Have you ever been watching a movie and the actor or actress on screen just has this atrocious accent? One so bad it takes you out of the movie experience because it’s so off what it should be. Yep, we’ve all been there. You’re watching Robin Hood and hear Kevin Costner talk to Maid Marion and you literally say out loud, “Come on, I’m not expecting Errol Flynn but this is ridiculous!” Let’s not forget the most notorious bad accent of them all, Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. You mention that movie to someone in the UK and they all cringe. For actors and actresses, a truly bad accent can make you infamous and not in a good way. But, if you can do a really good accent people will notice and laud your performance. If you can do multiple accents well…yep, you’re an acting legend, but it’s much harder than it sounds.
When you’re looking at a list of perfectly done accents, Forrest Whitaker has to be on the list for his portrayal of Idi Amin in the Last King of Scotland. Whitaker’s Ugandan accent is perfect and won him an Academy Award. Gwyneth Paltrow nailed a British accent in Shakespeare in Love and won an Academy Award for that. Daniel Day-Lewis was incredible in Gangs of New York with a stellar New York accent, while he didn’t win an award for that role, he has 3 Oscars.
There are some over-achieving actors who can pull off multiple accents like Naomi Watts. She does British, Australian, American, and passable Russian accents. Hugh Jackman does British, Australian, and American accents very well. Then we have the Queen of accents, Maryl Streep. She’s done British, Italian, Polish, American flawlessly.
If you’re an actor or actress and are reading this, you’re probably wondering how do I replicate this success for my career? The answer is a voice coach. A voice or dialect coach is an acting coach who helps you develop the voice and speech of a character. A dialect coach will give you comments on topics of believability, uniformity, and clarity of your accent. You could consider this an investment in your career because you will expand your ability to qualify for different roles, which means more steady work for you.
In the words of sought-after voice coach Bob Corff, who’s worked with Hollywood stars like Cate Blanchett, Gwyneth Paltrow, Samuel L. Jackson, and James Franco. “Accents are like juggling,” he explains. “The right pronunciation, words stressed, attitude, and energy all have to sync up and be consistent.” Basically, an accent done right can really benefit your acting career, longevity, and catapult you to award winning stardom.