Special Report

Meet the 10 Biggest Movie Stars From Nebraska

Reg Burkett / Getty Images

While “The Cornhusker State” may be known for its agricultural communities and Husker football, it’s also home to several iconic movie stars. From Henry Fonda to Gabrielle Union, these stars have been dancing across the silver screen for decades. These movie stars also have profound portfolios that include appearances on the small screen, as well as theater roles and musical talent. Additionally, the actors and actresses mentioned here have won awards from Emmys to Tony’s. 

To compile this information, 24/7 Tempo used several sources including the Internet Movie Database as well as local sources like the Lincoln Journal Star and the Nebraska Film Office. Here are the 10 biggest movie stars from “The Cornhusker State.” (For more entertainment, click to read movies so bad you have to see them.)

Hilary Swank

Source: Gareth Cattermole / Getty Images Entertainment via Getty Images

Born in Lincoln in 1974, Swank’s professional career began after she moved with her mother to Los Angeles at the age of 16. After a few small appearances on various TV shows in the early 90s, Swank landed her first larger role as Kimberly in the 1992 movie “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

To date, one of Swank’s most iconic roles is her portrayal of Brandon Teena in “Boys Don’t Cry.” Ironically, the movie takes place in small-town Nebraska. The role of young transgender Teena earned Swank an Oscar for Best Actress. Additionally, Swank is known for her roles in “Million Dollar Baby,” for which she also won an Oscar for Best Actress, “Black Dalia,” and “P.S. I Love You.” She has gone on to produce several different movies over the years as well.

Nick Nolte

Source: Larry Busacca / Getty Images Entertainment via Getty Images

While his early years were spent in Iowa, Nick Nolte was born in Omaha on February 8, 1941. After graduating from Omaha, he went on to attend a few different colleges playing sports before moving on to his acting career. Before hitting the big screen, he appeared in theatrical performances at the Pasadena Playhouse in Los Angeles.

Most agree his breakout Hollywood role was “Rich Man, Poor Man.” This limited TV series aired in 1976 and Nolte played the role of Tom Jordache. Following the show, Nolte moved on to movies, acting in more than 40 different roles. He’s been the recipient of a Golden Globe award for his role in “The Prince of Tides” in the early 90s and has had several Academy Award nominations.

Nolte is still active in acting today, taking part in Peacock’s 2023 series, “Poker Face.” IMDb.com also reports that he has upcoming roles, with a new movie coming out this year.

Marlon Brando

Source: Archive Photos / Archive Photos via Getty Images

With an acting career that spanned 6 decades, Marlon Brando is a name almost everyone recognizes. Born in Omaha in 1924, Brando spent his younger years in different areas around the Midwest. In the 1940s, he made his way to New York City. Here, he began to study acting. His Broadway debut was a play called “I Remember Mama” in 1944.

By 1950, he made his way to the big screen as Ken Wilocek in the movie, The Men. One of his most iconic roles, which also earned him an Academy Award for Best Actor, was Stanley Kowalski in “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951). From there, Marlon took on numerous acting roles throughout the 1960s and nearly up until his death in 2004. His last role was as “Max in The Score” (2001).

Brando passed at the age of 80 from lung failure. Chron reports that his ashes were spread in Death Valley and Tahiti.

Gabrielle Union

Source: Frazer Harrison / Getty Images

Born in Omaha in 1972, Gabrielle Union’s acting career began with small appearances on TV series like Family Matters. Union’s early years began in Omaha, though her family moved to California when she was 8. She and her family are known for being huge Cornhusker Football fans to this day.

While Union worked toward her Sociology degree from UCLA, she picked up part-time work as a model. Following college, her modeling work transitioned into acting. Her break-out role on the big screen arrived with her portrayal of Isis in “Bring It On” in 2000. That same year, Union played Dr. Courtney Ellis in the TV series City of Angels. Since then, she has gone on to star in several movies including “Bad Boys II,” “Deliver Us From Eva,” and “Think Like a Man.”

Additionally, Union is well known for her advocacy for women’s health and LGBTQ+ equality. This work has earned her a spot on Time’s 100 Most Influential People in 2020.

Fred Astaire

Source: Archive Photos / Moviepix via Getty Images

Fred Astaire was born in Omaha in May of 1899. Only his first few years were spent in Nebraka, however, as he moved to New York with his family in 1905. Fred began his showbusiness career at age 5, singing and dancing with his sister Adele. After receiving training in NYC, Adele decided to leave show business in 1932. This inspired Fred to move to Hollywood.

Astaire was signed by RKO and landed his first movie role opposite Joan Crawford in a musical called “Dancing Lady.” From there, Fred’s career expanded. To this day he is known for his iconic dance moves and musical roles, as well as his acting ability outside of musicals. From “Funny Face” to “The Towering Inferno,” Astaire left his mark on Hollywood before passing in 1987 at age 88.

Jorge Garcia

Source: Courtesy of CBS

While born in Omaha on April 28, 1973, Jorge Garcia spent his childhood in Orange County, California. Upon graduation from UCLA with a Communications major, Garcia began auditioning while working part-time at Borders bookstore. After landing a few commercials, Garcia landed his break-out role as Hector Lopez on the TV series Becker.

Garcia, however, is most notably known for his role as Hugo “Hurley” Reyes on “Lost” which spanned 6 seasons. It’s believed that the role was created for him by the producers after they saw him in “Curb Your Enthusiasm” prior to casting. Garcia continues his acting career and has held roles in “Hawaii Five-0,” “Alcatraz,” and “The Wedding Ringer.” Garcia is also known for his stand-up comedy routines.

Marg Helgenberger

Source: Courtesy of CBS

Born in Fremont Nebraska in 1958, Helgenberger was born and raised in North Bend, a small town in Nebraska. After graduating high school, she went on to attend what is now the University of Nebraska-Kearney (UNK) in Kearney, Nebraska, before moving on to Northwestern University in Illinois.

While in college, Helgenberger performed in several plays where she was noticed by a scout who recruited her for the TV soap opera “Ryan’s Hope.” Her acting career took off from there, having appeared in several movies such as “Tootsie,” “Species,” and “Erin Brockovich.” Her most well-known role was as Catherine Willows in “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” from 2000-2012. Today, Helgenberger continues her acting career and is also known for her activism in breast cancer research.

James Coburn

Source: Courtesy of United Artists

While James Coburn (born James Harrison Coburn III) was raised in Compton, California, he was born in Laurel, Nebraska on August 31, 1928. His father owned a business in Laurel that was soon shut down due to the Great Depression. Coburn made a life in California, spending a short stint in the Army in 1950 before studying acting at Los Angeles City College.

Coburn made his first TV appearance in 1953. His break-out movie appearance, however, came in 1960 with the role of Britt in “The Magnificient Seven.” He went on to star in other films including “The Great Escape,” and “Affliction.” However, Coburn is most known for his roles in Westerns. Coburn had appearances in more than 70 films and a career that spanned more than 45 years before passing away in 2002 in Beverly Hills, California.

Swoosie Kurtz

Source: Courtesy of Buena Vista Pictures

Born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1944, Soosie Kurtz moved to 8 different states due to her father’s role as a colonel in the U.S. Air Force. Upon graduating from high school, Kurtz attended the University of Southern California where she majored in drama.

Kurtz is known for her bright talent, having earned two Tony Awards for her work in theater and one Emmy Award for her role in “Carol and Company.” She is also known for her big screen appearances in “Liar Liar,” “Bubble Boy,” and “The Rules of Attraction.” Kurtz continues her acting career with upcoming roles in several TV series and films.

Henry Fonda

Source: Bettmann / Bettmann via Getty Images

Like Brando, Henry Fonda began as a theater actor before making his way to the big screen. Fonda, born in Grand Island in May of 1905, grew up in Nebraska before making his way to the University of Minnesota for college. Before graduation from college, Fonda was interested and heavily involved in journalism.

After graduation, however, Fonda moved back to Nebraska and decided he wanted to go a different route. He was offered a role in a play at the Omaha Playhouse in 1925 and it was then that he began his interest in acting. Fonda made his way to New York City where he landed a few Broadway performances before heading to Hollywood at the age of 29.

His first role on the big screen was as Dan Harrow of “The Farmer Takes a Wife” in 1935. He went on to act in a plethora of movies over the next several decades and is known for his iconic roles in “12 Angry Men” and “The Grapes of Wrath.” Additionally, many members of Henry’s family went into acting later, making the Fonda family one of Hollywood’s most famous acting dynasties. Fonda passed away in 1982 in Los Angeles. (Click to read about Hollywood’s most famous acting dynasties.)

Take This Retirement Quiz To Get Matched With An Advisor Now (Sponsored)

Are you ready for retirement? Planning for retirement can be overwhelming, that’s why it could be a good idea to speak to a fiduciary financial advisor about your goals today.

Start by taking this retirement quiz right here from SmartAsset that will match you with up to 3 financial advisors that serve your area and beyond in 5 minutes. Smart Asset is now matching over 50,000 people a month.

Click here now to get started.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us?
Contact the 24/7 Wall St. editorial team.