Australians and the perfect American accent

Discussion in 'Movies' started by Shane Gralaw, Oct 1, 2004.

  1. Shane Gralaw

    Shane Gralaw Second Unit

    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2001
    Messages:
    298
    Likes Received:
    0
    Have you ever noticed the uncanny ability of Australian actors to nail the US accent? Hell, I thought Rachel Griffiths and Judy Davis WERE from the US until I discovered otherwise. I was convinced that Anthony Lapaglia was from New York until I saw Lantana and even then I thought he was just doing a really good Australian accent- but that was just a little too good and a search on IMBD revealed the truth. British actors can do an ok US accent, but even some really talented performers like Emma Thompson or Tracey Ullman have a slightly affected quality that, while technically correct, does not ring true for me. The Austrailians absolutely NAIL it. Think about it- Guy Pierce, Russell Crowe, Sam Niell, Lucy Lawless, Nicole Kidman- absolutely everyone from down under can do it perfectly. Seeing as our accents are not really similar, what is up with that?
     
  2. Lynda-Marie

    Lynda-Marie Supporting Actor

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 2004
    Messages:
    762
    Likes Received:
    0
    Hard to determine, since I don't know any Aussie/New Zealanders personally.

    Maybe the movie companies "Down Under" have better dialect coaches than those available to American filmmakers? Is it that the Aussie/New Zealander performers concetrate very hard on learning the speech patterns?

    An American performer I know of who is a fanatic about getting her accents just so is Meryl Streep, but she is the exception rather than the rule.
     
  3. Haggai

    Haggai Producer

    Joined:
    Nov 3, 2003
    Messages:
    3,883
    Likes Received:
    0
    A random guess, and no offense to any Aussies or Kiwis here if I'm wrong--maybe for film actors, there haven't been as many Australian/New Zealand films made for them to watch as they grow up as there are British films for people growing up in the UK, so they have relatively more exposure to American accents in movies than their British counterparts. I could be making several flawed assumptions there, and I would confidently guess that there are more British movies shown on TV and in theaters in Australia there are in America, but maybe it does have something to do with it.
     
  4. Geoff_D

    Geoff_D Supporting Actor

    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2002
    Messages:
    932
    Likes Received:
    32
    It's something to do with 'rhotic' accents. Us Englanders (though not all) have a tendency to add unnecessary 'R' sounds to words, ie 'castle' is pronounced 'carstle', 'pass' is pronounced 'parss' and so on. Aussies do not add this 'R' sound, so they have a more natural ability to mimic American accents. Some Brits can do it quite well, for example Minnie Driver can normally put on a very good American accent. Most of 'em are shite though, but at least they sound better than 95% of the Americans who attempt English accents! You guys really don't know how annoying it is to hear the Dick Van Dyke cockney (by way of South Africa) accent every time a 'British' person is needed on an American show!
     
  5. Patrick Sun

    Patrick Sun Moderator
    Moderator

    Joined:
    Jun 30, 1999
    Messages:
    38,718
    Likes Received:
    463
    You can add Julian McMahon to the list, whom I did not know was also from down under until recently but I've heard speak with an Aussie accent when not in acting mode (a la "Nip/Tuck" or "Charmed").
     
  6. Kirk Gunn

    Kirk Gunn Screenwriter

    Joined:
    Aug 16, 1999
    Messages:
    1,609
    Likes Received:
    0


    You mean he didn't nail it in Mary Poppins ? [​IMG]
     
  7. Dan Rudolph

    Dan Rudolph Producer

    Joined:
    Dec 30, 2002
    Messages:
    4,042
    Likes Received:
    0
    I wouldn't say Lucy lawless really nailed an American accent, but I totally see where you're coming from. Nicole Kidman almost never uses her real accent in movies, so whenever I see interviews with her, it's very disturbing.
     
  8. Jeff Gatie

    Jeff Gatie Lead Actor

    Joined:
    Aug 19, 2002
    Messages:
    6,531
    Likes Received:
    15
    But nobody outside of Massachusetts can do a convincing Boston accent, although Robbins and Penn in Mystic River were OK.
     
  9. Jason Seaver

    Jason Seaver Lead Actor

    Joined:
    Jun 30, 1997
    Messages:
    9,306
    Likes Received:
    0
    And even some of us who are from the area... [​IMG]

    The one which boggled my mind was when critics were hailing Michael Caine for his Maine accent in The Cider House Rules. I grew up in Maine, and I thought he sounded like someone from Texas who had been living in the Pine Tree state for a few years but hadn't really assimilated yet.
     
  10. Jason Seaver

    Jason Seaver Lead Actor

    Joined:
    Jun 30, 1997
    Messages:
    9,306
    Likes Received:
    0
    Semi-related follow-up: I just saw Fox's ad for Hugh Laurie on House. Zounds. I'm pretty sure that would be in the running for Worst American Accent Ever even if I wasn't familiar with him already, but... Wow.
     
  11. Geoff_D

    Geoff_D Supporting Actor

    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2002
    Messages:
    932
    Likes Received:
    32
    Surely that Hugh Laurie one can't be worse than Tim Roth's various attempts at American accents over the years? [​IMG]

    And speaking of Julian McMahon's accent in Nip/Tuck, howsabout Joely Richardson? She does a pretty good job in that too, considering she's English.
     
  12. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 1998
    Messages:
    21,763
    Likes Received:
    2

    Guy Pearce has said that it's because they all grew up on imported American TV shows.

    M.
     
  13. Julian Lalor

    Julian Lalor Supporting Actor

    Joined:
    Oct 5, 1999
    Messages:
    975
    Likes Received:
    0
    The American accent is easy, ditto most British accents. When you hear it every day, day after day, on television, you treat almost as second nature. It also explains why most Americans do atrocious Australian accents - they have almost no exposure to Australian films or television.
     
  14. Claire Panke

    Claire Panke Second Unit

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2002
    Messages:
    409
    Likes Received:
    0
    An Aussie friend (who's an actress/director/playwright) says that an Aussie accent (and Kiwi accent to some extent) is more "forwardly placed" than an English accent, which tends to be produced farther back in the throat. Aussie's vowels are typically broader than the Brits (more akin to flattened "American" vowels) and the American "r" sound is less bothersome for folks from down under. To my ears, Kiwis and Aussies also do fine with British accents (Cate Blanchett, Sam Neill et al). Of course, there's plenty of American TV & movies down under so Aussies are familiar with the sound of North American vices, but there is in UK too.

    BTW, add Cate Blanchett & Hugh Jackman to the list of actors from Oz that do great American accents. I had a hard time initially convincing my SO that Anthony Lapaglia, Russell Crowe and Guy Pierce were not from North America. Aussies rule when it comes to non-natives doing American accents.

    Still, I think British/Irish actors do better American accents that American thespians do British accents (Michael Gambon, Brian Cox, Christian Bale, Ioan Gruffud, Minnie Driver et al). For the USA, Meryl Streep and Robert Downey Jr. are two Yanks who can perform Aussie accents, as well as creditable English accents. Gwyneth Paltrow is good and Elijah Wood wasn't bad either in LOTR. (He's also one of the few young American actors who can do a southern accent, check out The War.) Reese Witherspoon surprised me with a decent English accent in Vanity Fair. Canadian Christopher Plummer can do a spot on English accent.

    I often wince at attempts at our own North American dialects. The south Boston and Maine examples confound many otherwise fine actors. (Although I thought Laura Linney came closest in Mystic River. But I only have ever heard one friend from Boston to base that on.) As a matter of fact, I hear more mangled "southern" accents from US/Canadian actors than any other dialect. Paltrow nailed a West Texas accent once upon a time, which impressed the heck outa me. Robert Duvall, being a southerner himself is good, and of course, Tommy Lee Jones is *from* Texas (by way of Harvard), and a littel bit of Texas stays with his voice from role to role.

    British drama schools teach dialects and accents in their curriculum. It's considered just another technical skill a good actor should acquire. American drama programs tend not to teach them per se, if they teach them at all, generally emphasizing other, more "Method" aspects of the acting craft. At IU, dialect tended to be taught on a "as needed for a specific role" basis.

    My actor friend and I think that some actors, whatever their nationality, simply have a better "ear" for accents than others. Often, though not always, musical actors have a good ear for regional/national variations. Hard work and a dialect coach can help, but some people simply aren't good at it. Dunno if practice would do anything for these folks or not. (Think Kevin Costner in Prince of Thieves, Tom Cruise in anything requiring ac acccent.) Some "movie stars" obviously think they're doing just fine without being able to nail any style of accent.

    Meanwhile, Rutger Hauer has always sounded completely American to my ears, even though he's Dutch.
     
  15. Garrett Lundy

    Garrett Lundy Producer

    Joined:
    Mar 5, 2002
    Messages:
    3,764
    Likes Received:
    0
    Which one? Americans have several accents to choose from [​IMG]

    New York/California/TV., New York Italianized, New York Korean, Southern Texas, Southern Georgia, Midwest Kansas, Spanglish Cuban, Spanglish Mexican, Spanglish Puerto Rican, Boston, Boston Prole (uber boston), French-Canadian, Ebonics West Coast, Ebonics East Coast, Ohio, Creole (Nah-lins), Cajun, Indian/Pakistan, Japanese-Hawaii, Japanese New York, Cantonese New York, Cantonese California, Mississippiian, Inuit, Ozarkian, and a variation or two for each Native American tribe.

    Sorry if I missed yours [​IMG]
     
  16. Nick Sievers

    Nick Sievers Producer

    Joined:
    Jul 1, 2000
    Messages:
    3,481
    Likes Received:
    0

    This really varies from state to state, here in NSW we add the 'R' sound to a lot of the unnecessary words but when I was younger growing up in Victoria you get strange looks if you say words like 'Carstle'. [​IMG]
     
  17. Shane Gralaw

    Shane Gralaw Second Unit

    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2001
    Messages:
    298
    Likes Received:
    0
    Well... Some fascinating responses! Interesting, Claire- I appreciate a liguistic aspect to this that I had not considered.

    On the side topic of other actors attempting regional accents- it is true that a southern US accent is especially difficult to not over do. I am from Texas and I rarely hear a Texas accent in film that rings true. Kevin Costner was good in Fandango, and Robert Duval is not a Texan, but might as well be. His character in Lonesome Dove was a spitting image of my grandfather, who was so cowboy Texan that he bordered on parody (in a great way).

    And trust me. Dick Van Dyke's cockney accent is painful to EVERYONE. That is one of those simple, undeniable universal truths.
     
  18. Brent Hutto

    Brent Hutto Supporting Actor

    Joined:
    Aug 30, 2001
    Messages:
    532
    Likes Received:
    0
    We just watched Eternal Sunshine on DVD and at least in that movie Kate Winslet sounds all-American with no trace of Englishness that I can hear.

    Then again, having lived my whole life 100 miles from Charleston, SC my ear may not be quite as sensitive to residual traces of Brit accents as some Americans...
     
  19. ThomasC

    ThomasC Lead Actor

    Joined:
    Dec 15, 2001
    Messages:
    6,526
    Likes Received:
    0
    Kate Beckinsale (British) has done a great job with her American roles (Pearl Harbor, Laurel Canyon). I remember reading somewhere that she took linguistic courses (or perhaps majored in it) in her college years.
     
  20. Rex Bachmann

    Rex Bachmann Screenwriter

    Joined:
    Nov 10, 2001
    Messages:
    1,975
    Likes Received:
    0
    Real Name:
    Rex Bachmann
    Claire Panke wrote (post #14):


    "American" = "Standard American English" (SAE)
    "British" = "Standard British English" (SBE)

    As the remarks by others here indicate, all countries with sizable speaker populations have numerous dialects. Big deal! Americans are nothing special in that regard.

    The "perfect American accent" would be that one which would best "fool" the natives as to the speaker's foreignness. Dialectal accents, such as those from ethnic groups or regions like the South, are marked vis-à-vis the standard---people (natives) automatically take special notice of them if they don't share them---and, so, by definition, call attention to themselves. Not "perfect".
     

Share This Page