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Eight Foreign Actors with Great American Accents

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Actors often try to adopt accents that don’t suit them at all. Normally this is an American trying to pretend they’re sophisticated like say, Elijah Wood in the Lord of the Rings (annoying), Ben Affleck in Shakespeare in Love (awful), or Keanu Reeves in Bram Stroker’s Dracula (dear God no).

On the flipside however, foreign actors often have to sound like they were American born and bred, and often, they do a much better job of it. Sometimes the cover-up is so good, that you might not have known that they were foreign at all. Here are eight great examples to examine:

1. Hugh Laurie

This one catches most people so off guard, it was actually the topic of debate at the Emmys recently (second video).

Sounding American – A compilation of the best House/Wilson moments

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0p8Hr9dA_Ts

Being English – At the Emmys with Zack Braff

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e3arfPGysRQ

2. Colin Farrell

Most people do know Farrell is Irish, and he only drops his accent in a few select roles.

Sounding American (New Yawkish to be exact) – A deleted scene from Phone Booth with Jared Leto

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

Being Irish – Getting interviewed about Pride and Glory

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OxEIKKDi3tw

3. Jamie Bamber

This one really threw me for a loop, I had no idea that Apollo from BSG was really flying for the Queen.

Sounding American – Sparring with Dad on Battlestar Galactica

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T90pgyAtl54

Being EnglishMen’s Fitness interview

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g0lfNv7Cho0

4. Daniel Day Lewis

He sounds so meek and mild mannered in real life. Compare and contrast that with most of his movie roles.

Sounding American (or something like it) – Talking about milkshakes

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDVzmbtVZ6s

Being English – Accepting his SAG award

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xxr8mbvaB2E

5. Alan Dale

He’s been in everything from Lost to The OC to Ugly Betty to Entourage. He’s usually playing a rich American bastard, but he’s just a rich Kiwi bastard in real life. Just kidding, he seems cool.

Sounding American – About to get married on Ugly Betty

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9v_gDHAf_EI

Being New Zealand-ish – BBC interview

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g8YI_VMe_js

6. Russell Crowe

Born in New Zealand, but raised in Australia, he only conceals his accent for a few select roles. Most recently he hillbillied it up for Body of Lies.

Sounding American (a good ol boy) – The Body of Lies trailer

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XXiaz83CD2M

Being Australian – On Inside the Actors Studio

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GuqM4XBaWTk

7. James McAvoy

I mean, he was the star of The Last King of Scotland for godssake so you know he’s Scottish. But he proved he could fake it realistically this past summer in Wanted.

Sounding American – The infamous Wanted chase

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Deml0Q6EHHA (wanted chase)

Being Scottish – Co-hosting with Craig Ferguson

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pRrk3zZmksE

8. Hugh Jackman

He gets to unleash his inner Aussie in Australia with Nicole Kidman soon, but he’s best known for his turn as the quintessential American (well, Canadian) hero Wolverine.

Sounding American – Getting shot in the head during X-Men 2

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o9v-a5cZGec

Being Australian – Showing up at Comic Con to promote Wolverine much to everyone’s delight

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CNc7XDUcFko

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69 Comments

  1. should of added keira knightley

    her in pirates is how she talks normally

    but if you see her in the jacket she talks “american” and has a small interview about it and how she made her self do it

  2. pretty good list … has most of the ones i would have imagined … but you have one glaring omission … should be highest on this list (mainly because it threw me for years and years) is … christian bale. he never ever interviews in his english accent for a non-english movie, even for sub-par, fluff interviews. the only way i figured it out finally was when i get a hold of “empire of the sun”.

  3. I can’t believe that Anthony Lapaglia hasn’t been mentioned…the guy from Without a trace, and like a bizillion other things where he has played an Italian American….He’s an Aussie….

  4. I gotta nominate Damian Lewis here (lead actor in Life, Dick Winters in Band of Brothers). British actor, awesome American accent, and one of the few (if not only) cases where I prefer the fake American to real British; his accent in The Baker, which I assume is natural, sounds too much like the stereotypical joke of the uptight Brit.

    1. In real life Damian Lewis is as posh as they come. Old Etonian, Oxford, related to the Royal family. He’s a brilliant actor though. Also a great raconteur.

  5. MCNULTY AND STRINGER BELL!!!!

    Seriously, both of these guys, although less known outside of The Wire viewers have excellent not only American, but Baltimore accents.

  6. We Americans are far too forgiving of vague American accents. Colin Farrell can’t make up his mind what part of the States he comes from–his American accent is terrible. James McAvoy is another terrible example. Although not mentioned, Poppie Montgomery is friggin’ terrible.

    On the other hand, Jamie Bamber’s is good. Hugh Laurie’s is phenomenal.

    One that should be added to the list of good American accents–Damien Lewis.

  7. The list is way too short! Tilda Swinton & Rachel Griffiths are two more actresses to add to the list.
    For an American English accent, it really has to be flawless and not a distraction throughout a performance. Anthony Hopkins is a great actor, but labors trying to sound American – definitely NOT on the list.
    How about American’s that nail the Brit talk?

  8. It’s amazing how some actors can get the accent and other never learn it. Arnold Schwarzenegger has lived in the USA for over 30 years, but still can’t modify his accent.

  9. I’ve got to agree with tlaw above: Rachel Griffiths as Brenda on Six Feet Under blew me away. I watched five seasons of that show without ever knowing she ordinarily speaks with a pretty thick Australian accent.

  10. I always thought Albert Finney and Brian Cox were 2 of the best.

    Worst well regarded actor for accents is Anthony Hopkins by far. In the last 2 things I’ve seen him in he’s had about 5 different bad accents per SCENE.

  11. I agree with not only this list but with most of the additional nominees in the posts. But I would like to add two other names, both of whom I believe to be phenomenal dialect actors:

    Kenneth Branagh – I am repeatedly impressed with his facility with all kinds of accents, but was most knocked out by his work in “Dead Again”, where he played both a German composer and an American private eye and, to my ear, was impeccable as both.

    Anna Friel – I only knew her as a British actress – she was in the original London cast of “Closer” – but think her work as the very American Chuck in “Pushing Daisies” is/was spot on.

  12. I would like to state that ANYONE who thinks either Christian Bale or Hugh Laurie do believable American accents are PLAINLY stupid.

    I’m British and I can tell in every single movie / episode I see them in from the moment they open their mouths that they’re British.

    Hugh Laurie’s problem is he simply cannot fake a Yank accent at his normal tone and pitch, and so he has to use that ‘gravelly’ or ‘bottom of the throat’ sound, in a far lower tone to mask the fact that he cannot pull it off at a normal tone. Tom Wilkinson does the exact same thing.

    Now Christian Bale’s accent is about as stupid as he is. Put him beside ANY real American actor and you’ll spot the lameness in a heartbeat. If you can’t see that, then you’re lame too.

    Hugh Jackman, Anthony LaPaglia, Colin Farrell are all examples of foreign actors who are able to pull of American accents excellently.

  13. Alan Rickman

    It was years before I found out he was English. He switches from the German accent to the American accent so well in Die Hard, it took me a minute to realize what was going on.

  14. I’m a Kiwi and Americans can’t do good Kiwi or Australian accents. I’m so sick of Americans doing their “funny” Aussie accents that sound nothing like the real thing. The only good accent I’ve ever heard is Robert Downey JR in Tropic Thunder and his isn’t even perfect. Americans also do rubbish UK accents like Renee Zellweger in Bridget Jones – even an Antipodean can tell that it’s awful

    1. I’ve been to NZ (Aotearoa) a few times & started picking up the Kiwi accent it’s about as good as Cliff Curtis’ American accent in “Live free or Die hard” from a Polynesian perspective being that he’s Maori & I’m Hawaiian & that should be impressive being that I grew up on Hawaiian Pidgin now that’s an accent that can never be faked easily being that it sounds too unique & unconventional!! LOL

    2. . . . . As a matter of fact have you seen “50 first dates” Rob Schneider totally mashed up the Hawaiian Pidgin in that movie sounded like an off & on Espanol accent LOL but seriously I would start blushing but he is Jewish Gen. 12:3!!!

  15. Hi there 🙂

    I was wondering if you’d heard about this news on actors’ accents? ….

    “How many times have you had a good film or soap ruined by some actor’s appalling rendition of your accent? Well, now you can do something about it. Simply get onto this site and show them how it should be done – and there’s the added bonus of being paid to set them right.”

    “UseMyAccent.com provides an opportunity for people to register as “Readers” – and to be paid, to read specific lines in their native accent. Actors receive mp3 files with their own lines read in the authentic accent they need to use. Membership is free for both Actors and Readers.”

  16. Where’s Christian Bale, im no Bale Fanboy, but damn he’s one if not the best accent mimicker of mainstream, he just Becomes a homie in Harsh times, i mean, he doesn’t only convinces in the role, he makes you feel that the guy actually grew up in that suburban area with those guys as friends for his whole life and that he is kinda of stupid,

    the same goes on the new Batman series and obviously on The Fighter,and when we see him accepting his awards, he’s from Walles! :p

  17. I am glad to see some have mentioned Damian Lewis. He has the best U.S. accent I have heard from a non-American. I think most people who were not familiar with his work before were shocked to find he was English when he appeared on NBC’s Life as Charlie Crews.

  18. Rutger Hauer beats all on that list for being from the Netherlands and still sounding so American, I had to find out if maybe he was raised speaking English. Everyone on your list already speaks English, but you can surely tell Hauer worked hard for his accent.

  19. Some of the comments here are idiotic.

    Let me clear some things up:

    1) John Barrowman’s American accent is real. he grew up in the states.

    2) Hugh Laurie’s American accent is very fake sounding.

    3) Mel Gibson is American

    4) Bruce Willis was born to a German mother and an American G.I. father and was raised in the US.

    5) Alan Rickman’s brief accent was very good in ‘Die Hard’ but that was only for a few moments and his character was clearly German.

    6) Eamon Walker’s character in OZ was not American, nor did he attempt an American accent.

    7) Colin Farrell’s American accent sounds fake.

    8) The Arnold Schwarzenegger example is stupid as the English language is not his mother tounge, and most German/Austrian immigrants can not totally lose their native accent. Comparing him to British actors is wrong headed.

    9) John Mahoney was born and raised in the UK, but lost his British accent after moving to the US at age 17 and joining the US military. What you hear on ‘Fraiser’ is his normal accent.

    10) Ian McShane is pretty convincing as an American.

    11) Brian Cox is flawless.

  20. how but heath ledger? i mean, TDK is an obvious one, consdering the way the Joker talks is the only indication as to where he came from, but brokeback mountain was pretty different

  21. Sorry to perforate your illusion, Yako, but Mel Gibson is indeed Australian.

    And as for Elijah Wood’s “annoying” attempt at sophistication in Lord of the Rings, as you put it, Paul, I as a Brit can tell you that his accent was impeccable to the extent that many Brits assumed he was English. Ian McKellen himself said in the DVD commentary on FOTR that “You forget, don’t you, that Elijah Wood is speaking a foreign language”. I think that says it all.

  22. “My Illusion”??? You certainly have no clue what your babbling on about” Mel Gibson IS INDEED American having been born in Peekskill, NY and only moving to Australia as a pre-teen. Gibson has NEVER become an Australian citizen and has always maintained his American citizenship! Perhaps Hethor should start learning to read or have someone teach him (her? it?) how to use a search engine before he makes an ass of himself again! 🙂

  23. Sorry to perforate your illusion Hethor, but you’re an imbecile! 😛 learn to look things up before making incredibly idiotic and incorrect comments you moron!

  24. Nobody mentioned Ioan Gruffud (Mr. Fantastic in Fantastic 4 movies) pretty good I actually thought he was American until I found out he was from Wales UK & actually heard what he sounds like BTW Christian Bale also from Wales just remembered!

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