Do Brits sound American?
May 8, 2010 4:47 PM   Subscribe

How do British Actors playing Americans sound to Americans?

House (Hugh Laurie) is the most obvious example, but there are many British Actors who have played Americans and consequently have tried to adopt an accent. I wondered how this sounded to you American chaps, as I know of no American yet who has played a Brit and yet not been instantly recognisable to British ears as foreign.
posted by Biru to Writing & Language (116 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Hugh Laurie is pretty convincing. So are both Vampire Bill and Jason Stackhouse from True Blood (though Jason Stackhouse is played by an Australian actor). I occasionally notice that British inflection or pronunciation creeps in and I notice it, but my husband who does not love England the way that I do doesn't really notice it.
posted by santojulieta at 4:50 PM on May 8, 2010


Personally, I never knew that Anna Friel of Pushing Daisies was British. I don't think I've ever recalled saying to myself, "That Brit is doing a terrible American English (non-regional) accent."
posted by rachaelfaith at 4:51 PM on May 8, 2010


Some of them sound better than others, and some people are more sensitive to this kind of thing than others.

This is pretty chatty.
posted by box at 4:53 PM on May 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


Most British actors who try an American accent are good at it, at least to my ears. But I'm not great at picking up subtleties. I have never heard an ounce of Britishness in House's accent. With regard to True Blood, I wonder if the Louisiana accent is easier to do than the standard "American" lack-of-regional-accent accent.

Gwyneth Paltrow doesn't do a decent British accent? I had heard that hers was better than most Americans.
posted by amro at 4:55 PM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Gwyneth Paltrow's English accent (as heard in Sliding Doors and more) is pretty damn convincing, and I can think of, if not name, a few other American actresses who pull the accent off well, too
posted by bonaldi at 4:55 PM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I can't think of any movie I've seen where I was bothered by a British actor's fake American accent.

The one time I can remember it being a problem is when I saw a performance of The Vagina Monologues in London, and it was hard to keep track of whether they were actually supposed to be American. I went away thinking, "You know, it's an American play, and it didn't feel American." I wished there had been actual American actors, but I'm sure I wouldn't have even been thinking about that if there had been better British actors.

It's probably more problematic in plays than movies; when a movie actor lets an incongruous accent slip in, someone is bound to notice, and they'll just reshoot it.
posted by Jaltcoh at 4:57 PM on May 8, 2010


I was completely startled to learn that Dominic West, who plays McNutly on the Wire, is English. Of course once I was aware of it, I would notice a slightly odd pronunciation pop up every so often --just a hint-- and mainly in scenes where he is irate or emotional. But then I was also on the lookout for it.
posted by cymru_j at 4:57 PM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I never would have know that Hugh Laurie was British is it weren't for the internet. That being said, I have heard quite a few American accents from British actors that weren't up to snuff. They were absolutely laughable, especially when they made a serious attempt at a southern accent.
posted by 517 at 5:00 PM on May 8, 2010


I was completely startled to learn that Dominic West, who plays McNutly on the Wire, is English.

I'm about to blow your mind: Idris Elba (Stringer Bell) is also British.

Personally, I think Vampire Bill's voice sounds really strange, but he's also trying to pull off a 19th century Louisiana accent.
posted by oinopaponton at 5:01 PM on May 8, 2010 [7 favorites]


I can't remember anyone who's bothered me in this respect other than Robert Lee, the voiceover guy for Mythbusters. He's English, raised in the U.S., and now lives in Australia, which give him some very weird pronunciation combos.
posted by deludingmyself at 5:01 PM on May 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


I thought Jude Law's faux-'merkin accent in I <3 Huckabees was pretty ridiculous.
posted by thejoshu at 5:05 PM on May 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


Love Hugh Laurie but I hate House and I always though his accent sounded phony but it's probably because I remember him from Blackadder.

I rarely notice a bad American accent (but I'm Canadian). I suppose it could be all the British, Australian, New Zealand, and Canadian actors polluting the American entertainment industry. I wonder if people's ears outside Britain aren't as well trained at distinguishing a person's class/background/education?
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:08 PM on May 8, 2010


Watch Monty Python's The Meaning of Life. The scene with the American tourists ("Would you like to talk about philosophy?") is an apt caricature of a fake American accent. The main problems with faking an American accent are 1) drawling 2) going too nasal, and 3) hitting the R's too hard.

I actually DON'T think Laurie's accent is 100% convincing, but his strange speaking style fits his character.

McNulty from The Wire has some strange pronunciations sometimes. Idris Elba, on the other hand, never, ever slips up.

Ewan McGregor's American accent is slightly hinky.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:12 PM on May 8, 2010


I'm with oinoponton. I came late to The Wire and knew that Dominic West is English so I can spot a few accent issues here and there. I however was blown away when I found out that Idris Elba was British. In an interview on Fresh Air even the casting team of The Wire didn't know he was foreign until after he booked the gig.

On ABC's Flashforward the show asks to Brits, Joseph Fiennes and Sonya Walger to play an American couple. They succeed for the most part but his accent seems to change a bit from time to time.
posted by mmascolino at 5:12 PM on May 8, 2010


Joseph Fiennes and Sonya Walger are both British and play an American couple on FlashForward, both convincingly.

Most British actors doing American accents do well. Most American actors doing British accents are not so good.
posted by kirkaracha at 5:12 PM on May 8, 2010


Ewan McGregor's American accent is slightly hinky.

Hinky? Jesus, in The Men Who Stare at Goats I swear to god I thought Ewan was going to have a stroke halfway through the movie, the way he was forcing the accent.

Great actor, terrible "American."
posted by InsanePenguin at 5:14 PM on May 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


BTW, the easy thing about the American accent is that not only is it so common (rent almost ANY blockbuster movie and you can study), but Standard American is the main dialect. Differences between American regional accents are nowhere near as strong as they are in the UK.

Oh, and you know who's an amazing fake? Bob Hoskins. In Who Framed Roger Rabbit, his accent is PERFECT.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:15 PM on May 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


Mark Addy, portraying a working-class Chicagoan on Still Standing, sounded terrible.

I also think most non-Southerners do a bad job of Southern (US) accents, American or not. See Charlize Theron in The Devil's Advocate.
posted by 6550 at 5:18 PM on May 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


The only time I've really noticed or been bothered by a fake American accent was on the sitcom As Time Goes By when they had some actors portraying Hollywood producers -- but I think that was less genuinely going for the accent than an overblown characiture. As for how they sounded: kind of like they were deliberately talking in the back of their throats.

3) hitting the R's too hard.

Yes, they were doing this too.

The people who do the worst American accents are other Americans, actually.
posted by frobozz at 5:19 PM on May 8, 2010


Olivia d'Abo convincingly played an American teenager/young adult on The Wonder Years. I never had a clue she was British until well into the series' run when everyone got famous and I read biographical articles about them.
posted by amyms at 5:19 PM on May 8, 2010


Gerard Butler's American accent is truly awful.
posted by stopgap at 5:21 PM on May 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


The people who do the worst American accents are other Americans, actually.

Huh? What do you mean? Like someone from LA trying to do a New York accent?
posted by amro at 5:22 PM on May 8, 2010


I can think of two that I immediately picked out as "Nope, definitely not American," but only two.

1. Orlando Bloom in Elizabethtown.
2. Michael Caine in Secondhand Lions.

On the other hand, though, I didn't know Hugh Laurie was British until I read this thread (because I'm that not into pop culture), so it might just be me.
posted by iarerach at 5:22 PM on May 8, 2010


I believe Ed Westwick, who plays Chuck Bass on Gossip Girl, is a Brit. His accent sounds odd, but believable. That is, he's got a bit of an extra drawl that might seem out of place or fake, but the character he plays is such a weirdo bizarre spoiled rich 21 year old running a development empire inherited from his playboy father that....it works?

Well, at any rate, it wasn't until long after the first season of GG that I accidentally discovered he was foreign.
posted by bunnycup at 5:24 PM on May 8, 2010


I was completely startled to learn that Dominic West, who plays McNutly on the Wire, is English.

I'm about to blow your mind: Idris Elba (Stringer Bell) is also British.


Yeah, the first time I heard Idris Elba's natural voice, it really messed up my head. I imagine the people who've assumed on face value that he's "African American" get a bit of a surprise too.

I was very surprised to find out that Linus Roache, who plays a NY district attorney (the lead character) on Law & Order, is English. He doesn't really do the stereotypically generic New Yorker accent but he doesn't seem to let any British flavor slip in either.
posted by fuse theorem at 5:27 PM on May 8, 2010


Matthew Rhys (Kevin on "Brothers and Sisters") has a pretty convincing American accent.
posted by candyland at 5:30 PM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Toni Collette sounded thoroughly convincing in "Little Miss Sunshine" and "In Her Shoes." Emma Thompson almost made my ears bleed in "Primary Colors", she hit those Chicago "r"s so hard. (picture flossing your teeth with barbed wire.) But she was believable.

Now let us turn to the utter horribleness that is Jeremy Irons when attempting any accent. I adore the man, but surely he can spare some cash in hiring Hugh Laurie's vocal coach.
posted by BostonTerrier at 5:33 PM on May 8, 2010


Usually they're too nasally. Sometimes they sound fine but they're holding their mouth a little oddly (like Lena Headey in the Terminator TV show). Hugh Laurie does a great job, especially considering it's much easier for non-Americans to pull off southern accents than any other kind.
posted by monkeymadness at 5:34 PM on May 8, 2010


Jamie Bamber, from Battlestar Galactica, has an American accent that is FLAWLESS. Hugh Laurie as House at least has the curmudgeonly New Jersey thing to fall back on, though I admit his is also flawless. But Bamber? Pure American Broadcast English. It's really impressive.

OTOH, the actors they have playing American newscasters on Dr. Who are just, just awful.
posted by KathrynT at 5:34 PM on May 8, 2010 [5 favorites]


While it would be a stretch to say that John Mahoney is "doing" an American accent, it's worth noting that he only acquired it as a young adult.

From IMDB:
People say there's no trace of an accent anymore, and there isn't because I worked very hard to lose it.
posted by war wrath of wraith at 5:38 PM on May 8, 2010


This one really surprised me many years ago: Adrian Lester, the guy who plays the main aide in Primary Colors, is British. He sounded perfect, and it was all the more striking since he did a much better job accent-wise than co-star Emma Thompson (who played the candidate's wife).

Had no idea about Linus Roache. He sounds flawless. Dominic West always sounded very odd to me.

Here's one that I never understood: On Deadwood, Ian McShane's Al Swearengen is always described as a "limey," and in fact on the show is said to have been born in England. But the way McShane played him, his accent always sounded very American to me - whereas in real life, McShane has a distinct British accent.

So the answer to the OP is, it depends!
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 5:39 PM on May 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


Sticherbeast, I disagree with you 100%. I think Bob Hoskins does a horrible American accent in WFRR. One of the worst I've heard in a mainstream film.
posted by monkeymadness at 5:39 PM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hugh Laurie's accent is very good, but I still detect something every once in a while.

On preview I see KathrynT and war wrath have already mentioned two of the three people I was going to mention, but here goes anyway:

The Brits that win the American accent game for me are Marianne Jean-Baptiste, who plays Vivian Johnson on Without a Trace, and Jamie Bamber, Apollo Adama on Battlestar Galactica. Also, John Mahoney, Frasier's dad on Frasier, is British, but apparently lost his British accent when he emigrated here.
posted by odin53 at 5:39 PM on May 8, 2010


Christian Bale is pretty dead on.

Jamie Bamber on Galactica is mostly good but has these moments where he doesn't sound American... I can't think of many Americans who pronounce them "fill-its" instead of "fill-ays," for example.

Not English, but from the broader families of accents... I like Sam Worthington but his American accent is at best passable.

Overall, Brits doing American accents tend to sound a bit breathier than most actual Americans. Also, British/Australian/Kiwi actors doing good American accents is a pretty new thing. It used to be that Brits (etc) doing American accents sounded like the American accents the Pythons or Benny Hill would adopt, which sounded like someone simultaneously from Texas and New York who was drunk and had suffered serious brain damage sometime in the past. That is, terrible.

As far as the difference you note between British etc actors doing good American accents but not vice versa, I'll just note that for a British etc actor, being able to pass as American means an entree into a vast and and highly remunerative world of motion pictures and television shows. But if you're an American actor, being able to adopt an English accent to the point of convincing English people means that you can star in Merchant-Ivory style period pieces, or that you can work for the BBC for a relative pittance.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:43 PM on May 8, 2010


Agreed with KathrynT about Jamie Bamber. It is flawless. One note of background, though: he was raised in the UK, but his father is American, so he's had a native example to mimic from the get-go.

I only know that from watching one of those stupid BSG behind the scenes shows where first I fell out of my chair hearing Jamie Bamber speak in his normal accent, and then heard him explain about his Dad. I'm not some smitten fangirl or anything. Really.
posted by ambrosia at 5:44 PM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I thought Forrest Whitaker put on a ridiculous American accent at the Oscars (I'm not joking).
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:45 PM on May 8, 2010


Overall, Brits doing American accents tend to sound a bit breathier than most actual Americans.

Sorry. I meant to write that British (etc) men doing American accents tend to *either* sound breathier than most Americans (Fiennes, Bamber), or use a quite gravelly voice to try to help suppress their native accent (Laurie, Hoskins, Worthington, maybe Bale).
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:45 PM on May 8, 2010


Not an answer to your question, but an interesting article relevant to the topic:
Talk This Way,” The New Yorker, by Alec Wilkinson, November 9, 2009, p. 32.
posted by ericb at 5:47 PM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I only know that from watching one of those stupid BSG behind the scenes shows where first I fell out of my chair hearing Jamie Bamber speak in his normal accent, and then heard him explain about his Dad. I'm not some smitten fangirl or anything. Really.

Bamber is a prominent supporting actor in the Hornblower serieses from a few years ago, with Ioan Gruffyd (sure I'm misspelling that) as Hornblower. Not that you're a smitten fangirl or anything, but be warned you might melt with squee.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:50 PM on May 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


Rachel Weisz does the nasally American thing which is confusing considering that her usual British accent is quite lovely.
posted by cazoo at 5:50 PM on May 8, 2010


I think most of the British actors doing American accents for an American audience sound good to perfect.

For the home audience, however, they don't seem to try as hard - the most excruciating and painful recent example being Philip Glenister in the UK show Demons. I love Philip Glenister but he sounded fucking ridiculous on that show.
posted by Squeak Attack at 5:54 PM on May 8, 2010


I was astonished to discover that Owain Yeoman who plays Wayne Rigsby on The Mentalist is Welsh* - an upcoming episode has a guest appearance by his real life wife, Lucy Davis (from The Office). I've never heard her attempt an American accent so it will be interesting to see how she fares.

Stringer Bell Idris Elba is starring in a new BBC cop drama (Luther) and I found his speech to be quite forced and he seemed to frequently lapse back into an American accent (but don't take my word for this, I'm quite hard of hearing).

---
* Yeoman apparently tried to persuade the producers to let him use his Welsh accent for the Rigsby role but unsurprisingly, they passed.
posted by ceri richard at 6:00 PM on May 8, 2010


Forest Whitaker is not American?
posted by SLC Mom at 6:06 PM on May 8, 2010


Eddie Izzard's American accent was pretty good in The Riches.

Dexter Fletcher(-Cook) did a bloody awful American accent when he played Spike in the English TV series Press Gang.

Ewan McGregor really needs to stop trying, though (I agree with whoever noticed his accent was all over the place in The Men Who Stare at Goats). I even think his attempt at a London accent is terrible.
posted by vickyverky at 6:06 PM on May 8, 2010


Sam Worthington's Australian and his American accent in Avatar was pretty bad.
posted by ishotjr at 6:24 PM on May 8, 2010


Forest Whitaker is not American?

my thoughts exactly.
posted by randomstriker at 6:32 PM on May 8, 2010


Ewan McGregor really doesn't do American accents at all well... In "Down With Love" it was OK because his character was putting on a fake accent. In "Men Who Stare at Goats" it was really hard to listen to. Sean Connery has also never been good at hiding his accent... is the Scottish accent a particularly hard one to lose?...

Kenneth Branagh has embarrassed himself on a number of occasions attempting American accents. His accent in "Dead Again" is just weird. He's done a few Southern regional accents ("Wild Wild West") that were also not at all good.

I'm never sure if Anthony Hopkins is trying to hide his accent and doing a really bad job of it, or if he just doesn't care ... Richard Burton may have had a similar attitude.

Ralph Fiennes' accent in "Quiz Show" is pretty good. It helps that his character is an upper-class academic I suppose.

I think Bob Hoskins' accent in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" is OK but I don't believe it's quite flawless as was suggested above.

I think Hugh Laurie's accent is about as good as it gets in this department.
posted by wabbittwax at 6:34 PM on May 8, 2010


The majority of British actors make very convincing Americans to my ears.

The only time it has really bothered me was the voice acting in the video game Heavy Rain. Pretty much all of the accents were nails on a chalkboard awful.
Here's a link to a gamesradar video with various clips of the American accents in game (some spoilers)
posted by CarolynG at 6:36 PM on May 8, 2010


Damian Lewis was flawless as Winters in Band of Brothers.

Nthing Idris Elba as fantastic and Dominic West as occasionally off on The Wire.
posted by ellenaim at 6:43 PM on May 8, 2010


The Fake American page at TVTropes may be instructive.
posted by tellumo at 6:43 PM on May 8, 2010


the main flaw i've seen with brit actors doing american accents is it tends to sound a little too proper and pure, a little too clean. still american, mind you, but like they were studying a primer for 1950's american english and nailed it. i'm thinking helena bonham carter in fight club (and a few others of course that slip my mind at the moment). actors like hugh laurie and damian lewis compensate for this by injecting intentional raspiness, which covers up other flaws in the accent as well.

i agree with 517 and 6550 that brit actors just can't do a southern accent. my two examples are kenneth branagh in wild wild west and mick jagger in an SNL skit. i betcha david bowie can't do southern, either.

i disagree with larerach about michael caine. actors like him and tom wilkinson do an accent that's more an upper class, blue-blooded, old-money american accent than standard american english. so they can get away with a mostly british accent with the occasional old money or new englander quirk tossed in and no one will notice the difference.
posted by camdan at 6:48 PM on May 8, 2010


every Brit playing an American in "Jeeves and Wooster" had a laughably bad accent.
posted by dubold at 6:49 PM on May 8, 2010


I think Kate Winslett has a pretty good standard American accent, and also Portia de Rossi, although she's Australian. Almost no actors, British or otherwise, seem able to get a Southern American accent though.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 6:57 PM on May 8, 2010


Forest Whitaker is not American?

He is. I'd only knew him from The Crying Game and just assumed he was British. At the 2007 Oscars, I thought he had picked some weird fake accent after moving to Hollywood. I can be frighteningly stupid that way.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:03 PM on May 8, 2010


I thought Michael Caine's accent was very good in The Cider House Rules, and Tom Wilkinson's usually very good.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:06 PM on May 8, 2010


Peter Ustinov could do a flawless American accent when he wanted to. It was eerie to listen to it.

And I thought that Bob Hoskins did a great job in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" His real accent is Cockney.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:08 PM on May 8, 2010


It really does depend, I'm sure everyone knows that.
Sticherbeast: "McNulty from The Wire has some strange pronunciations sometimes. Idris Elba, on the other hand, never, ever slips up." Yeah, Dominic West never really got it right. It was too forced. Toni Collette rocks with accents, and Christian Bale. You have to appreciate that, because it's so rare.
What I'm really bothered by is regional dialect and accents. Every movie with a southern U.S. character is portrayed with some kind of Gulf Coast Savannah-type accent. Or whatever the fuck DeNiro did in Cape Fear: "come ayut come ayut wayur ever you arr".
I wasn't just disturbed by "Cold Mountain" being filmed in Romania for god's sake— the purported mountain accents were ridiculous. Renee Zellweger was closest with some version of a Tennessee/Alabama accent. I mean, there's a huge range in Southern accents from Louisiana to west Tennessee to East Tennessee to Charleston, like there are distinct differences in accents from Jersey to the coast of Connecticut to Maine, or even between boroughs in NYC. Did anyone else watch that miserable "Patriot" movie with Mel Gibson and think, "my, it's still an English colony and everyone sounds like they're from Utah"? I realize most movies are shitty and superficial, with crappy Glade plug-in soundtracks and teflon acting, but it's just really jarring that people don't even try sometimes.
posted by Red Loop at 7:09 PM on May 8, 2010


I realize he's Irish, but I watched "Taken" the other night, and Liam Neeson's American accent was a bit off because he was hitting his "rs" too hard and the cadence was off.

Then again, I think Liam Neeson is awesome enough that he's entitled to the official "Sean Connery" accent pass for whatever movie role he's playing.

Overall, Brits doing American accents tend to sound a bit breathier than most actual Americans
I think Gates Mc Fadden in ST: TNG was an example of this.

Sam Worthington's Australian and his American accent in Avatar was pretty bad.

Yes, it's like he can't quite drop his Australian dipthongs.
posted by Dr. Zira at 7:16 PM on May 8, 2010


I am surprised every single time I find out that an actor is British.

Australians, not so much. I think Nicole Kidman is horrible.
posted by desjardins at 7:17 PM on May 8, 2010


You see a lot of Brits doing decent American accents in Hollywood films and TV because that's where the money is. The more money you are paying, the more likely you can hire someone is both a decent actor and can pull off a convincing accent. You can see lots of Brits doing garbage American accents and (I suppose) Americans doing garbage Brit accents on stage and in non-US television because the pay is not as high.

It's not that Americans who don't do convincing British accents don't exist, it's that venues that hire Americans to do British accents often don't have the money to hire them. They hire whoever's local.

That said, I never quite buy Kevin McKidd's American accent. It's not awful but it's not quite right either. Of course I knew his regular speaking voice before I ever saw him doing American, so there's that. In fact I suspect that you are far more likely to find "errors" in somebody's fake accent if you are familiar with their normal speaking voice because you pick up on things you would overlook in someone you didn't know was faking it.

If you didn't know Laurie was a Brit you wouldn't be able to guess his natural accent but you could pick up that he was faking the accent somehow. Every once in a while you can tell he's working at it. Dominic West is usually excellent but I've heard him screw up once or twice and say something Britishy. Bambur, ditto. They're all very good but you would know they weren't speaking their native accents if you watched enough.

Sonya Walger is really very good as well; far better, in my opinion, than Joseph Fiennes. Contra what some people have said I've always found his accent unconvincing.

Idris Elba, however, is truly flawless.
posted by Justinian at 7:21 PM on May 8, 2010


Well, I had some quibbles with Chris Lloyd's 'toon' accent in WFRR.
posted by ovvl at 7:24 PM on May 8, 2010


and also Portia de Rossi, although she's Australian

Portia's another one who adopted the American accent full-time. I've noticed that she does occasionally give it away in the pronunciation of some words, like "anything" where an American would tend to pronounce the long "e" sound of the letter "y" a little more. I've also noticed her say "snigger" instead of "snicker", and to pronounce the word "figure" as "figger" instead of the typical American pronunciation "figyur."

Also, in the original Doctor Who series, there was an American companion character (Peri, played by Nicola Bryant) who gave it away in just the second episode she appeared in by pronouncing "glass" more like "gloss." It's been long enough since I've seen any of those shows that I don't recall how her accent was more generally, but even as a kid, that one stood out.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 7:24 PM on May 8, 2010


Although he might be going for a midwestern accent, he is a bit heavy on the drawl and hard on his "r"s so David Mitchell sounds like John Wayne by way of Cardiff.
posted by oflinkey at 7:28 PM on May 8, 2010


IMO, some of them are really good and some are really not (and, of course, that goes the other way, as well). If the British actor is going for a generic American 'accent' (basically the sort of accent that I don't even think of as an accent), they're often more or less passable, if not completely convincing. Some of the more 'regional' accents (namely, southern accents or, perhaps mid-western) are apparently more difficult, and sometimes those accent attempts are so bad that they distract from the movie. Personally, as much as I love and respect Ewan McGregor as an actor, I won't watch any more of his movies where he has one of those accents.. If I recall correctly, he had an southern (?) accent in Big Fish that I found unforgivable, and there was some kind of American accent in Down With Love that I didn't like.
posted by Mael Oui at 7:31 PM on May 8, 2010


I generally find non-Americans' American accents pretty convincing, or at least, inconspicuous. Two exceptions I can think of are Ewan Mcgregor and the guy from Avatar (who was Australian, and did a rotten job of hiding it).

As an aside, when I saw John Barrowman on Doctor Who/Torchwood for the first time, I thought he was faking his American accent. He moved to the US from Scotland when he was young, and his parents are Scottish. His accent is authentic, but the British influence breaks through on some words (off the top of my head, 'estrogen' as 'eestrogen').
posted by Gordafarin at 7:37 PM on May 8, 2010


Bob Hoskins in was flawless. Christian Bale? Jesus, the first time I heard his real voice I almost had a stroke. His Patrick Bateman accent was terrifying perfection.
posted by elizardbits at 7:44 PM on May 8, 2010


What I'm really bothered by is regional dialect and accents.

Me too. Nothing is more annoying to me than the recent popularity of films about Boston, particularly South Boston. The Afflecks and Matt Damon get it, even DiCaprio got it a little somehow, but the rest of them really suck. Notable multi-million acting failures: Diane Lane and Jack Nicholson. Seriously you too, don't ever come back.

I can't think of a single English actor's standard American accent that is any worse than an American actor's regional dialect when they get it wrong.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 7:52 PM on May 8, 2010


I always think Nicole Kidman should do a much better American accent given that she lives here. (Yes, I realize she's not British.)
posted by bluedaisy at 8:06 PM on May 8, 2010


Already mentioned, and another vote for Ian McShane in Deadwood.
posted by Neiltupper at 8:17 PM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Most of the time, American accents done by British actors sound like "The American" on Fawlty Towers. Always yelling, hard r's, slightly Western/Texan.

Laurie sucks. The accent is mostly passable, but you can tell there's a layer of unauthenticity there. It's as if his American Voice acting coach was David Caruso.
posted by gjc at 8:17 PM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Gerard Butler's American accent is truly awful.

Seriously, it's painful. Who ever is casting him in all these RomComs needs to realize that he is much sexier when he speaks in his natural accent.

I've noticed that English actors are usually good at American Accents, but Irish, Scottish, and Australian actors seem to have a harder time.

Honestly we have so many transplants here I wish that they'd just let people do their own accents unless it's pivotal to the plot. In The Mentalist for example, Patrick Jane could easily have come to the US to do his fake psychic show and run afoul of Red John. There is no need for him to have the American accent.

Of course, I don't ever have a problem understanding other English speaking accents, where my hubby has a hard time with thick ones. Maybe the TV/Movie industry has these actors doing American accents to help people understand them. If that's the case then my argument is invalid.
posted by TooFewShoes at 8:24 PM on May 8, 2010


I have watched a lot of British TV programs and I can usually hear something in Brits doing American accents that pegs them as British to my ear. But some of them are very good, regardless.

I think Gates Mc Fadden in ST: TNG was an example of this.

Huh? She's from Ohio.
posted by cmgonzalez at 8:28 PM on May 8, 2010


Since this is already derailed: everyone screws up a Wisconsin accent. We do not sound like the people in Fargo.
posted by desjardins at 8:40 PM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Russell Crowe can be pretty bad as an american. His jersey accent in American Gangster was terrible.
posted by octothorpe at 8:46 PM on May 8, 2010


There are, on occasion, some American CIA characters in Spooks. They are invariably atrocious with their accents, with the exception of the love-interest girl who may actually be American for all I know. When we were still watching that show (before they killed every character I liked), my wife and I would fall over laughing at the attempts.

So, if you want to know how bad American accents can be, watch Spooks.

Also, everybody who isn't Southern fucks up Southern accents. They hit it so hard they wind up sounding like parodies. This goes as much for Americans as for other anglophones.

Also, to those of you discussing it, the "Midwestern accent" is the "no-accent accent"--that is, it's the accent you hear newscasters use on TV and whatnot. The only thing you'll catch a native-born Midwesterner doing that marks it as a distinct to most people is substituting short 'i' for short 'e' in front of 'n' and 'm'. So "pen" and "pin" are pronounced identically, leading to disambiguations like "inkpen". But lots of Southern accents have this feature as well.
posted by Netzapper at 8:54 PM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]



Also, everybody who isn't Southern fucks up Southern accents. They hit it so hard they wind up sounding like parodies.


This is so true of American actors (and I love it's been noted so much in the thread). And it's not just that they hit it so hard; it's also that they use a hodgepodge of regional accents, which ends up coming off 100% wrong. Amy Adams is a notable exception (there are others; she's just one that comes to my mind as refreshingly authentic).

On the same subject but back on topic--Jessica Tandy pulled off her accent perfectly in Driving Miss Daisy. Of course I suppose there was very little Jessica Tandy couldn't do.
posted by torticat at 9:28 PM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Since this is already derailed: everyone screws up a Wisconsin accent. We do not sound like the people in Fargo.

And most people in Fargo do not sound like the people in Fargo.
posted by nathan_teske at 9:40 PM on May 8, 2010


I must be terrible at this sort of thing, but yeah, the only time I've even had an inkling was Worthington in Avatar. (And when I found out he was from Australia and his accent did indeed slip, it was yet another reason for me to not like the movie.)
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 9:48 PM on May 8, 2010


For an absolute catalog of hellacious accents, check out Blackhawk Down. It's a calvacade of non-American actors (Ewen Mcgregor, Eric Bana, many others) all trying to speak what can only be described as transcribed Texan. A good number of the actors were British, but none of them really pulled off an accent.
posted by Ghidorah at 10:16 PM on May 8, 2010


I've heard Eddie Izzard in The Riches mentioned several times as an example of a bad attempt, and I have to agree. (Random example from YouTube.) It's hard to peg what he gets wrong, but I definitely noticed some questionable Rs and he's generally a bit too mumbly. And I'll nth that Idris Elba, Dominic West and Hugh Laurie are perfect.
posted by abcde at 10:17 PM on May 8, 2010


What's funny about everyone mentioning Hugh Laurie as perfect or near-perfect, is that I lived with a linguistics major who could not watch House because she found his fake accent way too distracting. I will say that after she pointed it out his voice is too nasal and it seems to waver from time. Does not stop me from enjoying the shit out of some House though. (Or Stuart Little? Anyone?)
posted by runcibleshaw at 10:46 PM on May 8, 2010


I almost always hate it. I don't necessarily guess that someone's British, but I wonder about their having a speech impediment or having grown up in some strange backwoods place in the country.

When British actors play Americans for British audiences, it's even worse. And British screenwriters are pretty bad or careless at eliminating Britishisms, and I don't mean vocabulary differences that they'd intentionally leave like "lift" instead of "elevator," but slang and colloquialisms like "Hey you lot" as opposed to "Hey you guys."
posted by thebazilist at 10:46 PM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Australian Yvonne Strahovski has a good American accent in the show Chuck. In fact, in one show she was 'pretending' to be an Australian scientist and some people wrote in that she did a terrible Australian accent.
posted by eye of newt at 10:58 PM on May 8, 2010


You know whose American accent I find grating? American-born Mel Gibson, who grew up in Oz and to this day still can't seem to shake his Aussie twang, despite having ostensibly reverted to an "American" accent after returning stateside many, many moons ago.
posted by randomstriker at 11:14 PM on May 8, 2010


I agree that many British impressions of an American accent sound pretty believable, but often believable as a harsh, loud, obnoxious egotist with Texan roots. Hugh Laurie sounds like this too, except that he has done a good job of removing most of the Texas sound. The rest of those traits work perfectly for the character of House. Watching that show, I sometimes wonder "do Brits really see us this way?" Then I remember, "oh right, yes."

I think part of the reason that it's more difficult for Americans to do a British accent is that many of the phonemes in British English have collapsed into other phonemes in American English, so there are distinctions there that we aren't instinctively aware of. For example, listening to the words "fat bastard" with a British accent, it surprises me a lot that those first two a's are pronounced differently from one another. It would be hard to memorize all the words that get one sound instead of the other.
posted by Xezlec at 11:27 PM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Actually, I think Kenneth Branagh acquitted himself quite nicely in "Dead Again" (we will not speak of that Will Smith abomination). Then again, some of the assumptions voiced here are entirely contrary to my experience. Indeed, I recall that Branagh's dialect was praised precisely because Brits traditionally had such a difficult time doing a convincing American English -- yet people writing above curiously accept the opposite as a given. I'm willing to concede that things have changed in the intervening years, but that was never the popular wisdom before (say) twenty+ years ago. It just wasn't.

By the way, a great example of an American actor nailing a British dialect is "Higgins" on "Magnum PI". Indeed, most people are astounded to learn that John Hillerman was born in Texas.
posted by RavinDave at 11:54 PM on May 8, 2010


For what it's worth, I have never even for a moment been convinced by a British actor trying to put on a middle American accent, or a more distinctive and less well-known local variant accent (e.g. the U.P. or New Orleans). I sometimes get the impression that the British think everyone over here is either on the East Coast NY-Boston nasal spectrum or the Deep South-Texas twang spectrum. Those are the major touchpoints, but there are a lot of local variations that I don't hear outsiders getting as easily. I have to say that it makes a lot of sense that Dominic West's character goes the way he does with McNulty's character on The Wire – he's clearly and distinctly within the East Coast nasal spectrum, like he's from Boston, in fact, and this is of course believable for certain parts of Baltimore. But that show goes out of its way to be dialectically diverse, I think, and they have a few characters that demonstrate the diversity of accents in that area.

I don't know. We don't have accents that are quite as distinctive to our ears as the various British accents are to their ears, but there are certainly differences that can be distinguished.
posted by koeselitz at 12:15 AM on May 9, 2010


Of course, we Americans seem to mistake our own accents commonly. For example, I have never, never, never met a person from New Orleans who pronounced the name of their town "Nawlins," but most Americans seem completely convinced that this is the way the local dialects pronounces it. Most New Orleans accents sound very different from what outsiders expect; a lot of us seem to think it must be a sort of Deep South sounding drawl (hence the "Nawlins" slurring of the name of the town) whereas in fact the accent often sounds almost like a harsh nasal New York accent, as you can hear from the two awesome girls in that video I linked above.
posted by koeselitz at 12:25 AM on May 9, 2010


I thought Glenn Quinn did a pretty convincing American accent, alothough every once in a while you could hear his Irish brogue slip through.
posted by Oriole Adams at 1:58 AM on May 9, 2010


Tilda Swinton does a great American accent (Broken Flowers, Michael Clayton).

On the flip side, Lisa Eichhorn produced a fantastic Lancashire accent in Yanks, so much so that, apparently, when she auditioned for the part, John Schlesinger didn't realise she was an American.
posted by essexjan at 1:59 AM on May 9, 2010


There's a scene in In Bruges with three "American" tourists who are so awful it confused me, because it took me a few minutes to realize they were supposed to be American at all. -- Otherwise I've never had a problem with British actors.
posted by creasy boy at 2:08 AM on May 9, 2010


'Also, to those of you discussing it, the "Midwestern accent" is the "no-accent accent"--that is, it's the accent you hear newscasters use on TV and whatnot. The only thing you'll catch a native-born Midwesterner doing that marks it as a distinct to most people is substituting short 'i' for short 'e' in front of 'n' and 'm'. So "pen" and "pin" are pronounced identically, leading to disambiguations like "inkpen".'

Then Minnesota must not be part of the Midwest, because, believe me, there's an accent in Minnesota. Trust me on this. When I moved to MN for a while, I thought everyone sounded Canadian. (And people in MN asked me where I was from and told me I talked funny -- and I'm from Seattle, another one of the so-called "accentless" areas. Though, there's really no such thing.)

I just watched Cary Elwes as Ted Bundy in The Riverman the other night, and I thought his accent was awful. Particularly since Bundy was also from the Seattle area, and so his accent should have sounded completely accent-free to my ears. OTOH, I watched some video of Bundy's speech right before he died, and it had an odd mannerism to it at that point -- as if he'd been listening to too many TV evangelists. So maybe Elwes was trying to do that. But it sounded to me like constant accent-slippage.
posted by litlnemo at 6:47 AM on May 9, 2010


Colin Farrell tries so very hard in Crazy Heart, so very very hard, but he doesn't sound like any Texan I've ever met.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:06 AM on May 9, 2010


They always overpronounce the "r"'s. It's almost sounds like that pirate "arrr".

Watch Graham Chapman on Monty Python when he plays the looney American movie mogul for an example.
posted by L'OM at 8:25 AM on May 9, 2010


Christian Bale did American interviews for Batman in an American accent, apparently:
But I just feel that Batman is such an American character that in representing him in doing the interviews I don't want to be sounding English because that would be peculiar. I would expect people to be saying, "what the hell is going on? Why do we have an English Batman?"
Source

posted by djgh at 8:45 AM on May 9, 2010


The A list Brit actors in movies and American TV shows generally do a decent job. It is the average actor in the average BBC series made for UK audiences who do really horribly bad American accents. As somebody mentioned above, Doctor Who is a good example. Also British mysteries or dramas often have some businessman character whose accent is so bad I spend several minutes wondering where he is supposed to be from.

The last one I remember really noticing was Miranda Otto in The Way We Live Now. (OK I know she's Australian). I really loved her in the Return of the King but her American accent was terrible in that.
posted by interplanetjanet at 9:04 AM on May 9, 2010


Wow. I don't know if I should even bother commenting with so many answers, but here goes anyway:

It depends on the actor's skills just as a good actor vs bad actor. Some can swing it and totally surprise me, others I can pick out that they're not American the minute they open their mouths.

It appears to me though that Brits have the most trouble with the word "anything" (the dropping of the G) and words ending in A (due to the R addition, which isn't American). Those are serious telling moments. It's been my experience that if they can get those down then it its fairly smooth sailing for the rest.
posted by magnoliasouth at 10:09 AM on May 9, 2010


James McAvoy's everyday Joe American accent ( Penelope, Wanted) accent is rock solid excellent, which helps cancel out fellow Scotsman Ewan McGregor's truly awful one.

One thing I notice a lot with non-Americans doing American accents is the over-perfect Pure Midwest thing. Think of child stars from Golden Age movies - they all sound exactly like each other, with this crazy over enunciation.
posted by peachfuzz at 10:13 AM on May 9, 2010


@djgh: I have to agree about Bale. I've often wondered how Brits would feel if there were an American James Bond. The Brits pitched a fit when Renée Zellweger was cast as Bridget Jones, but how many Brits played Americans in Black Hawk Down? I mean, these were American soldiers no less!

I could care less to be honest, but the Brits are nit-picky and evidently overly sensitive.

No offense to the OP I hope. I'm just speaking of the "controversies" in general.
posted by magnoliasouth at 10:16 AM on May 9, 2010


"i agree with 517 and 6550 that brit actors just can't do a southern accent. my two examples are kenneth branagh in wild wild west and mick jagger in an SNL skit. i betcha david bowie can't do southern, either."

Many Standard English/southern accented Brits cannot do Northern. Rory Bremner makes my toes curl when he tries to impersonate John Prescott. Sometimes it's mistaking Yorkshire for Lancashire, or vocalising 't'north' as it's written, sometimes it's just a rubbish, rubbish accent.

I'd like to know if David Tennant has ever done American. I'm still shocked when I hear his natural Glaswegian accent.
posted by mippy at 11:21 AM on May 9, 2010


"For example, listening to the words "fat bastard" with a British accent, it surprises me a lot that those first two a's are pronounced differently from one another."

Which 'British accent'? They're all pronounced exactly the same in mine.
posted by mippy at 11:24 AM on May 9, 2010


"James McAvoy's everyday Joe American accent ( Penelope, Wanted) accent is rock solid excellent"

For years, I didn't know that he and Anne-Marie Duff were'nt from Manchester. Similarly, I've heard the guy who plays Frank Gallagher in real life speak in his natural accent and he gets the Salford scally inflection absolutely spot on.
posted by mippy at 11:29 AM on May 9, 2010


I agree that many British impressions of an American accent sound pretty believable, but often believable as a harsh, loud, obnoxious egotist with Texan roots.

I agree with this. A lot of Brits do this same kind of odd-sounding accent. It doesn't sound super natural, but it passes. Many sound a lot alike when you compare them, actually.

Perhaps Americans are more used to foreign actors attempting to copy our accents, so we're more forgiving of any weirdness that's pretty common, whereas it's a lot more rare for Americans to act English, so it sticks out more?
posted by Solon and Thanks at 12:22 PM on May 9, 2010


I was quite looking forward to Prince of Persia, until I heard Jake Gylenhaal's awful cod-English accent. Gillian Anderson springs to mind as someone who can do a British accent quite well.
posted by hnnrs at 12:48 PM on May 9, 2010


Gillian Anderson springs to mind as someone who can do a British accent quite well.

Not that I'm obsessed with Gillian Anderson or anything (okay, I am), but I think she spent some time as a child or teenager living in the UK. I believe she lives there now, too, so it's not like she learned her accent via TV.

But I totally agree re: Prince of Persia. The Hollywood convention of using English accents for any movie not set in America is absolutely ridiculous.
posted by oinopaponton at 1:11 PM on May 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Nnngh, html fail. I meant Bob Hoskins in Mermaids.
posted by elizardbits at 1:35 PM on May 9, 2010


Since this is already derailed: everyone screws up a Wisconsin accent. We do not sound like the people in Fargo.

Depends on the part of the state. Southern Wisconsin, definitely not. North woods, yep, a bit.

And most people in Fargo do not sound like the people in Fargo.

Since most of the action in Fargo does not take place in Fargo, nor are the characters supposed to be from Fargo, this is not surprising.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:53 PM on May 9, 2010


Daniel Day-Lewis does a good American accent. I'm surprised I'm the first person to mention him. And I find nothing wrong with Hugh Laurie's accent in House. I just watched the last season of X-files and I agree that Cary Elwes cannot do an American accent.

I had thought the English were fairly impressed with Gwyneth Paltrow and Renée Zellweger.
posted by deborah at 6:43 PM on May 9, 2010


The Brits that win the American accent game for me are Marianne Jean-Baptiste, who plays Vivian Johnson on Without a Trace,

I have to disagree with all the Without a Trace actors. I would hear a slip from Jean-Baptiste, Poppy Montgomery, or Anthony LaPaglia every single week.

I don't think Jason O'Mara is a convincing American—although I did find it amusing in Life On Mars when he was an Irishman, playing an American cop, who was undercover as an Irishman.

I too was extremely surprised to hear about Dominic West and Idris Alba. Owain Yeoman being Welsh just blew my mind, because I've never gotten even an inkling that he wasn't a Yank. (Of course his castmate Simon Baker ought to even stop trying, he slips so often.)

Agree this is kind of a chatty topic, but a good example of one that walks the line and succeeds. (imho)
posted by pineapple at 7:47 PM on May 9, 2010


Interesting chitchat. Lots of people have mentioned Dominic West, but my favourite bit was in the second series when he was playing an American playing a Brit. 'Tally ho old bobbin, what pip pip?'

One thing I've never heard is people doing a convincing Kiwi or Aussie accent - possibly because there's not much call for it and you don't hear much of it in the media. Hell, I can't do a good Enzud excent and I am one. This is kind of funny though (done by Australians, IIRC).

One last random thought - Miranda's (Yvonne Strahofski) Australian accent in Mass Effect 2 was ear-bleeding. Did it sound charmingly foreign to USians?
posted by Sebmojo at 8:26 PM on May 9, 2010


Miranda's (Yvonne Strahofski) Australian accent in Mass Effect 2 was ear-bleeding. Did it sound charmingly foreign to USians?

Am I misunderstanding you? Yvonne Strahovski is Australian, born and raised. Or do you mean her accent is not a nice Australian regional accent?
posted by odin53 at 4:54 PM on May 10, 2010


Odin53, bad news about Yvonne Strahovski, she's actually Australian, faking an American accent on Chuck. What you heard on Mass Effect 2 was how she sounds on Chuck DVD extra features. I think her American Accent is almost flawless.
posted by jrishel at 9:09 AM on May 11, 2010


er, bad preview..
posted by jrishel at 9:09 AM on May 11, 2010


"For example, listening to the words "fat bastard" with a British accent, it surprises me a lot that those first two a's are pronounced differently from one another."

Which 'British accent'? They're all pronounced exactly the same in mine.


Oh. I was thinking of Michael York in Austin Powers. He's from Fulmer, wherever that is.
posted by Xezlec at 7:56 PM on May 11, 2010


Wot, no Gary Oldman? About a decade ago he was a guest on Dennis Miller Live and Miller confessed that until they met in the green room just before the show, he had had no idea that Oldman wasn't American.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:00 PM on September 21, 2010


no Gary Oldman?
I had no idea that anyone thought that was a good American accent. I guess this thread shows that everyone has their own ideas about who sounds like them!
posted by monkeymadness at 4:35 AM on September 22, 2010


« Older bbc iplayer in usa   |   Find me a successor to Sky Odyssey? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.