14. Tilda Swinton – Michael Clayton
In Michael Clayton, with George Clooney in the lead, Tilda Swinton plays Karen Crowder, Clooney’s American accented assistant, a role which gave her an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress. Swinton however, carries a clear-cut English accent, and was raised by an Australian mother and a Scottish father.
This is one of those performances where if you didn’t know Tilda Swinton, you wouldn’t even come close to considering that she would be anything else than American. She matches Clooney in tempo and mannerisms, and maybe because of the many influences from different English speaking cultures and nations (Scottish, English and Australian), it has come quite naturally for her to fit into the role.
Generally Swinton is of course one of those actresses who seemingly can do no wrong, always picking surprising roles and performing with excellence. Just take her outstanding dedication to language when she took the role as a Russian mother who lived in Milan in the film Lo Sono L’amore, hereby having to speak Italian with a Russian accent.
This is of course an entry for another list, but it does give a picture of the linguistic talent that is Tilda Swinton, and when seeing roles such as that one, it suddenly makes sense that a Scottish actress can carry the role of an American so effortlessly.
Karen Crowder: “This is a three billion dollar class action lawsuit. In the morning I have to call my board. I have to tell them that the architect of our defense was arrested for running naked in the street. What sickness is he talking about?”
13. Kate Winslet – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Yet another very well respected actress to make the list, and another one with plenty good reason to do so. Kate Winslet is another example of the English performers who seem to see no reason why they cannot play an American character, should the role call for it. She’s done it in Little Children, as well as the darling Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
The accent Winslet achieves in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is especially impressive when you listen to the small hints of a New York accent that emerges from time to time from the character of Clementine. It is quite subtle, but that is maybe what makes it so believable, because it seems so natural and almost random.
There’s nothing forced about, it doesn’t seem like Winslet is trying very hard, and to some it may therefore come as quite a shock when her strong English accent is suddenly heard in interviews.
Clementine: “I apply my personality in a paste”
12. Alfred Molina – Boogie Nights
Alfred Molina is a British actor, born in London, who had his film debut with a small role in Raiders of the Lost Ark. And from one small role to another, Molina has less than 10 minutes screen time in Boogie Nights. That being said, there are of course no small parts, and Molina is a great example of that with his memorable performance as the American Rahad Jackson in a film that shines with its grand ensemble.
Listening to an interview with Alfred Molina and his elegant accent which is that of a British gentleman, it will be quite a surprise to learn that he played the drugged guy from Boogie Nights. He talks extremely fast, uses slang, and this combined with the drug dealing, love of 80’s music and hyper movements that he has added to the character makes it quite an impressive achievement by the British actor.
Rahad Jackson: “You want somethin’ to drink? A little pill, a little coke, a little dope? I got everything!”
11. Judy Davis – Husbands and Wives
Judy Davis is an Australian actress from Perth who got the role of – not surprisingly for a Woody Allen film – an intellectual, talented, witty and good looking American woman, who is immensely unhappy with life.
Many great actresses have had the chance to work with Woody Allen’s interesting female characters, many of whom have done a great job, and Judy Davis is no exception. And then of course, in Allen’s typical Manhattan universe, Davis just happens to be Australian – not that anyone would notice from seeing the film.
With her very convincing accent Davis ended up being a great choice for the role as the emotionally complex New York woman Sally. After the Academy Awards that year there was even a lot of talk about Davis being robbed of the ‘Best Supporting Actress’ Oscar. This was of course due to her brilliant overall performance, but most definitely also related to her ability to pull off the American accent.
Her accent in the film does carry a bit of New York, but also some New England, which was done to match the character perfectly. So even though to begin with Davis actually wished to do a broad New York accent through and through, it ended up being a sort of mixture, which matched the character of Sally quite well. Davis has later revealed that in spite of being a bit nervous about the accent to begin with, she quickly felt at ease, when she got in her beige costume.
Sally: “It’s the Second Law of Thermodynamics: sooner or later everything turns to shit. That’s my phrasing, not the Encyclopedia Britannica”
10. Renee Zellweger – Bridget Jones’s Diary
From a very serious to film, to a less serious one, the brilliance of the foreign accent is nonetheless still very present. Renee Zellweger was born and raised in Texas but proved critics extremely wrong when they thought that her nationality and original accent was going to stop her from being the classic British Bridget Jones we know today.
Generally Zellweger has been very dedicated to the role through the whole franchise. She gained a remarkable amount of weight, changed her appearance in general and also moved to London for months just to perfect the accent. Zellweger has even said that she would sometimes act as an office worker in a publishing house when in London, so that she could see if people would buy it.
Being asked about the accent constantly, Zellweger revealed that the best way to keep her English accent going, was to simply keep using it in between takes. In general this also helped her stay in character, creating the ditsy, but very complete character of Bridget Jones, that although at times exaggerated (along with the accent), is as impressive as enjoyable.
Bridget Jones: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that when one part of your life starts going okay, another falls spectacularly to pieces”
9. Viggo Mortensen – Eastern Promises
Viggo Mortensen was born in New York, but has had quite a few linguistic influences from his upbringing. Growing up he has lived both in Argentina and Venezuela and his father is Danish. Therefore it’s maybe less of a surprise that Viggo Mortensen has become especially known for his ability to perform different accents in his films – it’s no less impressive, however.
In Eastern Promises Mortensen plays the character of Nikolai, an intense Russian mobster. There’s a subtle humor that Mortensen brings to every scene in the film, and this combined with the tough Russian accent and low timbre, makes for an excellent performance. Of course what makes the accent so great, is its believability.
There’s none of the stereotypical Russian accent that everyone has tried to pull off at least once in their lifetime when drinking vodka, and instead there’s a great sense of respect and knowledge tied to the character, which is only underlined by the fact that Mortensen actually learned to speak Russian quite well for the role.
Mortensen’s performance was widely well-received for the sensitivity and moral complexity of the character, and even a lot of Russian magazines and critics praised Mortensen’s portrayal of the thug and his extremely authentic accent, so superior to that of many other American actors who have attempted to sound Russian.
Nikolai: “She is dead, but she had Semyon’s baby. If you can prove baby was his, and girl was underage, that is statutory rape. You have baby, you need Semyon’s DNA. For poetic reasons, I suggest you take his blood”
8. Brad Pitt – Snatch
In the always amusing Snatch, Brad Pitt plays the character of Mickey: an Irish traveller with a strong ‘pickey’ like accent. In many aspects it’s an exaggerated film, and so is the accent that American Brad Pitt sports.
It can therefore be a bit difficult to know how authentic the dialect that he uses is, but however precise and correct it is, it suits the character of the confusing Mickey perfectly, and it’s quite obvious why Brad Pitt received the amount of praise he did after the release of the film.
Brad Pitt personally came to Guy Richie, who before Snatch had directed the successful Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, since Pitt wanted to be in his next project. Richie played with the thought of having Pitt in his film in different roles, but after discovering that Pitt wasn’t able to do a proper London accent, it was decided he should instead play Mickey the Gypsy.
To begin with he was supposed to ‘just’ do a regular Irish accent, but when dialect coach Brendan Gunn showed Pitt some tapes of bare-knuckle fights from Crossmaglen, County Armagh, Pitt said he wanted to sound like them instead. And so, the broken and bashed travellers-dialect came about.
Mickey: “I’ll tell ya what. I’ll do it for caravan.
Turkish: “For what?”
Gang: “For a caravan”
Tommy: “It was us who wanted a caravan”
Tommy: “Anyway, what’s wrong with this one?”
Mickey: “It’s not for me. It’s for me ma”
Turkish: “Your what?”
Gang: “His ma”