Friday, June 27, 2014

What's In an Accent? Quite a Bit, As It Turns Out.

by Sara N.

Hats off to you actors who are skilled with accents. Good work, guys. Seriously. You're able to mask your natural British accent to play American, or you sound like a flawless New Zealander even though you're a native Californian. The post that follows isn't a complaint about your performances at all.

However. We, your eager audience, get used to hearing you speak in certain accents, and it throws us for a loop when you switch that up. This is particularly true when we know you best from your breakout role or when you're on a cult shows that we watch over and over and commit to heart. We imprint on your voice and cadence, so when you move on to other projects and speak in a radically different way, it's jarring. In fact, when some of you tackle a new accent, you sound like totally different people. Your tone, your inflection, and your delivery are so altered by your new accent that we'd never believe it was you if we weren't watching your lips move in time to those strange noises you're making.

To wit, here's a short list of actors whose natural accents trip us out, or whose assumed accents make them sound like strangers, not the comfortable characters we're used to.

Anthony Stewart Head on Dominion with non-native American accent = Completely unrecognizable. Watching his performance in the pilot episode last week is what prompted this post. He sounds like a completely different guy, not the warm, supportive Watcher we all love. (Bonus points for also having the magnificent Alan Dale speaking like an American, too. What's wrong with you, Dominion?)

David Tenant on Gracepoint (the American version of Broadchurch) with non-native American accent = Total freaking travesty. Jump to minute 2:44. Would you know that was your favorite Doctor if you weren't watching the words sync up with his lips? Again, sounds like a different fella.

Alexis Denisof on How I Met Your Mother with native American accent = A little uncomfortable. Like Robin Scherbatsky, I'm deeply suspicious when he talks like this.

Alexis Denisof on Grimm with non-native British accent = Safe and comforting. You say he's playing a bad guy? Doesn't matter. It's that old Wesley Wyndam-Pryce magic. (Sorry, I couldn't find any video. He sounds just like Wesley, though, which I'm sure you can all imagine.)

Karen Gillan on Selfie with non-native American accent = Baffling. She a Scottish redhead. Why wouldn't you want her be a Scottish redhead on your teevee show?

David Anders on The Vampire Diaries/Once Upon a Time with native American accent = Disappointing. Mr. Sark was so suave and evilly British; what do you mean that's not how Anders sounds in real life?

James Marsters on Smallville with native American accent = Weirdly flat. Between the American accent and the dark hair, you'll be wondering what happened to your favorite blondie bear.

Hugh Jackman on talk shows with native Australian accent = Confusing. He doesn't play an Aussie very often, so we only hear the accent when he's being himself. P.S. This is the best Hugh Jackman talk show clip EVER.

Stephen Moyer and Andrew Lincoln on talk shows with native British accents = Also confusing. They both play Southerners with varying degrees of success (KOOOOOORLLL! SUUUUUUUHKIE!), and yet I always giggle a little when I hear those posh tones off set. (Bonus Norman Reedus in the Lincoln clip. You're welcome.)

Yvonne Strahovoski on talk shows with native Australian accent = Super duper confusing. I've seen her as Agent Sarah Walker, serial killer Hannah McKay and Agent Who's Helping Jack Bauer — Americans, all. Imagine my surprise when I learned that she's as Aussie as Huge Ackman.

Christian Bale on talk shows with native British accent = Extra special super duper confusing. Bruce Wayne? Is that you? (Jump to 1:36 for the Bale voice.)

David Boreanaz on Buffy the Vampire Slayer with non-native Irish accent = Abominable. Not because it's confusing, but because it's so bad. (Also bad? The wig.) I love you all too much to embed any video for this here.

Have you ever been thrown for a loop by an actor's accent on or off screen? Let me know in the comments!
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  1. I've seen interviews of David Tennant where he speaks with his native Scottish burr and I think it increases his geek appeal by a couple of points ;)

    1. Oh, agreed. Wish he could've been a Scottish Doctor!

  2. David Tennant with an American accent?! My Whovian ears refuse to accept it.