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10 Actors Who Nailed Their Accents For A Role And 10 That Shouldn't Ever Try An Accent Again
There are good and bad accents — and then there's Keanu Reeves in Dracula.by Joshua Correa
Actors nailing accents is often crucial for a role where they're portraying someone real or from a part of the world known for a specific accent.
Tap to play or pause GIF Tap to play or pause GIF
FX / giphy.com
We've all played around with an accent as a goof but have never maybe realized just how difficult it is to make it believable. I'm no expert on accents, but luckily the internet has already provided me with someone who is.
Throughout this post, I'll refer to Erik Singer, a dialect coach who's been in the business for over 15 years and is a part of a long-running segment called Technique Critique with WIRED breaking down all types of accents. I will defer to his videos for some of these takes, though the bad accents are quick to catch since some of these actors didn't even try.
Here's my list of 10 amazing AND dreadful accents from actors. Fair warning, I do not include some offensive portrayals of ethnic people from early cinema as it is already too clear how bad those accents and impersonations were.
Starting out with the best...
1. Jamie Foxx — Ray
This uncanny performance by Jamie Foxx not only awarded him an Oscar for Best Leading Actor, but also ascended his career into the stratosphere as his collection of skills as a singer, actor, and impressionist were all on display. The way he captured Ray Charles' southern accent and distinct rasp in his voice elevated his overall performance. His skills as an impressionist go further than just this film, look at his latest impression of Dave Chappelle and see if it doesn't drop your jaw to the floor.
2. Philip Seymour Hoffman — Capote
Sony Pictures Classics
Another great performance of a real-life person by the late great actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, that similarly to Mr. Foxx, earned him an Academy Award as well. He is able to capture Truman's unique voice and mannerisms and never breaks from it for a second in the film, which according to most dialect coaches is a very difficult task, especially in dramatic scenes.
3. Heath Ledger — Brokeback Mountain
Though one of Heath Ledger's greatest performances is as The Joker in the Dark Knight, Ledger's portrayal of a Wyoming cowboy in Brokeback Mountain showed just how good he is at nailing a very particular accent. Yes, he's done American accents before, but this one seems to take the cake.
4. Matthew Rhys — The Americans
There's usually no debate that British and Australian actors have an extraordinary ability to perform American accents. Matthew Rhys' performance as a Russian spy pretending to be American shows how talented this Welsh-born actor is. It is pointed out by dialect coach Erik Singer in his critique of Rhys' performance that even with words that British actors usually struggle with, Matt lands perfectly. There's no wonder why he was able to win an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series.
5. Connor Trinneer — American Made
There have been many impressions of the former President but none better than Connor Trinneer in American Made. The inflection of his words as he speaks to Barry about being a pilot in the Air National Guard shows how much he perfected George W. Bush's Texan accent. Though not a household name like some of the others on this list, it should be noted how good of a job Trinneer did in the short scene he had with Cruise.
6. Angelina Jolie — Maleficent
Many praised Angelina Jolie's portrayal of the iconic Disney villain, and it's one of the better British accents done by an American actor. We see Jolie become more and more comfortable with the accent over the years since her role in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. This film shows her growth and skill as an actor.
7. Daniel Day-Lewis — In The Name of the Father
No list of great accents would be complete without the Oscar-winning actor, Daniel Day-Lewis. He's done several great accents from Gangs of New York, There Will Be Blood, Lincoln, etc., but Daniel nailed his Irish accent for In the Name of the Father. His Belfast accent is beyond impressive but isn't surprising, considering his method acting has been why he's won so many damn awards and always gives a riveting performance.
8. Daniel Kaluuya — Get Out
2017's Get Out gave us our first glimpse of Jordan Peele as a director and introduced the US to Daniel Kaluuya as a leading man and phenomenal actor. His Brooklyn accent is refined to the point that many didn't know he was British, similar to how Idris Elba refined his Baltimore accent in The Wire. Kaluuya would also later depict Chicago activist, Fred Hampton, for Judas and the Black Messiah, in which he received critical acclaim for not only his performance but the specific cadence and accent he had learned for the role.
9. Andrew Lincoln — The Walking Dead
"Coral" has been a meme for a long time regarding Andrew Lincoln's character saying his son's name "Carl," but his actual performance as the Georgia Sheriff who finds himself in a Zombie-apocalypse has been solid. Say what you will about the show, but I found his accent was either applauded by fans or loathed by haters, I always thought it was good, and it's been nice to see a professional dialect coach give him his flowers.
10. Benedict Cumberbatch — Black Mass
Warner Bros. Pictures
Many people remember Johnny Depp's transformation into the infamous gangster Whitey Bulger. Still, Benedict Cumberbatch's portrayal of Whitey's younger brother and former politician, Billy Bulger, highlighted his accent acumen as he captures the famous Boston accent and Billy's cadence and tonality perfectly. It's yet another example of a British actor being able to portray a specific accent even American actors struggle with.
Now prepare yourself for the bad...
11. Tom Cruise — Far and Away
Not everybody can be Daniel Day-Lewis and perform a perfect Irish accent, though I will give him an A+ for effort. Cruise just couldn't stay consistent with his accent and sounded more like the leprechaun from the "Lucky Charms" commercials when he'd speak.
12. Christopher Lambert — Highlander
Thorn EMI Screen Entertainment
Since Connery is already on this list for another film, I wanted to focus on the lead actor, Mr. Christopher Lambert, who just never landed the Scottish accent his character was supposed to have. You would have thought he could've learned something from Mr. Connery when it came to his accent, but unfortunately, it never happens onscreen.
13. Nicholas Cage — Con Air
Buena Vista Pictures
One of my favorite '90s action films, and like many action films of those times, might not hold up the best when it comes to acting, but the premise is still entertaining for me. Hearing Nicolas Cage's accent makes me laugh, Erik Singer breaks down the specifics of why his accent isn't believable, but for me, it just sounds like the stereotypical southern drawl people use when trying to mock someone from the South.
14. Kevin Costner — Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
My favorite Robin Hood film will always be Robin Hood: Men in Tights. It is fantastically hilarious, but it also took a beautiful potshot at the film that had come before it, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves in regards to Costner's lack of an accent. The overall cast wasn't really nailing the English accent either, though Costner's performance being the lead was the absolute worst. It's rumored that director Kevin Reynolds wasn't a fan of Costner's English accent and told him to drop it, but you can still hear a hybrid mix of Costner's American accent and a poor English accent mixed in some of his scenes.
15. John Malkovich—- Rounders
It seems Irish and Russian accents seem to be the hardest of all to perform and come off realistic. John's performance here seems to be of someone performing more for comedy than realism. The line, "He beat me straight up, pay this man his money." is just laughable though the film overall is great to watch.
16. Sean Connery — The Hunt for Red October
Another attempt by a high-caliber actor who just couldn't get it right. Unfortunately for Connery, who was supposed to be playing a Russian captain, he off as more Scottish than anything else. It was apparent with his role in Highlander that accents might not be in his skill set yet he still made an attempt in this film. Though the movie is still good, I can't help but cringe whenever Connery is delivering his lines.
17. Keanu Reeves — Bram Stoker's Dracula
I am a huge fan of Keanu and his past movies, but his accent work has never been good. Devils Advocate gave us one of the worst performances of a southern Florida accent but Bram Stoker's Dracula gave us one of the worst British accents in cinema to date. I'm sure you can give me some other examples that were close but this one really takes the cake. It's just overexaggerated and comes off almost as parody, which is painful to watch.
18. Jon Voight — Anaconda
Apparently, Jon Voight confused Paraguay with Cuba because it seems like he's attempting a really bad Cuban accent in this film and it comes off cringy as hell. He might not have had proper time to prepare and maybe this was the best attempt at the accent, but my goodness it's like nails to a chalkboard to hear.
19. Gerard Butler — P.S. I Love You
Now I must say, Gerard Butler has apologized to the people of Ireland after being recognized for having one of the worst Irish accents in a film alongside Tom Cruise and Sean Connery. Unfortunately for Butler, his Scottish accent is so thick that it tends to come out in almost every film he's ever been in and so it's hard to believe he's anything other than a Scot, but with that being said he still manages to deliver some fan-favorite movies, where, regardless of his accent, he still entertains.
20. James Van Der Beek — Varsity Blues
Coming off his success from Dawson's Creek, James Van Der Beek led this film alongside the late Paul Walker and Scott Caan. The only thing was, it seemed no one thought about what a Texan accent might sound like. Though everyone's was awful, James seems just to make my ears hurt the most considering he has the most lines in the film. It's yet another performance of an accent that seems like something from a comedy sketch.
What do you think of this list? Do you have some great or bad accents from an actor that stick out to your mind? Let us know in the comments below.
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