10 Celebrities with Scottish Heritage

Family History, Lifestyle
21 February 2023
by Ancestry® Team

Scottish CelebritiesBack on September 18, 2014, Scottish voters decided not to sever their 307-year-old union with England and become an independent country, free from any official ties to the United Kingdom. The question divided the country, roiled the UK, and drew the gaze of the world.

More recently, Scotland has attracted the attention of television drama fans with the upcoming 7th season of the show Outlander. The Starz series won rave reviews as it follows an English nurse as she travels back in time from 1945 to 1743, arriving in the Scottish highlands.

Aside from the independence referendum and the romantic hit, Scotland holds particular sway over the popular imagination because so many of us have Scottish heritage (look up your family tree). Here are 10 celebrities who also revel in their Scottish roots.

1. Julianne Moore: The four-time Oscar-nominated actress is so proud of her Scottish Lowlands heritage that she’s reclaimed it as part of her official identity. Moore’s mother was born in Greenock, in southwestern Scotland, moved to the U.S. at 10, and later married Moore’s American father. But because Moore’s father was an Army officer, Moore’s mother had to renounce her British citizenship. “My sister and I both remember her coming home in tears carrying the American flag. I think it was devastating for people to have to renounce one thing to become another,” Moore has said.

But in 2011, Moore made the surprising decision to become a British citizen, primarily for her mother, who had died in 2009. “It would have meant the world to her, because her parents emigrated when she was 10, so she didn’t have a choice about moving to the United States,” Moore says. Moore paid further tribute to her mother by publishing a children’s book about being raised by an immigrant parent, My Mom Is a Foreigner, But Not to Me.

2. Neve Campbell: Campbell, star of the Scream horror film franchise, can thank her Scottish-born father for her first acting role. Her father, a Glasgow native, moved to Canada as child and immersed himself in the Scottish folklore sustained by Toronto’s Scottish expat community. He eventually led a Scottish theater group and recruited his daughter, then an aspiring ballerina, to help him out with his annual Christmas “panto,” a traditional British theater production designed for family appeal and easy laughs.

Thanks to her dad, who raised the former Party of Five star after her parents divorced, Campbell still loves Scottish culture, even the parts of it made from sheep lungs. “I love Scottish things, especially the food,” Campbell has said. “I love mince and tatties and I really like haggis, although I don’t like to think how it’s made.”

3. David Duchovny: Duchovny’s Scottish heritage may be less surprising than his bachelor’s degree from Yale and master’s degree from Princeton, but the X-Files and Californication star says he’s proud of the Aberdeenshire roots he inherited from his mother.

Duchovny’s Scottish-born mother married an advertising man from a Russian-Jewish family, and they raised Duchovny in New York City. Although Duchovny abandoned the Ivy League for Hollywood before getting his Ph.D., he hasn’t abandoned his ethnic heritage. He proved his devotion earlier in his career when he appeared at the British premiere of his 2000 film Return to Me in full Highland dress, wearing nothing under his kilt. “I’m very proud of my Scottish blood,” he says.

4. Lou Diamond Phillips: Phillips has become famous as an actor who can portray characters of vastly different ethnicities. In La Bamba, his first major feature, Phillips played Mexican-American singer Ritchie Valens. He has portrayed Native Americans, including in his role in Longmire, the A&E television show. And Phillips was nominated for a Tony for his portrayal of the King of Siam in the 1996 Broadway revival of The King and I.

All of those role reflect Phillip’s heritage. His father is Scots-Irish and Cherokee while his mother is Filipina. Phillips has joked that his multiethnic background provides him the opportunity to take a multitude of different roles. “I can play what’s in me the rest of my life and never do the same role twice,” Phillips told the Los Angeles Times.

5. Gerard Butler: If you have seen either of the two How to Train Your Dragon films, chances are you already know that Butler voices the role of clan chieftain Stoick the Vast. And while his actual accent might not be quite that exaggerated, it’s pretty close.

Butler, who is best remembered for playing King Leonidas in 300, is from Paisley, Scotland. Butler loves his country, so even though he lives in Los Angeles for work, he still considers Scotland home: “Ah yes, it’s the most unique place in the world,” he says. “The people, the geography, the spirit — it’s Scotland!” he told the Daily Record.

6. Alan Cumming: The stage-and-screen star, famous for his Broadway, movie, and television roles, is from Aberfeldy in central Scotland. A regular on the legal drama The Good Wife, Cumming was outspoken about Scottish independence and even bought a flat in Edinburgh to establish residency in hopes of being able to vote in the referendum. But his hopes were dashed, since his main residence was really New York.

7. Kelly Macdonald: The Boardwalk Empire star made a splash with her very first role opposite fellow Scot Ewan McGregor in Scottish director Danny Boyle’s drama Trainspotting. The Glasgow-born actress has made a name for herself in movies like Gosford Park, Finding Neverland, and No Country for Old Men.

But to kids, she’s most famously the voice of Merida in Brave — a role that allowed her to take pride in her heritage. “You know, when I was watching the film I kind of — despite myself — had a sort of swelling of national pride, you know. You can’t help it. It’s like all those movies set in Scotland, like Highlander and Braveheart and all these things,” she told Babble.

8. James McAvoy: On screen, he has mostly played Englishmen or Americans, as in Atonement with Keira Knightley, Wanted opposite Angelina Jolie, and as a young Professor X in two X-Men movies. But McAvoy also used his native accent in his memorable turn as Idi Amin’s personal physician in The Last King of Scotland.

Hailing from Glasgow, McAvoy studied at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama before moving to London to look for professional work. His big break came in 2005 when he landed the role of Mr. Tumnus in the big-budget adaptation of The Chronicles of Narnia. McAvoy often shows his Scottish pride, like when accepting the British Independent Film Award for best actor in 2012 (for his indie drama Filth), McAvoy tearily proclaimed his excitement: “It’s like Scotland’s won the World Cup.”

9. Kevin McKidd: To Grey’s Anatomy fans, McKidd will forever be known as hunky trauma surgeon Owen Hunt, who was a regular on the long-running series as the love of Christina Yang’s (Sandra Oh) life since 2008.

Although he convincingly played  former U.S. Army veteran on the medical drama, McKidd is actually a Scot, born and bred in Elgin in northeast Scotland. He says being Scottish has helped his career. “I think, definitely, being Scottish has made my life easier,” he said. “It seems to open doors over here. Americans seem to think we’re exotic!”

10. Emma Thompson: The Academy Award winner voiced the role of Merida’s mother in Brave, making some wonder if the English actress is actually Scottish; she is, on her mother’s side. Her parents are both actors — Englishman Eric Thompson and Scottish Phyllida Law.

A Cambridge alumna, Thompson participated in the university’s esteemed Footlights drama club at the same time as Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. She went on to star on stage and make a name for herself as both a screenwriter and an actress. Although she was raised primarily in England, Thompson’s family had property in Scotland, and she has a connection to her Scottish heritage. “When I want calm, I go to Scotland. I’m half Scottish and every now and then, we retreat up there as a family,” she told the Daily Record.

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