Ever since the advent of talking pictures, audiences have been thrilled by actors who can imitate accents far removed from their own. Many actors are keen to take on this challenge in hopes that it will confirm their talent and shower them in accolades. Nowadays, it’s not too rare to find an American actor cast in a British role, and vice versa.
Ahead of the upcoming Academy Awards, we identify the American and British actors who have perfected an accent an ocean away, and commiserate with those whose accents crashed and splashed somewhere near Greenland.
We asked British and American expat actors to rate the most famous attempts at accents in Hollywood blockbusters. American Actors UK, an organization of US-born actors now residing in Britain, rated British actors speaking in American accents. Across the pond, British Actors in L.A. graded American actors’ efforts at achieving the beloved British accent.
Did any of your favorite actors make the cut?
Americans Playing Brits
According to the ratings, the following American actors perfected a British accent:
- Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in 2011’s The Iron Lady (for which she received an Oscar for Best Actress)
- Gwyneth Paltrow‘s Oscar-winning performance as Viola de Lesseps in 1998’s Shakespeare In Love
- Renée Zellweger as the title character in 2001’s Bridget Jones’s Diary (for which she was nominated for an Oscar)
There were some Americans who were unable to give their best British performance. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Dick Van Dyke‘s attempt at a cockney accent in the 1964 Disney classic Mary Poppins, was voted the worst attempt by an American to go British. Second-to-worst, in terms of least convincing British accent, was Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, followed closely by Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean.
Brits Playing Americans
According to the ratings, the following British actors perfected an American accent:
- Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup in 12 Years A Slave (for which he was nominated for an Oscar in 2013)
- Christian Bale as Batman in The Dark Knight (2008)
- Henry Cavill as Superman in The Man Of Steel (2013)
Despite being Oscar-nominated for her role as Rose in 1998’s Titanic, Kate Winslet‘s American accent was voted the least convincing in blockbuster history. Second-to-worst was Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen in the Twilight movies.
What is it about accents that makes them so difficult for non-natives to perfect? We asked Katja Wilde, head of Babbel’s Didactics department.
“Our special poll of actors shows that perfecting pronunciation is a challenge, even for those who share a common tongue,” Wilde said. “For those learning a new language, it can be a tongue twister trying new sounds and pronunciations, but learners should not worry about being perfect. Focus on getting out into the world and having real conversations!”