Big Screen Battle: Stanford versus Berkeley actors and actresses

Nov. 16, 2022, 6:54 p.m.

When thinking about the rivalry between Stanford and Cal, one may immediately point to the Big Game, famous alumni in Silicon Valley and the prestige of each institution. However, nowhere is this rivalry as apparent as it is in the Hollywood talent that both schools have produced.

Berkeley’s opener: Brenda Song

We can start off on the Berkeley side with Brenda Song. Song graduated from U.C. Berkeley in 2009 and majored in Psychology with a minor in Business. Her most recognizable role is arguably that of London Tipton in Disney Channel’s “The Suite Life of Zack & Cody” (2005-2008). Right before working with Disney, she was accepted by Harvard University but turned down her admission to pursue an acting career with the show.

Song would later go on to star in “Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior” (2006), “The Suite Life on Deck” (2008-2011) and “Amphibia” (2019-2022), but she has also taken on roles in dramatic films such as “The Social Network” (2010) and “Secret Obsession” (2019). Earlier this year, she announced that she’s engaged to fellow child star Macaulay Culkin and is working on a couple of secret projects.

Stanford’s first contender: Sigourney Weaver ’72

In Stanford’s corner, there is Sigourney Weaver ’72, who graduated with a B.A. in English. She rose to prominence through her role as Ellen Ripley in Ridley Scott’s “Alien” franchise, for which Weaver earned a BAFTA Award for Most Promising Newcomer and the No. 20 spot in Channel 4’s 100 Greatest Movie Stars of all time. In 2009, she played the role of Dr. Grace Augustine in James Cameron’s “Avatar,” in which her character could be seen sporting a Stanford University tank top. You can spot Sigourney Weaver in the upcoming sequel, “Avatar: The Way of Water,” (2022) where she will be playing Kiri, Jake Sully and Neytiri’s daughter.

Berkeley’s haymaker: John Cho

Back on the Berkeley side, John Cho graduated in 1996 with a B.A. in English. Cho cites his interest in acting as having started after substituting as a cast member for a play on campus. After years of small roles in plays and films, Cho’s breakout film was the popular comedy “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle” (2004). Due to his overwhelming success in the film, Cho was repeatedly type-casted in comedic roles until he landed a spot in the 2009 “Star Trek” reboot as Sulu. Despite critics’ negative reviews of the reboot, Cho continued with the character. In 2018, Cho received critical acclaim for his performance in the film “Searching” (2018), garnering Best Actor at the 2019 American Film Awards.

Stanford’s rebuttal: Andre Braugher ’84

Yet another Stanford icon is Andre Braugher ’84, who graduated with a B.A. in Theater and Performance Studies. Braugher is an Emmy sponge: he won the 1988 Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor for his role in NBC’s “Homicide: Life on the Street.” He won an Emmy again in 2006 for his performance as Nick Atwater in the 2006 TV mini-series “Thief.” Since then, he has been recognized for his work in the sitcom “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” (2013-2021), in which he plays the serious and sometimes cold, but ultimately caring, Captain Raymond Holt. As a result of his work on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” Braugher has been nominated four times at the Emmys for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series.

Berkeley’s secret weapon: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II

One final actor from Berkeley is Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, who ran hurdles at Berkeley and graduated with a B.A. in Architecture; he eventually went back to school to pursue an acting degree at Yale University. Since then, Abdul-Mateen has received acclaim for his “clown work” in HBO’s “Watchmen” (2019) and DC’s “Aquaman” (2018). In that same year, Abdul-Mateen appeared in Netflix’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” in which he played Bobby Seale.

Stanford’s anchor: Issa Rae ’07

Last, but definitely not least, is Stanford’s Issa Rae ’07. Graduating from Stanford in 2007 with a B.A. in African and African American Studies, Issa Rae has become one of Stanford’s most distinguished alumni in recent years. (She even delivered Stanford’s 2021 commencement address.) Starting with her web seriesAwkward Black Girl” (2011), Rae has gone on to win a series of awards and recognitions thanks, in large part, to the immensely popular “Insecure” (2016-2021). She has earned eight Academy Award nominations, a Golden Globe in 2018 and Outstanding Actress at the 53rd NAACP Image Awards, to date.

While we can save direct comparisons for another time, these match-ups remind us of the greatness behind our capabilities as students, lovers of film and fellow human beings. These actors have come to make us laugh, cry and fall in love as their performances grace our screens. The success found in both Stanford and Berkeley’s alumni shows us that greatness can come from anywhere — yes, even Berkeley.

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