The Allure of the Accent; or RA Goes Okie

british accentYears ago in the film Love Actually, British Colin Frissell can’t find a girlfriend at home. So he journeys to the U.S. in search of one. To his surprise, he finds himself a hit with American women the moment he opens his mouth. It seems American women dig British accents. Of course, this was hilarious to me because I’ve been exposed to British accents since I can remember. (I blame PBS and my mother’s undying crush on Laurence Olivier). So this phenomenon didn’t really surprise me, although my crushes on British actors have been totally incidental. Naturally.

Flash forward to last week. A few of us were chatting about the latest Into the Storm trailer and analyzing what we could of Richard Armitage’s American accent. While I couldn’t separate his voice from the background noise, a few said they thought the accent pretty decent. Then I heard something to this effect:

“As soon as he spoke American, he lost part of his sex appeal.”

My mouth nearly fell open at the heresy before my inner anti-fangurl exclaimed “that’s right, he’s British!” One chatter recounted how one favorite actor’s sex appeal leached away the moment he spoke in an American accent (dreadfully). This brings me to another meandering thought: it that why Americans are so keen on foreign actors getting American accents right – is it because of the aural dissonance, or the resulting perception of declining sex appeal? They’re just not that hot without the Queen’s English?  There’s no real reason why this should be except maybe prove the adage “everything is greener on the other side of the street,” or pond, as the case may be.  I picture RA trying out a Chi-caw-go accent with me listening incredulously and wondering what I ever saw him. Would I beg him to “speak British” again?   Could that possibly happen if I were wearing a blindfold?

I can’t decide how I feel about RA sprouting an American accent. I do know what if he fails to impress in the few scenes, I won’t be able to take him seriously the rest of the movie.  It sets my teeth on edge to hear an accent done poorly.  Truly, I’ve reacted the same way with other actors.  But will I find him less sexy? I don’t know yet.  Maybe the wet shirt will make up for that.

What do you think?  Honesty will get you kudos.  Total heresy will get you cookies.



46 thoughts on “The Allure of the Accent; or RA Goes Okie

    • Yes, I recall her excellent post. But I still wonder about the first point: do some people feel that a British actor not using his accent make him somehow less sexy? Would that be true for some?

        • I think my mother and her crush had me totally brainwashed -that and the old classic movies chock full of British actors and their clipped tones. 🙂

  1. For me, anyway, based on what we’ve heard so far I think accent / vowels are less of a problem than tempo and pitch. It is apparently normal for British actors’ voices to rise in pitch when they do American accents partially because of the attempt to mimic what they perceive as the nasality of the American accents. I think it’s even more noticeable than it would have been four years ago because Armitage moved his voice down for Thorin and that’s what we’re used to hearing now. And the tempo issue to me points that he’s unsure of some of the vowels (no way to avoid notice of something wrong more effectively than to keep it short). I would still say, however, that I haven’t heard enough to know how I feel about this performance. Reasonably performed American standard would be sufficient for me; I don’t need to hear SE Oklahoma, and a teacher is supposed to adopt a slightly “higher” cultural tone anyway.

    I think to me the problem is one of verisimilitude. I know how (for example) someone from northeastern Wisconsin is supposed to speak. When I hear something wrong in pronunciation or usage, I know that person’s not from here or has been away. It changes my perception of him/her. If an actor doesn’t have a credible accent for his character, it makes the willing suspension of disbelief harder. Not impossible — but it’s regular reminder that the character is being acted. The issue with Genevieve O’Reilly was that she picked such a distinctive accent to imitate that when you were expecting to hear a particular facet of it and she messed it up, it was an immediate reminder that oh, yeah, this is an actress.

    • I simply cannot take an actor seriously if he or she botches the accent. It throws me right out of the story. With O’Reilly, I could not get past it. She may have been a better actress than I gave her credit for. IIRC as Fedoralady pointed out, Kevin Costner’s accent was so laughable, it was another black mark against the movie.

      • I remember while watching ‘Frasier’ it always made me CRINGE when early on, David Hyde Pierce would pronounce Oregon as ‘Ora-GONE’. Argh!!!! What is that??? So yes, accents can be a touchy topic – but they’re also an invaluable tool in any actor’s toolbox.

        I couldn’t recognize James Purefoy when he appeared on Episodes (despite his very tell-tale facial features) because his American accent was so good, I was scanning through a list of American actors in trying to identify him rather, than British.

        • I find it interesting that so many Brits can produce such flawless accents but that the reverse doesn’t seem as true for Americans. Can you think of any American actors who are just as good? Surely there must be some.

          • In the estimation of my friend and colleague the former Cambridge professor: Renee Zellweger’s English accent was stunningly accurate, but Gwyneth Paltrow’s was horrid.

          • I think Don Cheadle worked really hard and did well with his accent for the Ocean’s 11 franchise movies. He seemed quite authentic in his portrayal of that character…

    • BTW, I’m really hoping RA does a credible accent. It will open so many more doors here in America for both film and television.

  2. There is actually no such thing as a British accent – there are 4 countries within the UK (as I’m sure you all probably know!!): England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Richard has an English accent, James Nesbitt has a Northern Irish accent, Graham McTavish has a Scottish accent and Luke Evans has a Welsh accent … when they use their natural manner of speaking. Both Graham and Luke can do a very creditable English accent when they have to do so and our darling Richard makes a reasonable Scot. 😀 I’m content to “wait and see” how he manages to sound in ITS. I’ll be happy if he manages to sound even vaguely American but, then, it’s not my national pride that’s at stake LOL. I’m just so glad that he hasn’t picked up too many Americanisms during his sojourn in your country. I love all the different ways we speak the English language and would simply hate it if our accents became “generic”, “homogenized” or whatever. Vive la difference!!!

  3. Sorry… but I forgot to ask: did anyone else notice that Henry Cavill’s accent fluctuated in “Man of Steel”…. I had a bit of a giggle in the middle of 1 of his sentences and my son gave me a quizzical look. I explained later on and he said “and so did Russell Crowe’s”. However, we were both quite satisfied with Kevin Costner’s!!!

    Yes, I can understand how important it is for actors to do a good job….. very few “foreign” actors ever get Australian or New Zealand accents right. In the real world, Australians sound nothing like Crocodile Dundee or even like most of the actors on “Home and Away” or “Neighbours”…. the accents are exaggerated to cater for “foreigners” 😀 Most of our gorgeous hunks like Simon Baker, Sam Worthington, Ryan Kwanten, Chris and Liam Hemsworth (et al) started out in those sorts of shows, of course, and look how far they’ve come.

    So….Ritchie Rich ….. please don’t make a hash of your American accent in ITS … PLEASE 😀

    • Kathryn, of course you’re right. It’s the same here; there’s no such thing as an American accent since we have so many dialects. I just use the term “British accent” as an umbrella for all that you mentioned. As Fitzy stated, I would happy to hear even mid atlantic, just as long as I don’t think “what the hell?!” when RA begins speaking. (This usually occurs when I hear two distinct and distant regional accents thrown together like the nasally twang of Texas mixed with something from Brooklyn, NY).

  4. Mid-Atlantic is good enough for me! Kathryngaul, what you say is so trrue. And the pasturised “Estuary English” is not that pleasing to the ear. Cockney is a bit grating, but has its quaint attraction – unless spoken by Michael Caine, then it’s OK 🙂 “Geordie” is incomprehensible. So is Glaswegian. Renee Zellwiger was good enough that I never noticed any real slip – it seemed a bit deliberated in delivery. Not enough to be distracting. Jodhi May did a very credible South African accent in Strike Back – not sure how it sounded to South Africans, but for me, she had the tempo and inflection right. That is a tricky accent, with its Dutch/Boer sounds. (Poor Genevieve! The self-consciously supposedly American script for Sarah didn’t help. Stick to mid-Atlantic, if in doubt.) No doubt some British inflection will creep in to Into Storm – oh well, he’s a teacher! E-nun-ci-a-tion is rather useful for teachers and actors….

    • Well if some British inflection creeps in, his sex appeal quotient goes up too. 😉

  5. I have to admit I am very shallow and find British (English) accents extremely sexy. I honestly don’t think I’ll be as attracted to RA with an American accent. I sincerely hope he does a decent job of it though. I don’t find Colin Frissell very attractive but his accent helped 😉

    • Aha, you win the plate of delicious chocolate chip cookies (virtual, alas)! My anti-fangurl cheers since she absolutely agrees with you. There’s just something about an English accent. Was there anything that turned you on to them, or it was something that just developed?

      • I don’t remember when it started or what actor triggered it. I know for a long time I would watch any British show I could find. I’m a bit (not much) more discriminating now 🙂

        Who or what turned you on?

        • I blame my mother’s crush on Laurence Olivier that she had since age 16. I grew up with her extolling his virtues. So I absorbed his accent along with everything else. Also since I was hard of hearing, I learned to enunciate better listening to him and other English actors in old classic films. So you can say I was indoctrinated in childhood. 😉

  6. He’ll lose no sex appeal for me but I know I find it jarring if an English actor sounds English when they’re not supposed to so fingers crossed I don’t notice anything obvious. I wouldn’t know how accurate his American accent is but I’ll recognise if he slips back. Interesting to see people comment on how good Zellweger’s English accent is. I’ve only heard it in Bridget Jones (I assume that’s where most people hear it) and I hated it. Not because it was bad but because I found it nauseatingly cut glass. I just could not believe that a girl like Bridget would have spoken like that. I would have preferred it to be less RP and have a bit more real life in it. Anne Hathaway was slated for hers in a film but I haven’t seen it and the name escapes me. Actors playing Robin Hood seem to have an issue with accents…first Costner (I enjoyed the film as I didn’t take it too seriously) and then Russell Crowe whose accent in the latest Hood epic was so appalling I had to switch off the film. As for RA I have faith that he will have practised and practised until he was sick of the sound of his own voice just so that we won’t be 🙂

    • I certainly hope so. He has to knows that being able to produce a credible American accent will be a big boost for his career over here. I’d love for him to be so good, I’d (almost) forget he’s British, like I did with Hugh Laurie and Bob Hoskins. Sadly my other crush, David Tennant, hasn’t made that break through, although I hear he is doing the US version of Broadchurch with an American accent.

      • Yeah, I don’t think I’ve heard DT’s American accent, can’t imagine it. He does English (as opposed to his native Scot) so well, when he first appeared in Dr Who I didn’t know he was Scottish! Shame Jonathan Rhys Meyers couldn’t do the same and lose his Irish accent in The Tudors (series 4 particularly) – Henry VIII was definitely not from the Emerald Isle 😉 I have every faith in RA!

        • A few years back, DT filmed a failed pilot portraying a Chicago lawyer. (Needless to say, I was wildly interested). A bit of the episode was posted on YouTube. His accent was baffling, which was curious because IIRC, he once played a NYC security guard onstage to good reviews.

          I’ve got my fingers crossed for RA. 🙂

  7. I have always loved foreign accents. British, Italian, Spanish. (Not so much Russian or Polish. Long story. No offense intended.) But mostly British, Irish, Australian. Wow. I promise I will love RA whatever his accent. But if I first saw him with an American accent, I can’t say the attraction would be the same. Wellll, maybe…. 😀 Here’s hoping he’s as sexy as an American as he is a Brit!! 😀 😀 😀

    • I’m hopeless mainly over British accents. The others just don’t hit me the same way.
      Well, I think the wet shirt might make up for any reduction in sexiness. LOL!

  8. I don’t know when I fell for the British accent but it has been along time, sometimes before my teen years. I will blame Benny Hill for my love of British Telly, my grandparents only got one tv channel that came in all the time and I was able to stay up on Saturday nights when I stayed and watch tv. I will add that I didn’t have tv at home at the time. The whole love of most things British came at a very young age, Maybe it was because of being part English, Irish and Scottish or my dad talking about the best steel being from England.

    With all that said I love listening to the British accent and how RA does with an American accent will matter how I listen to him, I will most likely still think something is missing. I had that problem with Hugh Laurie in House, the first time I watched it I was wondering what was missing and well it was the British accent. I am glad to see that I am not the only one who didn’t like Renee Zellweger’s accent, it was just wrong, annoying really. I did like Kevin Costner in Robin Hood back in the day, not so much now.

    Judi your mom is not the only one to spoil there children on the British accent, so have I. Son2 will not go see Into the Storm because he don’t do British actors with an American accent. I wonder where that came from? Maybe son3 will go with me.

    • Oh yes, I remember watching everything British on PBS. (It gave me the mistaken idea that UK television was all phenomenal.) Starting with Masterpiece Theater showing Upstairs Downstairs when I was 11.

      When Laurence Olivier was created a Lord, I still remember my mother exclaiming “See, I told you he was great! I picked him!” LOL! I’ll pick one too, Mom. 🙂

  9. Mid-Atlantic? Which one? Because there’s a world of difference between, say, Philly and Baltimore.

  10. I find RA’s voice quite tremble inducing. I will have to wait to hear him “not shouting” in his new film Into the Storm to see if that holds true with him adopting an American accent. Having said that, the whole Brit (RA) and Scot (GMT) accent thingy from the right person just melts me. Sighhh.

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