In fact, some of these TV geeks are almost unrecognizable when just walking down the street in all their glorious swagger. Here’s a list of your all-time favorite Hollywood nerds and the secretly cool actors behind them.
Alyson Hannigan – Buffy the Vampire Slayer
In normal-life Sunnydale, CA, Willow Rosenberg was a nerdy computer whiz and best friends with Buffy Summers. Channeling her smarts, she harnessed magical powers and transformed into a formidable force with an array of spells at her disposal.
In real life, "Buffy" costar Alexis Denisof scooped up and married the stunning Alyson Hannigan who portrayed Willow. The actress went on to play Lily in "How I Met Your Mother" and win a People's Choice Award in 2009. If that's not cool, we don't know what is.
Jim Parsons – The Big Bang Theory
Sheldon Cooper is the quirkiest nerd in the nerdisphere. He out-dorks an all-dork cast and brings a rare blend of humor that is at once adorable and grating but always witty.
Jim Parsons plays one of the best on TV, but just look at him here! Looks like being one of the highest-paid TV stars in history works wonders on one's appeal. His career has sent him on roles on TV, stage, film, and even video games! He also gets some extra cool points for dubbing an animated character alongside Rihanna in the movie "Home".
Matthew Gray Gubler – Criminal Minds
Dr. Spencer Reid is superhero-smart on "Criminal Minds." With an IQ of 187 and an ability to read at lightning speed, he is one very special asset for the FBI team.
Actor Matthew Gray Gubler is not a real-life certified genius, but he is cool nonetheless. His cool credentials include modeling for A-list designers like Tommy Hilfiger, painting, and writing children's books.
Mayim Bialik – The Big Bang Theory
Amy Farrah Fowler is married to the nerdiest of them all — Sheldon Cooper, so we know her nerd credentials are solid.
But Mayim Bialik does not just play a neurobiologist on TV, she is a verifiable scientist with a Ph.D. in neuroscience. Don't believe anything those kids in middle school told you. We all know that advanced degrees instantly make you a cool person. And it only takes some stylish clothes to see she’s beautiful from the outside too.
Wilmer Valderrama – That ‘70s Show
Wilmer Valderrama came of age as Fez on "That ‘70s Show". The out-of-place foreign exchange student amuses with his awkward attempts to fit in with American culture.
In real life, he’s so cool that he’s dated a virtual catalog of A-listers including Ashlee Simpson, Mandy Moore, Lindsay Lohan, and Demi Lovato.
Gillian Anderson – The X Files
Dr. Dana Scully from "The X Files" is one of our favorites. This offbeat character is a legend in geekdom. Gillian Anderson grew up as an outsider. Her coolness was actually apparent from a very young age. As a teen, she moved from England to a small conservative town called Grand Rapids.
She said, “There were only six punks there. We were weird. It’s not like London.” Underneath the tough punk exterior which included dyed and shaved hair, plus piercings (before the look was a global trend), was this gorgeous face.
Zachary Levi – Chuck
In this "Slacker"-meets-Stanford television series, Chuck Bartowski is a geeky software whiz who ends up as a CIA asset.
His character gets kicked out of Stanford (not his fault), and he ends up living with his sister and working an electronic superstore at the Geek Tech desk. But seriously, look at him. He’s no geek. Not only that, but he's also played two iconic cinematic roles: Flynn Rider in "Tangled" and the title character in the DC superhero movie "Shazam!".
Jewel Staite – Firefly
Joss Whedon, the creator of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" is behind the sci-fi FOX series "Firefly".
The mothership in this futuristic tale is called “Serenity” and Kaylee Frye is the vessel’s mechanic, even though she’s never been trained. The clever girl from 2517 was lovely then as Jewel Staite is today. Add that to her numerous roles in sci-fi and fantasy, and you got yourself the coolest girl in Comic-Con.
Alexis Bledel – Gilmore Girls
Rory Gilmore is a classic nerd. Her biggest problem was choosing between Harvard and Yale, for crying out loud.
The striking Alexis Bledel was chosen for the role because of her charming naivete. At the time, she was a model with no acting experience. Today, she has quite an acting record and she still looks sweet and charming. But the coolest thing about her was the way she made "Gilmore Girls" fans swoon over her 4-year-long relationship with co-star Milo Ventimiglia. The designated bad boy of the show tamed by the good girl in real life? Yes, please!
Melissa Fumero – Brooklyn Nine-Nine
As a rule, cops aren’t cool (and if it rhymes it must be true). On "Brooklyn Nine-Nine", Sergeant Amy Santiago dreams of being captain of the NYPD. The ambitious, young smarty is an obsessive-compulsive organizer and a stickler for rules.
The best and worst thing about Amy is her infatuation with office supplies. But real-life Fumero is the coolest cat there is. In 2004 she was cast in the daytime soap opera "One Life to Live," and met her now-husband — David Fumero. The two now have two children together which are undoubtedly as cool as their mother.
Donald Glover – Community
Troy Barnes was a high school jock who sported his letterman jacket at community college, but that didn't make him any less of a nerd.
In "Community", a show from the creators of "Rick and Morty", Troy hangs with a study group gathered to keep each other from failing their Spanish class. We soon find he is a teddy bear whose sensitive side is irresistible. But just one look, and we can see he’s really a super smokin' famous rapper. He also dubbed Simba in the newest installment of "The Lion King" alongside Beyonce. And anyone who's been in such close proximity to Beyonce has to have a major cool factor.
William Jackson Harper – The Good Place
In the Netflix hit "The Good Place", Chidi Anagonye is a Nigerian-Senegalese professor of philosophy who made it to heaven (or so we are lead to think).
During his life, he used to teach morals and ethics at the Sorbonne but then he starts trying to save a soul from “the bad place.” Take off his glasses in real life, and he's a total looker. He is also a self-proclaimed nerd, which makes him even more attractive. And the coolest thing? Not only is he a talented actor, but he is also a playwright! His play, "Travisville" first hit the stage in 2018.
Emily Deschanel – Bones
Temperance Brennan is the lead forensic anthropologist, and master of skeletal anatomy in the show "Bones".
Her character is nicknamed “Bones” by her bonehead FBI counterpart agent Booth (but, seriously, what does she see in him?). With chiseled facial features and piercing blues, Emily Deschanel plays one seriously pretty nerd. In real life, she is a woman who speaks her mind as an animal rights activist. If her last name sounds familiar, it's because Emily is sister to Zooey Deschanel. Coolness must be running in the family.
Louise Brealey – Sherlock
"Sherlock" fans, this is your time to shine. Molly Hooper is a highly trained doctor working at the hospital’s morgue.
She has a secret helpless crush on Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock. But sadly, he isn't as perceptive of that as he is of crime-solving. In real life, however, it's hard to believe she will go unnoticed by any man of her choosing. Other than her on-screen credentials, Brealey has written scripts and music scores for television as a young girl and lent her voice to various audiobooks. Can she be our friend, please?
Tina Majorino – Veronica Mars
In the 2014 "Veronica Mars" movie, Cindy “Mac” Mackenzie works for a software company. She dropped that job like a bad habit to help out Veronica at Mars Investigations where she could put her hacking skills to the test.
In real life, Tina Majorino probably couldn’t hack into an Android device, but with that smile, she could open anyone’s heart. Her coolness didn't slip from the eye of one miss Shonda Rhimes who cast her as Dr. Heather Brooks on Grey's Anatomy.
Bebe Neuwirth – Cheers
Dr. Lilith Sternin’s severe style as a highbrow socialite and a clinical psychiatrist is out of place mounting a barstool at "Cheers". But after marrying Frasier, she hangs out with the gang.
She tags along with Kelsey Grammer for the spinoff "Frasier" to play his ex-wife. In real life, she’s an animal lover with a charitable heart and a former dancer who you’d more likely find behind a pottery wheel than practicing medicine. How cool is that?
Cole Sprouse – Riverdale
With a name like Jughead Jones, you don’t need to show any dork credentials. The "Riverdale" character on the CW teen drama was based on Archie Comics and lifted Cole Sprouse to teen idol status.
No one can deny this suave young man's coolness now (especially when you see him trolling his twin brother, Dylan, on social media). With those dashing looks, he was a "Teen Beat" pinup faster than you can say "Jughead Jones".
America Ferrara – Ugly Betty
Betty Suarez is a painfully awkward Latina teen from Queens. Acquaintances called her geeky, ugly, and other not-so-fun names. But she endears us, nonetheless.
America Ferrara has won a SAG, a Golden Globe, and an Emmy for her role. In the real world, Ferrera is as cool as they come. She stands up for what she believes in and has been involved in politics since 2008! "Time" named her one of the top 100 most influential people in the world.
Adam Scott – Parks and Recreation
As state auditor, Ben Wyatt is the only professional in the room. The buttoned-up bastion of rationality seems boring, but his character is simply hilarious.
outside of the "Parks and Recreation" set, you’ll find Adam Scott podcasting about his favorite rock bands and bragging that he appeared in R.E.M.’s music video “Drive.” And it doesn't take more than appearing in a rock band music video to let everyone know how cool you are.
Janel Parrish – Pretty Little Liars
Nicknamed “Loser Mona” in high school, Mona Vanderwaal uses her smarts to plot revenge against the popular girls in "Pretty Little Liars".
As a villain, her intelligence as a hacker and language expert makes her dangerous. In real life, Hawaii native Janel Parrish has a very sweet side and no one would dream of pairing her with another group but the 'pretty girls'. Over the course of her career, Parrish participated in films, TV shows, and even music videos, but the coolest thing she's done yet was coming in third in season 19 of "Dancing With the Stars".
David Schwimmer – Friends
No one is going to deny that Dr. Ross Geller is the only one of the close-knit "Friends" group who lives the nerdy life. The lovable and naïve academician barely fits in.
But, seriously, David Schwimmer’s a dashing A-lister. On top of it all, he’s a real smarty in real life having graduated from Northwestern. Schwimmer is not only a successful actor, but he is also a social activist and is especially involved in treating rape victims. Nothing cooler than a man who deals with such important issues.
Adam Brody – The O.C.
On "The O.C.", outsider Seth Cohen was adopted into the Atwood family and became a brother to his close friend Ryan. Awkward, nerdy, and a loner, the popular kids at high school bullied him relentlessly.
On the show, Adam Brody’s character lacked a cool edge. In real life, however, the dashing actor, who married beauty Leighton Meester, has no problem hanging with the cool kids.
Tina Fey – 30 Rock
Nothing says dork like a single woman who's married to her job, eats nothing but off-brand Mexican Cheetos and leads a disastrous dating life.
This is exactly Liz Lemon — a quirky, overworked comedy writer who is one of the most entertaining characters on the show "30 Rock" or generally on television. Tina Fey, the legend, is really married with two kids and a much better sense of style. Not to mention, she stands at the helm of some of the most successful "SNL" skits out there. Cool, cool.
Zach Braff – Scrubs
J.D.’s quirk as a medical doctor is an epileptic fit of daydreaming. The complicated mind of Dr. J.D. Dorian is revealed to us through a voice-over stream of consciousness which also serves as the narrator of "Scrubs".
In real life, the actor has a pilot license, a Porsche, and a live-in relationship with Florence Pugh. Bonafide cool.
Danielle Fishel – Boy Meets World
Topanga Lawrence was that weird outcast kid who was into environmentalism and only ate organic vegan foods.
Okay, so that’s normal now. But, decidedly, when "Boy Meets World" first aired in 1993, she did not sit at the table with the cool kids. In real life, Seventeen magazine featured the beautiful actress and "Teen People" named Danielle Fishel one of its 21 Hottest Stars Under 21. Add her good looks with her brains as a math tutor and you got yourself a pretty cool kid.
Linda Cardellini – Scooby-Doo
As kids watching Scooby and his mystery-solving cartoon entourage we could never imagine a live-action rendition, but it happened.
Velma Dinkley was always a quintessential nerd. And, Linda Cardellini, lead actress in "Freaks and Geeks" as well, is good at playing one, but wow, she sure doesn't look like a nerd! In 2009, she even got an Icon Award from TV Land, and we all know you don't get that unless you're uber-cool.
Jasika Nicole – Fringe
Another natural-born geek actress is Jasika Nicole. In "Fringe" as agent Astrid Farnsworth, she majored in music and linguistics, minored in computer science, and was fluent in five languages.
In "The Good Doctor", she was the head of pathology. With those nerd credentials, you’d think she’d be one in real life, but she is as cool as it gets. She even designs and makes all of her own clothes!
Danica McKellar – The Wonder Years
Nothing was more adorable than Kevin Arnold’s crush on Winnie Cooper. The super-smart sweetie and Kev seemed like a perfect match. But did life imitate art? Or did art imitate life? Because in real life Danica McKellar became a superstar math whiz.
Not only has she penned a shelf load of math books for teens, but she also co-published a unique math theorem at UCLA where the actress graduated summa cum laude. Or should we say, summa *cool* laude? Sorry for the dad-joke. We'll see ourselves out.
Amy Acker – Person of Interest
Root, from "Person of Interest", is a complicated villain. She’s a dangerous cyber sleuth and an occasional assassin. She survives as an opportunist who doesn’t take sides and she’s inventive enough to develop a special digital relationship with The Machine.
Eventually, Amy Acker voices The Machine. But in real life, she’s both cool and studious as a former model and as a graduate of Southern Methodist University.
Kumail Nanjiani – Silicon Valley
The funny part is that the character Dinesh Chugtai is a lot like Kumail Nanjiani. As a computer science and philosophy major, Nanjiani said, “When I graduated college, I sort of assumed my life was going to be working with computers.” But he told NPR, “The problem was I wasn’t very good at it and I wasn’t interested in it at all.” From a computer nerd to Hollywood stardom? Coolness overload!
Jaleel White – Family Matters
Steve Urkel is a classic nerd. With a nasally high-pitched voice, super high-waisted pants, and coke-bottle glasses, he’s a grotesque caricature.
He shows his cool side on "Family Matters" when he transforms into Stefan Urquelle by drinking a magic potion. Interestingly, Stefan's character is the actor’s normal self. Just think of all the coolness he had to reign in to become Urkel!
Tobey Maguire – Spider-Man
Director Sam Raimi’s Peter Parker brought to us by actor Tobey Maguire, goes out of his way to make Spider-Man’s alter-ego as dorky as humanly possible.
The Marvel comic book character finds his roots as a high school orphan from the Queens borough, and so does this Peter Parker. This could make him the most authentic Spidey. Spider-Man was a $100 million success story at the box office and the most successful comic hero movie ever. You can say that makes actor Tobey Maguire pretty darn cool.
Felicia Day – Supernatural
It’s no surprise IT nerd-turned-hunter Charlie Bradbury is a "Supernatural" fandom favorite. Introduced as the “Girl with the Dungeon and Dragons Tattoo,” Charlie’s a venerate badass whose hacking skills put any male geek to shame. At the same time, she’s irresistibly feminine.
In real life, Felicia Day is not just another pretty face. The self-proclaimed gamer (cool) launched her own production company (cool) called Geek & Sundry, and she still has plenty of geekiness in her (also cool, to be honest).
Robert Carradine – Revenge of the Nerds
Louis Skolnick is the IT geek prototype. Back in the ‘80s when a computer whiz was truly nerdy, "Revenge of the Nerds" (1984) totally nailed it.
Louis epitomized someone like Bill Gates. But when Steve Jobs came along with the iPod, the rest of us finally had to admit that possessing digital superiority was a pretty cool asset, after all. Robert Carradine is clearly dashing and celeb au naturel. The man was born a star. Robert Carradine was literally raised in Hollywood, California by the prominent Carradine show business family, so yeah, coolness runs through the man's veins.
Patrick Dempsey – Can’t Buy Me Love
Ronald Miller was a dorky, unpopular high school kid who rode a lawnmower for a part-time job. His problem was that he fell in love with wealthy, popular, cheerleader Cindy Mancini, who he bribes for a date.
It’s a silly rom-com, but sweet—the exact typecast we have grown to expect from Patrick Dempsey. In 2014, the man out-cooled himself when he debuted his second career as a professional race car driver.
Josh Saviano – The Wonder Years
Paul is Kevin’s best bud who is super smart and a total dork. He can barely walk straight. He is debilitated by allergies. He also has a crush on Winnie, but this nerd does not get the girl.
Granted, Josh Saviano graduated actually from Yale and practices law, but he’s pretty cool anyway. There is even a conspiracy theory that says he is in fact, Marilyn Manson! When asked about it, he said he is quite happy with people thinking he is a rockstar rather than some dorky kid.
Emma Watson – Harry Potter
Hermione Granger is not just a nerd — she's a magical nerd. "Harry Potter" fans soon realize her proficiency in spells and concocting magic potions makes a valuable asset out of their classmate.
In real life, Emma Watson has always valued her education. She grew up to be stunning and smart, and she graduated from Brown. Oh, we almost forgot — she also played in her college lacrosse team. So, let's see — looks? Check. Brains? Chek. Successful career? Check. Plays sports? Check. Yes, she definitely qualifies for a cool stamp.
Alfonso Ribeiro – The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
Standing next to Will Smith, anyone is going to look like a dork. The Fresh Prince’s cousin Carlton Banks is signed, sealed, and delivered as far as dorkiness goes.
He is also annoying, arrogant, awkward, and known to flaunt a superiority complex to a comical effect. The television star is still on TV. Alfonso Ribeiro hosts "America’s Funniest Home Videos". This means his job is to talk about funny internet videos. That may very well be the coolest job on the planet.
Ariel Winter – Modern Family
"Modern Family"’s Alex Dunphy is smart, sarcastic, and snarky. Her intelligence causes her to be impatient with her family who she considers dumb as dirt. She’s the middle child who feels like an outsider and would be glad not to be related to them.
In real life, Ariel Winter is all grown up and not afraid of wearing clothes that accentuate it no matter the criticism. When faced with some of her haters' comments, she told them to simply “Get a hobby.” Only cool kids can say it like it is and she's definitely one of them.
Paul Rudd – Clueless
Josh is a college nerd. He cares about the environment, social issues, and geopolitical foreign policy. He reads Friedrich Nietzsche for fun.
It’s been 25 years since the film came out, so if he doesn’t really seem like a total geek, rest assured, next to "Clueless" fashionista and supermodel hopeful Cher (Alicia Silverstone), he is a bonafide dork. In real life, clearly, he’s drop-dead gorgeous. Oh, and did we mention he co-owns a New York candy store with actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan? You don't need us to tell you that candy is cool, do you?
Mara Wilson - Matilda
We are met with Roald Dahl’s Matilda in kindergarten. The lovable child-genius is played by Mara Wilson In the 1996 film version. Her character has a despicable dad who lords over the Wormwood household, and she deals with him with an ironclad anti-intellectual bent.
Wilson has since quit acting and turned to professional writing. She has even published a couple of books: "Sheeple" and "Where Am I Now?: True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame". Definitely cool. Oddly enough, she doesn’t consider herself exceptionally attractive. She even tweeted “Hot people’s lives are WILD. Their Instagrams alone. They don’t even have to try.” Somehow, this makes her even cooler.
Alexa Vega – Spy Kids
In "Spy Kids", Carmen Cortez transforms into an international secret agent to save her parents who are real secret spies but have gotten into a bit of a bind. She’s cute and funny and has a pesky baby brother.
In real life, Alexa PenaVega is a beautiful, happy mother of two, raising her family in Hawaii with her husband Carlos PenaVega. Vega's talents stretch beyond acting and reach the realms of singing and dancing. She has contributed her voice to the soundtracks of many of the films she starred in and came in sixth in season 21 of "Dancing With the Stars". That's pretty darn cool if you ask us.
Daniel Lee Curtis – Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide
If you were a Nick kid, you remember this nerd with a certain token of affection. “Cookie” from "Ned’s Declassified", was a cyber geek with a built-in monitor screen on his eyeglass lenses. He kept his motherboard in his school locker but don't tell anyone.
Daniel Lee Curtis is a comedian, actor, and rapper and, must we say, super suave, dapper, and dashing. All the ingredients required to get his cool certificate.
Chris Owen – American Pie
Chuck Sherman is a fan-favorite geek. Also known as “The Sherminator,” the character appears throughout the "American Pie" franchise. In the original 1999 film, he’s a dorky high school kid who is obsessed with Arnold Schwarzenegger movies.
This time the geek gets the girl, but, then again, "American Pie" is one of those vulgar teen flicks, so no surprise there. In real life, what makes Chris Owen cool is how down to earth he is. In 2014, when his acting career took a dip, he started waiting tables at a sushi restaurant. Thankfully, his career bounced back up eventually.
Andrew Garfield – The Amazing Spider-Man
In "The Amazing Spider-Man" (2002) we get a slightly different dorky Peter Parker. He’s smart and shy and, of course, secretly superhuman.
Many Marvel fans won’t think twice to say this Spidey movie is the best of its kind, even better than Sam Raimi’s. People are entitled to their opinions. One thing we know is that Andrew Garfield is a knock-out off the set. And he has to be cool, or his Spiderman co-star Emma Stone would never have dated him.
Michael Cera – Juno
In "Juno", Paulie Bleeker, your average unpopular high school kid, gets his crush pregnant and he’ll do anything to keep her. His adorability factor grows on Juno and, and to be honest, on us as viewers, too. In real life, Michael Cera is a very handsome man, and he has a talent for music too — he plays both guitar and bass, and can sing pretty well. Despite all these cool points, he keeps being cast as a dork quite often.
Ed Helms – The Office
The character of Andy Bernard is a model suit from a privileged background with a position of authority, but he is crippled by his gnawing insecurity. He makes us laugh as he tries so hard to be the boss.
Ed Helms says Andy the character is like an unhinged version of himself. On TV, he’s the office nerd, but in actuality, Ed Helms is the great success Andy wishes he could be — he's a successful actor, musician, and comedian. According to science, that's cool.
Leonard Nimoy – Star Trek
Part human, part Vulcan, Spock possessed superhuman intelligence and was Captain Kirk’s trusted guide at the helm of the Enterprise. His intelligence made him nearly inhuman, at least emotionally, seemingly free of those weaknesses. But when they did show, we loved it.
"Star Trek", and Spock’s influence, is alive and well in the Trekkie fandom. Nimoy, however, left us in 2015 at age 83. He was a cultural icon. He wrote one memoir titled "I Am Not Spock", and later he wrote a second autobiography called, "I Am Spock". A true space-level cool move.
Dana Carvey – Wayne’s World
When the “Wayne’s World” skit first aired on "SNL", you knew it was going to be a hit. Wayne was the “cool” one and Garth was his dorky friend.
The two were broadcasting a show from Wayne’s parent’s basement and this comedic segment obviously became a movie in 1992. Garth is played by Dana Carvey who is decidedly super cool, funny, and successful. They don't let you into "SNL" if you aren't cool. That's just a fact.
Jason Schwartzman – Rushmore
Max Fischer is at the top of his class at the elite prep school, Rushmore. He spends all his free time on extracurricular projects to enhance his high school accolades. It gets a little crazy when he’s expelled, but that’s when the hilarity sets in.
Jason Schwartzman is a movie star and a Hollywood director. He calls Francis Ford Coppola “Uncle” and Nicolas Cage and Sophia Coppola "Cousins". In case you haven't noticed, Coppola, Cage, and cool all start with the same letter. Coincidence? No way.