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Old 11-06-2008, 09:48 PM
BrainGlutton is offline
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Brits: Are there any Yank actors who can play a convincing Brit?


I've always understood that actors' "stage dialects" are usually nothing but embarrassing imitations to the ears of native speakers of the dialect in question. But when I watch British Hugh Laurie do House, I would not guess he was not American if I didn't already know. Are there any American actors who can do as convincing-to-British-ears a job in a British character?
  #2  
Old 11-06-2008, 11:33 PM
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One thing to bear in mind: American TV pays waaaaaay better than British, Irish or Australian TV. So, a British, Scottish, Irish or Aussie actor has a lot of incentive to come to America and to learn Yank accents well enough to fool American audiences.

That takes months or years of practice, but the financial rewards for success are great motivators. Anthony LaPaglia, Simon Baker, Jason O'Mara and Hugh Laurie make a lot of money now because they put in a lot of work in order to reap big paychecks.

American actors undoubtedly COULD learn foreign accents equally well, but why would they bother? Where's the financial incentive to perfect a Scottish burr when a blatantly phony one like James Doohan's is sufficient to fool domestic audiences?

For what it's worth, I've seen BBC productions in England and RTE productions in Ireland in which British/Irish actors were playing comical American characters, and their accents were atrocious. But really, why SHOULD an Irish actor develop a spot-on American accent if he's only playing a small part on a show only his fellow Irishmen are watching?
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Old 11-06-2008, 11:43 PM
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I find James Marsters' English accent more convincing than his American accent, and the guy's a lifelong Californian, so go figure. The worst fake American accent I've heard was from one of the Sharpe's Rifles sequels, a British soldier who was from a Loyalist Virginia family. He spoke like Elvis.

But, I'm an American and hope some UK types weigh in soon.
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Old 11-06-2008, 11:48 PM
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Alexis Denisof played Brit uber-ponce (on Buffy) turned rogue demon hunter* Wesley on Angel. Scaaary!




*"What's a rogue demon?"
  #5  
Old 11-06-2008, 11:57 PM
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American actors undoubtedly COULD learn foreign accents equally well, but why would they bother?
Because they're not good enough to make it in the US? They prefer to live somewhere else? I dunno, but plenty of US actors go abroad to work.
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Old 11-07-2008, 02:17 AM
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Kevin Costner in Robin Hood.

Duh.
  #7  
Old 11-07-2008, 02:24 AM
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I would have guessed Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. Whenever I'm with my British friends I talk just like that so as to make them feel at home.
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Old 11-07-2008, 02:54 AM
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I find James Marsters' English accent more convincing than his American accent
You're kidding right?

Just in case you're not - his English accent is terrible. It took me a while to realise he was trying to do an English / cockney accent. It really is all over the place (which actually suits the character well). The worst is when he sings and he goes back to his US accent. And I say this all as a big Spike fan.
  #9  
Old 11-07-2008, 03:16 AM
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Originally Posted by astorian
Anthony LaPaglia, Simon Baker, Jason O'Mara and Hugh Laurie make a lot of money now because they put in a lot of work in order to reap big paychecks.
Don't forget Christian Bale, whose American is impeccable, and who stays in-character (accent and all) throughout shooting. I've heard that people who work for him for the first time often don't find out he's English until after they're done filming the project and he starts speaking naturally.

ETA: If you're looking for it, you can tell he's straining it a little during the more frantic scenes in American Psycho, but he seemed totally convincing in The Dark Knight.

Quote:
Originally Posted by astorian
For what it's worth, I've seen BBC productions in England and RTE productions in Ireland in which British/Irish actors were playing comical American characters, and their accents were atrocious. But really, why SHOULD an Irish actor develop a spot-on American accent if he's only playing a small part on a show only his fellow Irishmen are watching?
I'm curious: what, exactly, does a badly-mimicked American accent sound like? Does anyone have some YouTube links they can share?

Last edited by Hostile Dialect; 11-07-2008 at 03:18 AM.
  #10  
Old 11-07-2008, 04:00 AM
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I'm curious: what, exactly, does a badly-mimicked American accent sound like? Does anyone have some YouTube links they can share?
The bad ones I've heard are high and sing-songy. I start wondering if I missed the scene where the character got high and swallowed some helium - then I realize, no, they're just supposed to be American.
  #11  
Old 11-07-2008, 04:45 AM
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For years in my (misspent) youth I wondered what was supposed to be so funny about certain Monty Python characters. The laughtrack suggested that everything they said was hilarious, but I couldn't quite see why.

Then came The Meaning Of Life where Death says to a partygoer, "You bloody Americans...." and I finally got it.

That weird accent with the over-emphasized 'R' sounds, not even a hint of a final 'G', and totally inappropriate 'H' enunciations was supposed to be American. They simply took the most obvious (to them) differences, regardless of regionality, and exaggerated them and that = American.

Probably better than their Welsh, I bet. (My brain hurts)

Last edited by Rich Mann; 11-07-2008 at 04:48 AM. Reason: My brain hurts
  #12  
Old 11-07-2008, 04:47 AM
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The Meaning of Life has some pretty egregious "North American" accents at some points (e.g., the boardroom meeting: "item six on the agender"), as do Monty Python in general ("suspendies and a brar... just like my dear papar"; this sort of thing is probably the most noticeable common mistake when Brits attempt American/Canadian accents), but the partygoer addressed by Death was played by Terry Gilliam, a bona fide American.

Last edited by Indistinguishable; 11-07-2008 at 04:50 AM.
  #13  
Old 11-07-2008, 05:51 AM
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The Meaning of Life has some pretty egregious "North American" accents at some points (e.g., the boardroom meeting: "item six on the agender"), as do Monty Python in general ("suspendies and a brar... just like my dear papar"; this sort of thing is probably the most noticeable common mistake when Brits attempt American/Canadian accents), but the partygoer addressed by Death was played by Terry Gilliam, a bona fide American.
Yeah, but 'e was doin' ha typically bad, hoverrrdone 'Merrrkin haccent hin that scene, has hI rrrecall. Methinks they 'ad caught hon hand werrre playin' hit for laughs by that point.

Last edited by Rich Mann; 11-07-2008 at 05:54 AM. Reason: needed more haitches
  #14  
Old 11-07-2008, 06:28 AM
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Yeah, but 'e was doin' ha typically bad, hoverrrdone 'Merrrkin haccent hin that scene, has hI rrrecall. Methinks they 'ad caught hon hand werrre playin' hit for laughs by that point.
Is Pratchett's Mrs. Whitlow (head maid at Unseen University) supposed to be American? I remember that she's represented as talking like that.

ETA: Maybe Mrs. Cake as well.

Last edited by Koxinga; 11-07-2008 at 06:28 AM.
  #15  
Old 11-07-2008, 06:42 AM
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Not my sort of film, but Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones was pretty spot on for the character.
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Old 11-07-2008, 06:49 AM
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Has Meryl Streep ever done a British accent?
  #17  
Old 11-07-2008, 07:12 AM
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I recently saw a new British independent film, "Telstar", which featured Kevin Spacey as chap called Major Banks. Apparently, the director (Nick Moran) gave him a copy of "The Dam Busters" to help him get an officer-type accent. He almost managed it.....
  #18  
Old 11-07-2008, 07:35 AM
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Has Meryl Streep ever done a British accent?
At least twice.

In Plenty and The French Lieutenant's Woman her accent is pretty much flawless. Her secret, as she once explained, is simply to listen to what is going on around her.
  #19  
Old 11-07-2008, 07:41 AM
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Not my sort of film, but Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones was pretty spot on for the character.
The main problem I have with American actors doing British characters is they think we're all Cockneys or unbelievably posh. Bridget Jones was a good example of this - Renee Zellweger's accent wasn't bad, but I don't think someone of the sort of lower middle-class background the character was supposed to have would sound so plummy.
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Old 11-07-2008, 07:42 AM
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Add Bob Hoskins to the list of British actors with flawless accents. I had no idea he was British when I saw Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
  #21  
Old 11-07-2008, 08:14 AM
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The mistake I hear a lot of British actors make is that their "American" accents are often New York accents, regardless of where the character is supposed to be from.
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Old 11-07-2008, 08:17 AM
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The main problem I have with American actors doing British characters is they think we're all Cockneys or unbelievably posh. Bridget Jones was a good example of this - Renee Zellweger's accent wasn't bad, but I don't think someone of the sort of lower middle-class background the character was supposed to have would sound so plummy.
Disclaimer: I have not read any of Bridget Jones' Diaries and only seen the film once; but my impression was that Bridget's family were firmly middle to upper middle class and, as such, her accent was spot on.
  #23  
Old 11-07-2008, 08:22 AM
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You're kidding right?

Just in case you're not - his English accent is terrible. It took me a while to realise he was trying to do an English / cockney accent. It really is all over the place (which actually suits the character well). The worst is when he sings and he goes back to his US accent. And I say this all as a big Spike fan.
Spike's accent does make sense for a vampire who's lived all over the world. It goes with the image that Billy Idol stole!

In comparison, we have Angel's "Irish" accent. Which makes no sense at all.

What do you think of Wesley's accent? Denisoff studied acting in the UK.
  #24  
Old 11-07-2008, 08:52 AM
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I'm curious: what, exactly, does a badly-mimicked American accent sound like? Does anyone have some YouTube links they can share?
Check out any number of Monty Python skits.
  #25  
Old 11-07-2008, 08:53 AM
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The main problem I have with American actors doing British characters is they think we're all Cockneys or unbelievably posh. Bridget Jones was a good example of this - Renee Zellweger's accent wasn't bad, but I don't think someone of the sort of lower middle-class background the character was supposed to have would sound so plummy.
Did you see her in that film about Beatrix Potter? What did you think of her accent in that?
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Old 11-07-2008, 09:02 AM
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I'd say Marsters has a pretty good English accent - not being a Buffy fan I was completely unaware of who he was when he sauntered onto Torchwood and I simply assumed he was British.

I agree that Zellwegger's accent in Bridget Jones was very good but it was exceptionally plummy, but then so was virtually everyone else in that film so it didn't stand out too badly. I've read the book and I'm not sure if I really know whether she's supposed to be upper-middle class or not, when I read it I kind of assumed she was lower-middle but that's definitely not how she was portrayed in the film.
  #27  
Old 11-07-2008, 09:22 AM
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In comparison, we have Angel's "Irish" accent. Which makes no sense at all.
That one was pretty bad.
Quote:
What do you think of Wesley's accent? Denisoff studied acting in the UK.
Only saw him in Buffy (I never got into Angel). It certainly didn't grate or seem weird, which is a good sign. On the other hand I didn't immediately identify him as English. The accent was more mid-Atlantic in my head, like maybe he was a snobbish American.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Illuminatiprimus
I'd say Marsters has a pretty good English accent - not being a Buffy fan I was completely unaware of who he was when he sauntered onto Torchwood and I simply assumed he was British.
Not seen him in that. I can only presume he was using a different accent as no way would you ever mistake Spike for pure English (although he says bollocks and bugger off pretty well).
  #28  
Old 11-07-2008, 09:22 AM
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Disclaimer: I have not read any of Bridget Jones' Diaries and only seen the film once; but my impression was that Bridget's family were firmly middle to upper middle class and, as such, her accent was spot on.
I was also under the impression that Bridget's family was upper-middle-class. The parties she attends with her parents seemed to be somewhat fancy, and of course she met Mark Darcy at one of them.
  #29  
Old 11-07-2008, 09:58 AM
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It certainly didn't grate or seem weird, which is a good sign. On the other hand I didn't immediately identify him as English. The accent was more mid-Atlantic in my head, like maybe he was a snobbish American.
I think his accent is seasons 4+5 of Angel was probably better. It seemed to become less "snobbish," and more relaxed, as it were, to suit his character. But being a Yank, what would I know?
  #30  
Old 11-07-2008, 09:59 AM
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...Not seen him in that. I can only presume he was using a different accent as no way would you ever mistake Spike for pure English (although he says bollocks and bugger off pretty well).
In his recurring Torchwood role, Marsters played (plays?) Captain John, a Time Agent from the far future. His accent was like his costume--a bit of this & that to suit his style. The accent was Spike-like for the fans--who include Torchwood's creators. But the costume was more Adam Ant than Billy Idol.

His former lover/adversary is Captain Jack--another former Time Agent & star of the show. Who is played by John Barrowman, a Scotsman raised in the USA who mostly "speaks American."

Nobody on Torchwood is "pure."

Marsters reportedly based Spike's accent on Anthony Stewart Head's. His "real" accent--not the one he used as the classier Rupert Giles. Perhaps this explains Spike's skill with "bollocks" & "bugger off."

All of which gives me an excuse to link to this production I wish I'd seen. (Yes, I'm shallow.)

Last edited by Bridget Burke; 11-07-2008 at 10:00 AM.
  #31  
Old 11-07-2008, 10:00 AM
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I'm curious: what, exactly, does a badly-mimicked American accent sound like? Does anyone have some YouTube links they can share?
Peri Brown from Doctor Who comes immediately to mind.
  #32  
Old 11-07-2008, 10:05 AM
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I was also under the impression that Bridget's family was upper-middle-class. The parties she attends with her parents seemed to be somewhat fancy, and of course she met Mark Darcy at one of them.
In the book I got the distinct impression that her parents were a distinct source of embarrassment to Bridget because of their background. It's been years since I read the book, but she and her family seemed lower-middle to me, or mid-middle at most. I suspect they were "poshed up" in the film.

Besides, just about everyone in South-East England has a bit of an estuary twang these days, no matter what their background
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Old 11-07-2008, 10:13 AM
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So.. how was Brad Pitt in Snatch.. or does Pikey not count as English?
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Old 11-07-2008, 10:15 AM
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I'd second the impression that most American's I've seen doing an English accent tend to do London cockney. Saying that, I don't think Johnny Depp in Sweeney is a bad stab at it (pardon the pun). (I haven't seen him in the Pirate movies, but from clips it sounds pretty similar). I think the reason the London accent is copied is that it's very distinctive, well known, and similar to why, when I attempt an American accent, I can only manage either Texan or New York hud.
Renee does a posh English accent, as witnessed in every Richard Curtis film. And it's pretty good.
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Old 11-07-2008, 10:21 AM
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I remember hearing praise for Gwyneth Paltrow in Emma and Sliding Doors. True or false?

By the way, I think sometimes Python's American accents are so off that Americans don't know they're doing them. To wit, I saw the "Mr. Neutron" episode not that long ago. ...
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Old 11-07-2008, 10:22 AM
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What about Johnathon Hillerman, Higgins from Magnum, PI? How was his accent?
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Old 11-07-2008, 10:40 AM
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How convincing (to a Brit) is Connie Booth's accent (Fawlty Towers, among others)? It wasn't until recently that I learned she was American, moving to England at about age 24.
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Old 11-07-2008, 11:09 AM
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I remember hearing praise for Gwyneth Paltrow in Emma and Sliding Doors. True or false?
Isn't Paltrow sort of pseudo-half-British anyway?
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Old 11-07-2008, 11:20 AM
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How convincing (to a Brit) is Connie Booth's accent (Fawlty Towers, among others)?
Put it this way - I always assumed that her character Polly was supposed to be American.
I also never realised that Higgins in Magnum was supposed to be British. He sounded upper crust Ivy League to me, but definitely American.
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Old 11-07-2008, 11:30 AM
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Put it this way - I always assumed that her character Polly was supposed to be American.
I also never realised that Higgins in Magnum was supposed to be British. He sounded upper crust Ivy League to me, but definitely American.
Yep, he was supposed to be British. He always told war stories, Higgins was in the British Army in WW2, mostly in the South Pacific from the sound of it.

More info here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Higgins
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Old 11-07-2008, 11:41 AM
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Isn't Paltrow sort of pseudo-half-British anyway?
Very pseudo -- she attended Spence School (upper-crust Manhattan) and did a year at UC Santa Barbara -- alma mater of myself and Two Trouts.
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Old 11-07-2008, 11:53 AM
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Kevin Costner in Robin Hood.

Duh.
I don't think there is anything wrong with Kevin Costner playing Robin Hood in his own accent. The film is set before the split between British accents and American accents; American accents were largely developed from the accents of British and Irish people who lived after Robin Hood.

Anyway, if you're going for authenticity, Robin Hood would have spoken completely differently from anyone in England today, living as he did around the time of the great vowel shift.
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Old 11-07-2008, 12:01 PM
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I remember hearing praise for Gwyneth Paltrow in Emma and Sliding Doors. True or false?
I was living in the UK when both Doors and Shakespeare in Love came out, and the verdict was largely quite favorable when it came to her accent's believablity (especially since she was virtually the only American in either of the casts).
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Old 11-07-2008, 12:05 PM
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Eddie Izzard does a pretty good British accent.
  #45  
Old 11-07-2008, 12:25 PM
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Besides, just about everyone in South-East England has a bit of an estuary twang these days, no matter what their background
Take that back - that's fighting talk
  #46  
Old 11-07-2008, 12:50 PM
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Here's a Monty Python sketch where everyone's trying to do an American accent and fails badly. Graham is especially funny with his Texas accent. Lots of "idears" floating around.
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Old 11-07-2008, 12:57 PM
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Here's a Monty Python sketch where everyone's trying to do an American accent and fails badly. Graham is especially funny with his Texas accent. Lots of "idears" floating around.
LOL, splunge. Forgot about that one. Seemed like the "yes men" kept forgetting to do American accents, if that's what they were supposed to be doing. Accents or not, comedy genius.
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Old 11-07-2008, 01:03 PM
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... Graham is especially funny with his Texas accent. Lots of "idears" floating around.
There are people from northern New Jersey who will say "idear." That accent sounds very New Yorky to outsiders, but I can hear the different between someone from Fair Lawn and someone from Canarsie. It's a weird thing for the Pythons to focus on. Gilliam certainly doesn't sound like that.

American actors don't usually get the Texas accent right, though.
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Old 11-07-2008, 01:23 PM
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I'm not British but I thought Renee Zellweger's accent was good in BJD. She was taught a plummy accent for the role so if it's too plummy that's the director's fault and as someone else said, Bridget Jones could be from upper middle class background and therefore the accent they used could be believeable I think.

Ditto Gwyneth Paltrow though she can only do posh it seems to me.

Regarding Irish accents they're usually terrible when Americans try them. Tom Cruise in Far and Away - cringe
Julia Roberts in Michael Collins - better but still shaky

However, Kate Hudson in About Adam - not exactly a huge blockbuster of a film, probably unheard of outside Ireland - was excellent accent-wise as a South County Dublin 'princess'. This type of girl does speak with an odd mid-atlantic tone though so maybe it wasn't too hard for Kate to imitate. However, this was before she made it really big and I didn't even know who she was when I saw that film. I honestly thought she was Irish.
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Old 11-07-2008, 02:40 PM
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Yep, he was supposed to be British. He always told war stories, Higgins was in the British Army in WW2, mostly in the South Pacific from the sound of it.

More info here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Higgins
Hmm, well I suppose the writers did their best, but somebody who went to Eton would have been a commissioned officer in the army, not a mere NCO. And "Jonathan Quayle Higgins III" - that roman numeral is decidedly Not British. In fact we use it ourselves as comedy shorthand for the spoiled offspring of moneyed American families.
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