After years entrancing audiences and thrilling moviegoers, a few talented actors reach such heights of fame that we consider them Hollywood royalty: George Clooney. Leonardo DiCaprio. Julia Roberts. Before them, Elizabeth Taylor, Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant. But some actors are lucky enough to rank as royalty the first time they ever stepped onto a set. These actors are literally Hollywood royalty, descended from kings, queens, chieftains, and nobles from around the world:
Long before Rose Leslie stormed the fictional Castle Black on HBO’s fantasy series “Game of Thrones,” she marauded another castle — her own. Leslie was born and raised in Lickleyhead Castle, which has been her family’s home in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, since the 15th century. Leslie’s father is the chieftain of Aberdeenshire clan Leslie, and her mother is a descendant of King Charles II, who restored the English throne in 1660 after the English Civil War and the execution of his father, King Charles I, in 1649. Last year, Leslie’s parents put Lickleyhead Castle on the market for 1.3 million pounds. But don’t fear that Leslie, who got her big break as a maid in the first season of “Downton Abbey,” faces homelessness. Her family just moved a few miles away into their other home, the 12th-century Warthill Castle.
Rose Leslie isn’t the only cast member of “Game of Thrones” with a ancestral link to an actual throne. Kit Harrington, who stars as Jon Snow on the HBO series (and falls in love with Leslie’s character, Ygritte), is also related to King Charles II. Harrington claims the royal connection through his grandmother Lavender Cecilia Denny. She was married to Richard Harington, the 12th Baronet Harington, a title that has existed since the 1400s. Despite the posh lineage, Harrington insists his childhood wasn’t too far from normal. “My parents didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up,” Harrington told the London Evening Standard newspaper. “We were comfortable, but I didn’t go to Oxbridge, and yet every American interviewer I get says to me, ‘You’re related to Charles II! Your grandfather was a baronet!’”
The Academy Award-winning British actress known for her roles in everything from commercial franchises (“The Chronicles of Narnia”) and high-concept sci-fi adventures (“Snowpiercer”) to critically acclaimed independent films (“Only Lovers Left Alive”) and prestige fare (“Michael Clayton”) is related to Scottish nobility on both sides of her family. Swinton is 19 generations removed from legendary Scottish king Robert the Bruce, who freed Scotland from English rule in the 14th century. Both her father and mother trace their ancestry to Robert II, Bruce’s grandson. Swinton’s father is descended from the Duke of Albany, Robert II’s illegitimate son. Swinton’s mother is descended from Robert II’s mistress, Mariotta Cardney.
Veteran character actor Yaphet Kotto, costar of the classic 1979 sci-fi horror film “Alien” and the popular cop drama “Homicide: Life on the Street,” claimed in a 1997 autobiography that he was African royalty. According to Kotto, he is the great-great-grandson of King Alexander Bell, who ruled the Douala region of Cameroon in the late 19th century, before the West African nation became colonized by Germany, France, and Britain. According to Kotto, his father, who had converted to Judaism in Cameroon, emigrated to Harlem in the 1920s and changed his name to Abraham Kotto, adopting a relative’s surname. And while Kotto may be descended from West African royalty, he claims his family has a touch of English nobility as well. He alleges King Bell’s daughter had an affair with Britain’s Edward VII while he was the Prince of Wales in the late 19th century. Unfortunately for Kotto, however, the British royal family has denied that claim and stated, “We can confirm that Edward VII never visited Cameroon, nor do we have any record of an alleged relationship between Edward VII and Princess Nakande.”
Model and actress Catherine Oxenberg, who famously played Amanda Carrington on “Dynasty” in the 1980s, is direct European royalty, albeit of the deposed kind. Her mother, who lives in England, is Princess Elisabeth of Yugoslavia. Princess Elisabeth’s father was Prince Paul of Yugoslavia. Prince Paul served as regent to the king of Yugoslavia, his first cousin once-removed, who was deposed in 1945. Catherine’s good looks won her roles — twice — as Princess Diana, the wife of Catherine’s second cousin once-removed. She played Diana in 1982, the year of the royal wedding, and again in 1992, the year Diana and Charles announced their separation.
Dakota and Elle Fanning
Elle Fanning, who played Princess Aurora earlier this year in Disney’s Cinderella retelling “Maleficent,” is descended from an actual princess, as is her older sister, actress Dakota Fanning. The Fannings are the 22nd great-granddaughters of King Edward III, who ruled England from 1330 to 1376. That ever-so-faint bloodline runs through the Fanning girls’ mother, Heather Joy Arrington (who also happens to be the daughter of former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Rick Arrington). Genealogists at Ancestry have also determined that the actresses are the 21st cousins of Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge and wife of Englands’s Prince William. Middleton’s mother, Carole Goldsmith, is also a distant granddaughter of King Edward III.
Although Akosua Busia hasn’t appeared much on screen recently, this multi-faceted talent made a big impact with acting and writing roles in the 1980s and ’90s. In 1988, she co-starred in “The Color Purple” as Nettie, the sister of main character Celie, played by Whoopi Goldberg. A decade later, she wrote the original script for “Beloved,” the film adapted from Toni Morrison’s novel starring Oprah Winfrey (Busia’s sister, an English professor, had given her an early copy of the book). She also co-wrote the song “Moon Blue” with Stevie Wonder for his album “A Time 2 Love” and has also written novels. Busia is not only a thespian and a writer, she’s also a princess in the Royal House of Wenchi in Ghana. Her father, Kofi Abrefa Busia, was Prime Minister of Ghana from 1969 to 1972.
—Sandie Angulo Chen