High Profile Expat Success Stories: Media and the Arts

28 November 2013


The third instalment of our High Profile Expat Success Story features more people that you’d be familiar with. You see them in news, tabloids, books, feature films and documentaries. You follow their lives, see them as legends and find inspiration from their work. This is the list of high profile expat men and women in media and the arts.


Cultural diversity in the arts and media is very important. Creativity is often brought out of inspiration, influence and culture. Standing out is an integral point in this industry and expats have advantages in terms of experience, culture, ethnicity and influences. Some of the most famous people in the art industry, Hollywood and the media started out as Expats and are very open to their experiences and their rise to success.


Freddie Mercury


Originally From: Zanzibar (Now Tanzania)

Ancestry: Parsi-Indian

Lived as an expat in: India, Tanzania, UK

Notable Work: Front man of the band Queen


We all know him now as the Rock legend Freddie Mercury from the band Queen, but Farrokh Bulsara’s road to fame as Freddie Mercury is long and winding and it started in the island of Zanzibar. Freddie Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara in Zanzibar to a humble Parsi family. Mercury spent his early childhood in Zanzibar before he was sent to Mumbai India to study, this is where he spent most of his childhood and even formed a band in high school where he began to show interest in rock music. Mercury said that his stay in India is a very influential stage in his life and that Bollywood greatly inspired his style and music. He returned to Zanzibar to live with his family until they fled the country following the massacre of thousands of Arabs and Indians. Mercury and his family found safety in England where he began to study art and eventually found his love for music. As a result, he formed the band Queen and the rest as they say is history.  


Mila Kunis


Originally From: Ukraine

Ancestry: Jewish-Ukrainian

Lived as an expat in: USA

Notable Work: The Black Swan, That 70’s Show


This beautiful Hollywood A-Lister truly stands out in Hollywood and is one of the most famous names today. Mila Kunis was born in Ukraine and migrated in the US in 1991 when she was only 7 years old. As expats, her family struggled initially due to the non-transferrable degrees and job experience brought by the strained relationship of the USSR and America. She spoke no English and was bullied as child. She was enrolled for acting classes after school as a coping method by her father. This is where she found her manager and was then catapulted to super stardom at the age of 14 with the hit TV series That 70’s Show.


Christiane Amanpour


Originally From: Iran

Ancestry: Iranian

Lived as an expat in: UK and USA

Notable Work: CNN Media Correspondent


Christiane Amanpour is one of the most influential journalists of all time and she draws a lot of her work from her life and experiences as an expat. Amanpour was born in London England and was raised in Tehran, Iran. Her family moved to England following the invasion of Iraq in Iran and found it difficult to go back. She then proceeded to study and has achieved success as a journalist in CNN, ABC News and CBS. Even though she is now an award winning and world renowned journalist, her heritage and experience as an expat when she was a child can be seen through most of her work. Her most notable achievement was her report and correspondence during the Bosnian War in 1992.


Karl Lagerfeld


Originally From: Germany

Ancestry: German-Swedish

Lived as an expat in: France

Notable Work: Creative Director of Chanel and Fendi


Karl Lagerfeld was born and raised as a son of a wealthy businessman in Germany. Their family was shielded in Berlin during World War II because of his father’s influence and they have always lived a comfortable life. Living a good life in Germany didn’t satisfy Lagerfeld, he was looking for his own passion, and this eventually led him to Paris where he finished his secondary school majoring in drawing and history. Since Lagerfeld set his sight on fashion, he worked his way through almost all of the major fashion houses and slowly made a name for himself. Today, he is known worldwide as the creative mind that breathed life back to Chanel after the death of Coco Chanel. Lagerfeld is one of the most powerful people in the fashion world and achieved this position by following his passion even when it led him outside the comfort of his family’s wealth and influence in his home country.


Maggie Q


Originally From: USA

Ancestry: Vietnamese, Irish-Polish

Lived as an expat in: Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan

Notable Work: Nikita, Naked Weapon, Rush Hour 2, Mission Impossible 3


You may know her as the powerful femme fatale Nikita, from the popular TV spy series Nikita today, but Maggie Q was known as a hot tough chick in Asia way before her Hollywood success. Margaret Denise Quigley was born and raised in Honolulu Hawaii. Like the famous play Miss Saigon, her parents met during the Vietnam War when her father was stationed in Vietnam. Their family eventually settled in Hawaii, but at the age of 17, Maggie started a modelling career that brought her back closer to her ancestry. Maggie began her modelling career in Tokyo Japan and also moved to Taipei before settling down in Hong Kong where she finally shot to super stardom. She was handpicked by Jackie Chan for a role in Rush Hour 2, and despite not speaking a word of Chinese; she was able to have a very successful career in Hong Kong and the rest of Asia. Following her success in Asia, she had a big break for the role of Nikita in the hit TV series of the same name and continues to have a glittering Hollywood career.


Djimon Hounsou


Originally From: Benin

Ancestry: African

Lived as an expat in: France, US

Notable Work: Blood Diamond, Amistad, In America


Djimon Hounsou was born and raised in Benin, West Africa. His family moved to Lyon, France when he was thirteen years old, but soon after their arrival, he dropped out of school and became homeless. Hounsou led a poor life until he had an opportunity to pursue modelling. After his success as a model in Paris, Honsou crossed to waters to America and started an acting career. He has since then been nominated for 2 Academy Awards for his performance in the film In America and Blood Diamond. Now living as a Hollywood A-Lister, Hounsou remains supportive to both Benin and France and continuously speaks of his experiences in these countries.


Sofia Coppola


Originally From: USA

Ancestry: Italian-American

Lived as an expat in: France, The Philippines, Japan

Notable Work: Lost in Translation, Virgin Suicides, The Godfather III


Sofia Coppola aside from being an Academy Award winning director is also the only daughter of world renowned director Francis Ford Coppola. Coppola was exposed to film at a very young age. She was even featured as an infant in her father’s most famous film The Godfather. The Coppola family has always been very supportive of their patriarch’s projects and this led them to live in The Philippines for 2 years while Francis Coppola was filming Apocalypse Now. Years later, Coppola uses her influence on film direction through her father and began her career in film making with a short film in 1998. Coppola was able to develop her own style and craft in her films and was awarded an Academy Award for best screenplay for her critically acclaimed film Lost in Translation which is heavily inspired by her time as an expat in Japan when she started her clothing line Milkfed. Coppola now lives in Paris, France with her husband and continues to use her experiences as major themes in her films.


Yayoi Kusama


Originally From: Japan

Ancestry: Japanese

Lived as an expat in: USA, France, Italy

Notable Work: Avant-garde Movement, Red Pumpkin, Narcissus Garden, Polka Dot


One of the living legends of the art world, Yayoi Kusama stands out as the only great female pop artist among contemporaries such as Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenberg and George Segal. Kusama who was born in Japan before World War II was from a wealthy family in Nagano. Despite being well off, Kusama had a hard childhood with an absentee father and an abusive mother. She also suffered from hallucinations and other mental ailments as a child. She channelled her experiences to art in 1948 when she started to study Nihonga painting and continued on as a successful painter in Japan. In 1957 she moved to New York during the hype of the pop-art and modern minimalist era. During her time in the US, Kusama was considered the leader of the “avant-garde” movement and was a great success until the present. More recently, she designed a collection for Louis Vuitton in collaboration with Marc Jacobs which were famously exhibited including window displays in her honour with her trademark nets and polka dots. Kusama credits her time in the US as a main contributor to her vision. She simply did not have the resources and influence she would need to break out of the ordinary while she was staying in Japan. She also speaks out against the overly traditional art forms of her country and is very happy with the recent contemporary art movement in Japan, most of which are also greatly inspired by her.