The Fiver: “Oop, me accent’s slippin!” Five British Actors with Bad American Accents

If you’ve been an Anglotopia reader for a while, you might remember one of my first articles focusing on bad British accents by American actors. Well, now it’s time to do the reverse and focus on a few Brits whose American accent never fully develops, no matter how many times they play an American. Typically, a bad American accent has two forms: either the actors attempts a Southern accent, where the pronunciation of words is supposedly the same as it was in Britain before the American Revolution; or they go as deep and gravel-like as possible (because the deeper your voice is, the tougher you sound). Without further ado, here are my pics for the worst offenders.

1. Nicola Bryant

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Doctor Who fans familiar with the classic series will recognize Ms. Bryant as companion Peri Brown, who spent a short time traveling with the Fifth Doctor and was the primary companion for the Sixth Doctor. Supposedly a college student from California, producers opted to cast the Surry-born Bryant, quite possibly for her looks (her first appearance has her in a bikini and she’s rarely without a low-cut blouse). Throughout her time in the TARDIS, her American accent slips constantly, most evident in the pronunciation of decidedly-British words and her vowel sounds. Since leaving the show in 1986, she has not taken on other American roles, and there’s probably a good reason for that.

2. Ewan McGregor

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Every time I hear a bad American South accent on television and film, it’s readily apparent that the actor’s knowledge of the South is limited to the stereotypes they’ve seen in other films and television programmes. Ewan is no different in the movie Big Fish, where he plays a younger Edward Bloom, a Southern man adept at telling tall tales that eventually prove to have a grain of truth. I would say that it’s just because I know he’s Scottish, but I ask you to review for further evidence Black Hawk Down, The Men Who Stare at Goats, and The Island (which is most noticeable considering his clone speaks with an American accent, while his L.A. “sponsor” uses his natural Scottish accent).

3. Liam Neeson

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I have a lot of fun attempting to imitate his brogue, but his attempts to do an American accent always fail. Perhaps the earliest example comes from the movie Darkman, in which Neeson played Peyton Westlake, a scientist whose attorney girlfriend ends up getting him left for dead by a mobster, only to become a vigilante. Another egregious example comes in the Taken films, where he plays former CIA operative Bryan Mills, a role which made me wonder when the CIA began hiring Irishmen. It’s essentially gotten to the point where, like Sean Connery, Neeson doesn’t try. It’s better for us all, because his own voice is awesome.

4. Colin Salmon

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Despite my love of his performances in many films and television roles, Colin Salmon is another British actor who cannot do an American accent. Having to watch him attempt American FBI Agent Paul Budiansky, he helped solidify my theory that there are only two types of American accents most British actors can do. Some actors just seem to equate a scratchy voice to sounding like a tough guy, and that’s exactly what Salmon does for the film. It doesn’t get any better for his turn as James Shade in Resident Evil: Retribution or as Walter Steele on Arrow.

5. Cary Elwes

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There’s a bit of irony that Elwes once argued that he made for a believable Robin Hood because he could speak with “an authentic English accent.” While he’s been acting in America for decades, the American accent is seemingly one thing he can’t pull off despite repeated roles in films such as The Chase, Glory, Liar Liar, and the Saw franchise. Apparently, at one point his agent told him to lose his English accent, but it just doesn’t seem to take. Even in his interviews he doesn’t quite pull off an American, even though he clearly tries. Good night, Wesley, perhaps you’ll kill it tomorrow.

Which British actor has the worst American accent? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


Comments

  1. avatarEllen says

    Nicola Bryant is definitely the worst. Even when she wasn’t “slipping.” Her attempt to render an American “r” was awful and grating.

  2. avatarLinda says

    Ewan McGregor is so adorable, I’ll forgive him anything – he can speak to me in any accent he likes, any time, lol. :)

  3. avatarMinerva says

    No.1 (Nicola Bryant)….born in Surrey, not ‘Surry’…………….she may have made it on our screens as a bit of eye-candy alongside the Dr. but she has now virtually sunk without trace on this side of the pond….there could indeed be a reason for that!
    No.2 (Ewan McGregor)…lovely chap….but he can’t do an English accent, let alone an American one! You would think he would start a bit closer to home, wouldn’t you?
    No.3 (Liam Neeson)…honey, this chap is IRISH not British……so shouldn’t be in the list at all.
    No.4 (Our Colin)………fair go…………his American accent is crap!
    No.5 (Cary Elwes)…..who????

    My only other comment is why, when there are so many good actors on both sides of the pond, is anyone employed to take off an accent not their own unless for comedic effect??? It’s one of those ridiculous casting thingys that I have never understood.

  4. avatarDoug8257 says

    You forgot Emma Watson. Check her out in the Perks of Being Wallflower. Tremendous actress, but she just can’t do an American accent.

  5. avatarMahan says

    Benedict Cumberbatch did a radio play and he had the worst American accent ever! I think it’s improved somewhat since then, but I have the recording of the play and it just makes me hoot and holler every time I hear him!

  6. avatarMJ says

    As an American, I think we have a tougher time with a British accent then they have with ours. There are so many regional accents here in the US that picking a ‘generic’ American accent is probably not the best way to go. Most Americans don’t realize there are many British-Scottish-Irish-Welsh accents as well that we get very, very wrong.

  7. avatar says

    They missed two:

    1. Ralph Fiennes (who is a great actor otherwise) – sounded like he was still doing his German accent from “Schindler’s List” in “Quiz Show”

    2. Mark Addy – I saw “Still Standing” several times before I realized he was supposed to be America, not British.

  8. avatarcampbell forrester says

    Seriously? No one is talking about Kate Winslet in “Titanic?” PAINFUL (yes, and the movie, too)…

  9. avatarDenise says

    I will say again. Why are Brits taking all the roles in Hollywood these days? There are plenty of Americans with American accents who can do the job. I mean I love the Brits but I still scratch my head when I see them filling in 80% of the casts our here. Isn’t there enough work back home?

  10. avatarretnavybrat says

    I had read somewhere (can’t remember source, sorry) that Nicola had questioned someone on the Doctor Who production team why her character was using British phrases instead of American ones and the person replied that it was the TARDIS translating for British audiences.

    I don’t know if the story was actually true, but I’m willing to give Nicola some slack on the American accent if I think of it as the TARDIS trying to make Peri sound British. **LOL**

  11. avatarDerek says

    Okay, I doubt Carey Elwes belongs on the list. I mean, sure, he’s done some terrible American accents, but his accents in Glory, Days of Thunder, Kiss the Girls, and even Hot Shots! are quite good.

    I would replace him with Michael Caine, and anyone who’s seen him in Secondhand Lions can see why. Or maybe Colin Farrell, but he’s Irish, so he likely doesn’t count.

  12. avatarKaren says

    I hate to say it, but David Tennant. He can do English, but not American. Did you see that pilot he did for “Rex is not your lawyer”? Painful!

  13. avatarRobin says

    The most cringe-worthy failed attempt ever has to be Kenneth Branaugh in “Wild, Wild West. Seriously, I was embarrassed for him.

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