Newcomers to NoVA might not know there’s a laundry list of high-wattage stars that the region nurtured before they headed off for stardom. If you’re a NoVA native, you’ve likely heard about Katie Couric cheering on the home team at her Arlington high school or Dave Grohl rocking out all over the region. But did you know Patton Oswalt was on the debate team at Broad Run High School in Ashburn? Or that Julianne Moore petitioned to have the name of her high school changed? Or that Dermot Mulroney played cello in local youth orchestras?
Read on for more Before They Were Stars fun facts. And if you’ve got a kid in a NoVA high school right now, pay attention. They could be walking down a Hollywood red carpet before long.
From: North Arlington
Career in a nutshell: Co-anchor of NBC’s Today show from 1991 to 2006; anchor and managing editor of CBS Evening News and a correspondent on 60 Minutes from 2006-2011; co-founder of Katie Couric Media
NoVA roots: “America’s Sweetheart” went from cheerleading at Yorktown High in Arlington to honing her journalism chops at the University of Virginia’s Cavalier Daily before navigating the shark-filled waters of network television, beginning with ABC News in Washington. Her three years reporting for her next employer, NBC4, earned her an Emmy and caught the eye of the Peacock Network’s brass in 1989.
She likes us! She really likes us! “It was a wonderful childhood in this great county.”—Couric at a 2006 Kiwanis Club of Arlington gala
Do you remember? Her revealing 2008 series of interviews with vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is said to have destroyed John McCain’s chances of winning the White House.
Where to see her in the wild: Couric has been known to drop in at Taqueria el Poblano (award-winning margaritas, just saying) in the Lee Harrison Shopping Center when she’s in town.
Philanthropy: Couric became a spokesperson for colon cancer awareness following the death of her husband John “Jay” Monahan III to the disease in 1998. She also volunteers her time to other cancer causes, including Stand Up to Cancer, breast cancer and pancreatic cancer. (Her sister Emily, a Virginia state senator, died of the latter in 2001.)
See her now: Couric and her husband, John Molner, host an online cooking show, Full Plate with Katie & John, sponsored by Sur la Table. See it on YouTube.
From: Arlington’s Woodmont neighborhood
Career in a nutshell: Her breakout role was the damsel in distress to Keanu Reeves’ hero in Speed. Since then: Miss Congeniality, Bird Box, Ocean’s 8; she won an Oscar for The Blind Side and was nominated for another for Gravity.
NoVA roots: The Washington-Lee (now Washington-Liberty) cheerleader went from high school talent shows (check YouTube) to being the highest-earning woman in Hollywood, getting paid $20 million up front for 2013’s Gravity with George Clooney and ultimately earning a total of $70 million after all the tickets were counted.
What she was like: “She wasn’t too different from what you see on film. She was full of life and fun. She also was naturally athletic, although she was kind of clumsy as a kid, but her mother put her in ballet and that took care of that.”—W-L classmate Simone Acha in 2005, Washington Post
Bet you didn’t know: Bullock was voted both “class clown” and “funniest” by her classmates at W-L in 1982 despite being self-described as a “picked-on nerd.”
Sightings in the wild: After her mother, Helga, died in 2000, visits to the Clarendon Whole Foods Market and the Lyon Village Italian Store dried up. She’s more visible at her home in Austin, Texas.
Comes by it naturally: “Her mom was so glamorous. Most of our moms were like June Cleaver moms, but her mom, she was exotic, like Love, American Style.” —W-L classmate Mary Thomasson Yuhas in 2005, Washington Post
See her next: Bullock is producing and starring in an action/romance/comedy with Channing Tatum called The Lost City of D. Look for it in 2022.
From: Falls Church
Career in a nutshell: The ginger-haired Moore is a fixture in the galaxy of cinema’s stars. Credits include the Hunger Games series (she’s Alma Coin), The Big Lebowski, and Magnolia; she was nominated for an Academy Award for Boogie Nights, The Hours, and The End of the Affair and finally won an Oscar in 2015 for Still Alice.
NoVA roots: Julie Anne Smith was born in North Carolina but spent her high school years in Falls Church when her military judge father was stationed in the area. Her given name was already taken for showbiz use, so she changed it in 1983. Moore is her father’s middle name.
The roots are deep: Moore and Hollywood producer Bruce Cohen (American Beauty) launched the petition to change the name of their alma mater, J.E.B. Stuart High School, in 2015. She told the Washington Post that it is reprehensible that a school is named for “a person who fought for the enslavement of other human beings.” The school became Justice High School in 2018.
Can you trust her? Apparently, yes: “I was a goody-goody. I was one of those kids who played by the rules. I used to have to take people to the principal’s office. Isn’t that awful?” —IMDB
Bet you didn’t know: Moore’s family moved 23 times before Julianne turned 18. “I think if you’ve ever done that, you know what it means to not matter in a room. I think it’s a good experience for everyone to have, to feel like they’re not noticed, because it teaches you to be empathetic.”
Change in plans: “I thought I was going to be a stage actress. One of the pathetic, secret parts of my personality is I love musical theater. I did that in high school but not very well.” —IMDB
See her next: Moore is the (apparent) victim in the thriller The Woman in the Window, coming later this year.
From: Alexandria’s Rosemont neighborhood
Career in a nutshell: Mulroney made his debut in 1986 in a CBS TV movie, Sin of Innocence. Since then, he’s appeared in My Best Friend’s Wedding, The Grey, Young Guns, The Family Stone, Longtime Companion, and a slew of romantic comedies.
NoVA roots: “We used to just mess around on the sports field [at T.C. Williams High] and all that, taking out the pole-vaulting mat and launching ourselves into it. We were just looking for trouble wherever we could find it. I know it’s not the safest, but we’d jump off the piers into the Potomac.” —Alexandria Times, 2012
Bet you didn’t know: He was coxswain for the T.C. Williams High School crew team and played his cello in as many as six area youth orchestras at one time, according to the Washington Post. He delivered the Alexandria Gazette. Winona Ryder nominated him for Best Kiss in the 1996 MTV Movie Awards for How to Make an American Quilt.
Deep roots: His mother, Ellen, was an actress in the Little Theatre of Alexandria company.
See him next: On TV in Prodigal Son, season two of Hanna on Amazon Prime, and Mindy Kaling’s Four Weddings and a Funeral series for Hulu. Several movies have been shot, including the comedy drama The Virgin of Highland Park and the horror film Umma, but are not yet scheduled for release.
From: Sterling Park
Career in a nutshell: Hilarie Ross Burton was 20 and fresh off a gig as a VJ on MTV’s Total Request Live when she was cast as cheerleader Peyton Sawyer in the popular drama One Tree Hill. From there, she’s been in TV series Dawson’s Creek, White Collar, Grey’s Anatomy, Hostages, Lethal Weapon, and, most recently, Council of Dads on NBC.
NoVA roots: Park View High School is close to her heart, as she was the homecoming queen and a cheerleader. In 2019, Burton led an all-out campaign to raise funds for the school’s football team. The team wasn’t underfunded, it was underpopulated: Only 18 players could afford to play. Her Project Patriot reinvigorated the program by removing financial barriers for players. “As someone who has a soft spot for kids and who loves Sterling Park, I raised my hand very quickly with many other alumni to jump in and help,” she told Northern Virginia magazine in 2019. “There was not a lot of advocacy for those kids.” By the time she was done, 74 paid-up players joined the varsity team. Project Patriot now helps finance other student needs: Find it at project-patriot.org.
Let’s hear it from the principal: “What I love most about Hilarie is her authenticity,” Park View principal Kirk Dolson told #FlyWashington magazine. “Knowing where she’s been and the huge amount of success she’s experienced since she graduated from Park View, one might think it would take time for her to warm up to our current school. But no way! From the moment she walked in the door, she immediately connected with students, staff and our administrative team. I feel like Park View gained a great friend through this reconnection.”
Can’t shake her roots: Burton lives in New York’s Hudson Valley with her husband and young son and daughter. She likes it there, she told #FlyWashington, because it reminds her of the Loudoun County of her past. “There is a deep appreciation for agriculture, a rural lifestyle, and family-oriented activities. I’ve tried to mirror as much of my life up here as closely to what I remember from my childhood growing up in Virginia.”
Top this, cheerleaders: She landed on the cover of American Cheerleader magazine in 2004.
Cheers for the class of 2000: “I was student body president. I was thespian president. I was on the forensics team. If there was a club, I joined it. I loved school.”
Bet you didn’t know: She’s married to actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan of The Walking Dead fame.
Where to find her with sauce on her hands: Burton dearly misses the Buffalo Wing Factory in Ashburn; she visits whenever she’s in town. “Because that’s where all my friends and I worked in high school,” she told #FlyWashington. “It’s where my friends still work, except now they’re owners and managers and in charge. I love that my son loves going over there to play with the arcade games.”
See her next: Burton guest-stars in the new season of long-running—well, long-stumbling—zombie show The Walking Dead. She plays Lucille, the wife of Negan (played by her real-life husband, Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and his deadly baseball bat’s namesake. Got all that?
Career in a nutshell: The heir apparent to genial actor Tom Bosley (separated at birth?), proudly brainy nerd Oswalt got his start as a stand-up comedian before climbing the ladder to featured roles in television shows and movies. He debuted in Kelsey Grammer’s 1996 comedy Down Periscope and found a home as Spence Olchin on CBS’s The King of Queens (1998-2007) with Kevin James.
Big breaks: After voicing Remy the rat in Pixar’s 2007 Ratatouille, he co-starred with Oscar-winner Charlize Theron in 2011’s Young Adult, the movie that made him get serious about acting.
NoVA roots: A very proud graduate of Broad Run High in Ashburn, class of ’87, and the College of William & Mary, where he majored in English, class of ’91.
He’s still a homie: Oswalt took his AP Government teacher, Ron Richards, to dinner in 2018 to thank him for his impact on his life. Oswalt recommends everyone do the same for a favorite teacher.
Always been funny: He was voted “wittiest” by his class at Broad Run Middle School.
Bet you didn’t know: He’s won an Emmy (2016, for his Netflix special Patton Oswalt: Talking for Clapping) and a Grammy (2017, for Best Comedy Album, Talking for Clapping). He was named for Gen. George S. Patton; his father was a career Marine Corps officer.
Patton in the ’hood: His parents still live in Sterling, and he comes back frequently. He gave the Broad Run debate and speech team a tutorial in 2019—he’s an alumnus of the squad.
Look between the cracks: Oswalt deserved a bigger audience for his star turn in the dark comedy Big Fan (2009). Oswalt plays a schlubby parking lot attendant and diehard New York Giants football fanatic who arrives at a moral dilemma when his favorite player puts him in the hospital after beating him up: If he brings charges, his player misses the big game. Nice twist and a terrific performance.
See him next: Well, you won’t see Oswalt, but you’ll hear his voice in the animated series Adventures in Wonder Park, Heroes of the Golden Masks, and To Meet the Faces You Meet.
Career in a nutshell: You know his face, but maybe not his name, and you might know his voice from animated films, including Ice Age, The Simpsons, South Park, Batman Beyond, and others. In person, he’s been a regular on The Drew Carey Show and in American Housewife, Napoleon Dynamite, Office Space, Veep, and the reboot of The Beverly Hillbillies.
NoVA roots: Bader was born in Alexandria and moved to Paris (France, not Fauquier County) when he was 2 years old. The family returned during his high school years, during which he attended the old Groveton High and then graduated from T.C. Williams.
Bet you didn’t know: He’s in a documentary called I Know That Voice about voice actors.
Where might you spot him? Try as we may, we couldn’t find any recent sightings.
Hear him next in: His voice is in the television miniseries Masters of the Universe: Revelation, a reboot of the beloved Saturday morning cartoon series. He voices Trap Jaw.
From: North Springfield
Career in a nutshell: Grohl cut his musical teeth drumming in rock shows at the Lake Braddock Community Center in bands such as Dain Bramage, Mission Impossible and Freak Baby before getting picked up by the nationally known Scream. After four years of Scream-ing, he met his fellow Nirvana bandmates in Los Angeles and relocated to Seattle, where they made post-punk history. He started his band the Foo Fighters, as the guitarist, in 1995 after Kurt Cobain’s death in 1994.
NoVA roots: After attending Holmes Middle School at the Alexandria-Annandale border, the best rock drummer of his generation went to three local high schools. (We didn’t ask why; that’s rock ’n’ roll.) He attended Thomas Jefferson High before it was a science and technology magnet school. He gave it his freshman year, but that didn’t work out, so he went to Bishop Ireton in Alexandria, and then Annandale High, until dropping out in 1987 to go on tour with Scream. He was 17.
What was he like? Grohl has always been high-energy and ambitious. He played soccer, lacrosse, and ice hockey, and worked in a pizza place and at Marlo Furniture.
Bet you didn’t know: Grohl came back to NoVA in 1999 to a house on Nicholson Lane in Alexandria’s North Ridge neighborhood. The Foo Fighters recorded their third album, the Grammy-winning There Is Nothing Left to Lose, in the basement studio.
Where might you spot him: In the audience and on the stage at the 9:30 Club in DC. He snuck into the F Street iteration of the famed club as an underage kid. (His mom would drop him off; the staff knew he was cool—he was there for the music.) Also, The Anthem at the Wharf; the Foo Fighters inaugurated the 6,000-spectator venue in 2017.
He likes us: The Foo Fighters do a song called “Arlandria.” Grohl lived near the Arlington-Alexandria border on Nicholson Lane.
Hear him next: The Foo Fighters dropped Medicine at Midnight in February and hope to get back on the road in June with an international tour starting in Germany. The German show as well as dates in France and Spain are already sold out.
Shirley MacLaine & Warren Beatty
From: North Liberty Street in Arlington’s Dominion Hills
Careers in a nutshell: Shirley MacLean Beaty (she later changed her stage name to Shirley MacLaine), yet another Washington-Liberty cheerleader, and younger brother and former Generals football player Henry Warren Beaty (he added a T to Beatty) are classic Old Hollywood, having broken into movies in the ’50s and ’60s and managing to stay viable and reliable, not only as artists but as gossip fodder.
Trophy case: Shirley was nominated for Oscars for Some Came Running, The Apartment, the documentary The Other Half of the Sky: A China Memoir, Irma la Douce, and The Turning Point; she won an Oscar for Terms of Endearment. Warren has been nominated for Oscars 15 times, including as Best Actor for Bonnie and Clyde, Heaven Can Wait, Reds, and Bugsy; he has directed seven different actors who received Oscar nominations.
Bet you didn’t know: Shirley was named for Shirley Temple. She played baseball on an all-boys team, setting a record for most home runs by boys or girls. Warren finally married at age 54 to actress Annette Bening after a long career as a man about town.
Can’t shake his roots: On shooting his Howard Hughes movie, Rules Don’t Apply, in Front Royal: “It’s a part of our family. Shirley and I used to go there for Thanksgiving and things like that. My uncle was superintendent of schools and played a major part in desegregating the schools.” —Virginian-Pilot, 2016
See them next in: Shirley has the documentary Bella! with Barbra Streisand and Marlo Thomas on deck; a rumored follow-up to Warren’s 1990 Dick Tracy is in the works, as is a documentary on screenwriter Budd Schulberg (A Face in the Crowd, On the Waterfront).
From: Arlington’s Green Valley neighborhood
Career in a nutshell: At 15, she was awarded a full scholarship to attend Howard University, majoring in piano and, later, voice. She graduated at age 19. After teaching music in rural Farmville, North Carolina, she returned to the region, teaching piano and playing three nights a week at Mr. Henry’s Restaurant on Capitol Hill. Flack was discovered by Atlantic Records; her hits “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” (1973) and “Killing Me Softly with His Song” (1974) are the only two songs by a solo artist to win the Record of the Year Grammy Award back-to-back. She’s had 14 Grammy nominations and has won four. She was presented with an overdue Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 2020.
NoVA roots: The Flack family moved to Green Valley—formerly known as Nauck—when Roberta was 5. She played organ at Macedonia Baptist Church and accompanied choirs at Lomax AME Zion Church, both in South Arlington. She went to Arlington’s Hoffman-Boston High.
Close encounter: NBC4 reporter Mark Segraves’s newsman father reviewed Flack’s performances and sometimes took the young music fan with him. “I met Roberta Flack several times as a young boy when dad would take me to see her perform. I have a memory, when I was 8 or 9 years old, of either sitting on the piano or on a stool next to the piano as she played and my mom and dad sitting at the table watching. Dad was a huge fan and always so proud that he was the first music critic to review her.”
Bet you didn’t know: Flack lived in a midcentury-modern 1951 house in Hollin Hills designed by famed architect Charles M. Goodman. It was also once owned by fellow musician Gil Scott-Heron.
Making an impact: The Roberta Flack Foundation supports the arts and artists.
Hear this now: The 50th anniversary box set of her debut album, First Take, went on sale in mid-2020. She no longer tours.
Career in a nutshell: Cast member on Saturday Night Live for two seasons, appeared in the blockbuster film Gone Girl, series regular on the short-lived, underrated ABC sitcom Happy Endings, starred on the NBC sitcom Marry Me and cast member on the Showtime series Black Monday.
NoVA roots: Another T.C. Williams graduate, she was involved in student government and drama. She debuted her short film Daddio at the 2019 Alexandria Film Festival. She co-wrote, directed, and starred in the story about a woman’s relationship with her father after the passing of her mother.
What were they like? “Dermot Mulroney did it, so that’s what inspired me,” she told Northern Virginia Magazine in 2019. “He’s from Alexandria. I think anyone can do what they want to do, and I think T.C. Williams was such a great high school for me to go to. My teacher, Flo West, really pushed me to get into drama. And there were so many opportunities just on a local level in Alexandria that really helped me get my start.”
Bet you didn’t know: Her full name is Cathryn Rose Wilson.
Where might you spot her? The Christmas Attic (before it closed in 2020) and Union Street Public House in Alexandria. “My friends and I used to be obsessed with the Rock It Grill, the karaoke bar on King Street, but really I just love all of Old Town in general, especially during Christmastime. It doesn’t get better than that.”
Can’t shake her roots: “I’ve always been a huge supporter of the Alexandria Film Festival, as is my dad, and I love what they’re doing and how they’ve grown it … Alexandria is such a special town.”
She really likes us: On returning to Alexandria for the film festival in 2019: “I’m excited! I come back to Alexandria a lot, probably about three to four times a year, but it’s always fun to come back.”
See her next: Feature films Omniboat: A Fast Boat Fantasia and Long Weekend with Damon Wayans Jr. On the small screen, look for her on The Shrink Next Door.