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Nimis's avatar

A question about actors and foreign accents?

Asked by Nimis (13008 points ) July 13th, 2012

It seems (to me) that most British actors do a better job of doing American accents (than most American actors doing a British accent).

First of all, do you also find this to be true?
If so, why do you think that is?
Lastly, do you think it differs with accents?

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20 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

Listen to Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare in Love and other Brit-speak movies.

filmfann's avatar

Americans doing English:
Robert Duvall in The Seven Percent Solution.
Robert Downey Jr. in Chaplin.
Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare In Love

Foreigners speaking American:
Guy Pearce in LA Confidential and Memento.
Hugh Laurie in House.
Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove
Tracy Ullman in I Love You To Death

All picture perfect.

gailcalled's avatar

Um…word perfect?

Here are thirteen who tried…some hits and some misses.

American actors doing British accents.

digitalimpression's avatar

I think I have actually found this to be true as well. Granted, there are examples of good efforts all around.

There are definitely some horrific attempts out there by both English and American actors as well. It’s not always an English or American accent they are trying to do though.

Some of the worst attempts that immediately come to mind (and annoy me to the point that I can hardly watch the movie) are:
Leo Decapitated in Blood Diamond and
Nicholas Cage in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

I think it helps a lot with the suspension of disbelief if you don’t know the actor. When I already know they don’t really have an accent it has to be done pretty well or it’s just going to be distracting.

Nimis's avatar

@gailcalled and @filmfann Yes, there are good and bad examples from both sides of the pond. But what are your impressions of the majority of them? does one tend to be better than the other or are they about the same to you?

@digitalimpression Suspension of disbelief. I hadn’t thought about that. I like it.

fundevogel's avatar

I always figured Brits were better at American accents because they have a lot of access to American media where as Americans primarily get domestic media. But in general British actors probably have to be better at accents because there are so many of them in the UK.

Bellatrix's avatar

There are also a great many regional dialects in the UK (and the same can probably be argued about the US). Drive a few miles down the road and you could get out and find people speaking with a noticeably different accent. So, what is an “American” or “British” accent?

I think one of the harder English accents to replicate is Australian. I can’t get it right and I’ve been here nearly 30 years. Strangely, there are really only three variations of Australian accent. There aren’t the vast regional differences you find in other countries.

Nimis's avatar

@fundevogel Access to media. Good theory. There are a lot of accents in the UK. That probably gives them a better ear for accents. Is that what you meant by your last sentence? Or did you mean that there is more of a demand for them to actually perform these accents and that it’s a matter of practice?

@Bellatrix Do you think the ease of replication is inversely related to the number of variations? As in, more variations equals more room for interpretation?

augustlan's avatar

It does seem that way, to me. Maybe it’s because there are more movies and television shows produced in America (is that even true, or just my perception?), so more actors from England work in American productions than the other way around? Perhaps it’s almost a given that an English actor will eventually want or need to do an American accent (so maybe it’s part of their training), whereas most American actors will probably never have an opportunity to do an English accent professionally.

Nimis's avatar

@augustlan It does seem like Hollywood churns out a lot of television and movies. It makes sense to train for where the work is available. That’s a good theory.

I wonder if the large volume of production can affect it in other ways too?
More work—> more actors—> dilutes % of real talent?

ucme's avatar

When I hear Hugh Laurie in House, I want to climb inside the telly & throttle the life out of him.
Yank actors normally speak the classic etonian english accent, not at all in keeping with the vast majority of accents/dialects spread across our glorious nation.
Johnny Depp sounds good in the Pirate movies though.

fundevogel's avatar

@Nimis “There are a lot of accents in the UK. That probably gives them a better ear for accents. Is that what you meant by your last sentence? Or did you mean that there is more of a demand for them to actually perform these accents and that it’s a matter of practice?”

All of the above. Though, as @ucme points out, the range of British accent in the UK is not well represented in the media most of the time. However, while actors with the most BBC-friendly accents may not find much need to learn others it seems to me actors with regional dialects have to be able to adopt more…media-friendly (whatever that means) accents for their work.

fundevogel's avatar

@Bellatrix “There are also a great many regional dialects in the UK (and the same can probably be argued about the US). Drive a few miles down the road and you could get out and find people speaking with a noticeably different accent. So, what is an “American” or “British” accent?”

It’s so rare that I encounter American accents other than the generic American usually reinforced in movies and tv. Even when I lived in the south there weren’t many people with Southern accents. What’s weird is the bulk of the notable regional accents I hear come from when the news decides to do a round of Republicans say the darnedest things. The accents on a lot of the Southern Republicans they feature blow my mind. It’s hard to say which is weirder. That he won’t marry interracial couples or that he used the word “git” in a formal interview.

Kardamom's avatar

All I know is that it bums me out when British actors take on American accents. But that’s only because I adore British accents. Stripping Brits of their accents is like taking the clotted cream away from the scones, or taking the mop-tops away from The Beatles, or taking away the Yorkeshire pudding away from the roast beef, or taking away the magic away from Harry Potter!

That being said, Anthony Hopkins did a credible job in Magic.

Alan Rickman, despite being my favorite actor, did a terrible job in Dark Harbor (but thankfully he dropped the American accent after about the 2nd scene and reverted back to his regular accent).

Johnny Depp did 2 excellent and very different Brit accents in Pirates of the Carribean and Dark Shadows.

Robert Downey Jr. did a great Brit accent in Sherlock Holmes.

Anne Hathaway did a pretty good Brit accent in Becoming Jane, although she took a lot of crap for some minor missteps. The movie was so good and the chemistry between James McAvoy and Anne was so wonderful, that maybe I overlooked any problems.

I’m not exactly sure you would characterize this one as specifically a British accent, but I think it is meant to be. Frank Langella as Dracula. That one made this Jelly go weak in the knees, first time I saw him and heard his accent. I had wrongly assumed that he was actually British. What do you guys think?

Hugh Laurie does a better American accent than many Americans LOL.

Carrie Fisher started out with a British accent in the beginning of Star Wars episode IV, but then mysteriously lost it.

Emily Blunt sounded just like anyone from around my neck of the woods in in Southern California in Sunshine Cleaning. However, even though she is British, her modern sounding British accent in Young Victoria was very off-putting. She should have at least sounded as upper-crush/posh as the current Queen Elizabeth, but even the Queen sounds quite different now, than she did when she first ascended the throne, and the Queen Mum really had an extreme upper-class accent when she was younger, so I imagine that Queen Victoria’s accent was even more extreme. Queen Elizabeth age 21 and her less posh sounding accent More Recently

I assumed that Renee Zellwegger was British when I saw Bridget Jones’ Diary for the first time.

Whoever made the decision to remove Patrick Stewart’s British accent for X-Men, must also like their English muffins without nooks and crannies. It must have been the same person who thought it might be fun to remove Alan Cummings’ accent for The Good Wife. Why would you want to remove 2 of the sexiest voices/accents on the planet for a flat, boring American sounding “accent”?

Jim Carrey did an amazing job in A Christmas Carol. 2nd only to Patrick Stewart : )

RareDenver's avatar

@Kardamom Renée Zellweger did do a very good home counties upper middle class brit

mattbrowne's avatar

I’m amazed about Dr. House played by the British actor Hugh Laurie. He even fooled people during his casting:

“After he had watched casting tapes for the pilot episode, Bryan Singer grew frustrated and refused to consider any more British actors because of their flawed American accents. Although Singer compared Laurie’s audition tape to an “Osama bin Laden video”, he was impressed with Laurie’s acting and, not knowing who he was, Singer was fooled by his American accent. He commented on how well the “American actor” was able to grasp the character, not knowing about Laurie’s British nationality.”

mattbrowne's avatar

Impressive !

Arewethereyet's avatar

I love Hugh Laurie in House (had me fooled) but his own accent is truly beautiful. I think RDJ did a sensational job on his brit accent in Sherlock Holmes but isn’t this testament to their skill as actors rather than where they hail from?

What cracks me up is all the Aussies doing the American accent but Russell Crowe was great as John Nash.

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