When casting a role for a film it is advantageous to have the largest pool of actors to draw from. Sometimes an actor is born to play a role. We’ve seen many cases of this, and in recent years particularly we’ve seen this be prevalent in the superhero genre. However, just because an actor is perfect for a role (i.e. they embody so accurately the vision the director has for that character) does not mean there aren’t limitations or steps that need to be taken by that actor to truly fit the role. One such limitation may be that the actor naturally has a different accent than the character they have been chosen to play.
It is because of this that the best in the business have made it a priority to not let any accent prevent them from playing the role they want. They hire accent and dialect coaches, surround themselves with native speakers or even move and live in the country of a certain accent’s origin. These actors, who are able to master the act of performing, accurately and authentically, any accent, often find great respect amongst the acting community and find themselves garnering a positive and prestigious reputation amongst critics.
As film fans we often celebrate actors who can completely transform themselves for any given role making them almost unrecognizable. One of the hardest parts of this transformation is nailing the accent. Getting the look right may rely heavily on the makeup and effects teams an actor is provided with – or for the actor to undergo some form of regulated weight loss or gain – whilst taking on the physical mannerisms harkens back to the basics of drama school, or in other words how to act with your body. However, mastering accents is one of the toughest challenges an actor can face.
The sheer difficulty of losing everything you know about pronunciation and vocal mannerisms, only to adopt an entirely new set of them, is obvious. It is because of this that actors who have mastered accents garner so much respect and is why it is no coincidence that these actors also happen to be some of the best working today.
So, here are the actors we believe to have mastered the act of adopting accents.
1. Gary Oldman
Gary Oldman is undoubtedly one of the greatest character actors working today. His ability to become near unrecognizable in any role he inhabits has always been admirable. A large part of his outstanding metamorphoses can be credited to his ability to accurately alter his accent. His voice is always unique in each of his features no matter how subtle the variable.
Oldman has demonstrated that he cannot only master a litany of English dialects but also American ones. This is impressive given his English nationality. He has conquered accents varying from the south to the north and the west to the east, and his ability to highlight the subtle nuances that appear when someone comes from a different background or era is something to marvel at.
He has also conquered some, arguably, more challenging accents such as the Russian accent he delivers in Air Force one or the 19th Century Eastern European accent he performs in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. This ability to cover a myriad of dialects and accents so dissimilar to his own has marked him as one of the most talented people to ever grace the screen.
2. Cate Blanchett
Hailing from Ivanhoe, Australia, Cate Blanchett has carved out a phenomenal career for herself. Her performances can be defined by their emotional heft and abundance of charisma. She is also comfortable taking on any character no matter how far their lives differ from her own.
What has afforded Blanchett so much success is how she is not limited in terms of the roles she can perform. A large part of this is due to her ability to learn and perform authentic dialects from a variety of countries. For example, she has a proven track record with her ability to convincingly deliver an American accent no matter the geographical position of its origin.
Blanchet has performed Southern American dialects to perfection in Hanna and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, as well as Transatlantic (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou) and Connecticut (The Aviator). She has proven she can deliver a variety of English dialects too in films such as Elizabeth and Notes on a Scandal. Perhaps more impressively, she has tackled European accents such as French and German in The Monuments Men and The Good German respectively.
3. Viggo Mortensen
Viggo Mortensen’s life is apt for a movie adaptation in itself. The veteran actor was born in New York to an American mother and a Danish father. The family then moved to Venezuela, then Denmark before settling in Argentina. This childhood travelling the world meant that Mortensen grew up to be multilingual, and in tune to the various dialects and accents the world over.
The actor would then go on to display his talents in the vast variety of film roles he has taken. His English accent displayed in The Lord of the Rings trilogy is better than most American actors’ attempts, whilst his interpretation of Sigmund Freud in A Dangerous Method, through the director’s choice of a posh English accent with a hint of Austrian, is nuanced and impressive.
Perhaps, his most spectacular display of his expertise in mastering accents is in Eastern Promises. Mortensen delivers a powerhouse performance as a Russian mobster with a heart. His portrayal is gritty and brooding, and his accent adds a level of authenticity that he seems so desperate to strive for in every role. It is his commitment to realism that has made him such a household name.
4. Daniel Day-Lewis
Daniel Day-Lewis’ legacy as one of the greatest actors that ever lived is indisputable. The awards he has won (3 Oscar wins out of 5 nominations) and the critical acclaim he has garnered has sealed his place amongst the vanguard of the acting greats.
Day-Lewis’s ability to engulf himself into a role, not just embodying the character but also becoming them, has meant he has taken few roles in a long illustrious career. However, of the roles he has chosen each one has been celebrated and lauded. And rightly so.
Day-Lewis’s methodological process means he is meticulous in harmonizing every facet of his performance to reach maximum authenticity. It is through this commitment that he has mastered the art of accurately adopting accents. His talent even spans to vintage American dialects such as Californian and New York in There Will Be Blood and Gangs of New York, two films that have not only garnered him awards but recognition from the film community as one of the best that ever graced the screen. Not bad for an English native.
5. Kristin Scott Thomas
Consistently brilliant in every role she takes, Kristin Scott Thomas’ career can be defined by elegance. Perhaps best known for her roles in mainstream hits Four Weddings and a Funeral and The English Patient, she has also delivered consistently in many period pieces and genre films. Beyond the screen Scott Thomas has also found success in the theatre and has been nominated for an Olivier an impressive 5 times, winning it once.
Being classically trained and with years of experience under her belt, Scott Thomas has proven time over time her dialectal expertise. She has proven she can manage a spot-on American accent in films such as The Horse Whisperer and Only God Forgives but it is her work in French cinema that proves most impressive.
Having lived in France since she was 19, the versatile actress can speak French fluently and with an authentic accent. She has arguably delivered her best work in French cinema. She has starred in many French productions since becoming frustrated with working in Hollywood, such as Tell No One, I’ve Loved You So Long and Leaving.