7. Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine
Although Cate Blanchett might have fooled you with many great performances in American films, the actress is Australian born, and does talk as such in private as well as in interviews.
Through time Blanchett has not only showed her talent as a versatile actress, but also done some great jobs with accents such as French (The Monuments Men), English (Heaven), American (The Aviator, I’m Not There), Irish (Veronica Guerin) etc. However, the entry chosen for this list has to be the accomplishment of the Park Avenue New York woman, Jasmine.
Jasmine is a selfish upper-class woman who suddenly finds herself drawn towards insanity when her husband is discovered to be a cheap fake, and her pride, as well as wealth, is suddenly taken away from her. Therefore the contrived and superficial, though still very vulnerable, accent, which Blanchett used, not only sounded believable, but also worked very well with the character of Jasmine.
The character is layered and extremely complex, and as the audience is torn between hating and pitying her, the accent underlines what she used to be, while the shaking of the voice confirms, what she is slowly becoming.
Jasmine: “Who do you have to sleep with around here to get a Stoli Martini with a twist of lemon?”
6. Daniel Day-Lewis – There Will be Blood
Daniel Day Lewis is a London man, but has taken on plenty of different and commanding roles from all kinds of cities and centuries. He’s an actor known for his dedication to the portrayal of his characters, and the accent is of course a huge part of it.
He’s done many great American accents (Gangs of New York, Lincoln, The Last of the Mohicans etc.) and it seems that every accent Day-Lewis uses ends up being masterful as a result of intense research, talent and years of preparation. There Will be Blood is no exception to this, when Day-Lewis plays what may be his best role yet: Daniel Plainview.
Living in California at the turn-of-the-century, Daniel Plainview is a troubled man who has dedicated himself to the oil business. The film is based on the book Oil! by Upton Sinclair from 1927, but besides from that, there couldn’t have been much to work with seen from an accent-point-of-view, seeing as it’s all happening around 1900 and there aren’t many examples of the dialects which they spoke.
However, Day-Lewis cleverly chose to partly base his voice for the character of Daniel Plainview on old recordings of the director/writer/actor John Huston. It gives the otherwise mixed accent (Yankee/Irish/Wisconsin/mid-Atlantic) a certain authenticity, which provides a strong essence to the emotionally complicated character.
Daniel Plainview: “Drainage! Drainage, Eli, you boy. Drained dry. I’m so sorry. Here, if you have a milkshake, and I have a milkshake, and I have a straw. There it is, that’s a straw, you see? Watch it. Now, my straw reaches acrooooooss the room and starts to drink your milkshake. I… drink… your… milkshake!”
5. Peter Sellers – Doctor Strangelove
Roles: German, American
Peter Sellers was a very popular actor and comedian from Hampshire, England. He proved his excellence in different accents many times around Britain, but truly manifested his brilliance, through not one, but three, different roles in the Kubrick masterpiece Doctor Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.Sellers plays the mild-mannered US president, Merkin Muffley, with an American accent (a role for which he found inspiration in the American senator Adlai Stevenson III), a group captain of the UK Royal Air Force with a natural English accent, and then of course, the eerie ex-Nazi scientist Strangelove, with a thick (and a bit exaggerated) German accent. All extremely funny, extremely versatile, and extremely well played.
The many roles actually came about because Colombia Pictures made it a condition that Sellers would play multiple roles in Kubrick’s next project. Kubrick had already planned on casting Sellers (though probably for only one role), after his work with him previously in Lolita.
Originally, however, Sellers was actually cast for four roles in the film. The fourth role, which ended up being played by Slim Pickens, was the role of major T.J. ‘King’ Kong. One of the reasons Sellers didn’t get that role, ironically, was his trouble with the Texan accent.
President Merkin Muffley: “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room”
4. Toni Collette – The Sixth Sense
Toni Collette is Australian, but when seeing her filmography, you wouldn’t necessarily think so. She’s done a variety of different characters and accents and one could argue, that her entry on this list might as well be for her many characters combined, rather than just one.
However, even taking into consideration films such as Little Miss Sunshine and Hostages, where she sports extremely convincing American accents, United States of Tara (admittedly a TV-series), where she does a stunning job of all kinds of American dialects, and Emma, where she does an English accent, her portrayal of Lynn Sear in The Sixth Sense stands out as something special.
The accent Toni Collette uses as the character Lynn Sear is particularly down-to-earth and it is truly difficult to spot the ‘inauthenticity’, even if you know of Collette’s Aussie upbringings.
The accent is often honored as the most accurate Philadelphia accent ever portrayed on film, as she seems to be one of the only actors to have ever grasped that there is such a thing as a Philadelphia accent, and one who didn’t just go with the safe choice of a somewhat all-around American accent. It underlines the attention to detail Colette truly masters, making the character one of the best examples of transcendent dialect work in film history.
Lynn Sear: “Cole, you’re scaring me”
3. Don Cheadle – Hotel Rwanda
American actor Donald Frank ‘Don’ Cheadle is from Kansas City. Unlike other entries on this list, it isn’t because Cheadle has a long list of different and successful accents in film. He did an almost half-decent job with an English accent in Ocean’s 11, but truly made up for this (if not exceeded it totally) with his role as real-life hero Paul Rusesabagina in the film Hotel Rwanda.
It’s the story of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, during which Rusesabagina, a hotel manager, saved his family as well as the lives of more than 1200 Rwandans. It’s definitely a tough role, but Cheadle is extremely convincing as a heroic man struggling to do the right thing – and his Rwandan dialect is spot on.
When getting cast for the role, Cheadle immediately started working with a dialect coach. Together they watched an endless amount of tapes, and even went to South Africa to meet and talk to both locals and South African dialect coaches. Besides, on set everybody talked with the Rwandan dialect, Rwandan music was always playing, making it an experience of total immersion.
Talking about the experience, Cheadle has mentioned how in the beginning he didn’t feel that comfortable with the dialect. However, when a co-actor came up to Cheadle and started speaking in his mother tongue and then suddenly mid-sentence went, “Oh wait, you don’t know what I’m saying”. Cheadle of course saw this as a huge compliment, and ended up doing a sublime job as Rusesabagina.
Rusesabagina: “All day long I work to please this officer, that diplomat, some tourist to store up favors so if there is a time when we need help I have powerful people I can call upon”
2. Forest Whitaker – The Last King of Scotland
Forest Steven Whitaker was born in 1961 in Longview, Texas, where he also grew up. He became an actor and a film director, and in 2007 Whitaker won an Oscar and general praise for his performance as the dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland.
To many this was very well deserved, and not only was the performance recognized for Whitaker’s stellar performance, but definitely also for his dialect work in the film, in which he did an extremely believable Ugandan accent.
Idi Amin is charming as well as completely insane, and Whitaker captures this perfectly with a huge immersion in the character as well as in the African accent. One of the main things that seems to have motivated Whitaker to do such a good job in every scene is the responsibility he felt towards the Ugandan people, portraying a person they all have knowledge of from real life.
When the crew started shooting the film Whitaker was quite nervous and anxious to do well, but later he slowly became less worried about the accent – and with good reason. When watching him perform, there is no indication of him being anything but Ugandan.
Even Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni applauded the actors of the film, particularly recognizing the abilities which Whitaker showed when capturing the dualities, mannerisms and general personality of Amin.
Whitaker even took part in the development of the dialect of the character, asking Macdonald [the director] if he could incorporate some of the actual things Amin said into the speeches shown on film, as well as some more Kiswahili, which Macdonald of course agreed to. Other than that they also made a trip to Uganda which truly inspired Whitaker’s performance.
Amin: “Look at you. Is there one thing you have done that is good? Did you think this was all a game? ‘I will go to Africa and I will play the white man with the natives.’ Is that what you thought? We are not a game, Nicholas. We are real. This room here, it is real. I think your death will be the first real thing that has happened to you.”
1. Gary Oldman – True Romance
Role: Jamaican American
London born Gary Oldman seems to own every film he’s in, and doing foreign accents often plays into that. There are countless examples of Gary Oldman’s brilliance when it comes to accents and dialects (Air Force One, The Dark Knight, Lawless, Bram Stocker’s Dracula etc.) and it is therefore rather difficult to just pick one. However, the 6-minute screen time Oldman has in True Romance is undeniably special.
The character Drexl Spivey, a white Jamaican pimp with a twisted temperament, seems like something that could turn really stupid and over-the-top at any moment. However, his effort and serious dedication to his craft, makes Oldman the perfect choice for the character. It’s a seemingly perfect balance between a really great and very detailed dialect-work, combined with the right amount of eccentricity and entertainment.
When preparing for the role as Drexl, Oldman once overheard some teenagers joking around nearby, using a lot of slang. Oldman quickly pulled one of the kids aside and asked for his help to look over his lines in the film to see what worked and what didn’t. From this conversation Oldman for example discovered that instead of saying ‘… with her titties hanging out’, he should use the term ‘breasteses’, thus perfecting the character.
Ironically, after several years of great accent performances, in later years Oldman has explained how he had to hire a dialect-coach to get back his original English accent, since he seemed to have forgotten quite a lot of it.
Drexl Spivey: “He must have thought it was white boy day. It ain’t white boy day, is it?”
Carey Mulligan – Inside Lewyn Davis
Heath Ledger – Brokeback Mountain
Hugh Jackman – Wolverine
Isla Fischer – The Great Gatsby
Leonardo DiCaprio – Blood Diamond
Naomi Watts – 21 grams
Robert Downey jr. – Tropic Thunder
Author Bio: Dicte Houmøller is a Danish film enthusiast who likes to think of herself as a future screenwriter. For now she tries to cruise around on her skateboard and look cool, while coming up with great scenes for her next script.