A small note to people who make movies and television with actors not using their native accents:
It really doesn’t help when the non-native character’s dialogue is decidedly… native.
An example? Sure, I can give you an example. For unknown reasons, BBC America has decided to air the television show “Demons ” for us Yanks. Aside from making a sane person wonder why they produced a show which is essentially “A British Buffy in London” (you can see why I don’t write titles for television), they decided that the teen-with-a-destiny’s mentor had to be American. And for that American, they cast the toweringly magnificent blusterer, Philip Glenister.
So, okay. Glenister is apparently working on his American accent. Why? Maybe he looked at Hugh Laurie’s career and said, “Well that bloke seems to be doing pretty well for himself,” and signed on. Maybe he wants to get into Hollywood movies. Maybe… who cares. At any rate, he wanted to stretch his skills. All fine so far.
Except, he seems to be having trouble with it. And again, I don’t really care all that much. Accents can be tough, and I would imagine doing an American accent in England is probably doubly tough. It is probably easier to do an accent when you are filming in that country: after all, you can just turn to upwards of 90% of the crew or walk down the street on your lunch break and hear the accent you’re going for in that case.
But here is where my patience breaks down. If you are a British* writer, please consult an American about the American character’s dialogue. If you don’t have an American friend, find one. Because the final nail in the coffin of an actor’s attempt at an accent is to hear them say something that 99.9% of the people in that country just wouldn’t say. When Philip Glenister, struggling manfully with a midwestern-neutral American accent** says something about the main character’s dad dying in a “car smash,” that’s where I just stop giving the benefit of the doubt. Because we say “car crash” or “car wreck.”
Unless you’re a pretentious git*** like me who has spent a fair bit of time in the UK, read a lot of British literature, and watches more British media than is probably good for her, then the following sentences wouldn’t come out of an American’s mouth unless it was put there by a writer:
- So Jess, I says, get your skates on or we’re going to miss the queue for the motor-coach.
- Her problem is she would always take the lift in an emergency, when the notices all say use the stairs.
- The Skoda wasn’t half ruined in that lorry smash, but you don’t hear me whingeing about it.
- That bloke’s bird is a silly cow.
- Eat your tea.
I could go on. But I won’t.
*Or an American writer writing a British character, I am sure – but I am not British, so I don’t get to do that rant.
**Hint: pick a geography. Make the character a New Yorker or a Bostonian or Texan… ANYTHING but the neutral news-anchor “nothing” accent, because those accents will give you something to anchor the accent to. Dipthongs are your FRIEND, Phil.
***We don’t say this either.