Bad accents

by Henry Farrell on October 19, 2007

Myself and the wife have been watching the second series of _Heroes_, which is finally beginning to pick up after a slow start (although the spunky cheerleader needs to lose the drippy boyfriend _immediately_ ). One of the subplots plays out, strangely enough, among the Cork criminal underclass, or at least the show producer’s idea of same. The accents of these purported Corkonian ne’er-do-wells are nothing short of atrocious. Perhaps it’s understandable that there’s nothing at all resembling an actual Cork accent to be found among them; that might be a bit much to inflict on unsuspecting American television viewers. But there’s not much in the way of _Irish_ accents, full stop. One fella who thinks that Irish people speak like Scotsmen with adenoids, another with standard mid-Atlantic intonations, and a British actress who at least seems to have heard Irish people talking once upon a time, even if her ability to imitate them slips in and out of focus. The nadir was reached when one of the actors pronounced “Slainte” as “slah-in-che” on this week’s show (all they needed to do to get this one right was to do a bloody “Google search”: This is all quite unnecessary – I can testify from a considerable personal acquaintance that unemployed Real Irish Actors with Real Irish Accents are not a commodity in short supply.

That said, the problem goes both ways. We also recently saw the first episode of _Spooks_ (MI5 on this side of the Atlantic), a BBC production, which has an abortion clinic bomber whose purported Southern US accent had to be heard to be believed. My wife didn’t even realize that it was meant to be an American accent until I told her (a later episode’s subplot concerning the vast amounts of WTO cash subsidizing the Russian economy did little to add to my estimate of the show’s commitment to verisimilitude). So anyway, I thought that there might be some entertainment value in a thread on Bad TV/movie Accents that you have heard (and good ones too, if you like; the best Hollywood Irish accent by far that I’ve heard was Brad Pitt in _Snatch_ – it approached a kind of incomprehensible Platonic ideal of dense Midlands guttural).

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10.22.07 at 5:11 am



Cryptic Ned 10.19.07 at 7:48 pm

(and good ones too, if you like, the best Hollywood Irish accent by far that I’ve heard was Brad Pitt in Snatch – it approached a kind of incomprehensible Platonic ideal of dense Midlands guttural)

I thought he was supposed to be a Traveller, not an actual Irish person.


Bill Gardner 10.19.07 at 8:00 pm

How about a great and (I’m told by Russian speakers) horribly wrong accent? John Malkovich’s Teddy KGB character in Rounders (“It hurts doesn’t it? Your hopes dashed, your dreams down the toilet. And your fate is sitting right besides you.”).


GollyGumpers 10.19.07 at 8:05 pm

I don’t really pay attention to the accents, but I like Heroes this season. Besides that, are you enjoying the show? They show one of my favorite commercials every week on it because Nissan is the sponsor. I think its clever:


Kieran Healy 10.19.07 at 8:07 pm

One of the subplots plays out, strangely enough, among the Cork criminal underclass

What?! That’s hilarious.


Flippanter 10.19.07 at 8:12 pm

Wait… There really are Irish people in real life?


hilker 10.19.07 at 8:21 pm

Considering how entertaining the show’s ersatz Irish accents are, the decision to have the New Orleans characters talk like newscasters must be counted as a missed opportunity.


Grand Moff Texan 10.19.07 at 8:29 pm

Actually, American television also does this to American accents. If it’s not from NYC/DC on one side of LA on the other, it will be reduced to stereotypes and bad dialects.

Regional accents are usually a low priority. “Texans” appearing in American television are often written with bizarre, wandering deep south modulations and Appalachian expressions. Those appearing as Mexican nationals speak Spanish with strong Californian vowels, etc. I seriously doubt that many TV “Oregonians” could pronounce “Willamette” correctly. New Orlenians often sound like New Yorkers to me, but an actor pretending to be from Fargo might wind up sounding like s/he was from the Windy City.

I gather that actors are selected through a social system that values (a) reliability and (b) agreeability. Ability, by itself, isn’t as important.


Grand Moff Texan 10.19.07 at 8:29 pm

should read “NYC/DC on one side OR LA on the other”


M. Townes 10.19.07 at 8:33 pm

If there is an award for this, Sean Connery ought to win it for Lifetime Achievement. Granted, maybe it’s just a problem of bad casting – to wit, the variety of British roles that his accent is presumed to cover. Then there is his inexplicably Scottish inflection in films like The Presidio, Indiana Jones, Rising Sun. Baffling though these may be, the standouts in his career are his butchery of Russian in Hunt for Red October – “NEW PAW ROOSHKI” – and the ostensibly Spanish character he played in the Highlander films

Peter Bull’s Russian accent in Dr. Strangelove is also awful, especially when his lines are in Russian. True, Russians who were trained in English by British teachers do have British inflection when they speak English (clear?), but not so much when they are speaking Russian.

Also, for those on the other side of the pond, Hugh Laurie’s accent in House, MD, is damn near perfect. I am very familiar with his early work in Fry and Laurie, Blackadder, and Jeeves and Wooster, but having watched House nigh religiously since it started, I still have not found a single instance where he betrays his origins.


thag 10.19.07 at 8:41 pm

Kenneth Branagh did a surprisingly convincing plain yank accent in Dead Again. Not regional, just some US Metro area or another. But like Laurie in House, no slips.

My standard for godawful, though, is Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. Really excruciating.


caecilius est pater 10.19.07 at 8:42 pm

Don Cheadle’s ‘cockney’ in Oceans 11/12/13 is very Dick van Dyck-ish.
I’ve always thought Hugh Lawrie’s accent in House unconvincing, despite apparent universal acclaim.
And what about Groundskeeper Willie?


Brett 10.19.07 at 8:49 pm

The Departed didn’t do so well with folks from Boston. DiCaprio was OK. Poor Vera Farmiga needed to focus a bit, though, and stop thinking about, say, Monty Python.


Hidari 10.19.07 at 8:49 pm

Daphne’s ‘Manchester’ accent in Frasier.


Kieran Healy 10.19.07 at 8:50 pm

the best Hollywood Irish accent by far that I’ve heard was Brad Pitt in Snatch

Oh yeah, he does another good job in whatever that bad film from 96 or 97 is with Harrison Ford, where Pitt plays an IRA man who lives with a NJ family. There’s a great scene where, in his first evening at the house, the Ford’s character’s wife cooks Pitt dinner. Pitt wolfs it down and says “This is great — what is it?” And the wife says “It’s corned beef and cabbage … We thought you ate that all the time.” “Never had it in my life” says Pitt. Excellent stuff.


r@d@r 10.19.07 at 8:58 pm

holy f?!? – hugh laurie is a G-D furriner? we’ve been infiltrated! consider this yank like totally fooled. and i think i’m generally a pretty good judge of these things.

i think keanu reeves in “bram stoker’s dracula” wins it for worst ever british accent in a film or television show. if you hadn’t read the book you wouldn’t even know what accent he was trying for.

what do y’all think of ewan mcgregor’s accent in big fish? not to mention al finney’s for that matter. or patrick mcgoohan as the all-too-aptly named judge noose in “a time to kill”?


Jonathan 10.19.07 at 9:01 pm

In The Wire, a British actor plays a Balitmore cop who attempts a bad English accent to secure a brothel appointment. I think this would be quite challenging. (He never quite gets a convincing American accent, to me.)


Doug T 10.19.07 at 9:04 pm

No idea if the accents were accurate, but if Platonic incomprehensibility is the standard, I’d like to nominate many of the supporting cast on All Creatures Great and Small.


Arnaud 10.19.07 at 9:06 pm

Highlander? Scottish accent?

Christophe[r ] Lambert!?


Mark 10.19.07 at 9:07 pm

I have to agree about Heroes – as my wife will attest since I shout at the tv whenever these characters come on. What’s amazing is that they all have different accents and yet are all supposed to be members of the same family.

As for Brad Pitt in Snatch there is a story about his accent that is possibly apocryphal. Supposedly the US distributors of the film pushed for an American actor in the film since they claimed that US audiences couldn’t understand the accents from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. In response Guy Ritchie then had Pitt speak with what may the most incomprehensible accent ever used by and English-speaking actor.


KCinDC 10.19.07 at 9:11 pm

Scotty on Star Trek?


josh bivens 10.19.07 at 9:17 pm

as great as the wire is, mcnutty’s accent is pretty awful.

as for a very good brit-playing-american, i’m constantly amazed to hear christian bale’s real-life accent, since he does generic/flat American voices hugely convincingly, to my ear.


Adam 10.19.07 at 9:26 pm

Possibly everyone from outside of NY or LA feels this way, but I have noticed that the accent of my hometown of Boston is represented particularly atrociously on-screen. Mystic River, anyone? Mark Wahlberg in The Departed actually seemed fairly credible, but then, he’s from Boston. The two thuggish brothers in Mystic River actually did a good enough job that they clearly seemed not to be faking. I just looked them up on IMDB, and one of them is Mark Wahlberg’s brother. So there you go.

I do think there are a variety of Brits who do credible U.S. accents. I remember being fooled by Bob Hoskins when I was young. A variety of Australians seems to shed their accents without too much difficulty (Naomi Watts, Mel Gibson, etc.).


Mrs Tilton 10.19.07 at 9:30 pm

that bad film from 96 or 97 is with Harrison Ford, where Pitt plays an IRA man

The Divil’s Own, I believe. Really wretchedly bad, but as you say, Pitt’s accent wasn’t altogether bad.


Bill McNeill 10.19.07 at 9:31 pm

It took me years to figure out that certain Monty Python characters (e.g. the couple in the “Argument Restaurant” section of Meaning of Life) were supposed to be American.


Quarterican 10.19.07 at 9:32 pm

See, I dunno about McNulty; can we get a vote from someone familiar with the accent he’s trying to do? My dad’s mailman sounds like an Americanized Brit to me, but claims Maryland roots going back generations. Similarly, I haven’t seen the film adaptation of All the King’s Men but I read several reviews which mocked Gandolfini’s attempt at a Bayou accent by way of his “natural” Jersey inflections. And maybe his accent in the movie *is* bad, but that doesn’t change the fact that (a) Gandolfini’s own voice doesn’t sound anything like Tony Soprano’s, and (b) people from New Orleans don’t sound like “Southerners,” but some people do think they sound like New Yorkers.


Mrs Tilton 10.19.07 at 9:35 pm

Adam @21,

Gibson is only sort-of Australian. New York birth and childhood, IIANM, before his whackjob dad carted the clan off to the Antipodes. As such, it’s the trace Ozisms in his early US films that startle, not his later mastery of Yankish.


Joshua Holmes 10.19.07 at 9:37 pm

I’ll have to go with Majel Roddenberry on Star Trek: The Next Generation. She didn’t sound anything like a real Betazoid.


Mrs Tilton 10.19.07 at 9:42 pm

Q. @24,

people from New Orleans don’t sound like “Southerners,” but some people do think they sound like New Yorkers

Would this be the NO dialect know as “Yat”? I’ve heard (and from a Brooklynite who, long long ago, spent a fair bit of time in NO) that this sounded rather like Brooklynese (or at least, like Brooklynese on Quaaludes).

Sadly, my understanding is that neither Yat nor Brooklynese really exist any more. (Lived in Brooklyn two years my self. Never heard anybody who sounded like the Brooklyn guys in all those WWII films. Frankly, for all intents and purposes the natives might as well have been from Queens.)


caecilius est pater 10.19.07 at 9:46 pm

@ 15
Doesn’t Keanu Reeves have an English mother? Which makes his efforts in Dracula particularly lame.


Uncle Kvetch 10.19.07 at 9:56 pm

A variety of Australians seems to shed their accents without too much difficulty (Naomi Watts, Mel Gibson, etc.).

As mentioned above, Gibson doesn’t quite count for this purpose. OTOH, the USian accent of Aussie Rachel Griffiths (Brenda on “Six Feet Under”) was, IMHO, flawless.


Uncle Kvetch 10.19.07 at 10:02 pm

Oh, and that reminds me: how do the actors on “Eastenders” sound from the perspective of dialect-savvy UK viewers? I assume they can’t all be “real” Eastenders in terms of geography or social class, so for at least some of them it’s an accent they’ve taken on for their roles. Occasionally I get the impression that some of them are, shall we say, laying it on a bit thick, but I don’t have a native’s ear.


Uncle Kvetch 10.19.07 at 10:05 pm

OK, last one: for reasons that completely elude me, the attempts at British accents on both The Simpsons (Groundskeeper Willie excepted) and Family Guy are consistently atrocious. Given that animated shows are hiring people strictly for their vocal abilities, you’d think they’d be a cut above in this regard, but no.


jamie k 10.19.07 at 10:12 pm

13> “Daphne’s ‘Manchester’ accent in Frasier.”

Christ yes, that was awful: generic pie muncher. The sad thing is that the show would have worked just as well if she’d sounded like John Cooper Clarke.


Dave Maier 10.19.07 at 10:13 pm

Another vote for Keanu in Dracula. Sheesh. Interestingly, it was Christian Bale’s (working-class) Brit accent in The Prestige which grated on me.

On the plus side, Jamie Bamber’s (generic) Yank accent in Battlestar Galactica is very good – I was very surprised to hear his real (Brit) voice.


Jay C 10.19.07 at 10:48 pm

Yes, the Australians seem to manage “American” accents much better: viz. Anthony LaPaglia in Without a Trace (only about one vowel-slip per show) or anything Nicole Kidman does – her “natural” accent is a shock.

But Hugh Laurie takes the prize, though: no slips, EVER (supposedly, the producer of House, MD who first interviewed Hugh had no idea he was English!)

Rachel Griffiths is Australian??


freshlysqueezedcynic 10.19.07 at 11:02 pm

Speaking of LaPaglia, I note that people are ragging on Daphne’s Manc accent, whilst ignoring the far greater crime that was LaPaglia’s character. Utterly shambolic.


Quarterican 10.19.07 at 11:14 pm

mrs tilton –

Yeah, I was referring to “Yat”.

jay c –

I believe LaPaglia has basically lost his Australian accent; I’ve heard him do one as a put-on (I assume it’s a good Australian accent!) but I think he now naturally speaks in his take on New York City, which he started doing all the time so he’d be considered for more roles.

In the first season of House, at least, I thought Laurie’s accent was very good but I eventually picked out (and then continued to hear) something that I haven’t hear in, say, Christian Bale’s American accents. It’s not that Laurie sounds (at all) British to me, but there are moment where he *sounds* like someone doing an American accent. The way he makes his vowels very…sharp, maybe, is the word? Hard? Like there were moments where he was emphasizing the ways generic/educated American English differs from his native accent.

In general I’d rather have actors speak in their own voices unless the story truly requires that the character speak in a certain way. You don’t *have* to have a New England accent to play someone living in, or even raised in, New England, and I’d rather have someone ignore the issue than adopt a bad Boston accent when they’re supposed to be from upstate Maine (or do a JFK impression and think it sounds like “Boston”).


dave heasman 10.19.07 at 11:17 pm

I think that Indian bloke in “Heroes” is putting on a funny accent for teh Americans. And his name! I said to Swati in the office “Isn’t ‘Mohinder Suresh’ just two first names?” She said “Yes, and what’s more one is from North India and one is from South.”

So ever since, I’ve thought of him as “Chet Jim-Bob”.


Cryptic Ned 10.19.07 at 11:24 pm

Wow, I had no idea Anthony LaPaglia was from Australia. Just when I think there will be no more surprising revelations of Aussiedom, they surprise me again.

I have to agree with the person who cited Monty Python as containing the several worst “American” accents ever recorded on tape. After seeing that as a young teenager, I have never noticed anybody do even close to as bad of a US accent, not even the boisterous tourists who appear sometimes on Are You Being Served?.

As a matter of fact, a couple of times when I’ve thought an actor was having trouble doing a US accent, it turned out that he/she was actually an American who was being overly mannered for some reason. Madeleine Stowe in Twelve Monkeys, for example.


M. Townes 10.19.07 at 11:31 pm

Re #37: I’d say that’s a fair assessment of Laurie’s American accent, and I’ll admit that he never sounds like a generic American to me. But he does sound like a very highly educated American – which is, more or less, his character.


profpeach 10.19.07 at 11:32 pm

Aren’t there three non-Americans on Without a Trace? LaPaglia, Montgomery, and Jean-Baptise all have convincing American accents.


harry b 10.20.07 at 12:21 am

Characters in Eastenders sound just like Eastenders nowadays, because all Eastenders watch Eastenders and have picked up the accent from there.

Apparently, a good deal of south London slang circa 1990 came from Minder and Only Fools (eg, ‘nice little earner’) rather than the other way round. TV rules, ok


Tim May 10.20.07 at 12:24 am

I have heard that Laurie very occasionally inserts a syllable-final “r” where it doesn’t belong, in the translation from his native non-rhotic accent to House’s rhotic one. I can’t find the reference though, & I’ve never noticed it myself (but then, as a non-rhotic speaker, I probably wouldn’t).


Pooh 10.20.07 at 12:37 am

@38 – Sendil Ramamurty (sp?) is an Indian-American, judging by his appearances on the commentary tracks of season 1.


the witch from next door 10.20.07 at 12:38 am

Scots seem to be good at doing “generic” (i.e. southern middle-class) English accents. I was astonished the first times I saw David Tennant and James McAvoy speaking in their real voices. I guess it’s easier to do accents you hear all the time (whether on TV or in real life).

Saying that, I’d just like to put in a word for Radio 4. Much as it’s one of the things that makes Britain great, I don’t have much time for their drama, and one of the things they get astonishingly wrong much of the time are accents, American accents in particular. As has been noted above re. cartoon shows, this seems perplexing given that they’re only dealing with voices.


joel turnipseed 10.20.07 at 12:39 am

McNulty’s accent is very frequently off in The Wire–but we cut him slack ‘cuz he’s on the best show ever. No, it was actually Idris Elba who pulled off the accent the best: he’s fantastic & hope he just takes off (am settling down to catch Sometime in April tonight).

But-cha know what? Dem accents can be real funny to pick up: I never thought Minnuhsodan’s talkt like dey did in Fargo until I dated a girl from up dere and boy! did her dad ever sound like dat! You betcha! An I’m from Duloot, you know?

[Actually, I had a hint when I was in the Marine Corps: a girl I dated in North Carolina asked once if I was from Canada… eh?]


joel turnipseed 10.20.07 at 12:44 am

Also, re: Python — I’m thinking Gilliam could probably have done a good American accent (esp. my ex-girlfriend’s dad)… I just don’t remember them ever letting him speak


John Quiggin 10.20.07 at 12:48 am

Meryl Streep’s Australian accent in A Cry in the Dark/Evil Angels – trying too hard if you ask me.


Cala 10.20.07 at 12:51 am

Laurie’s performance is practically flawless except it occasionally drives me a bit crazy that his accent has no regional flavor at all.

One nitpick (I swear, I’m not this nerdy, I just watched it) was not with the accent, but the phrasing in one of the first season episodes, where House asks one of his helpers to steal some more tomato sauce for him. He says ‘tomato sauce’ with the emphasis on ‘sauce’ in a way that just doesn’t fit with the accent. We’ll give the win to him, though, since he manages it while fiddling with that damn cane.


Pooh 10.20.07 at 12:54 am

@ 46 The accents in Fargo where perfect for anyone living North of say Blaine. People in MSP, not so much…


Cryptic Ned 10.20.07 at 1:31 am

I can’t think of an example of it, but sometimes you notice an actor who seems to have mastered a foreign accent, but never realized that some obscure word has a different emphasis or pronunciation in that accent.

SOME British actor was doing a perfect American accent as a cop or something, except for repeatedly pronouncing “debris” as if it was “DEB-ree”, instead of accenting the second syllable. This happens with “strawberry” too. It’s not enough to say it with three syllables — the first and second are both accented. Just like the words Straw and Berry put together.


Keith 10.20.07 at 1:33 am

Heath Ledger has always impressed me, managing to do really good American accents. His Enis DelMar in Brokeback Mountain is really impressive. I’m looking forward to hearing how he handles the Joker. Most actors just ham it up and chew the scenery, expecting that to carry “crazy psychopathic clown” without thinking it through. Crazy is more than just saying shocking things and laughing. And since the Joker is essentially a New Jersey mobster, there’s a lot to work with.


Matt Kuzma 10.20.07 at 2:41 am

This is also a show that thinks a cop’s training consists of correctly choosing which of two people with their hands up you should shoot in the forehead! And that when an eclipse occurs, a sharp line of shadow slowly washes over the surface of the earth.

It’s clear that this show isn’t up to even the Google-search standard of quality.


Karl Steel 10.20.07 at 2:54 am

Bad accents? Just asked my wife, and she immediately started laughing with the memory of Orson Welles in The Long Hot Summer and in Lady from Shanghai. We can’t stop laughing.

(re Brooklyn accents: not too common anymore, no, but they’re around Brooklyn College, where I teach: the English office and a few (not many) of my students (as their accents tend toward the Slavic and Caribbean).


vivian 10.20.07 at 3:02 am

47: Joel, in the 30th anniversary interview/show, Gilliam mentions in the fourth season, when he had to do an American accent voiceover,(for the dog/general thingie) one line only, and he couldn’t do it.


Karl Steel 10.20.07 at 3:05 am

Oh! Another one! If you have the DVD of The Blue Angel, try to watch the English language version (are they doing the lines phonetically?). It’s friggin hilarious.

I suppose Jean Seberg’s accent in Breathless is supposed to be authentically bad. But I can’t help but think that’s the best she could do.

And Brando’s an easy target, but for the life of me I can’t remember his accent in Reflections in a Golden Eye. I’m sure it’s terrible.


vivian 10.20.07 at 3:07 am

That “slightly overemphasizing” or maybe it’s the rhotic overcompensation thing, always amused me about the Virginian Sheriff tourist in the Bond movies. It’s really good, but sounds almost like phonetic learning, something about the timing is just not quite natural. My first time in London, the only non-lloyd-webber theater tickets we could get were for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” with Diana Rigg and David Suchet. For the first ten minutes I was giggling at the incongruity, but then I got lost in the marvelous acting. Flawless, and seemingly effortless, like House.


r@d@r 10.20.07 at 3:14 am

i just thought of another one: Stafford Repp as Chief O’Hara on the original “Batman” tv series.

how about David Carradine with his faux Asian lilt in “Kung Fu”? we could start a whole ‘nuther thread of annoying fake Asian accents, as Asian people are so horrifically stereotyped in the media in general going back, like, forever.


Jay C 10.20.07 at 3:24 am

RE #38, #44

According to IMdB, Sendhil Ramamurthy is from a Tamil family, but was born in Chicago, and graduated from Tufts in Boston (exotic, what?) – so I imagine the fine Anglo-Indian lilt IS a bit of a put-on: I guess they thought having the character of Mohinder talk too “Bahhston” wouldn’t have been quite credible…


Aulus Gellius 10.20.07 at 3:32 am

I was always a little puzzled by Alan Rickman’s accent as Hans Gruber in Die Hard. He speaks German-accented English, but then when he’s pretending to be an innocent victim, he starts “faking” an American accent (pretty well; it sounds a little forced, but I don’t know if that should be blamed on actor or character). Which raises the question: is Gruber supposed to be deliberately keeping his German accent most of the time? Why would anyone do that? Maybe that plot was more complex than even John McClane realized.


Aulus Gellius 10.20.07 at 3:33 am

Whoops. Meant to turn off the italics after “deliberately.”


Aulus Gellius 10.20.07 at 3:38 am

Oh, and we can’t let this discussion pass without mentioning Ahnold. I always thought there must be something interesting to say about the distinction between movies like Commando and Kindergarten Cop, which make perfunctory attempts to explain his accent (“When I was a boy in Germany. . .”), and the ones like Terminator and Total Recall, that just want you to accept it without question.


Danil 10.20.07 at 4:11 am

I always thought Marky Marky should get extra credit for playing a NY cop speaking Chinese with a Southie accent.


KCinDC 10.20.07 at 4:25 am

Which raises the question: is Gruber supposed to be deliberately keeping his German accent most of the time? Why would anyone do that?

Maybe like Kissinger he thinks it makes him sound smarter? Or like Schwarzenegger he just thinks it fits with his image?


Toby 10.20.07 at 7:38 am

Saw an old episode of CSI last night where Roger Daltry played an aged hitman.

His faux-American accent over a basic English one made him sound South African.


novakant 10.20.07 at 9:00 am

Alright, since you all seem to be very knowledgeable about accents let me ask the native speakers here: is there such a thing as accent free American English and if so would that be spoken in Iowa?

I’ve spent some time there ages ago and the way English was spoken there seemed very neutral to me and I think somebody mentioned something to that extent, but I would like confirmation. I’ve given up looking for a lowest common denominator in the UK.


derrida derider 10.20.07 at 9:14 am

I reckon it’s a lot easier to pick up accents you’ve seen often on TV or movies from an early age – hence to my ear most good actors can manage a decent Californian accent.

It’s a lot harder for less common accents though – most British or American actors attempting an Australian one sound terrible to this antipodean. And they can never distinguish between an Australian and New Zealand accent. Yes, even Meryl Streep couldn’t get it quite right.

A South African friend tells me that most foreign attempts at their accents also fail dismally to native ears.


WalterBoswell 10.20.07 at 11:50 am

Bono’s accent in the new south park episode. Tainted Scottish at best. It begs the question, is it really that difficult to find a real Irish accent in whatever part of America south park is created in?


WalterBoswell 10.20.07 at 11:52 am

derrida derider – “A South African friend tells me that most foreign attempts at their accents also fail dismally to native ears.”

What, if any, comments did your friend have regarding Leo Di Caprcorni’s accent in Blood Diamond?


SCM 10.20.07 at 1:02 pm

Derrida Derrider … the best attempt at a South African accent I’ve heard was Tom Jane in Stander – not perfect but very credible. Mind you, the rest of the film was an excellent recreation of late 70s and early 80s SA, so he may have been propped up by that.

As for Leonardo di Caprio in Blood Diamonds … not so much.


Russell Arben Fox 10.20.07 at 1:37 pm

“supposedly, the producer of House, MD who first interviewed Hugh [Laurie] had no idea he was English!”

Rumor has it that Tim Roth had the same experience in some early casting sessions, and used it to his advantage, getting directors who thought he was American, English, an American doing an English accent, etc.


Peter Hart 10.20.07 at 1:57 pm

Yes yes yes, these are all fine examples, but nothing can beat the duelling bad accents of bruce willis (various, inc. ‘Canadian’) and Richard Gere (Northern Irish) in the remake of Day of the Jackal. Surely a candidate for worst remake ever as well.


NPCurmudgeon 10.20.07 at 1:59 pm

Although these are all wonderful suggestions, I nominate Kevin Costner’s Robin of Locksley in “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” as an exhibition of one of the worst English accents of all time. What makes Costner’s performance so meritorious is that his accent changed from scene to scene during the movie, varying from bad to truly, astonishingly awful. (“Where is he now? New Jersey?”)

I have a hypothesis that one could use Costner’s accent to determine the order in which the movie’s scenes were filmed, assuming that the director brought in a coach at the beginning of the movie.


vavatch 10.20.07 at 2:03 pm

novakant: there is no such beast as accent free english. It is just a conceit – usually one entertained by whoever considers themselves the ruling class. Posh english BBC RP-type speakers will often consider themselves to “not have an accent” – this is an obviously absurd claim to many. Of course they have an accent! A posh, annoying, grating accent at that.

You get the same conceit in the US, I have noticed. Excet the peopl there considered to “not have an accent” are midwestern (I think?) and often chosen to read the news and suchlike. Getting to not have an accent is about power and snobbery more than any meaningful description of the way people talk.

Everybody has an equally thick accent. If you are an Iowan american or “Home” Counties public school educated englishman in Glasgow, see where your claims of not having an accent get you. Mocked by the locals for having a strange, thick, foreign accent, that’s where. Put a glaswegian in Ohio and see who has the thick accent then.

Claims of being accent-less show a lack of any sense of perspective.

Having said this. Groundskeeper WIllie surely has the worst accent in the history of Man? But I don’t think that counts – it isn’t even supposed to be accurate, just an amusing parody. Same for the monty python americans.

Stringer Bell in the wire makes a much better job of an American accent than his english compatriot McNulty.


Gus 10.20.07 at 2:17 pm

I’m surprised that no one mentioned how bad Kevin Costner’s accent was in JFK. At the same time, John Candy did a pretty good Yat accent in the same movie.


Gus 10.20.07 at 2:25 pm

The Fargo accents are pretty close. I’m from Northern Minnesota, and I heard that accent all my childhood. I think they’re ever so slightly exaggerated. Marisa Tomei did a pretty good Minnesota accent in Untamed Heart.


Scott E. 10.20.07 at 3:01 pm

About the accents on The Wire, people upthread are right to say Idris Elba’s accent as Stringer Bell is flawless.

And by comparison, Dominic West’s McNulty doesn’t have a flawless accent. I couldn’t tell he was English before I knew–I could just hear a very occasional weird vowel. (I’d say the same for Aiden Gillen’s Carcetti.)

But unlike Elba (I think) West is trying to do a very regionally specific white, blue-collar, mid-atlantic accent. He’s not trying to do a generic metro American accent like Hugh Laurie’s not-very-good one on House. I know the accent West is going for because it jumped out at me when I moved to Philadelphia from the west coast of Canada. And really, though not flawless, his accent’s really, really good.


novakant 10.20.07 at 4:01 pm

vavatch, yes, there can be a certain amount of snobbery involved, which is obvious in the case of Received Pronunciation, which is a horrible tongue twisting exercise used mainly by very class conscious people

yet, there is such a thing as Standard German and Standard French, and at least in the former case there is nothing forced or snobbish about it; its usage might indicate that the speaker hasn’t been stuck in the region of his birth for life and that he received a certain degree of secondary education, but that’s about it – it’s very common and makes life easier

As I said, I think it’s hopeless to find such common ground in the UK, but I suspect that phonetically the American English spoken in such states as Iowa might come closest to being neutral and therefore could be considered accent free.

It’s really quite a problem for non-native speakers if there is no standard, since adopting the regional accent of the place you happen to live in sounds inauthentic and is frankly impossible in places such as London, while speaking the Queen’s English might brand you as a toff.


Karl Steel 10.20.07 at 5:58 pm

is there such a thing as accent free American English

What #74 said. No. There’s an American English that’s dominant, but it has its own accent, of course.

What about Gone with the Wind? Track the southern accents in that for your amusement.

Maybe the most jarring accent award should go to Tony Curtis’s in Spartacus. I know it’s precritical of me to find it funny, but it is hilarious.

As for “Asian”: well, obviously, Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and the Japanese merchants in the first of the new Star Wars movies.


Steve 10.20.07 at 7:33 pm

Way back in 25:
See, I dunno about McNulty; can we get a vote from someone familiar with the accent he’s trying to do? My dad’s mailman sounds like an Americanized Brit to me, but claims Maryland roots going back generations.

Your dad’s mailman might have grown up on the Eastern Shore, where Dashiell Hammett was born. That’s a different dialect entirely. If West is trying to do a classic working-class white Balmer accent, he’s failing miserably. This YouTube video is as good an example as I can find on short notice. (It’s from the Baltimore suburb of Dundalk.)


Ronnie Pudding 10.20.07 at 7:45 pm

Regarding The Wire, the guy who played the Ukranian tough (“Boris”) is Season Two is, I believe, an American who took the same route as Hugh Laurie on House, auditioning “in character.”

Harry Shearer in Spinal Tap is a perfect example of doing a bad “bad accent,” which is even more disappointing than a bad attempt at a true accent.


Clive 10.20.07 at 7:57 pm

Daphne’s accent in Frasier is apparently deliberatly mangled (by the actress) to be more comprehensible in the US. It doesn’t sound Mancunion, but it doesn’t bother me.

What does bother me is that her brothers have completely different (and bad) accents. It’s not just that La Paglia’s accent is awful, it’s that it’s (presumably) meant to be from London. Robbie Coltrane, when he appeared as another brother, didn’t really speak actual words – but they sounded like they were, well, Scottish. Did this family move around a lot or what?


Joshua Holmes 10.20.07 at 8:52 pm

Speaking of bad accents, I have an upcoming stage role where I’ll be playing an English nobleman. I do accents fairly well, but RP is hard. Is there any thing I can hear over the web that would be good practice for RP?


luci 10.20.07 at 9:41 pm

Two comments above already mentioned Keanu Reeves, but I gotta add:

In “Little Buddha” he attempts some kind of Indian accent, I think, as he plays Siddhartha.

And in “Point Break” Reeves attempts the accent of “someone who’s not a doofus,” and fails: “I am an FBI agent, dude.

He’s probably a great guy, but his voice is not so good.


John Emerson 10.20.07 at 9:52 pm

I agree with Gus. I’m from central Minnesota and I thought that the accents were perfect, except extreme. Likewise the dialogue. For example, one dialogue goes something like


Whereas three ya’s in a row us about as many as you would ever expect IRL.

Of course, the Coens came from around there, and the actress who played the kidnapped wife (Kristin Rudrüd, not a metal umlaut) lives in Fargo to this day.

The psycho killer (Gaear Grimsrud) was also played by a real Swede.


harry b 10.20.07 at 9:53 pm

Really, I thought the whole point of the mangling of accents on Frasier (Leeves, LaPaglia, and even Milicent Martin) was entirely deliberate – an inside joke for those people in the audience who understood the wierdness of Leeves’s accent. I’m disappointed if that’s not so!


John Emerson 10.20.07 at 9:54 pm

“Accent-free” standard American English was probably established by broadcasting. I read once that Nebraska was the standard.


Mrs Tilton 10.20.07 at 10:54 pm

And they can never distinguish between an Australian and New Zealand accent.

For those of us who do not hail from those strange yet distant lands, there is a simple shibboleth to tell the two apart. One need only ask the subject to pronounce the following sentence: “Australia are the better rugby nation.”


Mary Kay 10.20.07 at 11:26 pm

Worst I ever heard was on a West End stage. When we were in London in 1991 we went to see production about Buddy Holly. What those people thought was West Texan was just mind blowing. I’ve never attempted anyone else’s accent since.



Richard J 10.20.07 at 11:28 pm

Likewise, one of the shibboleths of a Bradford accent is whether the city is called Bratford or not. Having somehow picked up a very RP accent over the years, I managed to surprise a masseuse at a work do by managing to narrow her accent down to the Leeds-Bradford conurbation (the advantages of growing up in the Aire valley.)

For the benefit of non-northern English people, the two cities are about, oh, six miles apart and fairly contiguous these days.


novakant 10.20.07 at 11:42 pm

Hi Joshua, maybe this will be of help:

Especially the Nancy Mitford audio clip, it’s hilarious. Also, I think Simon Jones is a good example of RP, you can listen to a sample here:


novakant 10.20.07 at 11:52 pm

Nancy Mitford’s accent is offensively posh, while I’d consider Simon Jones’ rather pleasant. As is said in the article, the upper class accent (URP) is only a subspecies of RP, so it’s tricky to get it right. That said, I’m neither a linguist, nor a native speaker, so maybe some English people should chime in.


pc loadletter 10.21.07 at 12:28 am

I thought the gold standard of bad movie accents was Gene Hackman’s Polish accent in “A Bridge Too Far.”


mollymooly 10.21.07 at 1:13 am

To me, Hugh Laurie in “House” and Marianne Jean-Baptiste in “Without a Trace” have the same accent. I assumed whatever accent it was was the easiest US accent for Brits to simulate.

I’ve always found Van Damme’s characters explain away their accents better than Arnie’s. It’s the kind of attention to detail that marks a true master of the craft of acting.

Bubbling under are Peter Sellers’ Indian accents; The evil leprechaun in The Simpsons; Anita Ekberg in “La Dolce Vita”: a Hollywood starlet with a svedish accent: why couldn’t Fellini just dub her?

The second worst accent is Kate Winslet’s English accent in “Titanic”, which is odd considering she really is English.

The worst accent is Ken Curtis as Charlie McCorry in “The Searchers” (“I’ll thank you to unhand my fi-an-cy.”) I have no idea what an 1860s hick cowboy sounded like, but neither does Mr Curtis.


Henry (not the famous one) 10.21.07 at 1:45 am

93 posts and not one mention of Tom Cruise in “Far and Away”?! Entertainment Weekly once described his attempt at an Irish accent as sounding like the leprechaun in the Lucky Charmsâ„¢ commercial. The same article had similarly kind things to say about Nick Nolte’s Italian accent in “Lorenzo’s Oil.”

And #79—if you’re going to bring up Bernard Schwartz, then the movie to mention is “The Black Shield of Falworth,” in which he supposedly said “Yondah is my faddah’s castle.” Or so the story goes.

But as far as good accents go, how about Damian Lewis in “Band of Brothers”?


mollymooly 10.21.07 at 2:26 am

Best accents: all of “Spinal Tap”.


Henry 10.21.07 at 3:21 am

In re: “Band of Brothers,” I’m curious what people think Peter O’Meara’s US accent was like. He was a classmate of mine (in a small class about 30 odd) in school in Ireland.


Henry (not the famous one) 10.21.07 at 4:11 am

“Not noticeable” sounds like faint praise; “convincing” is more complimentary. But that character was a real cipher–there’s a scene where he disappears in the middle of a conversation–so “not noticeable” is also closer to the role he played. (Unlike Lewis, who conveyed lots of character through that flat somwhere in mid-Pennsylvania accent of his.)

Can’t say where O’Meara’s unnoticeable accent came from; I pegged him more by class and ethnicity (i.e., middle class WASP) than region, since he didn’t have the distinctive accents of the soldiers from working class Philadelphia or rural Texas or Acadia.

And while we’re talking about class, the story goes that Claude Rains grew up with a pronounced Cockney accent, but that he learned how to speak in the tone and accents of the upper class while working in the theater. Which got him an officer’s commission in WWI because he had the manner of a commander.


Kenny Easwaran 10.21.07 at 6:35 am

The thing that makes this somewhat odd is that Heroes is probably the show with the most non-English dialogue that’s on TV now (if not ever) on an English-language TV station. So you’d think they could get a little thing like an accent right. On the other hand, I have no idea if the Japanese and Spanish accents are any good.


DRR 10.21.07 at 10:51 am

I don’t think American actors should ever be allowed to ‘do’ an accent from somewhere in Britian, Ireland or Australia. They only end up embarassing themselves and their native country. Best illustrated by the fact that, while you will occasionally hear of an American surprised to learn some particular actor is not really North American after all, you rarely here of anyone from the aformentioned countries fooled by a yank having a go at the local talk.

British/Irish/Australian actors seem to do American accents fairly well. Yes they butcher regional accents (so do American actors not from those regions) but they pull off the standardized North American accent we’ve come to expect from Hollywood movies and nightly newscasts solidly. British/Irish/Australian actors doing American accents don’t sound like they’re from anywhere really, which is why I think they do so well in comic book adaptations with American settings. See the new Batman franchise in which Katie Holmes is the only actual American I think.

I’ve heard Gwyneth Paltrow does a good British accent, but I dislike her so I’m hoping this isn’t true. This was supposedly verified by a story in which she allegedly, while studying for her english accent role, worked as a receptionist and fooled the people that she was speaking with that she was a local, which I think would be a great premise for a Saturday Night Live skit.

Christian Bale is often credited with a A+ American accent (I think his is a perfect example of the comic book/Hollywood American accent). When he was being interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR, he gave no indication by his speaking that he was English. When Terry Gross pointed this out, he said that he chooses which accent to speak in on a day to day basis, regardless of whether he is filming or not. The moral of this story is that Christian Bale is a strange, strange man.


Katherine 10.21.07 at 11:20 am

Ewan McGregor trying to upper-ish class English in the newer Star Wars films was pretty bad.

Christian Bale is clearly brilliant, because I (a Brit) did not even know he was a Brit. Wowser. Like someone else said earlier, his English working class accent in The Prestige was a bit grating to me.

I’m interested to hear what people say about Hugh Laurie. I always find it very odd listening to him in House, simply because I am so used to him in, say, Blackadder or Jeeves and Wooster that him doing anything else just sounds… strange.

PS Drr, alas, Gwynteth Paltrow’s generic English accent is pretty good actually. I’m thinking of Sliding Doors specifically, where the worst you could say is that sometimes it sounds a bit over-emphasised, like some others have said about some other convincing attempts.


the witch from next door 10.21.07 at 11:34 am

When American actresses do English accents, even when they’re quite good at it (e.g. Gwyneth Paltrow, Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones), they always come out sounding about 20% too posh, to my ears at least.


harry b 10.21.07 at 1:00 pm

Unfortunately it is true that Gwyneth Paltrow does a greta English accent, better than many English actresses. Too posh? Not, I think, for the characters she plays (certainly in the Ripley film she gets it spot on, langorously posh English deb).


beans 10.21.07 at 1:17 pm

Daphne in Frasier’s Manchester accent was bad. However, worse was when her brother came to visit, and he talked like a cockney!


novakant 10.21.07 at 2:22 pm

Erm, Harry, if I’m my memory isn’t deceiving me, the character Gwyneth plays in Ripley is American ;).


sharon 10.21.07 at 4:03 pm

British actors quite often do a good job of regionally non-specific and high-status American accents (eg, Hugh Laurie), and vice versa: American actors are often good at the equivalent British accents (Paltrow, Zellweger, etc). What is much rarer is the ability to get right regional and working-class accents – look at how many of the complaints in this thread have been specifically about bad Cockney, Mancunian, Irish, Texan, etc, accents. But that’s not a problem confined to actors trying to cross the Atlantic. (I’ve lost count of the number of truly awful attempts at Suffolk and Norfolk accents I’ve heard from English actors over the years.)

My usual candidates for hilariously bad British accents: almost every single one ever attempted in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The only reasonable one I can think of is Wesley the watcher – and that’s a posh one again. And where on earth is Kendra the second vampire slayer supposed to be from?

But these are dwarfed by the aural horror that is How Green was My Valley. I can honestly say that I have never heard anything quite like it.


tps12 10.21.07 at 4:23 pm

Kendra’s accent was actually supposedly pretty good, it was just from a very obscure island somewhere. They talk on the DVD commentary about how much effort they put into accent coaching for that character and how in retrospect viewers wouldn’t know one way or the other.

I actually think James Marsters’ accent is pretty good (it always blows my mind hearing him in interviews where he sounds like a surfer). And then to the extent that it isn’t authentic working-class London, it’s amusing, because we find out that Spike is actually an aristocrat of some sort and his rough accent is an affectation.

The worst accent in the Whedonverse, to my mind, was Charles Gunn’s in Angel. Forget being from the ghetto: he didn’t even sound black.


Walt 10.21.07 at 6:11 pm

Kate Winslet in Titanic is playing an American, not a Brit!!!! I don’t know why it irritates me so much when people say that, but it does!!! Perhaps I need more hobbies!!!!!!


girondistnyc 10.21.07 at 7:35 pm

Gunn? You jest. In the very frequent flashback scenes Angel’s Irish accent approached a platonic ideal of an awful American attempt at an accent. Drusilla’s was pretty bad as well, but then her character was supposed to be insane so perhaps it made sense.

Marster’s always struck me as a pretty impressive achievement. He did that character for seven (eight?) years and it seemed not only convincing but remarkably consistent.

Surprised nobody has mentioned Connery’s off the boat “Irish” cop in the untouchables — pure Caledonian.


Bruce Baugh 10.21.07 at 7:52 pm

Bob Hoskins and Guy Pearce do really good American accents. Both came as utter surprises when I heard them in their own voices.

The accents in Fargo are exaggerated, but then regional exaggeration is a Coen Brothers thing. Raising Arizona has some very good examples of the interior Southwest dialect (cranked up for comedic effect), which is often mistaken for something Southern but has its own rhythms.


sharon 10.21.07 at 8:45 pm

Kendra’s accent was actually supposedly pretty good, it was just from a very obscure island somewhere.

Well, that’s convenient… And never mind audiences not being able to tell – it seems bizarre that they put so much effort into something that sounds so wrong.

I actually think James Marsters’ accent is pretty good (it always blows my mind hearing him in interviews where he sounds like a surfer). And then to the extent that it isn’t authentic working-class London,

True. His accent isn’t ‘right’ (but isn’t entirely terrible either), but it’s easy to forget it isn’t really supposed to be.

For my money, the worst/funniest British accent in Firefly is Summer’s stab at impersonating a Londoner. Especially as they have her doing it in a scene with a British actor with a real London accent, and she supposedly fools him into thinking she’s his compatriot to get the crew out of trouble. Priceless.


John Emerson 10.21.07 at 9:41 pm

My favorite accent ever is the Monty Python character who says “One thing is for sure. the sheep is not a creature of the air”. I’ve been told that it’s generic rustic south-central English. I care not whether it be accurate.


John Emerson 10.21.07 at 9:42 pm

“Oh, that’s the rare Tristan de Cunha accent”. Perfect excuse for anything.


nick s 10.22.07 at 12:10 am

When American actresses do English accents, even when they’re quite good at it (e.g. Gwyneth Paltrow, Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones), they always come out sounding about 20% too posh, to my ears at least.

Yeppy. Bridget Jones is middle-middle, and Mark Darcy is upper-middle, and that’s actually important (to the extent that Bridget Jones is important, I know.) Zellwegger sounds upper-middle: just a bit too posh.

Damien Lewis and Michelle Ryan have two hours of NBC to themselves and their accents. (And at the same time, Anna Friel is doing a slightly less assured job on Pushing Daisies.) The line on female leads, apparently, is that Brits are less botoxed.

As for Laurie, I’m now convinced that he’s basically doing Ken Branagh in Dead Again.

The weirdest accent-shift, though, is Gillian Anderson, who utterly lost her American accent — acquired as a teenager — on her return to Britain.

Speaking of Heroes, though, David Anders (previously Sark in Alias) has the upperish-class British accent off pat, which makes the Oirish characters look even more embarrassing.

Sendil Ramamurty’s accent in the original unaired pilot was much more, um, Indian — almost It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum territory. He’s anglicised it since.


jimbo 10.22.07 at 12:59 am

Allus Gailus: I always thought that the accent thing was perfectly in character for Hans – he COULD speak like an American, but he showed his contempt by not doing so…


Another Damned Medievalist 10.22.07 at 1:21 am

Well, I always thought Tony Head had a rather nice English accent :-)

Speaking of the Whedonverse, though, I think Alexis Denisof has always done really well. Granted, I think he has lived much of his life in England, but his American accent is just painfully Northwestern. I’d seen him in several other things as well (a couple of episodes of Sharpe, etc.) and never realised he was technically a Yank.


Tredegar Trafalgar 10.22.07 at 4:47 am

I can’t believe this thread has gone on this long and no one has brought up the Geico gecko.


MissLaura 10.22.07 at 5:36 am

Not on a movie accent, but on the discussion of posh English accents: Several years ago, my mother gave a conference presentation in England and at the end was asked a question by a man she was sure must be drunk.

It turned out he was a perfectly sober viscount.


Megami 10.22.07 at 6:49 am

**In re: “Band of Brothers,” I’m curious what people think Peter O’Meara’s US accent was like. He was a classmate of mine (in a small class about 30 odd) in school in Ireland.**

I was going to state him as my example of how to do it properly. Admittedly I am an Australian, but I was totally fooled and didn’t know he was not from the US.

**It’s a lot harder for less common accents though – most British or American actors attempting an Australian one sound terrible to this antipodean. And they can never distinguish between an Australian and New Zealand accent. Yes, even Meryl Streep couldn’t get it quite right.**
Gosh yes! The Simpson’s episode where Bart is sent to Australia is an extreme example, but when will people in the US realise that Australians do not speak with a cockney accent?
My husband and I, both Australians, lived in the UK for two years and were continually assumed to be Canadians – supposedly our accents were not ‘Australian’ enough. It seems that unless you speak with a real ‘strine’ accent you just can’t be considered an Australian :)


Nancy 10.22.07 at 6:54 am

Being from New Jersey/northeast U.S., I can tell you that Hugh Laurie does an AMAZING job with the accent. I ADORE him and HOUSE and I would like him to stay in the U.S. forever.
You have a treasure in him in the U.K.
Appreciate that.


mollymooly 10.22.07 at 10:27 am

Glen Quinn played Mark from “Roseanne”. I had no idea was Irish till he died. Apparently he got to use his Irish accent in “Angel”, which I never watched.

Re: The Simpsons: I think the crapness of the accents is semi-intentional. If you’re going to go daaaahn, go daaahn in flyyyymes.


Michael Bérubé 10.22.07 at 12:15 pm

Wow, this thread is fun. And kinda arbitrary, too! Anyway, here’s one more vote for the astonishingly good Merkinian of Naomi Watts, Nicole Kidman, and Rachel Griffiths.


Keith 10.22.07 at 2:46 pm

Ewan McGregor trying to upper-ish class English in the newer Star Wars films was pretty bad.

That would be because he was doing an Alec Guenniss imitation. And it was the best part of those three movies.


harry b 10.22.07 at 3:08 pm

novakant — i’m as sure as sure can be that she’s not. But I saw it a long time ago. Can anyone else confirm?


Ginger Yellow 10.22.07 at 4:31 pm

I’m pretty sure the silly accents in Buffy (and maybe even Firefly) are supposed to be a joke. Whedon went to school in England (my school, in fact). It’s not like he doesn’t know what Brits are supposed to sound like.


mollymooly 10.22.07 at 4:33 pm

Kate Winslet in Titanic is playing an American, not a Brit!
Ah! She sounds like a bad American impression of British, so maybe her accent was spot-on. Any recitations from gilded-age Philadelphians among those German POW recordings?


skeptical 10.22.07 at 4:44 pm

Dear God, the vocal horror that is Julia Roberts playing an Irish woman in Michael Collins. Thanks for bringing that back to mind.


theCoach 10.22.07 at 6:33 pm

In ‘Big Love’ there is an female federal agent that is supposed to be from Boston. Stunningly bad. The topper is that it feels as if the writer(s) think of everyone in Boston as being from a patrician Boston family in the 19th century.


theCoach 10.22.07 at 6:41 pm

Best Irish accent: McBain.


Cryptic Ned 10.22.07 at 7:57 pm

I always thought that the accent thing was perfectly in character for Hans – he COULD speak like an American, but he showed his contempt by not doing so…

This is how I saw Gabriel Byrne’s character in “Miller’s Crossing”. Sometimes he sounded American, sometimes he sounded Irish, and I never kept track but I think it depended on who he was talking to.


Saint Andeol 10.22.07 at 9:20 pm

In regards to Hans’ American accent in Die Hard, i’m pretty sure he was doing that to fool Bruce Willis, since they’d talked over the radio but hadn’t met in person. he’s crafty like that.

also, who saw Paul Walker in Running Scared?? talk about awesome accent. :)


vanya 10.22.07 at 9:23 pm

131 posts and not one mention of the atrocity that was Robin William’s “Boston” accent in “Good Will Hunting”? William’s monologue about Game 6 of the 1975 World Series may be one of the most cringe worthy performances I’ve ever had to sit through. Both the actual words and the accent. Ye gods.


LizardBreath 10.22.07 at 9:26 pm

Laurie in House sounds perfect to me now (and he’s speaking my native accent — Midatlantic Eastern Seaboard with everything more specific eroded out of it by listening to midwesterners on TV). The first couple of episodes of the first season, though, I thought he was off. Pronunciation was fine, but his pitch was too high for an American; I have a sense that UK men generally pitch their voice a couple of notes higher than Americans.

Anyone else hear the same thing, or am I making this up?


eulogist 10.23.07 at 12:58 pm

Bad accents? Somehow all the north-western European accents in American films sound like German.

I know I can’t really blame Hollywood for not getting accurate all the accents in the world, but it never ceases to be strange hearing Swedes or Dutchmen talk like they grew up speaking something that sounds quite, but not entirely, almost unlike German.


dave heasman 10.23.07 at 10:45 pm

Joel, are you being “ironic”?
“Also, re: Python—I’m thinking Gilliam could probably have done a good American accent (esp. my ex-girlfriend’s dad)… I just don’t remember them ever letting him speak…”

Gilliam was at University of Texas somewhere with an old oppo of mine. And Gilbert Shelton.


kaleyna 10.23.07 at 10:54 pm

As someone mentiond, David Anders does a pretty good uk/euro accent. I had no idea he was a guy from Oregon when he was on Alias.

How can Terry Gilliam not do a Yank accent? he’s a Yank!

I agree the Aussies/Kiwis tend to do great American accents. Personally I think you can hear much of the difference between those and also South Africa in the sound of their ‘a’s.


Henry (not the famous one) 10.24.07 at 1:28 am

#133–absolutely. The notion that any real Bostonian would turn down tickets for that or any other Series game is simply unbelievable on any level.


slightly_peeved 10.24.07 at 2:42 am

I have trouble listening to Eric Bana do serious action movies, when he developed his faux-US accent doing parodies of the same sort of roles for sketch-comedy shows in Australia.

It’s like watching Hugh Laurie in house. You’re always waiting for the joke.


Matt McIrvin 10.24.07 at 3:18 am

With regard to British actors playing Americans, I think things have changed. These days, there are a lot of people like Hugh Laurie, Bob Hoskins, Christian Bale and Tom Wilkinson who can actually pull it off.

In older shows, though, and to some extent in second-string productions today, I notice a lot of British actors doing the same weird, hammy accent that I guess must have been taught as “an American accent” in theater classes, or some such place–usually accompanied by swaggering comic-macho mannerisms. Think of the rocket pilot in the old Doctor Who serial “Tomb of the Cybermen”, or the guy who wants a Waldorf salad on Fawlty Towers, or Graham Chapman as the movie mogul who fires everybody. They’re all doing it. I’ve never actually heard an American talk this way, though 1940s newsreel announcers came close.

Speaking of Doctor Who, actually, Nicola Bryant as Peri Brown, the Doctor’s companion for a while in the Eighties, had the worst supposedly American accent I’ve ever heard.


slightly_peeved 10.24.07 at 5:13 am

Oh, and this thread would not be complete without congratulations to Sean Connery, for playing people of all nations without once, ever, sounding like anyone else but Sean Connery.

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