1. In GANGS OF NEW YORK, an actor who never uses his real voice ends up being the ONLY actor who DOES.
In this film, American actors play Irish, British actors play American, Italian actors play American (extras) and Brendan Gleeson gets to be himself — for once. Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz, John C. Reilly, Jim Broadbent and Henry Thomas ALL use different dialects than their own. Gleeson (an Irish actor) who rarely uses his own accent in films, is the only actor here who does. Some might be quick to point out that Liam Neeson (an Irish actor) portrays an Irish character in GANGS OF NEW YORK. However, Neeson’s natural accent is northern Irish, which is noticeably different from the standard “Dublin” accent he uses in this film.
2. In DEATH TO SMOOCHY, Robin Williams is all over the map
In this stupidly funny movie that everyone besides me and John Foote (fellow Cinemaholic writer) hates, Robin Williams performance is legendarily overlooked. I won’t get into the merits of the film (or why it’s worth it for Robin Williams’ insane performance alone) – but I should point out this one particular moment of craziness: In a scene where Rainbow Randolph (Williams) chauffeurs (kidnaps) Edward Norton’s character, he wears an elaborate disguise and uses a fake name. The alias changes from “McKunkel” to “McKunklepeck” to a few other variations during the course of the scene — but the most insane aspect of Williams’ disguise is that (seemingly with every other statement) he changes between a thick Australian accent and a thick Scottish one. The naïve character that Norton plays, remains completely oblivious to all of this and the result, is a wonderful combination of crazy and hilarious.
3. LIAM NEESON: Irish Cowboy
Liam Neeson is from Northern Ireland. To the best of my knowledge, he has only ever used his real accent in 3 films; LOVE ACTUALLY, THE GREY and A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST. The latter is a western parody from the creator of FAMILY GUY, Seth MacFarlane. Neeson had been lampooned years earlier on the animated sitcom for taking on the role of an American cowboy and being completely unable to sell the accent. When Neeson’s children informed him about the gag, he decided to agree to a role in MacFarlane’s western ONLY on the condition that he got to use his own accent (which makes absolutely no sense for the character or the setting). MacFarlane (probably realizing that Liam Neeson isn’t a man to be trifled with) happily agreed to the condition.
4. THE PRESTIGE: The trick you may have missed
In Christopher Nolan’s period piece, Batman and Wolverine are competing stage magicians in Victorian London and shit gets WEIRD. One of the many great films by Christopher Nolan, this film (set in England) has Christian Bale using his natural, cockney accent (for once) and Michael Caine doing Michael Caine. Hugh Jackman (Australian) plays an American named Robert Angier. Without dissecting the plot too much, he manages to fake his death (sort of) and adopt a new identity. After debuting this new persona, his accent changes. When he visits Christian Bale’s character in prison (and every scene that follows) his American accent has been swapped out for an English one. Hugh Jackman, as with all Australians, rarely uses his own accent. He has however, mastered American and English dialects and those two are how most people know his voice. Perhaps because he can use them both so naturally, it doesn’t hit the viewer right away when he swaps one for the other in THE PRESTIGE. There are plot elements that hint at why this might have been done by Jackman but — after asking several people who have seen (and love) the movie, few claimed to even have noticed this when I pointed it out to them. Did you guys notice? THE PRESTIGE as a film is a magic trick. It’s layered with riddles and has a twist ending. This is just one more layer to add.
5. LES MISERABLES: Sacha Baron Cohen breaks all the rules by using the PROPER accent
LES MISERABLES is based on a stage musical which is, in turn, based on Victor Hugo’s French novel of the same name. Many English language films, set in other countries/eras feature actors using British accents. While this might seem ENTIRELY arbitrary, there is a reason behind it; English has 2 different accents that designate class systems. R.P. (received pronunciation) English, signifies high society; the Queen’s English, if you will. Cockney, is an accent from the same area that signifies blue collar society. Cockney is the one Michael Caine, Jason Statham, Ray Winstone, Vinnie Jones and every other British badass speaks with. In stage versions of Les Miserables, (along with this film) the cast follows the 2 British accent system (despite being a French story). However, Sacha Baron Cohen’s character uses a cockney accent (his real one) for scenes with people who know him, and a crusty-French accent for his “public” persona that is seen by the customers. This is the only time that a French accent is used in this incredibly French story, set in France. Ironic, isn’t it?
6. PIRATES – Explained
When I say “Pirate accent,” you probably know what I mean. Picture the Sea Captain from THE SIMPSONS. Arrrrg, matey! Yo ho! …….. All that stuff. The truth of the matter is that we really have no idea how Pirates of the Caribbean (the historical people, not the Disney franchise) sounded. They were from various places, travelled amongst many cultures and lived on boats. Your guess is as good as mine. The “Pirate” accent we all recognize comes from the 1950 film TREASURE ISLAND; specifically, Robert Newton’s performance as Long John Silver. The voice Newton used in the film is an exaggerated West-Country accent. For those who are unaware, England, a country that is the size of a postage stamp – has a ridiculous number of regional dialects; London, Yorkshire, Liverpool, Lancashire, Manchester etc. “West Country” is one of the weird ones where they actually pronounce the “R” at the end of vowels (most English accents do not). Robert Newton took this accent and fed it steroids until it became what we all recognize today. Geoffrey Rush, who plays Hector Barbossa in the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN franchise, does a version of this accent but with Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Jack Sparrow, most people these days think that “pirate” is the same as “piss-drunk, English, punk rocker on mushrooms.”
7. HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: Accents are genetic (which makes no sense)
Berk is the fictional, island setting of the HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON series. The inhabitants of this island are Vikings (Nordic) but alas, no Scandinavian accents are used here. Scottish actors Gerard Butler and Craig Ferguson voice the two adult leads. They (along with every other adult character in Berk) speak with a Scottish accent. Scottish Vikings? Alright that’s fine. Again, we don’t know how intimidating the Swedish Chef would actually sound, right? Scottish, it is…… Except it’s actually not. Jay Baruchel, T.J. Miller, Jonah Hill and Kristen Wiig voice the teenage characters and they all sound… American…. Like the actors who voice them. Apparently in Berk, children grow up with an accent that sounds nothing like the ones their parents and neighbours have. Then, after they turn 18 (and presumably grow a beard in 1 night) they suddenly sound like Groundskeeper Willie. The only way this would make sense would be if accents & dialects are hard-wired into everyone’s DNA. When our voice drops, it gets lower. If you’re from Berk, you go from Charlie Brown to King Leonidas the moment you reach sexual maturity. Fictional puberty is weird…
8. ALEXANDER: Everyone is Irish for some reason
ALEXANDER is Oliver Stone’s sword and sandal movie about Alexander the Great. The film is a notorious flop and it has more director’s cuts than most directors’ entire careers. Colin Farrell (an Irishman) plays the titular character. This is a prime example of one of those movies that would normally have English accents across the board (despite making little sense). In a strange turn of events, everyone in ALEXANDER (aside from Angelina Jolie and a few others) speaks in an IRISH accent. What is the story here? Colin Farrell mastered an American accent long before anyone even knew he was Irish. He’s done English accents in films. Could he not do an English accent in this film like everyone expected? If he couldn’t, did Oliver Stone just tell every other actor to sound like Colin Farrell? Were they trying to mix things up with the stereotype? English accents wash over people naturally. For these films, they don’t seem strange (even though they are) but IRISH doesn’t work the same way. Irish is instantly recognizable for other reasons. People start picturing the Lucky Charms Leprechaun when they hear it. Seeing all of these actors do their best “diddly-dee.. potatoes/top o’ the morning to ya” accent is very distracting and hard to get past. The movie failed for other reasons but this one is perplexing.
9. Superhero accents rarely make sense
Steve Rogers/Captain America is from Brooklyn, New York. He’s from 1940’s Brooklyn, New York. He has no regional accent whatsoever. It’s not like his regional dialect disappeared when he fought in WWII and travelled the world. Scrawny, pre-experiment Steve Rogers (who has probably never travelled farther than New Jersey) also sounds like a completely neutral American. Clark Kent is from Kansas and the same thing applies with him (which is even more interesting, considering Superman is actively trying to establish 2 identities). Why no southern drawl when he puts on the glasses? Wouldn’t it make sense for Clark “Smallville” Kent to sound like a naïve, country boy instead of EXACTLY like Superman? In a complete 180 turn from Captain America, the new Spider-Man (who lives in the same world as Cap) is from Queens, New York and actually SOUNDS like it. Why? Because he’s a teenager? Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow is Russian but speaks in an American accent. She is a spy who defected from her country so I guess you could argue that she actively lost her Russian dialect but this is never addressed or explained. Thor, Loki, Odin and everyone else on Asgard (basically an alien planet) speak with British accents. They shouldn’t even speak the English language. They are characters from Norse myths but they don’t have Scandinavian accents, either. Can you imagine if Odin sounded like the Swedish Chef from The Muppets? Matt Murdoch/Daredevil has no New York accent despite living there his entire life and Hell’s Kitchen being as much a character in his world as he is. Is it because he’s a lawyer? Is it because he’s played by an English actor? Many English actors PREFER regional American dialects like New York, Boston or Texas because they are easier to do than a “neutral” American one. In WONDER WOMAN, Chris Pine sounds like a modern-day American despite being a WWI era American (which would have sounded completely different). She’s also from a fictional Island where how people sound is determined by — who the hell knows? Gal Gadot is Israeli but the cast features American, Dutch and British actors so I guess we’ll have to wait and see. Does Gotham have an accent? Metropolis? In MAN OF STEEL, Kryptonians speak English (See above re: Asgard) but in different accents. Jor-El (played by Aussie, Russell Crowe) sounds English but Zod (Michael Shannon) sounds American. Batman, Tony Stark, Bruce Banner and many others having “neutral” American accents is fine but why does Spidey have one when Cap doesn’t? If there are rules for this, I don’t know what they are.
10. In 3 decades of movies, Daniel Day-Lewis has never used his real voice
Daniel Day-Lewis’ natural speaking voice is a lot like The Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot. All are believed to exist while NEVER having been documented. OK….. That’s not really true. We have heard him speak when accepting awards (which happens a LOT) in what, I would assume is his natural voice. He speaks with an English accent in a soft, unintimidating way that is refreshing because we’ve never heard it in any film he’s made. From MY LEFT FOOT (1989) to LINCOLN (2012), Day-Lewis has used a slew of different voices and accents. He’s been Irish, Northern Irish, Scottish, Italian and 3 kinds of American that were believed to have been lost to history. Day-Lewis is the most infamous method actor in the world and does not break character during the entire duration of filming; on OR off set. Do you realize what this means? No actor who has worked with Daniel Day-Lewis has ever heard his real voice — the entire time they worked together. If he didn’t have to come out of seclusion every now and then to accept an Oscar, we would have no idea what he really sounds like.