Wisconsin might not have the booming film industry that Hollywood does, and it might not be home to Broadway like New York City is, but that doesn’t mean that no celebrities call the Badger State home. Several movie stars, professional athletes, and musicians were born in the state and grew up in Wisconsin—and some still reside in America’s Dairyland. While some might live elsewhere because of their careers, for many, Wisconsin is still home either way.
From soccer stars to acclaimed actors, here are some of the celebrities from Wisconsin who made news in 2023.
With two Emmy wins, three Oscar nominations, and a lengthy tenure at Marvel Studios, there’s no denying that Mark Ruffalo is one of Hollywood’s most recognizable faces. He’s also arguably one of the most recognizable to emerge from Kenosha, a city on the southeastern border of the state.
Ruffalo was born in the city and lived there until his teen years, before moving to Virginia Beach, and then making his way to California. Despite a Screen Actors Guild strike that kept actors on the picket lines for 118 days, Ruffalo still had a busy year professionally. The actor starred in the Netflix series “All the Light We Cannot See,” as well as the film “Poor Things” alongside Emma Stone.
Willem Dafoe has had an active career that spans five decades, and it just continues to pick up speed. This year, seven of the actor’s projects were released, including “Asteroid City,” “Poor Things,” and an English language dub of the Japanese animated film “The Boy and the Heron.”
Dafoe, an Appleton native, graduated from Appleton East High School then studied drama at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. The actor was invited back to his alma mater in 2022 to give the university’s commencement speech and receive an honorary Doctor of Arts degree. Before moving to New York to pursue acting, Dafoe performed at Milwaukee’s Theater X, an experimental theatre company that shuttered in 2004.
Oprah is arguably one of the most famous people in the country, but before she was a mega celebrity, she was raised in Wisconsin. Born Oprah Gail Winfrey in Mississippi, she moved to Milwaukee with her mom when she was six years old. She attended Milwaukee’s Lincoln High School before transferring to Nicolet High in suburban Glendale. Oprah’s known for her homes throughout the country, including a penthouse in Manhattan and several properties in Maui, but she still returns to Milwaukee to celebrate holidays with family, including Thanksgiving in 2019.
The mogul’s career started in television with the daytime talk show “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” but she has since expanded and seems to have a role in everything now, from entertainment to politics. This year, Oprah served as executive producer for the film “The Color Purple,” and has continued to spread her influence through the release of her annual Favorite Things list.
Born in Milwaukee and raised in northeastern Silver Cliff, there’s not a lot that multi-hyphenate Trixie Mattel hasn’t accomplished. The drag queen and all-around entertainer studied musical theater at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, and first performed in drag during a production of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” at the city’s Oriental Theater. Mattel came up in Milwaukee’s drag scene but gained a massive amount of attention while competing on the seventh season of “Ru Paul’s Drag Race,” ultimately placing sixth. She went on to win Season 3 of “Ru Paul’s Drag Race All Stars” a few years later.
Since then, Mattel has appeared in films, web series, and a host of television series, including the home renovation show “Trixie Mattel: Drag Me Home,” announced earlier this year. That wasn’t the only thing the drag queen did in 2023—she also announced partnerships with Etsy, The Sims, LinkedIn and Maybelline, all while making appearances in seven television shows including “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City.”
The drag queen also took an opportunity to mock legislation that led to the banning of drag shows and storytime with drag queens in libraries by reading a portion of Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s book to kids for a sketch on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”
Before starting a career in Hollywood and starring in films like “Boogie Nights,” “Drugstore Cowboy,” and “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me,” Heather Graham spent her early years growing up in Milwaukee. The actress was born in Wisconsin’s largest city and moved to California when she was nine years old.
This year, Graham starred in five different films, including the Netflix Christmas movie “Best. Christmas. Ever!” She was also featured in an episode of the drama series “Extrapolations.” The actress also stepped behind the camera this year, directing the upcoming feature “Chosen Family,” a comedy-drama film that Graham wrote, directed, and starred in.
In 2014, Nick Viall was one of 25 contestants competing on the 10th season of “The Bachelorette.” After his elimination, he came back in the 11th season, then stepped into the main role in Season 21 of “The Bachelor.” Viall, a Wisconsin native, was born in Waukesha and graduated from Waukesha North High School in 1999 before attending the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, where he ran track and field.
Viall returned to television this year as a clue giver on an episode of “The Masked Singer,” as well as a contestant on the reality show “Special Forces,” which aired from Sept. 25 through Nov. 27 on FOX.
The reality star has also had a few developments in his personal life—he got engaged to model Natalie Joy in January and the couple announced they’re expecting their first child together in August.
There are few celebrities from Wisconsin who are as devoted to the state as Justin Vernon, the musician behind Bon Iver. The Eau Claire native graduated from Memorial High School in 1999, attended the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire, and has never shied away from his Wisconsin roots. Vernon even founded Eaux Claires, a music and arts festival in his hometown.
While Bon Iver was already successful, the artist soared to new heights in 2020, when he first began collaborating with Taylor Swift, co-writing and performing on the singer’s track “Exile” and performing on several other songs on the pop megastar’s albums “Folklore” and “Evermore.” This year, the musician’s other band, DeYarmond Edison, released a box set of five LPs and four CDs called “Epoch.”
Actress Rachel Brosnahan spent most of her childhood growing up in Highland Park, Illinois, but was born in Milwaukee, where she lived until she was four years old. The Wisconsin-born actress is best known for playing the title role in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” a period comedy-drama series about a ’50s housewife in New York City who becomes a stand-up comedian. Brosnahan portrayed Midge Maisel on the show— and even won an Emmy for the role—throughout the series’ run, which ended this year after five seasons.
But when one door closes, another one opens. This year, Brosnahan accepted the role of Lois Lane in the DC Universe, starting with a role in “Superman: Legacy,” which is scheduled to be released in 2025.
While Colin Kaepernick’s career began as a professional football player, the former quarterback is now best known for his civil rights activism. Kaepernick remained unsigned after becoming a free agent several years ago, presumably for protesting against police brutality by kneeling during the National Anthem. Since then, Kaepernick has devoted his time to raising awareness for several causes, including police brutality.
As he’s transitioned away from football, the former player and activist has taken on a new role: producer. This year, Kaepernick produced the three-part true-crime docuseries “Killing County,” which examines corruption in a small California town’s police department.
Born in Milwaukee, Kaepernick spent the first few years of his life growing up in Fond du Lac.
14 years after the series’ closure, “Monk” is back on the case. Green Bay native Tony Shalhoub stepped back into the shoes of his former character to reprise the role in the Peacock film “Mr. Monk’s Last Case: A Monk Movie.” While Shalhoub returned to one role, he said goodbye to another when “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” ended this year after a five-season run.
Shalhoub was born in Green Bay and attended Green Bay East High School, where he first started acting in the school’s productions. After graduation, he attended the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay for a short time. The actor continues to show his hometown pride, attending the Dec. 3 Packers game in Green Bay.
Rose Lavelle might not be a Wisconsin native, but the soccer star played four seasons at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, leading the team to victory in the 2014 Big Ten Women’s Soccer Tournament. Lavelle still feels loyalty toward her university, attending a football game at the school in October.
This year, the athlete was on the United States Women’s National Soccer Team as it competed in the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, where they lost in a knockout game against Sweden.
In addition to playing on the national team, Lavelle is a midfielder for OL Reign, a National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) club based out of Seattle. Lavelle missed most of the season with the team due to injury and playing for the international squad, but was able to return for Seattle’s postseason run. Lavelle played during the team’s appearance in the NWSL Championship, scoring the team’s only goal in its 2-1 defeat against Gotham FC on Nov. 11.
While most of Fall Out Boy’s members grew up in the Chicago suburbs, the band wouldn’t be complete without drummer and Menomonee Falls native Andy Hurley. The drummer grew up in the Milwaukee suburb, where he attended Menomonee Falls High School. He got involved in the local heavy metal and hardcore punk scenes, which is how he met his future Fall Out Boy bandmates.
This year, Fall Out Boy released “So Much (for) Stardust,” their eighth studio album, and embarked on a tour through the United States, Canada, and Europe in support of it. Hurley also stayed connected to his hometown—on Jan. 1, he participated in a polar plunge at Milwaukee’s Bradford Beach for the 12th year in a row.
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