Erik Singer on Actors’ Accents.

Angela Watercutter at Wired writes:

Sometimes bad actors can do good accents. Sometimes great actors do terrible ones. In the video here, dialect coach Erik Singer analyzes the accents of 32 different actors to see who aces the accent test. Turns out, Idris Elba is one of greatest around. From his performance as Nelson Mandela in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom to his mastery of the Baltimore accent in The Wire, he’s amazing. But he’s rare. Actors ranging from Brad Pitt to Will Smith have struggled with their ability to sound like they’re from somewhere else. Watch Singer analyze the best (and worst) in the biz above.

The sixteen minutes go by quickly, in efficient bite-sized analyses; if you have any interest in the subject, check it out.


  1. Elsewhere on The Wire, I think Dominic West’s accent is a little overrated – the English shows through to me every now and then, especially when he’s yelling. Hugh Laurie’s General American on House was near-perfect, marred only, as far as I can recall, by his use of a lax medial vowel in “happiness” and of [ɑ], rather than the typical [ʌ], in the “from” class. Sometimes I wish I didn’t notice these tiny things.

    On the Mandela topic, Morgan Freeman in Invictus showed his Americanness pretty clearly whenever he said “Springboks”, with [ɑ]. I think I read somewhere that he and Eastwood weren’t too concerned about his accent.

    And dear Lord, Kevin Costner and Keanu Reeves. You’d never be able to guess that Keanu has an English mother.

    There should also, maybe, be a category for accents that weren’t even attempted, like every actor in Rocky or every non-Scottish part ever played by Sean Connery. (Actually, I can’t think of any character of his that was specifically, rather than incidentally, Scottish.)

  2. David Eddyshaw says

    Isn’t Commander Bond canonically Scots? Maybe I only thought so because all non-Connery Bonds are simply inferior …

  3. David Eddyshaw says

    Actually, I believe that Fleming may have retconned the Scottishness in honour of Connery. I don’t think Bond actually got a family history in the books prior to that.

    Mind you, Agamemnon was certainly a Scot.

  4. JorgeHoracio says

    Wasn’t Indiana Jones’ father specifically Scottish?

  5. David Eddyshaw says

    Talking of glamorous spies, Mike Myers deserves honorable mention, though I gather his parents are English, which I suppose could be regarded as cheating.
    Shrek is pretty convincingly Scots, though.

    I would guess the Scottitude of the elder Jones is due to the casting. Connery is so powerfully Scots as to alter reality retrospectively.

  6. @JorgeHoracio: Only as a consequence of the casting. (They chose him because Jones was inspired by Bond.) But I can’t recall any case where the Scottishness was an important aspect of the character – like, say, the folks in Trainspotting. In Highlander, set in Scotland, he rather absurdly played an ancient-Egyptian-turned-Spaniard.

  7. David Eddyshaw says

    According to Wikipedia, in “Highlander” (which sprang to mind, though I have never actually seen it) Connery is apparently an Egyptian. Called Ramirez.

    [Ah: Lazar is quicker than I.]

    Surely Scottishness is not commonly going to be an important aspect of a character; Scottishness is after all simply the default state of humanity. On the one hand, you have Scots; on the other, everyone else. I believe some anthropologists make fine subdivisions among non-Scots.

  8. On the one hand, you have Scots

    But are they true Scots?

  9. At least in one point the video doesn’t make much sense. It’s when it discusses Mel Gibson’s accent in Braveheart . William Wallace leaved around 1300 and spoke language that no modern audience would understand. And what accent should we insist Edward I should speak, RP? The historical Edward probably spoke Norman French, which if represented by some French accent of today, would confuse ideological direction of the movie.

  10. I’m okay with the idea of substituting modern speech varieties for period ones in an analogical way, so (Lowland?) Scots speaking with a current Scottish accent makes sense to me. The point about the Normans is a good one, though – if I had my druthers, I suppose, they’d be played with French accents to reflect the important linguistic and cultural differences between them and their subjects.

    The TV show Vikings (which I don’t watch) has cast francophone actors for Charles the Bald and his daughter; would this be a mistake by the analogical principle? Apparently the Oaths of Strasbourg were sworn in lingua teudisca by Charles and in lingua romana by Louis, each for the benefit of the other’s men, but I can’t find anything about what he spoke natively.

  11. Well, there are the Scots — and then there are the Scots of Egypt.

  12. David Eddyshaw says

    Ah yes. The Banu Qunari. Of course.

  13. David Eddyshaw says

    Well, there *are* Hungarians in the Sudan (and Egypt, for that matter):

  14. The Banu Qunari.

    Are they in any way connected with the Qumari?

    (Seriously, I don’t understand the reference.)

    played with French accents

    Better yet, with Jèrriais accents.

  15. David Eddyshaw says

    Named after their legendary patriarch Šawn al-Qunarī.

  16. Ah.

  17. David Marjanović says

    I’ve bookmarked this thread.

  18. Hawaiian comedian Rap Reiplinger’s skits are by and large in (so-called) Hawaiian Pidgin. The hapless Mr. Fogerty, in Room Service, speaks what sounds to me like a parody of standard American English. I have not been able to discern what exactly makes it sound unnatural and comical. An even more over-the-top example is the guy looking for a date in Piano Bar.

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