Jan 29 2009

Eight American Actors with Great Foreign Accents

Published by at 9:30 am under Lists,Movies

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Back in November, my man Sub-Zero wrote an article featuring eight foreign actors with great American accents.  Well, I decided to flip that doodie and try to find eight American actors who do great foreign accents.  Doing a foreign accent isn’t easy.  My British accent sounds way too cockney, and my Australian accent sounds, um, British.  It’s just awful.   Here are eight American actors who, unlike your faithful author, are able to speak with a foreign accent convincingly:

Viggo Mortensen as Nikoli Luzhin in Eastern Promises (Russian)

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7bBZRgc9Hw

I think Viggo is half-Danish, but he was born in New York, so that makes him American for our purposes.  Watch the above clip to hear Viggo talk about his Academy Award nominated role and listen to his excellent Russian accent.

Don Cheadle as Paul Rusesabagina in Hotel Rwanda (Rwandan)

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-mhPUGrutg

Also nominated for Best Actor is Don Cheadle, who delivers a terrific Rwandan accent in the above clip.  Cheadle also did a great British accent in Ocean’s 11, but his performance in Hotel Rwanda is certainly more impressive.

Robert Downey, Jr. as Kirk Lazarus in Tropic Thunder (Australian)

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DcEnm2-b53s

In Tropic Thunder, Downey plays Australian Kirk Lazarus, an actor who is playing the role of a black man in a Vietnam movie.  Downey’s “black” voice is comical – and maybe a bit overdone – but his Australian accent is spot on.  He also did a pretty good Australian accent in Natural Born Killers.  Downey has been nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Lazarus, but the award is going to Ledger, right?

Brad Pitt as Mickey O’Neill in Snatch (Irish/Pikey)

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4LJw6PAi5Q8

Why the f*ck do I want a caravan that’s got no f*cking wheels?  Pitt’s a tremendous actor, and I love when he takes these “silly” roles.

Leonardo DiCaprio as Danny Archer in Blood Diamond (Rhodesian)

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-AHKAYW2eWs

Another Best Actor nomination on this list.  It seems like doing a good foreign accent is the best way to get noticed by the Academy.  We already know that you never go full retard.  In the above clip, DiCaprio talks about becoming Danny Archer.  I think Leo’s got to be in any conversation about who the best actor in the world is right now.

Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones in Bridget Jones’s Diary (British)

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHl879EIURo

Zellweger gained 20 pounds and nailed the British accent for this movie to earn herself an Academy Award Nomination for Best Actress.  Say what you want about Zellweger, but she does sound British in this movie.

Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland (Ugandan)

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=orszFScz5uk

Whitaker won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his uncanny portrayal of the brutal Idi Amin.  This is one of the best acting performances I have ever seen, and Whitaker’s Ugandan accent it just perfect.  In this clip, director Kevin McDonald talks about just how great Whitaker was.

Mickey Rourke as Martin Fallon in A Prayer For The Dying (Irish)

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o9BdssruWik

Before he was playing an old, washed-up wrestler, Rourke was just owning Irish accents.  This one is one of the most convincing ones I’ve heard (second only to Nattyb’s!).





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33 responses so far

  • Blazer

    im scared of forest wihtaker after that movie. afraid of him getting angry

  • Nick

    No idea what an actual Rwandan accent sounds like, so I’ll have to take your word for it. Given Don Cheadle’s talent, I have no doubt he researched it and did an excellent job.

  • Ché

    Johnny Depp does a decent Scottish accent in Finding Neverland – a notoriously difficult accent to do right.

  • Christian

    Mickey Rourke’s accent sounds kinda more Northern Irish/Scottish, it’s still very good though!

  • Gray

    What the hell is a ‘British’ accent? You do realise Britain consists of 4 different countries, each with their own distinct accents, don’t you? Oh, you don’t? Well now you do.

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  • Madison

    @Gray

    Thanks. Every time I say “British accent,” people just look at me funny. They have no idea what I’m talking about; I totally made up the term “British accent” and used it for the first time in this article.

    Your point is well-taken, but lighten up.

  • Eithne

    I thought Bridget Jone’s accent was really awful, I’ve lived in England all my life, and I’ve never met anyone that sounded that over the top. Definately agree with Brad Pitt in Snatch though :P

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  • Fox

    I have to agree with Eithne, Renee’s English accent is awful. Seriously, we don’t sound like that.

  • davo

    renee should have kept the weight on. yummy!

  • Mello

    Don Cheadle’s accent in Ocean’s 11 is famous on these shores for how awful it is.

    Next to that, Zellwegger’s isn’t so bad.

  • Jen

    I’ve heard a lot of really bad fake Russian accents, and a lot of real Russian accents, and I want to say that Viggo Mortensen’s was quite impressive, seeing as they aren’t easy to do.

  • horriblejerseyaccent

    Peter Sellers was able to do eleven English speaking accents(American, Canadian, Australian, British, Cockney…).
    On the contrary , John Hillerman, an American actor born in Texas, in the Magnum series, was able to speak British better than a British.

  • WeeMan

    Nevermind the bollocks accents, Forest Whitaker had to “Black Up” for his role as Idi Amin. He had to tan and wear make up.

    I preferred him has the fat Samurai with the pigeons.

  • Madison

    @WeeMan

    Is that a bad thing? I find it pretty interesting, actually.

  • Bert

    Aren’t we getting a little loose in defining “accents” here? I’m not English, but even I know that there are multiple “English” accents all over the country, depending on where you’re from. Likewise, trying to define an accent as “American” is pretty general – listen to someone from California, someone from Wisonsin, and someone from Tennessee and then tell me there’s a generalized “American accent”.

    Not to mention the Newfies. Most of Canada may sound somewhat similar, but our Newfs take the cake on crazy accents, Lord tunderin Jesus.

  • Madison

    @ Bert

    I don’t disagree with you at all, but the fact that these actors can change their voices to fit their character – and do it convincingly – was commendable, in my opinion.

  • Jeremy Bile

    Don Cheadle’s ‘British’ accent is utterly dreadful. There isn’t a single person in Britain who sounds remotely like Cheadle in Oceans.

    On the subject of a ‘British’ accent, there are at least a dozen wildly different accents in England alone, that’s before you count North and South Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and their regional accents.

  • Titan

    2 more yanks with accents

    David Anders (Sark in Alias)

    James Masters (Spike in Buffy)

  • accentofman

    To be able to consider yourself an expert at an accent you first need to be able to speak it fluently, preferably a native speaker. So I take it you’re a native speaker of “Rwandand” (Swahili), English and Russian? That’s quite an accompishment.

    Here is my absolutely non-expert opinion (English is not my first language and although fluent, I wouldn’t consider myself an good enough to detect the nuances of accents):

    1. Viggo was alright but going by the accents of the Russian people I’ve spoken to he should have scaled it down a few degrees on the Dark Ls and “Kh” substitution for “H”. Anyone with an English vocab this strong is bound to have lost some of his accent too.

    2. Don sounds a little strange compared to everyone else in the film. Also, shouldn’t he have a faint French accent if he’s from a French-speaking territory?

    3. Brad Pitt is not a “tremendous” actor. He’s an actor who can do one funny OTT character (also seen in Fight Club and Basterds) and because he’s got a pretty mug we forgive him. His accents are universally dreadful (i.e. Basterds) but he accidentally nailed it in Fight Club because this is pretty damn close to the way Irish Travelers talk as their accents are far from being your run-‘o-de-mill Irish accents (la-di-di-dah-di-dah).

    4. I have two close S-African friends. Both claim Leo sounds like a drunk child with a mouth full of gravel in that film. I have only seen the trailer but he doesn’t sound anything like any Afrikaner I’ve heard.

    5. Whitaker sounds convincing as hell but who knows.

    6. Rene Zellweger wasn’t too bad, but we would have heard it better if she hadn’t hadn’t been chewing on lemons the whole movie.

    7. You’re right about Rourke. That bastard pwnd the accent.

  • accentofman

    @horriblejerseyaccent

    Don’t forget about Sellers’ Indian accent!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qLniVdTYwkI
    He took that one to Mickey Rooney levels of excellence.

    Cheadle had the worst English accent I’ve heard in a long time.
    Point is, an actor can nail it on one movie and completely fail in another…even the same accent. This is because actors rely on a lot of people to help make them look good and if those people aren’t hitting the marks then…well…we end up with “cor blimey shin-ah yo’ boots govnah”- style Dick Van Dykery.

  • Angantyr

    ”(American, Canadian, Australian, British, Cockney…)” – horriblejerseyaccent

    What the hell is ”BRITISH”? You do know that Cockney is an English accent, so why do you break it off from the rest of your British category?

    Anyway, ”British” is not an ethnicity and ”Britain” is not a cultural area, England, Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland are countries with their own ethnic groups. You have English accents (including Lowland Scotland, who speak a dialect of Northumbrian really), Gaelic Scottish accents, Irish accents and Welsh accents.

  • ryskal

    Where on Earth is Kevin Spacey in Ordinary Decent Criminal?! The guy was absolutely stunning as a gangster from Dublin.

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  • Doczaius

    Surprisingly, Brad Pitt’s was actually better than mickey rourke’s. You can’t really understand travellers anyway lol I’ve never really heard a convincing Irish accent except from DDL but he’s English. They’re usually pretty awful, people always do the OTT Darby o’ gill shite, or shoish lol top o de marnin to ye. We do not say that

  • LOL

    How do you not include Mat Damon’s accent in Invictus?

  • Niki

    I’ve got to admit to not having seen ‘A Prayer for the Dying’, but Mickey Rourke is definitely the name I’ve always heard for worst Irish accent ever. And having just looked up clips on Youtube, I’ve got to agree. It’s not just a matter of being bad – he’s obviously majorly uncomfortable and ridculously high pitched.

    Pulling off a convincing accent is always going to be practically impossible to people who actually use the accent, though. Especially when they’ve also got to sell a character not their own. Bert, above, is completely right as well – there’s no such thing as a single accent for a single country. And trying to get into the political mess that is the UK and Ireland requires a hell of a lot more homework, so a bit of specificity always helps the bluff! ;)

  • Meh

    Robert Downey Jr’s Australian accent was nothing more than an impression of what most Americans think an Australian accent sounds like.
    Although it was a little better than others have done in the past, it was still terrible.. and yes, I’m Australian.

  • Andrew

    I agree with the last poster who argues Downey is doing an impression of an Aussie accent, much like his black dude was only an impression of an African American (complete with all the stereotyping). It is NOT spot on by any means if you are looking for authenticity. And yes I am Australian too.

  • ran

    Christian Bale and Saoirse Ronan has done plenty of films with different accents. And they both sound great in every one of them. :)

  • ran

    ^Well, they aren’t Americans but they do a great American accent. Haha

  • lou

    ‘Cheadle also did a great British accent in Ocean’s 11′
    Are you on crack!? Even he apologised for his ridiculous accent!

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