How far the cast of Avengers got in school

The Avengers sphere has launched the careers of some of Hollywood's biggest stars since the Marvel Cinematic Universe kicked off with Iron Man in 2008. Since then, this multi-billion-dollar franchise has become a staple within the pop cultural zeitgeist in the longtime lead-up to 2019's Avengers: Endgame. While the undeniable on-screen talent of this ever-growing cast speaks for itself, we can't help but wonder how the likes of Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, and Chadwick Boseman honed their acting skills. Did the cast of the Avengers spend hours studying drama in school or did they toss away their books altogether and opt to gain real-life experience in showbiz instead?

These actors and actresses vary widely from high school dropouts to alumni of prestigious institutions. No matter their academic path, these movie stars will be forever linked with their Marvel alter-egos. So, how far did the cast of Avengers go in school? While we await the fates of our favorite superheroes in the series' upcoming fourth installment, let's catch up on the educational backgrounds of our favorite stars.

From high school dropout to playboy philanthropist

According to late Marvel co-creator Stan Lee, Robert Downey Jr. was "born to be" Tony Stark/Iron Man. Growing up at the center of the avant-garde scene of the '70s with a writer-actress mother and filmmaker father, he made his on-screen debut at the age of 5 in Robert Downey Sr.'s movie Pound

As the actor told Vanity Fair in 2014, his parents moved around a lot for work during this time and he learned the craft along the way. While receiving an education in various cities, Downey notably studied classical ballet at the Perry House in London and trained in acting at the Stagedoor Manor Performing Arts Training Center in New York. According to CNN, he dropped out of Santa Monica High School and would go on to focus on his acting career. 

"I don't know if I ever really had that thought that this is what I'm going to do," Downey said on Off Camera with Sam Jones in 2016, while discussing his unusual upbringing. "It never occurred to me to do anything else."

Captain America found success without a degree

Chris Evans — who portrayed the first Avenger, Steve Rogers/Captain America — always knew he wanted to be an actor. According to The New York Times, he spent his youth performing in school plays in his Massachusetts hometown, where he was voted "Most Theatrical" likely due to his Shakespearean performances school. After graduating high school in the late '90s, the aspiring actor moved directly to New York City to pursue his professional career.

"To be honest, it could be a cocktail of naiveté mixed with confidence but certainly at the time I didn't have much doubt," Evans told The Los Angeles Times in 2017. "A lot of that I attribute it to the people around me, my parents, who said go for it. Go to New York. You can do it." He added, "I can't take credit for the bravery because I didn't know any better." Evans may have opted out of attending college, but he did go on to train in method acting at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute while finding on-screen work.

Perhaps more Hulk than Dr. Banner?

Mark Ruffalo gained international recognition for his portrayal of physicist Bruce Banner, a.k.a. The Hulk. However, he got his start as a wrestling star with a secret passion for acting in school in Virginia Beach, Va., where he struggled with undiagnosed dyslexia, ADHD, and depression. With the possibility of receiving a full-ride scholarship in the future, he quit the team and tried his hand at acting his senior year. With his parents' support, the aspiring actor skipped the college applications and quietly pursued his career in San Diego, Calif., but later admitted to New York Magazine, "I lied to all my friends and told them I was going to UCSD … 'cause I felt it was unrealistic to be an actor." 

Ruffalo went on hundreds of failed auditions during his 20s while making a living as a bartender, which may have helped him later tap into the Hulk's rage. He told Rolling Stone in 2015, "The frustration I was having with acting made me angry all the time." While studying acting at the Stella Adler Conservatory in Los Angeles, Ruffalo co-founded the Orpheus Theatre Company, where he wrote, directed, and acted in several productions (via Backstage).

The God of Thunder studied down under

Chris Hemsworth grew up in Melbourne long before hitting the big time as Marvel's resident Norse god Thor. According to the Film Festival Traveler, he received his secondary education at Heathmont College and launched his career in the soap opera circuit, after training in acting and reportedly mastering an American accent at the Screenwise Film & TV school for Actors in Sydney. 

Ahead of filming the first Thor movie, Hemsworth was aware that he was one of the only cast members who didn't have a prestigious educational background, but never viewed this as a disadvantage. "People like that elevate your game, and if you leave yourself open to learn from them and walk in with humility, I guess then it becomes back-and-forth," the actor told Film Festival Traveler, noting his belief that on-set experience, attitude, and preparation are key. "It's about feeling comfortable in navigating your way around a set. And whether it's a soap or whether it's classic theater … just work hard and be open to exploring different ideas and taking risks and going with the spontaneity of it all."

The Black Widow spun her web in the industry

Scarlett Johansson — the MCU's very own Russian spy, Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow — already had several movies under her belt by the time she was 19, when she decided to ditch her plans to study film at SUNY Purchase. "I don't miss school," she told New York Magazine in 2004. "It's for some people and not for others." 

While attending P.S. 41 in New York City, the actress began her career when she was a child. Amid commercial auditions, dance lessons, and work in theater and film, she studied acting at the prestigious Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute for Kids and the Professional Children's School. "Acting has been a passion of mine," Johansson told the Independent in 2005, adding, "My childhood was filled with things that I loved to do, and also very normal things: I lived in New York, I have a family life and went to a regular school."

Hawkeye fell into acting at junior college

Jeremy Renner already had about three dozen credits to his name — and two Oscar nominations to boot — before landing the role of archer Clint Barton, a.k.a. Hawkeye. However, this bona fide movie star's initial venture into acting was a total fluke. While studying computer science and criminology at Modesto Junior College in his California hometown in the early '90s, he took a drama course and immediately caught the acting bug (via The Modesto Bee).

The actor's former professor, Charline Freedman, called him one of her best students ever, once telling The Modesto Bee, "I would say within a month, I knew we had somebody very special in this young man." For his part, Renner has often credited his time at MJC for helping him launch his successful career. Referring to Freedman as "my acting coach, my gal," he said, "[She] pointed me in the direction that I never turned back from."

Only the best education for the God of Mischief

Tom Hiddleston's elite education played a major role in developing his character of Loki, Thor's mischievous younger brother. Explaining that he and Thor director Kenneth Branagh "made Loki out of Shakespearean characters," he told The Evening Standard in 2013, "My knowledge is more of the Greco-Roman variety, but I did learn a bit about the Norse gods."

The British star was first drawn to acting at the age of 13 while boarding at the prestigious Eton College in London amid his parents' divorce. Calling the experience "really distressing," Hiddleston told The Mirror, "Acting presented a way of expelling those feelings in a safe place." He majored in Classics at the University of Cambridge, before studying acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. While his privileged training has remained a hot topic throughout his career, Hiddleston has often spoken out against unequal access and opportunity within the acting profession, telling The Guardian, "I think wherever you are from you should be able to follow your passion. Wherever you went to school, if you have something authentic to contribute, you should be allowed to."

The Scarlet Witch cast her spell at NYU

Elizabeth Olsen was mostly known as the younger sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen before portraying Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch in 2015's Avengers: Age of Ultron. As the actress told The Daily Telegraph in 2012, she grew up singing, acting, practicing ballet, and appearing in the Full House alums' movies, but she never felt "personally affected" by her sisters' celebrity. Rather than becoming a child star herself, she used her education as a means to make her own mark in the industry in adulthood.

According to The New York Times, Olsen majored in theater at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts and took classes at the Atlantic Theater Company, while scoring roles in various indie films. "I think it's important to finish something you start," she told The Irish Times in 2017, having graduated with her bachelor's degree four years earlier. "I loved that so much. I didn't want to graduate high school and go straight into movies. I wanted to study theatre and come out with a degree."

The Black Panther attended Howard University

Long before portraying the King of Wakanda, a.k.a. T'Challa/Black Panther, Chadwick Boseman had his sights set on writing and directing while earning his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Directing at Howard University in Washington, D.C. "At a historically black college, you're getting turned on to all these things — the pantheon of our culture," he told Rolling Stone in 2018. "It's John Coltrane, it's James Baldwin. And it's Black Panther." However, the Black Panther star eventually fell into acting while taking a theater course taught by his mentor, The Cosby Show's Phylicia Rashad. 

"I was really only studying it to know what the actor was doing, not really wanting to be up there myself," Boseman told The Guardian. "So it was a surprise to [realize] I'd caught the acting bug." After attending a summer program at Oxford, Boseman studied at the Digital Film Academy and taught drama at New York City's Schomburg Center, before moving to Los Angeles to become an actor.

Spider-Man felt the pressure at school

Perhaps best known for portraying teen Peter Parker/Spider-Man in the MCU, Tom Holland's been working professionally in the industry since he was 12 years old. Having gotten his start as the title character in Billy Elliot in London, he attended secondary school at Wimbledon College, where he was unfortunately bullied for being a dancer.

"I had my rough patches … But you couldn't hit me hard enough to stop me from doing it," the actor told People in 2017. Undeterred, Holland went on to study drama at the esteemed BRIT School, as noted by The Scotsman. As he put it, "I, like Peter, accepted I wasn't the cool kid at school and just found my group of friends and got on with it." While he went on to earn critical acclaim and accolades for his work on the big screen, things didn't necessarily get any easier when it came to his studies. "There is quite a bit of pressure on me at school … to perform well," Holland told The Scotsman in 2012, "but I guess everyone has to go through that."

Doctor Strange? Nearly.

Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch was already a tongue twister of a household name long before landing the role of Dr. Stephen Strange in 2016. However, his own personal educational background is nearly as impressive as the Sorcerer Supreme's. The actor was initially set on becoming a lawyer and had once received an arts scholarship at the prestigious Harrow School in London (via The Telegraph). However, as his drama teacher told The Guardian in 2010, Cumberbatch was "the best schoolboy actor [he'd] ever worked with," and he instead pursued a drama degree at Manchester University. 

"I needed to be out of the danger of tying a cashmere jumper round my neck," Cumberbatch said of leaving his boarding school days behind him. "I wanted something a bit more racy, a bit more different, a bit more egalitarian." The Doctor Strange star then completed a one-year Master's course in Classical Acting at the esteemed London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, and was later named the president of his old stomping ground in January 2018. Of this full-circle moment, Cumberbatch told the BBC that it'd be "an [honor] to watch the next generation of actors, directors and technicians blossom."

Captain Marvel was homeschooled

Marvel fans will first see Brie Larson transform into superhero Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel in 2019's Captain Marvel, before she reprises her role in Avengers: Endgame. However, this veteran actress was already well known after spending most of her childhood homeschooled and working in showbiz for over 20 years. "Mom, I know what my dharma is: I'm supposed to be an actor," Larson recalled saying to her mother as a child, as she told The Guardian. The actress added, "She thought I was just repeating something off the TV." However, as the Oscar winner told Glamour in 2014, "I was relentless about it. … The creative arts was just something that was always in me."

According to ABC News, 6-year-old Larson became the youngest person to attend the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, Calif., before graduating high school at the age of 15. However, she never lost her thirst for knowledge. Back in 2013, The Guardian described the movie star as "a keen autodidact," noting that she was taking several online courses through Coursera and iTunes U, learning French, Greek mythology, and poetry.