Lost in the Pond: 4 British Actors/Actresses Who Really Nail an American Accent

Every now and then, actors from either side of The Pond will make us cringe with what are, frankly, terrible attempts at an accent. Whether it is Sean Connery in The Untouchables or Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins, British and American actors often get a bad rap for inventing their own way of speaking. But what about those actors and actresses whose accents are so good, you barely notice they are even affecting one? In the first of a two-part post, here are 4 British actors and actresses who really nail an American accent.

Kate Winslet

Image credit: Andrea Raffin. Creative Commons.

Kate Winslet

Firmly establishing herself as a bankable star in James Cameron’s 1997 film Titanic, Kate Winslet has donned various on-screen accents over the years, with varying degrees of authenticity. An Academy-Award-Winning actress, Winslet in fact portrayed a high class 17-year-old from Philadelphia in Titanic itself, adopting a reasonably attuned accent for the role. However, it was during her turn as Clementine in the 2004 film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind that Winslet’s ability to portray a legitimate-sounding American came to the fore.

Hugh Laurie, from a bit of Fry & Laurie, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugh_laurie

Image credit: Jeroen Komen

Hugh Laurie

For those of us who grew up watching British comedy shows such as Blackadder and A Bit of Fry and Laurie, Hugh Laurie’s turn as the brilliant and sardonic title character in the hugely successful television show House took us all by surprise. Not merely because Laurie was able to display a vastly different side to his acting style, but because his American accent was so right on the money. Take a listen to his audition tape right here.

Robert_Pattinson_May_2011 (570x445)

Image credit: Eva Rinaldi

Robert Pattinson

Whether you’re a fan of the Twilight saga or not, you have to take your hat off to the series’ male lead Robert Pattinson. The 27-year-old – who was born in London – played the role of Edward Cullen in film adaptations of Stephanie Meyer’s divisive vampire stories without so much of a hint of his British accent. If you’re comfortable with also having to endure Kristen Stewart’s painful acting, Pattinson’s accent is featured in this extended trailer.

Emma_Watson_2012 (570x436)Emma Watson

The young British actress, who made her name as Hermione Granger in 8 film adaptations of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, has recently transitioned over to the other side of The Pond with her role in Sophia Coppola’s The Bling Ring. To prepare for the role, Watson says she studied reality TV shows such as The Hills and Keeping Up With The Kardashians. Whatever her methods, the end result is impressive.

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  1. avatarSue says

    The British actors in The Walking Dead have amazing american accents – I’m English and I didn’t even know they were Brits until someone told me, and I’d already watched two full seasons!

  2. avatarBob says

    I’ve always been impressed by Gary Oldman. He has such a range of American accents. Jim Gordon in the Batman movies, Zorg in The Fifth Element, Lee Harvey Oswald in JFK. I forget he’s a Brit when I see these.

  3. avatarKaren says

    Let us not forget Alan Rickman in Die Hard, when Hans Gruber pretends to be one of the hostages to fool Bruce Willis’s character. Excellent job, Alan!

    • avatarDerek says

      In fact, what about Christian Bale? He does so many great American accents that you’d never know he was born in Wales and bred in Bournemouth.

  4. avatar says

    Haha! Good call on Alan Rickman, Karen: even if his accent only lasted for a few minutes.

    I did consider Christian Bale, Derek, but I chose to be strict over the fact that he spent much of his childhood in the U.S.

    I did not realise, until you mentioned him, that Daniel Day-Lewis was anything other than Irish, which would have technically precluded him from being in this list. However, I see that he also holds British citizenship, so good call.

  5. avatarApril says

    Damien Lewis – I watched the entire series “Life” from start to end – TWICE – and did not have a clue until I saw him on an interview.

  6. avatarSandra says

    I have to say Naomi Watts could be added to this list as well. When I first saw her in a movie with a British accent it was the first I learned she wasn’t American. Born British, raised from 14 in Australia, I say she does a great job of the accent.

    I find I like Robert Pattinson’s American accent better than his true British accent. Unusual, as we American’s love a British accent.

    Now, if you were to consider anyone not raised in the Southern US (American or otherwise) attempting our drawl, NO ONE makes that list.

    • avatarSandra says

      I have to add, wasn’t Dick Van Dyke’s character meant to be a bit “over the top”. Who didn’t love Mary Poppins as a child? I say give Dick a break.

  7. avatarPalakika says

    I first saw Damian Lewis in “Dreamcatcher” and loved his acting. However, I thought he was an American actor, who was using a British accent… Later, I found it was the reverse! LOL!

    Then, of course, there is the absolutely amazing John Barrowman! Who is both British (parents are from the UK, and he was born in Glasgow) and American (raised in the U.S.). :)

  8. avatarPhil S. says

    Don’t forget Jane Seymour in ABC’s mini-series “War and Rememberance” where she plays an American like she was raised there!

  9. avatarLen Iwanski says

    You’ve neglected arguably the best: Damian Lewis! I watched the entire Band of Brothers miniseries without knowing he’s a Brit. His American accent is flawless, as he has demonstrated in such TV series as Life and, most notably, Homeland.

  10. avatarGeorge says

    I would add Hugo Weaving. He’s an Aussie, but his Mr. Smith in the Matrix , absolutely nail American Bureaucratic speak.

  11. avatarretnavybrat says

    I remember the first time I found out about House and who the star was. I said to myself that the name of Hugh Laurie sounds familiar and looked it up. I had to pick my jaw up off the floor. He was the Prince Regent on Blackadder! No! Can’t be the same guy! : O Not only is he not American, he’s a comic actor!

    But my jaw dropped again once I started watching House. Besides nailing the accent, I’ve discovered that Hugh Laurie’s a really good actor.

    Palakika, as much as I love the Barrowman, I’m going to have to respectfully disagree that he should be included on this list. Speaking with an American accent is his normal way of speaking, whereas those mentioned on this list only use American accents when performing.

  12. avatarMarie says

    Good calls on the above. My vote is for Jamie Bamber, who played Captain Apollo on Battlestar Galactica. I was astounded when I heard him in an interview with his native British accent. He was born in London, but sure does a great American accent!

    • avatar says

      I’m absolutely not a fan of Twilight…I love SciFi but not the Vampire or Zombie type..The first time I heard his native accent was in a movie with Catherine Tate called “The Bad Mother’s Handbook”(2007) He played her daughter’s geeky friend. I didn’t even know it was him. He had long red hair and horn rimmed glasses………… at the end he took them off that’s when I recognized him….check out the movie. It was really good…listed as a comedy drama.It’s one of those gems you find on Encore channel or Sundance. If you’re a Doctor Who fan, you’ll recognize some people in it.

  13. avatarMarlowe Hampton says

    I would have to give honorable mentions to Claire Forlani, Emily Blunt and Lucy Punch as well.

  14. avatarDenise says

    It is amazing to me how many Brits are doing movies & tv shows in Hollywood today. Most of the casts are at least 50% -80% from Britain, so many have had to learn the American tongue. The joke in my house is I often say “he’s British” when I see someone I recognize…..ad nauseum.

    I have to wonder why there are so many working over here. They are more talented in my opinion but I suspect they also earn less?. Another observation …..Since I hear so many doing a southern accent I have been curious if it is easier for them to transition to that speech pattern..

    • avatarCaroline says

      I once read an article about Vivien Leigh where she was quoted as saying that mostly just slowed down her British speech and with a few other minor tweaks, there is it was. I don’t know why that’s so, necessarily, but it does seem that the two accents are similar enough in some way that it’s an easier transition.

  15. avatar says

    Just going to point out – Emma Watson’s first role with an American accent was in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. She did a good job although occasionally something would sneak through that seemed a little off. It has improved for The Bling Ring though, I almost didn’t even recognize her.

  16. avatarMarty says

    Besides the amazing Hugh Laurie, the first one that comes to mind for me is Anna Friel. After “Pushing Daisies” ended, I was astounded to learn that she was British, and not American. And the same goes for the Australian Rose Byrne (“Damages”).

  17. avatarBrent says

    She’s long-since gone, but Vivien Leigh pretty much nailed a certain type of Southern accent. What is it with the heroines of epic movies about American disasters always being English? :)

  18. avatarMrs. Hook says

    I adore Alan Rickman and absolutely love his voice and diction. Perhaps it’s the rhythm of his speech…but he still doesn’t quite convince me when he plays an American. But Jason Isaacs, on the other hand–wow! In BLACK HAWK DOWN, AWAKE, I would have sworn he was born here.

  19. avatarChristopher Hanks says

    I don’t think anyone’s mentioned Idris Elba yet. I saw him first in his extended role as Stringer Bell in “The Wire” and was then blown away to see and hear him in his own natural British accent in “Luther.”

  20. avatarKirsten Lambdin says

    I’m looking forward to David Tennant’s take on the American accent this fall in Gracepoint. What I’ve heard so far has been pretty impressive.