Faking it with style
“I say tomato”
It’s quite intriguing when you think of it, that of all the people speaking one language, English, there are thousands of different ways they do so. In fact, sometimes local accents and dialects differ so much that it is near impossible to understand someone who speaks the same language but in a different way.
There are even experts who can pinpoint exactly where you come from from just the way you speak. And it’s not just the case in English-speaking countries — even here in India you speak the language very differently depending on which part you come from.
Which is why I find it thoroughly fascinating when actors are required to speak in an accent that is not their own. This probably happens more often than we are aware of. For example, think of Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, the late Heath Ledger, Cate Blanchett…!
Well, anyhow, I decided to put together a list of my five favourite fake accents. Mind you, this is very subjective and prejudiced, based on what I have seen in the recent past.
No. 5: James Marsters: Remember Spike, the villanous but oddly fascinating rogue vampire in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and his sneering British accent? Well, guess what — Marsters is American and the accent was all fake. Rumour has it (well, Wikipedia, actually, but we’ll pretend you heard it here first) that his Buffy accent was inspired by that of Anthony Stewart Head (Giles). Marsters continues with his Spike-type role and speech in season 2 of the BBC sci-fi series Torchwood as Captain John Hart.
No. 4: David Tennant: If you know who he is, you’ll probably know him as the latest incarnation of the Doctor in the popular British TV series Doctor Who. But the way he speaks as the Doctor is so radically different from his native Scots accent, that it is quite a shock. While Tennant does falter at times, it is to his credit that he has carried off the Estuary English of the Tenth Doctor quite beautifully into his third season in a row. (Don’t know what Estuary is? Yeah, well, I didn’t either — this enlightened me.) Briefly for a period of two episodes in the 2007 series he also had to do another subtle change to effect a Received Pronunciation.
No. 3: Matthew Rhys: Kevin Walker, the middle brother from Brothers and Sisters really doesn’t deserve only a number three spot. There is no trace of his native Welsh lilt as Kevin, and it is impossibly difficult to imagine that his real speech is different from what we seen on TV. Listen to his real accent.
No. 2: Renée Zellweger: In Jerry McGuire and Bridget Jones’s Diary, Zellweger really seemed to be two different people, though it is to her roles as Bridget Jones that I refer to here. It was not just her flawless London accent, but also the weight she had to put on to get into Bridget’s shoes. In one of the DVD extras (or an interview I saw on TV — can’t recall which) Hugh Grant speaks of the tremendous job she did in getting her speech just right. She first learnt to speak in “Queen’s English”, or the Recieved Pronunciation if you like, and then worked her way towards getting her accent just as what Bridget would sound like.
No. 1: Hugh Laurie: It was a close call between Gregory House and Bridget Jones, but House gets top billing for pulling off a fake accent so effectively for four seasons that there were people on the production team of House who didn’t know he was not American. Laurie, perhaps best known for his portrayal of the lovable ass Bertie Wooster in Jeeves and Wooster, plays a radically different role as House — a limping, cranky, abrasive, yet brilliant doctor, addicted to painkillers, in an otherwise ordinary series. Laurie has received two Golden Globes and a Screen Actors’ Guild Award for his role as Gregory House.
[Special mention: Kevin McKidd: The chances are you won’t will even recognize this name (he was Lucius in Rome). Another Scots, McKidd plays a local San Francisco journalist in the sci-fi series Journeyman and does a remarkable job with the accent. In fact, he seems to have a whole different voice for his American accent!]
Feel free to add your own favourites, or let me know if you think I’ve missed out any notable ones.