English speakers in foreign language films?
October 28, 2019 9:22 AM   Subscribe

We watched the Argentinian horror movie Terrified last night. The movie wasn't very good, but it featured something that I don't think I've seen in many other movies, and now I'm looking for more examples.

The movie was made in Argentina and is entirely in Spanish. One of the characters in the movie was (probably?) supposed to be American (at one point he is introduced as having helped with similar hauntings in the United States). I don't speak Spanish but it was pretty clear that he was not a native speaker and didn't quite have the accent. This was just a part of his character, there was a moment in the movie where he is reaching for a word in Spanish and another character helps him.

It occurred to me that it is extremely commonplace in English-language movies to have characters from other countries who do not speak English fluently or speak it with a very heavy accent, but I'm having trouble thinking of more examples of foreign language films where an actor is a native English speaker acting in a second language. Obviously this is mostly because native English speakers are less likely to speak any other languages, but there must be more examples. Can you think of any?
posted by cakelite to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The character of Neil Smith in Welcome to Dongmakgol (played by Steve Taschler, who I do not believe is a native Korean speaker) is stuck in a village where nobody speaks any more than the most rudimentary English (there's a hilarious scene where the most well-educated person in the village tries to walk through a dialogue from a phrasebook with him) and thus can barely communicate.

Of course, his character barely ever speaks any Korean either, so it's somewhat past the level of nonproficiency you might have in mind.
posted by jackbishop at 9:33 AM on October 28, 2019

Something which is not quite this, but close, is The Third Man, where there is a lot of untranslated/unsubtitled dialogue in German that the English-only protagonist can't follow, even though the main characters are all English-speakers to some degree.
posted by praemunire at 9:34 AM on October 28, 2019

Best answer: I'm not sure if you're specifically looking for characters who are not perfectly fluent, or just native English speakers who have acted in other languages. Jodie Foster is in the second group; she is fluent in French and has acted in a number of French movies (and not as a specifically non-French character).
posted by dfan at 9:36 AM on October 28, 2019

Best answer: La Nuit Americaine/Day for Night. Jacqueline Bisset speaks pretty good but clearly non native French.
posted by less of course at 9:37 AM on October 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

My recollection is that some, if not all, the westerners in the Chinese 'Wolf Warrior' movies are voiced in Chinese. Mostly voiceover I would guess. These are blockbuster movies aimed at a specifically Chinese audience.
posted by biffa at 9:37 AM on October 28, 2019

Best answer: Oh for that matter Jean Seberg in À Bout de Souffle/Breathless.
posted by less of course at 9:39 AM on October 28, 2019 [4 favorites]

Kristin Scott Thomas has been in a number of French films. She is fluent in French

Three Idiots is a Hindi-language film featuring Omi Vaidya, an Indian American whose ancestral language is Marathi, playing a Ugandan Indian whose ancestral language is Tamil. (Trust Bollywood to dial this trope up to 11.)
posted by basalganglia at 9:42 AM on October 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: William Shatner appeared in one of the very few Esperanto films ever made. None of the cast spoke Esperanto, as far as I know.

This guy did an AMA about his glorious career as the white guy in Bollywood films (with "bonus" casting couch creepiness).
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 10:03 AM on October 28, 2019

Best answer: Rachel Dewoskin grew up in the Midwestern US and had a career for a while as a (white, American) lead character on a Chinese soap opera. I don't know any Mandarin, but my understanding is that she speaks it well but has an accent.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:12 AM on October 28, 2019

One could argue Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves falls into this category.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:42 AM on October 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Jane Birkin is an English actress known for her career in French cinema--I know she speaks French in at least one film and one documentary both by Agnès Varda.

I'm less sure it's a fit for your question, because it's a US TV show, but Los Espookys is an HBO comedy in Spanish. I only saw the first episode when it was free on Youtube, but IIRC Fred Armisen plays a bilingual role with most of his lines in Spanish. Creator/star Ana Fabrega grew up in Scottsdale, and although she speaks Spanish throughout, there's a joke about her accent originating in a foreign exchange program in the US.
posted by Wobbuffet at 12:16 PM on October 28, 2019

Best answer: Since I speak no Japanese I cannot comment on his accent, but the guy who plays the undersea Emperor in Mothra was an American who stayed on after being posted to Japan, and spoke fluent Japanse.
posted by Vortisaur at 12:42 PM on October 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

Kristin Scott Thomas is English and has done some French films. One is I've Loved You So Long in which her character (the lead role) was born in England but came to France as a child so she speaks French fluently but with a bit of an accent (there is a line of dialogue where her niece asks about that). My French is not at all good enough to verify how her language skills and accent sound to a native French speaker.
posted by acidnova at 12:55 PM on October 28, 2019

Best answer: Cate Blanchett spoke mostly Italian in Heaven (her character is an English ex-pat in Italy). Giovanni Ribisi was also in it and spoke only Italian, but his character was supposed to be a native speaker.
posted by snaw at 1:41 PM on October 28, 2019

I think The Farewell qualifies; it is mostly in Chinese and the lead is American-born (in the story and in real life) and has what I understand from the FanFare thread to be a pretty typically American-inflected, not-that-fluent command of Mandarin. However, it's different from your example in that it's an American-made movie (which surprised me, actually, though I don't know if it should have).
posted by eirias at 3:48 PM on October 28, 2019

In Wings of Desire, Peter Falk - playing himself - mostly spoke English.
posted by sueinnyc at 4:13 PM on October 28, 2019

Danny DeVito, despite not being a Russian speaker, voiced his part in the Russian version of The Lorax.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 5:47 AM on October 29, 2019

Best answer: Eddie Constantine was an American actor/singer who had a long career in France. He spoke French well but had a strong American English accent that was played up, particularly in his Lemmy Caution films. The French Netflix series Au Service De La France (A Very Secret Service in English) features many moments where non-native French speakers interact with native European French speakers (Algerians, French Canadians, Germans, Americans). There was a popular series of commercials for a rotisserie chicken chain in Quebec which featured an anglophone Quebec actor who put on a very Texan accent while he spoke French.
posted by Ashwagandha at 7:51 AM on October 29, 2019

Best answer: Another white actor who had a long career in Bollywood was Bob Christo. He made hundreds of films during his career (a representative example). He even wrote an autobiography...
posted by Ashwagandha at 8:01 AM on October 29, 2019

A big section of Farinelli is set in England, and I remember being impressed the first time I saw it by the French-with-an-English-accent of some of the English characters.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:24 PM on October 29, 2019

I’m watching the new series Hache on Netflix from Spain and was reminded of this question. The series has two American characters, with almost all their lines in Spanish (and a bit of Italian). Seanin Brennan is from North Ireland and Andrew Tarbet is from America but now lives and works in Spain.
posted by Dip Flash at 3:08 PM on November 3, 2019

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