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Story published: 10-16-2008 • Print StoryE-mail Story to a Friend

Updated October 16, 2008 04:36:43 PM
The Watercooler: How do they lose those accents?

By Dawn Meade Davenport
Press TV Blogger
ddavenport@johnsoncitypress.com

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My colleague and friend Sam Watson and I talk often about TV and movies, and recently we were discussing the glut of British and Australian actors on American television. Without research, using only the knowledge gained through our exposure to current popular culture, we named more than a few.

When Sam suggested the subject would make for an interesting blog, I pored over IMDb.com, YouTube and network TV Web sites to find out which actors from Australia and the British isles were invading our television landscape, and which ones pulled off the best American accents.

My initial search turned up 21 British, Irish, Welsh and Australian actors playing Americans on network television. I found three on cable series before I decided to quit and limit this blog to the actors in major rolls on the Big Four networks — ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC.

Here, I will count down British and Australian actors who make believable Americans:

10. Anthony LaPaglia, Australian, “Without a Trace,” CBS. After years in the movies and a memorable recurring roll as Daphne’s drunken Manchurian brother on “Frasier,” LaPaglia took the part of New York FBI agent Jack Malone on “Without a Trace.” Because American accents vary greatly from region to region, and we don’t know where Jack grew up, LaPaglia gets away with diction that sounds neither distinctly American nor Australian.

9. Jason O’Mara, Irish, “Life on Mars,” ABC. I’m not familiar with O’Mara’s previous work, and only one episode of “Life on Mars” has aired so far, so he’s a bit of a wild card here. His New York Det. Sam Tyler is kind of a fast talker, so it’s difficult to hear much of any accent — American, Irish or otherwise. In this case, failing to enunciate works.

8. Poppy Montgomery, Australian, “Without a Trace,” CBS. This show easily could have dominated the category with three major characters in the ensemble cast played by actors from Australia and England. Brit Marianne Jean-Baptist barely missed the top 10 with an affected American accent that sounded too deliberate and stilted to my ear. Montgomery, however, has been in America half of her life, so even her natural speaking voice isn’t immensely Australian. Still, her Australian roots are virtually undetectable on “Without a Trace,” so she slips in at No. 8.

7. Anna Torv, Australian, “Fringe,” Fox. Torv’s portrayal of FBI Agent Olivia Dunham on this Fox sci-fi thriller is her first American role. (Her previous work included the recent BBC series “Mistresses.”) As herself, Torv is very much an Aussie. As Olivia, she sounds American, though of unspecific heritage. Her consonants are softer than most, but she pulls it off nonetheless.

6. Simon Baker, Australian, “The Mentalist,” CBS. Baker’s return to TV is a welcome one, and I really wouldn’t have cared how good his American accent was. But as luck would have it, he’s got a pretty good one. In the four years since “The Guardian” left the air, his accent has become so natural that it infects his own way of speaking, a fact he has said irritates his family back home.

5. Rachel Griffiths, Australian, “Brothers & Sisters,” ABC. Griffiths is no stranger to American TV, having spent four years on the fantastic HBO series “Six Feet Under.” As “Brothers and Sisters’ ” divorced mother, Sarah Walker, her Australian accent is barely detectable, despite a tendency to round her short ‘A’s.’

4. Damian Lewis, English, “Life,” NBC. Lewis first came to America’s attention as Maj. Dick Winters on HBO’s limited-run series “Band of Brothers.” His American accent was fantastic then (despite a slip delivering a line in the series’s best episode, “The Breaking Point”). His American accent on “Life” is just as good — natural and laid-back, much like his Zen detective, Charlie Crews’.

3. Matthew Rhys, Welsh, “Brothers & Sisters,” ABC. Rhys brings us a flawless California-American accent as Sarah Walker’s (Griffiths) younger brother Kevin on “Brothers & Sisters.” Until Sam mentioned him yesterday, I had no idea he wasn’t American, and even now that I know, I still cannot detect a hint of the thick Welsh accent he has in interviews. I didn’t expect him to rank so high on the list, but this is where he belongs.

2. Hugh Laurie, English, “House,” Fox. Laurie’s American accent as arrogant diagnostician Gregory House is widely known and celebrated. Some finds his acting over-the-top, but I think that’s the nature of his character. In any case, he’s another who has perfected the American accent to the point that it infects his everyday diction. He gets bonus points for pulling off the American accent while using 10-syllable medical terms the best of us would have trouble saying.

1. Jonny Lee Miller, English, “Eli Stone,” ABC. This entry was more of a surprise to me than Rhys’. I hadn’t a clue that Miller was an Englishman with an accent as thick as peanut butter. A little research turned up his role in the 1996 film “Trainspotting,” and it’s telling to note that I turned that movie off 15 minutes in because I couldn’t understand a word those Brits were saying. The movie needed subtitles, I tell you. Anyway, Miller is fantastic as the lawyer touched by God (or an aneurysm, depending on your point of view), and I hope he sticks with American TV for a while.

Before I sign off, I have to give an honorable mention to Englishman Naveen Andrews of ABC’s “Lost.” I know his character, Sayid Jarrah, is Iraqi, not American, but it’s a good accent, and because his character is the rare Middle Easterner depicted realistically on American TV, I thought he deserved a shoutout.

Tomorrow: We return to “Survivor: Gabon” after a week off. And what a week it was, with a dramatic reshuffling of tribes that is sure to affect the outcome of the game.

Be sure to comment on Dawn’s blog in our forums:

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Read Dawn's last Watercooler item:

The Watercooler: 'Mentalist' much warmer than 'Fringe'

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