The Bale Scale: Non-American Actors Who Have You Fooled!
Oscar-winners Christian Bale and Cate Blanchett have set the standard for American accent authenticity. Not only are they able to do a “generic” American accent, they are also adept at mimicking specific regional dialects (check out Blanchett’s accent in Bandits) without ever seeming false or distracting. And good for them. But they aren’t the only ones fooling you. Americans, it seems, are a wildly xenophobic bunch! They like their actors to look and for the most part sound “American”. Despite being no shortage of homegrown talent waiting tables and hanging around Starbucks in Brentwood in hopes of being “discovered”, casting directors routinely find quality actors from abroad and make them talk “American”. Sometimes whole casts are created in this manner. After noticing that one of my frequently searched blog items was,”Where is Christian Bale from originally” (I can hear the italics in their query) I decided to compile a list of folks you probably don’t realize aren’t American and size them on the “Bale Scale™”
The Cast of Without a Trace
A show about FBI agents set in New York with leads from Australia and the UK? Hell yeah! Everyone’s favorite gruff FBI agent played by the incomparable Anthony LaPaglia turns out not to be the poor man’s Joe Montegna. Oh no. He’s Australia’s Answer to Joe Montegna! The blond and perpetually coral lip glossed Poppy Montgomery – also an Aussie. And Miss Marianne Jean-Baptiste pulled an Idris on us: she’s from England.
Brief snippet of Jean-Baptiste as Redford assistant in Spy Game
There are those who suggest that LaPaglia and Jean-Baptiste have accent slippage, but I find that only to be true when their characters are asked to shout something. Shouting in an accent that is not your own tends to be a rather difficult thing that even Bale hasn’t yet mastered. I see you, Laurel Canyon and The Dark Knight. If anything, Montgomery tend to be the shakiest of the three. In any event, Jean-Baptiste suffers from what I call, “The Idris Elba Effect” which happens exclusively to non-white actors. Their accents are often treated with suspicion in ways that don’t occur for white folks of similar national origins; therefore often times their accents are judged more critically. Folks didn’t start questioning Idris’ Baltimore dialect until they found out he was from England.
Montgomery and LaPaglia in a scene from Without a Trace
Bale Scale Rating: LaPaglia, 7/10, Montgomery 6/10, Jean-Baptiste (8.5/10 she has to tackle a very distinct dialect)
Rose Byrne and Anastasia Griffith on Damages
British born Griffith had me fooled for years with her Kudrowesque pattern of speech, with a charming tendency for sentences to get soggy at the ends. As an actor, Griffith is adept – even more so than Byrne – to completely infuse her characters with so much dialectal authenticity that she can even scream convincingly!
I am very good at detecting fake accents so even great ones sound fake to me. It’s what made watching Without a Trace so much fun. But even I was fooled by Griffith and Byrne. Byrne is far and away my favorite faker because she has found a way to make that annoying “emo girl” accent less annoying and kind of an interesting way to affect her general sense of “out of her elementness”. The way she forms her mouth – a better tell than yelling to determine accent slippage and fakery – is absolutely flawless. Each of them excels as the kind of subtlety of speech patterns that makes their command of accents even more impressive. Like Blanchett and Bale, Byrne and Griffith seem to find a specific person possessing the necessary accent to mimic rather than a composite of the traits associated with a particular dialect or accent. Americans doing British, Southern or Boston accents usually opt for the latter and it’s usually what leads to audiences groaning each time Renee Z. voice over’d everything she wrote in Bridget Jones’ Diary. (For the record, Renee was surprisingly good with her Brit fakery. I detected little trace of her Texan accent)
Bale Scale Rating: Byrne, 9/10, Griffith, 9.5/10
Honorable Mentions: Kim Cattrall (British born, raised in British Columbia), Jonathan LaPaglia (yep, Tony’s younger brother)
Any actors whose ability to fake accents have surprised you?