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Accents across the pond.
May 6, 2012 12:10 PM   Subscribe

Have there been any American actors that have been cast as primary characters on British shows and use a British accent?

Basically the opposite setup of e.g. Hugh Laurie/House, Jason Isaacs/Awake, Damian Lewis/Life.
posted by curious nu to Media & Arts (30 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Gillian Anderson.
posted by beaucoupkevin at 12:13 PM on May 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Peter Dinklage has a major role in Game of Thrones.
posted by Nightman at 12:16 PM on May 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


I was going to come in and say Gillian Anderson, but add the note that she spent her early and middle childhood in England.
posted by SMPA at 12:21 PM on May 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Connie Booth in Fawlty Towers.
posted by Hartster at 12:28 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Gillian Anderson.

That's marginal, as Anderson had an English accent naturally as a child.
posted by Jehan at 12:42 PM on May 6, 2012


Gweneth Paltrow.
posted by lotusmish at 12:44 PM on May 6, 2012


Connie Booth in Fawlty Towers.

I don't think Polly's nationality was ever specified, but I wouldn't call her accent 'British'.
posted by holgate at 12:50 PM on May 6, 2012


Isn't Gillian Anderson's natural speaking accent English? I saw her on a British chat show a few years ago where she had an English accent... but I don't know if she uses a different accent for life in the US!
posted by BobsterLobster at 12:56 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Terry Gilliam, of Monty Python, was American, but was rarely featured in-person in sketches.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:58 PM on May 6, 2012


Not a TV show, but Renee Zellweger portrayed Bridget Jones, a British woman, in Bridget Jones's Diary.
posted by tickingclock at 1:14 PM on May 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


Elizabeth McGovern plays an American living in the UK in Downton Abbey but has also appeared as an Englishwoman, with perhaps not the most convincing English accent, in an episode of Poirot. Not a primary character though. She also appeared as Mrs. Honeychurch in a production of Room With a View.
posted by ambrosia at 1:20 PM on May 6, 2012


Anderson does seem to shift her accent on context - she was quite young when she returned to the US, and it's entirely possible she does it subconsciously, or at least without much effort. I moved between different regions often as a kid, and my dialect and talking speed vary dramatically based on who I'm talking to and where they're from (not as much as the Ohioans and Southerners would prefer, but enough to be very apparent in audio recordings.)
posted by SMPA at 1:30 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Robert Duvall did a British accent in "The Seven Percent Solution".
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:54 PM on May 6, 2012


All three of the stars in "This Is Spinal Tap" are Americans. Their characters are British, and all three did British accents for the film.

(Just to answer an objection before it comes up: yes, Christopher Guest is an English Lord. But he was born and raised in New York City, and he's a native-born citizen of the US. His natural speaking accent is American.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:01 PM on May 6, 2012 [8 favorites]


Not a show, but apparently the English actors on the LOTR set were so fooled by the accent Brad Dourif did for Grima Wormtongue both on and off set (he's a Method actor) that when he started speaking with his normal accent they complemented him on sounding American.

More can be found on TV Tropes under Fake Brit and Fake Irish, although that covers the spectrum from flawless accent to so bad that it hurts, and isn't just limited to Americans.
posted by zombieflanders at 2:12 PM on May 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think that curious nu was asking about Americans starring in British TV shows, not in American-made movies or TV? It's an interesting question; seems like there are very few if any analogues to Hugh Laurie et al. Idris Elba and Dominic West could be added to the list on the other side. Not that that helps; I wonder why it's such a one-way phenomenon.
posted by torticat at 2:28 PM on May 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Seem to remember James Masters did his 'Spike' English accent when he appeared on Torchwood but that was only a guest role
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:32 PM on May 6, 2012


Ruby Wax sometimes did a British accent, though not very well.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:35 PM on May 6, 2012


(For some context, the reason it's rarer for Americans to travel to the UK to act than it is for Brits to travel to America to act is mostly one of money -- even the most prestigious shows in the UK pay pittance compared to television in the US. Hugh Laurie may very well enjoy Los Angeles in February, but most likely he's here because he can make exponentially more money than in the UK.)
posted by incessant at 2:45 PM on May 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think that curious nu was asking about Americans starring in British TV shows, not in American-made movies or TV? It's an interesting question; seems like there are very few if any analogues to Hugh Laurie et al. Idris Elba and Dominic West could be added to the list on the other side. Not that that helps; I wonder why it's such a one-way phenomenon.

This is, yes, exactly what I was asking; thus the "tv" and "television" tags and the use of "show" in the question, and primary characters/protagonists and their matching television shows. ;) I'd consider Anderson an edge case, I guess, but Game of Thrones is more an HBO show than anything else (and I was mostly looking at broadcast things, though I didn't specific that so fair call).

Really, since most answers so far are "not a show, but..." this confirms my suspicions anyway. So it works out! And thanks incessant for the context; obvious in retrospect but not something I'd thought of.
posted by curious nu at 3:19 PM on May 6, 2012


And thanks incessant for the context; obvious in retrospect but not something I'd thought of.

Going what Stephen Fry has said, it's not all about the money - for the people at the top of their field, it's also a matter of reaching as high as they can. Ie it's easy to be a big fish in a small pond, but can you be a big fish in the ocean? The UK production industry is small, while the American industry is the biggest in the world. If you can make it as a big fish in the biggest pond, you really are a big fish.
posted by -harlequin- at 3:30 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Jennifer Ehle was cast as Elizabeth Bennet in a BBC production of Pride and Prejudice. Her mother is an English actress, and I have no idea what her natural accent is like, nor where she predominantly grew up.
posted by OmieWise at 3:35 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


John Barrowman (Capt. Jack Harkness on Dr. Who and Torchwood) has dual US/British citizenship, but mostly grew up in America.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 6:06 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not to mention that American shows are huge EVERYWHERE, and last FOREVER. People still get royalty checks for work they did in the 1960s and 1970s in the US, and I'm pretty sure folks from shows like The Brady Bunch and Dallas can barely walk the streets in the middle of nowhere without being recognized (in part because they are still broadcast in syndication - the BBC in particular is quite problematic on that score.) You're in the ocean with American TV, and something more like a bay harbor with UK TV.

We also just frankly make a lot more TV shows.
posted by SMPA at 7:15 PM on May 6, 2012


"The Prisoner" is definitely a British TV series. In the episode "Living in Harmony", American actor David Bauer works in an American accent for most of the episode, but affects a British accent at the very end. (I won't explain why; it's a spoiler.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:15 PM on May 6, 2012


Her mother is an English actress, and I have no idea what her natural accent is like, nor where she predominantly grew up.

Ehle's done a reverse Gillian Anderson with pike; she grew up mostly in North Carolina, moved to the UK for drama school when she was 18, deliberately picked up a British accent for work, and has reverted back now that she lives and works mostly in the US. I think she's one of the few that qualifies by the OP's criteria, but not quite in the Laurie/Elba/Lewis/Isaacs mould.
posted by holgate at 9:30 PM on May 6, 2012


Alexis Denisof's best known for playing a British character on Buffy/Angel, but he's also done the same in a couple of UK shows, including Sharpe.
posted by permafrost at 3:10 AM on May 7, 2012


John Barrowman (Capt. Jack Harkness on Dr. Who and Torchwood) has dual US/British citizenship, but mostly grew up in America.

Cap't Jack doesn't speak with a British accent.

curious nu, I think part of the problem with you getting good answers is that Americans just aren't as familiar with British TV shows, though this is slowly changing.

There probably are American unknowns getting their start in British TV that we just have no idea are American because...we don't know them. As incessant points out, the pay scale means that less likely that a well-known TV actor over here in the US would take the pay cut to work in the UK.
posted by desuetude at 7:10 AM on May 7, 2012


Phillip Winchester is starring in Strike Back on Sky1 in the UK.
posted by 3fluffies at 7:45 AM on May 7, 2012


There's a number of actors from the former colonies that made it in the UK doing English accents, Leo Mckern and Sid James for example

Also some British actors drop their regional accents for roles. To me it always seems a bit odd to here David Tennant's natural Scottish accent as I'm so used to him doing an English accent in Who and a number of other roles.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:31 AM on May 7, 2012


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