Friday, July 1, 2011

The Superman Exists and He is British?

Sexy Boston Sports’ Chief TV Critic Sadie Sloe Gin and I just wrapped up Season 3 of FX’s wildly entertaining Sons Of Anarchy. For those of you who saw promos on FX and were turned off by either a show about bikers, Peggy Bundy in a serious role, a bulked up Lloyd (from Undeclared), or (like most Americans) Ron Pearlman’s face, please fire up the Netflix and watch the first 2 seasons of the show. It’s not always the most well acted or well written show on TV, but it contains non-stop action and a lot of really fun characters. It also stars British actor Charlie Hunnam (the aforementioned Lloyd) as club Vice President Jax Teller using one of the worst American accents I’ve ever heard on TV.

It is the job of an actor to pretend to be someone they are not. Some (Daniel Day Lewis) are able to completely transform themselves into a variety of deep and dynamic characters so much so that when you watch a movie you say, “Wow, that Bill the Butcher is a real prick,” or, “Wow, that Daniel Plainview is a real prick.” Others (George Clooney) play small variations on their own personal caricature like Mike Rowe on Dirty Jobs, where you’ll watch a movie and say “Wait a minute, I thought Clooney was an international thief, what is he doing flying around the country firing people?” Therefore, in this quest to be someone that they are not, it should come as no surprise that actors and actresses quite frequently adopt foreign accents for their roles.

I love the tiny little nuances in regional accents. Personally, I have a sickness I like to call “Madonna Disease” where if I spend too much time with a person or group of people with an accent I start to adopt parts of it. I find it awesome that people from Massachusetts drop their r’s one way while just 250 miles south New Yorkers drop their r’s in a slightly different way, and both are variations on different groups of British settlers dropping their r’s. It may come as no surprise that a country as large as the US has many different accents, but the tiny isle of England features dozens of accents (supposedly detectable by each British person) that can vary from town to town. In the county of Lancashire alone, Wikipedia lists 8 different accents! An accent is a badge of honor that connects you to your comrades and helps to define where you came from. That's why it can be incredibly frustrating/maddening/confusing when some pretty boy actor fucks it up so badly.

Season 3 of Sons of Anarchy has a large connection to Ireland; SAMCRO (Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Originals) even leaves California to go there for about 4 episodes. As I mentioned earlier, the shows main character (Hunnam’s “Jax”) is a British guy putting on an (awful) American accent, but he’s not the only fish out of water during this season. In Episode 7, Jax is trying to lead his club to Ireland to find his kidnapped son and also track down a rogue IRA lieutenant named Jimmy O. Jimmy O is played by American actor Titus Welliver (Deadwood, Lost), whose Irish accent makes Hunnam sound like he was born and raised in Northern California. On his way to the charter flight that is set to take him to Ireland, Jax is stopped by town police chief Wayne Unser, played by British actor Dayton Callie (Deadwood). A smaller plot in this episode is SAMCRO’s Chibs, who is Irish on the show but played by Scottish actor Tommy Flanagan, returning to Ireland to rescue his Irish ex-wife and daughter, played by an American actress and German actress, respectively, from Jimmy O’s control. Confused yet?

Most actors (not named George Clooney) put a ton of time and energy into their roles. Some put on or lose weight. Some follow around people with similarities to their characters for months to understand who they are. The actors on SOA seem to dive deep into the characters, coming off like real outlaws that share a strong connection to their brothers in arms. Most have adorned disheveled appearances and spend hours in a makeup chair to have tattoos added to their bodies (and head in “Juice’s” case). And with all that preparation, the character can very nearly be ruined because their native accents shine through.

Hunnam’s not the worst culprit of a bad accent I’ve ever heard (more on those in a bit). If I had never watched Undeclared, I probably wouldn’t have known for sure that he was British until I heard him say one key word: “anything”. Sadie Sloe Gin first pointed out this phenomenon to me on an episode of Arrested Development. Australian actress Portia De Rossi plays Lindsey Bluth, a character born and raised in the OC (don’t call it that). I never had one clue that Portia was anything but a red blooded American. Her accent was perfect, except for this one little word. Apparently British/Australian actors have a hard time pronouncing “anything” as we do; they say “Eh-neh-thin”. So with all that training, all that work with a dialect coach, the hard work to win a role over an actor who already speaks with an American accent, and it all goes to shit over one word.

Actors using fake accents usually fall into one of the following categories:

I’m so handsome/beautiful who gives a shit what I sound like
Hunnam in Sons of Anarchy; Jude Law in Cold Mountain and others; Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider; Leonardo DiCaprio in Blood Diamond and The Departed; Kate Beckinsale in Click; Brad Pitt in Troy (lot of dudes on this list; is it because I just can’t think of any actresses using bad fake accents or am I really into leading men?)

I’ve been around the block too long to hire an accent coach
Jack Nicholson in The Departed; Jon Voight in Annaconda; Harrison Ford in K-19: The Widdow Maker; Sean Connery in everything (“You’re the man now dog!”)

If the state of California doesn’t care what I sound like, why should you?
This category is reserved for the great Arnold Schwarzenegger. Arnold has been acting in movies since 1982 and has never once attempted to shed his Austrian accent. As points out here, it doesn’t matter if he is an American spy or a killer robot made by Americans sent back through time, he just won't even attempt to not be Arnold.

I’m such a terrible actor, what did you expect?
Keanu Reeves in Bram Stoker’s Dracula; James Van Der Beek in Varsity Blues; Collin Ferrell in everything; Minnie Driver in Grosse Point Blank; Nicolas Cage in Con Air (“You should have put the bunny in the box”)

I’m not going to be able to do this accent justice so let’s butcher the hell out of it because it’ll be funny
Charlize Theron in Arrested Development; Gary Oldman in The Fifth Element and True Romance; Dennis Haysbert in Major League; Jimmy Fallon on Saturday Night Live; Will Ferrell in Talladega Nights and Austin Powers; Pitt in Snatch (there is a subset of this group where they butcher the accent on purpose to be funny only it is horribly unfunny that we call “The Sandler/Schneider Division”)

I’m not who you think I am
Hugh Laurie in House; Kate Winslett in everything; Christian Bale in The Fighter; Amy Ryan in Gone Baby Gone (“Yo’ah datin a faggot”); Day Lewis in everything; Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight

So why do we put up with this use of fake accents? If you look at the above categories, there is only 1 of 6 (or 2 of 6 depending on how you look at the comedically bad accents) that is really acceptable and it contains a small list of actors. Wouldn’t it be easier if, for the most part, actors and, more importantly, casting directors didn’t cross pollinate the accents so much? Getting an audience to believe that you are someone you are not is hard enough when you are speaking in your native tongue. Adding a fake accent adds a whole new level of difficulty that I just don’t think makes sense. And if you don’t think this is truly a problem in Hollywood these days, just look at the landscape of some of the biggest roles in current or upcoming movies:

Batman: Christian Bale, British
Superman: Henry Cavill, British
Spiderman: Andrew Garfield, British
Sherlock Holmes: Robert Downey Jr., American
Wolverine: Hugh Jackman, Australian
And the big one...
Abraham Lincoln: Daniel Day Lewis, British

This is my plea to Hollywood to stop the madness.

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