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October 10, 2015

American TV actors face new competition from abroad

by Jackie Schnoop, posted Oct 4th 2007 11:07AM
Domenic West as Jimmy McNulty on The WireIt's a trend that you might not realize is happening. It's never been easy for American actors to get steady gigs on popular television shows. Once they get in the door, they may be golden ... or the show might be canceled after a few episodes. Then there's the plethora of reality shows, game shows, and other unscripted television fare which all take away available work for actors.

Oh, that new trend? Talent from abroad is coming here, getting cast on television shows, and adopting American accents. My personal favorite Baltimore's Finest is Domenic West playing Jimmy McNulty on The Wire. He was born and raised in England, went to college in Dublin. In an episode during the second season, he had to speak with a British accent. It sounded fake because I'm used to his American accent.

The Jimmy McNulty character might just be a trendsetter in the industry. I read an article from the Star Tribune (Minnesota) which listed others cast on new shows although the author didn't mention The Wire's leading man. (How could he not mention him?)

  • On the upcoming Cashmere Mafia, the die-hard New Yorkers lead roles are played by Miranda Otto from Australia and Frances O'Connor from England.
  • Journeyman's Kevin McKidd is from Scotland, not San Francisco.
  • Sophia Myles from England plays a reporter on Moonlight.
  • On Chuck, a government agent (USA, that is) is played by Yvonne Strzechowski, an Austrian.
  • The newest Bionic Woman is Michelle Ryan from England.
  • What would House be without Brit Hugh Laurie?
  • The new alien in Aliens in America was imported from England to play a Pakistani here.
There are some roles for foreign folks with the accents from their own native countries, but these latest roles have them speaking with regional or nondescript American accents. It seems to me that it would be a lot of work, but then I think of the McNulty character on The Wire. Had I not peeked at his background because I liked him so much, I never would have thought he was from abroad. It can be done and done well.

Why are they doing it? Well, the foreign television markets face a lot of the same problems as the American market -- those reality shows and such. Not only that, but the markets are smaller. America is the land of opportunity for these actors, all they need is the right accent. And, we're not talking that dazzling British or French accent. We're talking talk like you're from Newark or Baltimore. As the article I cited mentions, it's easier not to have to write in why a character is from abroad.

Gee, I wonder if I can go over to London and type like I'm from there to make it big in the literary world. Oh, probably not. But as long as the imported actors are believable in their roles, I don't mind this British Invasion (and other countries) at all.

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all I have to say is Matthew Rhys' from Wales. Even though someone already beat me to it.

October 05 2007 at 12:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"It sounded fake because I'm used to his American accent." It sounded fake because it was a really awful British accent! He was playing an American doing a really bad fake British accent, not speaking in his usual British voice. Not sure if you can watch this if you're in the US, but you can see a great show about The Wire, called Tapping the Wire, here:


You can hear his real accent on it in the interview.

(Oh, and Rachel Griffiths from Six Feet Under is another Australian.)

October 05 2007 at 11:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think it's also because British actors are raised on American TV. They've been hearing the American accent all their lives. I would guess that very few American children see many BBC shows or movies.

Also, @ 22: I do recall in one of the early episodes that Stewart said "schedule" as "shedule" (without the 'k' sound). But I think the producers decided that it would confuse Americans.

October 05 2007 at 2:26 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Natascha McElhone from Californication is British.

October 04 2007 at 10:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What about Rose Byrne from Damages? Another Australian.

October 04 2007 at 9:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

**American actors lose roles to Canadian actors too; so many shows are filmed there anymore.**
American shows filming in Canada are required to employ a percentage of Canadian actors in order to keep all the various unions and guilds happy. Plus it makes sense from the economic standpoint to hire people that already live there versus flying people up there all the time.

October 04 2007 at 6:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

>>American actors lose roles to Canadian actors too; so many shows are filmed there anymore.

October 04 2007 at 6:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Don't forget Eddie Izzard & Minnie Driver in The Riches.

The John Barrowman example above doesn't make sense - he's an American playing an American, not really the same thing

I think in some cases it's because British people are used to the nuances of regional (us being a tiny island) & international variations on the language.

I could probably distinguish between a lot of American & Australian regions in the same way I know the difference between the various people in Britain (where I'm from) but I know that a lot of Americans I've met can't tell the difference between an English & an Australian accent & couldn't tell the difference between my accent (Yorkshire) & someone from Liverpool.

One thing that bugs me & has done since it was on telly was when English actors use Americanisms when talking like an Englishman - the prime example being Patrick Stewart whose otherwise great role as Picard was spoiled when he pronounced things American.

October 04 2007 at 6:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Also on the flip side: the first inkling I had that Sendhil Ramamurthy, who plays Mohinder Suresh on Heroes wasn't actually from India (or at least not from the U.S.) was when I heard him speaking on the season one DVD commentaries.

The first time I heard him I thought "who the heck is that?" Took me a moment to figure it out.

October 04 2007 at 4:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

On the flipside, David Anders (Sark in Alias; Takezo Sensei in Heroes) sounds completely British, yet is from Oregon. So weird to hear him WITHOUT an accent.

October 04 2007 at 3:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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