From LA-born Gwyneth Paltrow’s English accent in Shakespeare in Love to Toni Collette switching from Australian to American in Sixth Sense, many performers have portrayed foreigners flawlessly. But history is riddled with examples of far less successful attempts to swap nationalities for the big screen.
Here are 8 of the most toe-curling accent fails.
Tom Cruise. Far And Away (1992)
Impersonating a police officer is punishable to the full extent of the law. In Ron Howard’s tale of 19th century immigrants to America the wholescale criminal activity is attempting to impersonate Irish people. Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman and much of the cast sound as if they’ve practiced their lines while watching some unimaginable children’s feature about leprechauns. Cruise is renowned for immersing himself in his characters, as he did in Eyes Wide Shut. This time around he delivers his mangled Blarney as if his ears are wide shut.
Cameron Diaz. Gangs of New York (2002)
America has such a longstanding connection with the Emerald Isle you’d assume the accent would be familiar. Not to Cameron Diaz apparently. In Martin Scorsese’s tale of deadly gang rivalries in 19th century New York she is supposed to be Irish. Alas, her dulcet tones never progress beyond supposed to.
Angelina Jolie, Alexander (2004)
In ancient times Alexander the Great forged an empire that stretched from his native Macedonia – then a province of Greece – all the way to modern-day India. But Angelina Jolie’s accent seems to indicate that the unstoppable Macedonian armies conquered territory even further to the north. Russia to be precise.
Brad Pitt. The Devil’s Own (1997)
Ireland again. Brad Pitt often relishes getting his tongue around a southern twang, as he does in the likes of Thelma and Louise. When he strays into southern Ireland, however, vocal bludgeoning ensues. Mind you, the character played by Pitt is secretly an IRA gunrunner so what better way to throw the security forces off the scent than sounding as if he’s never been to Ireland in his life.
James Van Der Beek. Varsity Blues (1999)
While we’re on the subject of northern American actors hamming it up on the other side of the Mason Dixie line, the Dawson’s Creek star’s attempt at portraying a Texan is plain creaky – the opposite of the meaningful chat you would encounter in a popular dating site.
Anne Hathaway. One Day (2011)
Many Brits have succeeded in carrying off American accents with aplomb. Unfortunately this is not always reciprocated when US actors flex their vocal chords while playing characters from the opposite side of the pond. Anne Hathaway’s character is meant to hail from Yorkshire, a northern English county with a distinctive dialect. There’s distinctive and there’s … distinctly awful.
Mel Gibson. Braveheart (1995)
Face daubed in ferocious warpaint, Australian actor/director Mel Gibson relished playing the role of 13th century Scottish freedom fighter William Wallace. He does deliver some firebrand speeches to rally his troops just before they lock horns with their English rivals on the battlefield. Unfortunately his source material seems to have been late night viewing of Billy Connolly videos.
Robin Williams. Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)
This is a somewhat confusing performance. The lilting tones of the feisty elderly housekeeper played by Williams as his character’s alter ego is actually a remarkably accurate stab at a niche accent: at times sounding like a gentile middle class lady hailing from the Morningside suburb of Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital city. But any authenticity mustered by mastering this delightful brogue is quashed by Mrs. Doubtfire’s inexplicable claim that she hails from England.