns in "Joe" (1970) and "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" (1975).
Sarandon was born in New York City and lived in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of Queens before moving with her family to Edison.
"I'm the oldest of nine, so we moved to New Jersey for my wonder years, and I definitely remember the tomatoes. I still have family there, and I consider myself from New Jersey all my formative years," Sarandon told me in 2012.
"At that point 100 years ago, you could go out on your bike, and I was always just thrown out with all the little kids until the street lights came on, and you came in, and I honestly didn't even know New York existed. I was so naive and kind of stupid and just homebound," Sarandon recalled. "I was kind of shy, so it was a nice place for me to come of age in a very kind of protected way."
5. Meryl Streep
Meryl Streep, a native of Bernardsville in Somerset County, has been nominated for 21 Academy Awards, the most for any actor ever, and won three Oscars across her legendary career.
She still occasionally looks back to her home state for inspiration; her character in 2015's "Ricki and the Flash" is inspired by Jersey Shore bar band rock singer Terry Cieri of Toms River.
6. Jack Nicholson
Another three-time Oscar-winner from New Jersey? Neptune native Jack Nicholson, a graduate of Manasquan High School.
A 1954 graduate of Manasquan High School, Nicholson acted in numerous school productions.
A 1953 article in The Asbury Park Press noted that the teenage Nicholson was listed as "best actor," "chatterbox" and, ironically, both "class pessimist" and "class optimist" in a poll of seniors taken by Manasquan High School's Blue and Gray newspaper.
Nicholson's last on-screen appearance was in 2010's "How Do You Know," but rumors of his return to acting occasionally come up from time to time.
7. Bruce Willis
Born in 1955 in West Germany, where his father was in the U.S. Army, Willis moved back to Carneys Point, Salem County, with his family when he was 2. Willis, a member of the 2011 class of the New Jersey Hall of Fame, grew up in Penns Grove, Salem County, graduating from high school there in 1973 and then attended what was then known as Montclair State College to study theater.
"Die Hard" franchise protagonist John McClane is a New Jersey-native NYPD cop whose first big-screen adventure was in Los Angeles, but the film was based on the 1979 Roderick Thorp novel "Nothing Lasts Forever," itself a sequel to Thorp's 1966 book "The Detective."
In 1968, "The Detective" was adapted into a film starring Hoboken native Frank Sinatra. That's right: Old Blue Eyes was cinema's first John McClane, even if the character is named Joe Leland in "Nothing Lasts Forever" and "The Detective."
The Jersey factor only increased as the series went on. In the franchise's fourth installment, "Live Free or Die Hard" (2007), McClane's daughter Lucy, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, is a Rutgers student. That film also features a shootout in Camden, and there's a supporting role for Kevin Smith (more on him below).
In the trailer for the fifth "Die Hard" movie, 2013's "A Good Day to Die Hard," the Garden State pride remains. When McClane learns that his estranged son, Jack, played by Jai Courtney, is a CIA operative, he calls him the "007 of Plainfield, New Jersey."
8. Jason Alexander
The Newark native Jason Alexander won a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical for his work in “Jerome Robbins’ Broadway” in 1989, the same year he was put on the path to television icon status thanks to his performance as George Costanza on “Seinfeld.”
His “Seinfeld” tenure famously earned him seven Emmy nominations and four Golden Globe nominations.
Listen to Jason Alexander on the "Fan Theory" podcast:
Alexander, who grew up in Livingston, said his Essex County youth helped forever shape him as an artist.
“What it gave me was an access that kids who grow up wanting to be actors (and) that live spread across the country don’t have,” Alexander told the Asbury Park Press' "Fan Theory" podcast last year. “When I was in high school, basically from the time I was 12 or 13 until I graduated high school, I was with a group of friends who almost every weekend we would go into New York and we would see two shows on Saturday and come back on Sunday and see something else.”
9. Paul Rudd
Yes, even Ant-Man is from New Jersey.
The ageless and eternally charming Paul Rudd hails from Passaic.
He can currently be seen playing a key role as Scott Lang in the Marvel Cinematic Universe blockbuster "Avengers: Endgame."
And if one Garden State native Ant-Man wasn't enough, then try this on for size: Michael Douglas, who plays Lang's mentor and original Ant-Man Hank Pym in the M.C.U. is a native of New Brunswick.
Best known as the mastermind behind legendary hip-hop crew the Wu-Tang Clan, RZA, who owns a home in Millstone, has been a regular presence on film and television over the years.
RZA's atmospheric and innovative production has always had a cinematic flair, so it came as no surprise when he made his film directing debut in 2012 with the fight flick "The Man with the Iron Fists," which he directed, starred in, co-wrote and co-scored.
He's worked for filmmaking masters Jim Jarmusch (1999's "Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai," 2003's "Coffee and Cigarettes" and the upcoming "The Dead Don't Die") and Ridley Scott (2007's "American Gangster"), and co-starred in the gritty 2014 police series "Gang Related."
"Fortunately, I try to keep myself in the mind of a student, even though some people look at me as a teacher," RZA told me in 2014. "And when you have a student's mind, you'll always be able to learn, pick up another technique to add on to your own.
"So, being that I was fortunate to work around some great directors and some great actors, some of the best, I think it helped me, it helped me a lot, and I took away something every time."
11. Michelle Visage
The current 11th season of "RuPaul's Drag Race" on VH1 is the Jersiest incarnation of the reality competition cultural juggernaut yet.
Perth Amboy-born, South Plainfield-raised singer, radio host and podcaster Michelle Visage is one of the judges, providing criticism rich with insight, wit and New Jersey attitude.
This season's competitors have included Cherry Hill's Ariel Versace and Honey Davenport, who reigned over Asbury Park's nightlife scene as Miss Paradise 2018. A West Philadelphia native, Davenport's family owned a beach house in Point Pleasant.
12. Sonya Deville
Among the athletes helping to drive World Wrestling Entertainment's evolution toward female representation is Sonya Deville, a Shamong native born Daria Berenato who competes on the company's "SmackDown Live" program on Tuesdays.
"Jersey people don't sugarcoat things," Deville told me earlier this year. "I grew up kind of like my family was very honest with me. People around me were kind of hard on me, but it's that good kind of tough love that breeds strong people and independent people and people that have courage and strength to do whatever they want in the world."
Deville is also fighting for progress and representation on another front, as the first openly lesbian competitor in WWE history.
"Being a part of the LGBTQ community myself, it's another passion of mine to let my fan base know that I represent another demographic in the WWE," Deville said, "and we are diverse and it's OK to be you. And that's kind of another message I'd like to spread while I have this platform."
13. Queen Latifah
Newark native Queen Latifah got her start thanks to pioneering, Grammy-winning work in the world of hip-hop, and earned an Oscar nomination for “Chicago,” a Golden Globe for “Life Support” (2007) and an Emmy for “Bessie” (2015).
But in many ways, Queen Latifah’s performance on “Star,” which just wrapped a three-season run on Fox earlier this month, called back to her North Jersey roots.
During a 2017 teleconference with members of the media, she said that she and Philadelphia native "Star" co-creator Lee Daniels first connected at an after-party for his 2009 hit “Precious,” and the conversation veered to the iconic 1991 LGBT documentary “Paris is Burning.”
"(We talked about) how much we both loved that movie,” Queen Latifah said, “and how some of the people in that movie were high school classmates of mine or friends that I knew from hanging out in the clubs in my teenage years, (how when he was younger) he kind of crossed a lot of the same places and how we wanted to build that understanding.”
On “Star,” the actress co-starred as the gospel-singing mentor of an aspiring R&B girl group and mother to a transgender daughter played by Amiyah Scott.
14. Kal Penn
Penn, a Montclair native, is a member of the Freehold Township High School class of 1995.
After his big break 15 years ago in the New Jersey-set "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle" in 2004, he co-starred on “House” and was an associate director for the White House Office of Public Engagement between 2009 and 2011 in the Obama administration.
He'll next be seen in "Sunnyside," the NBC series he co-created and stars in, set to premiere in the fall.
WATCH: Kevin Smith: Vulgarthon film and podcast festival takes over Red Bank Asbury Park Press
15. Kevin Smith
The Highlands-native filmmaker, actor, podcaster and comic book shop proprietor Kevin Smith is busier than ever these days; he's in post-production on "Jay and Silent Bob Reboot," working on an animated "Howard the Duck" series for Marvel and more.
Are you all about arts and entertainment? Then make sure you don't miss a single story by our features reporter Alex Biese. Subscribe to the Asbury Park Press today for unlimited digital access. Learn more and consider a subscription at https://offers.app.com/specialoffer.