Will Smith always talks about how much he loves living and laughing. And with a long list of movie credits to his name like Men in Black, Pursuit of Happyness, I am Legend and of course his breakthrough television show The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, perhaps it’s not surprising that he feels good about life. But he didn’t always have it easy.
After a successful career as an actor, director and producer, Winkler has turned his attention to a cause which is very close to home. As a child, he struggled throughout many years of schooling. “When I was growing up, no one knew what learning challenges were. So I was called ‘stupid’, ‘lazy’, and ‘not living up to my potential”. He describes feeling like his true self – his capable, smart, and funny self – was hidden from others, who could only see his struggles.
Patrick Dempsey, star of the hit TV show Grey's Anatomy, is known to adoring fans around the world as 'McDreamy'. He has acted in movie blockbusters, along with excelling at amateur race car driving.
And McDreamy is dyslexic. He had a normal American family upbringing in Maine, and struggled with his literacy throughout primary school. He was finally diagnosed with dyslexia at age twelve. His road to the diagnosis was a long one, with other incorrect diagnoses being made along the way. Dempsey describes the extreme low self-esteem that accompanied those years, describing feeling convinced that he was stupid and worse than his peers.
In an interview with Barbara Walters, Dempsey admitted that those early trials with dyslexia "made him what I am today. It's given me a perspective of — you have keep working. I have never given up."
In his acting life, his dyslexia still plays a role. He has to memorize all of his lines rather than rely on a cue card. One of the problems he's had with his TV role is that often the scripts come in at the last minute. He has had to find ways to quickly commit lines to memory. Often he asks someone else to read it aloud to him before committing it to memory.
Despite professional coaching and extra help when he was younger, he finally hit upon something in recent years that seems to help: teaching his 4 year old daughter to read. The back-to-the-basics approach has transformed the way he thinks about language!
Mexican actress Salma Hayek is known in Hollywood for bucking the tall and willowy trend. With her curvaceous figure and sassy attitude, she has starred in Desperado, Wild Wild West, and more recently, Frida for which she received an Academy Award. She also has dyslexia.
In an interview with Harper's Bazaar UK, she said "I have an accent, am dyslexic, short and chubby. You name it, I have it, but I am here. I must be the luckiest girl in the world to be working!"
Despite her dyslexia, which was diagnosed in her teen years in Mexico, Hayek was determined to learn English in order to move to California to pursue her acting dreams. With a successful career in Mexican soaps behind her, she had to learn fast to make the transition. She credits her dyslexia with giving her certain strengths in memory which have proved invaluable in her career as an actor and director.
"Some people read really fast, but you'll ask them questions about the script and they'll forget. I take a long time to read a script, but I read it only once. I directed a movie, and I never brought the script to the set."
Tom Cruise – born Thomas Cruise Mapother IV – is an international celebrity known for his film roles in the Mission Impossible series, Jerry Maguire, and Top Gun, to name a few. He is also a global figure of discussion for his public promotion of the Church of Scientology. Cruise is known for the intensity and passion with which he lives his personal, professional and public life. Cruise was born and spent his early years in upstate New York, one of four children born to an amateur actress mother and electrical engineer father. His mother and all three sisters have dyslexia, and from a young age Cruise started falling behind in his schoolwork. He describes himself as having been a "functional illiterate" for the first few decades of his life.
Though he originally entered a seminary at age 14 with thoughts of becoming a Franciscan priest, he transitioned to a conventional high school one year later and discovered acting through school performances. It was immediately a natural fit.
"I was a daydreamer," he says. "I like to dream, you know, create. I used to like to make my sisters laugh. And I'd write skits, and perform, do imitations...I used to imitate the classic Donald Duck."
Bitten by the acting bug, Cruise moved to New York and gave himself a 10-year time frame to "make it" onstage or in Hollywood. In multiple interviews, he has explained how his dyslexia turned what was already a stressful task into something so much more mentally demanding. He could barely read a script.
"[At auditions], I'd get the director and producer to talk about the characters and the film. I'd glean information from them and I'd use that... I got pretty good at ad-libbing".
As a part of his conversion to Scientology in 1987, Cruise studied the work of L. Ron Hubbard, the movement's founder. Hubbard had various theories of mind and method, which Cruise applied to improving his literacy. He describes how he now creates mental images which help him to comprehend visually what he reads.
With a new blockbuster hit emerging every year, he is much in demand on Hollywood and on the interview circuit. It's fair to say that Tom Cruise has more than exceeded his original 10-year commitment to "making it" as an actor!
Did you know that the famous actress and comedienne Whoopi Goldberg is dyslexic? Whoopi is one of only ten people to win an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar AND Tony Award, and yet as a child she was taunted for her difficulty in school, called 'stupid' by her peers. She struggled to keep up with school and began to believe that she was 'dumb' like everyone was telling her. Her mother encouraged her often by telling her that she was smart.
Whoopi discussed the effects of her dyslexia on her self-esteem in an interview in 1991: "You don't want to be retarded all your life. I was 'retarded' for a good part of mine, according to all the paperwork, and I just couldn't handle it." So instead, she went out and starting pursuing her dreams instead of focusing on her academic difficulties and the negative feedback from her teachers and peers.
And pursue her dreams she did! Whoopi helped found several theatres and had a big break in the blockbuster The Color Purple. She continues to go from success to success on the silver screen and Broadway. She is active in the charitable sector, fighting against poverty, homelessness and HIV/AIDS.
It's interesting that children and adults with dyslexia often turn to acting.
It would seem that the reason often stems from the more lateral thinking abilities of someone with dyslexia. For instance, heightened social perception and the ability to accurately imitate and observe individuals, are thought to be aids in allowing actors to really get into the mind of the character they are playing.
According to Keira Knightley, the strength of mind that came from dealing with adversity in her school years made her the accomplished actress she is today.
Without fail every film production that Keira Knightley has touched in recent years has turned to gold. She is one of the most highly respected British actresses of the moment, as well as a fashion icon.
The 26-year-old star of Pirates of the Caribbean, Bend it Like Beckham and The Duchess said that reading Emma Thompson's screenplay for Sense and Sensibility and imagining how she would make it into a film, really helped her to deal with her learning disability.
Besides being very poor as a child, she had a very difficult time in school, she even dropped out at the age of 16. She didn't know and understand why it was so difficult for her to learn in school, it was only at the age 30 that she finally understood that she was dyslexic.
She said in an interview: "I never read in school. I got really bad grades, D's and F's and C's in some classes, and A's and B's in other classes. In the second week of the 11th grade, I just quit. When I was in school, it was really difficult. Almost everything I learned, I had to learn by listening. My report cards always said that I was not living up to my potential."
You would never know that David Arquette used to have a huge fear of speaking and reading in front of people. Arquette has dyslexia. It used to stop him from volunteering in class, but now, he is a widely recognized actor who overcame his fear of public speaking. He's performed in films such as Never Been Kissed and Scream, performed the voice of Skully in the animated show Jake and the Never Land Pirates, and recently performed on Dancing with the Stars.