Analysis / Fake Brit

This analysis is less about the why of casting non-Brits to play characters who are supposed to have English accents, but rather the stereotype of North Americans doing bad English accents. Yes there are plenty - Keanu Reeves in Bram Stoker's Dracula, Don Cheadle in Ocean's Eleven, Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins (although in his case he was deliberately making it entertainingly awful). And there are just as many who can do flawless takes - Glenn Close, Meryl Streep, Claire Danes, Brad Dourif, Renee Zellweger etc. There is a grain of truth to every stereotype, so let's examine the background behind this.

For non-American tropers, think of how much American media you consume every day. TV shows, films and occasionally commercials are exported all over the world. When animes and video games are dubbed into English, it's American accents that are used. And it has been this way for decades. Think about the reverse; how much British media gets exported to America? The ratio is much smaller. In the past there was the odd TV show that got shown over there - Monty Python and The Avengers for instance. But just compare that to the sheer volume of American shows and films that go everywhere else. That was the past however, and things are slightly different now. The game changer? Harry Potter of course.

It should not be ignored how much of a miracle it was that JK Rowling was able to see her books adapted the way they were supposed to be. Filmmakers were sure that the films would flop if the setting wasn't changed to America - and Steven Spielberg wanted to cast Haley Joel Osment as Harry. But Rowling fought tooth and nail that the cast had to be entirely British. She got her way and only three Americans appear across all eight films - one already had an English accent, one had no lines and one was dubbed. The Chronicles of Narnia faced a similar thing; no one would touch the books unless the film changed the setting to America. But once Harry Potter proved a success, all those barriers were gone. The Lord of the Rings too featured all its cast using The Queen's Latin. So two of the biggest franchises in history featured no American accents at all - thus proving to investors that American audiences would sit through media that had English accents. Hell, these days there have even been some TV shows like Merlin and Primeval that are far more popular in America than their native Britain.

The internet helped a lot as well. Tropers who can remember the days before YouTube and online streaming must know that if you didn't see it in your local cinema, rent it on video or watch it when it played on TV then you just didn't see it. The internet allows people to access essentially anything they want. What does this have to do with accents? Well anyone with a good ear picks up an accent by listening to it over and over. So if an actor needs an English accent, they can just YouTube it. Plenty of accent tutorials can be found online too. Tara Strong says that in the days before the internet, if she needed a specific accent she had to phone someone who lived in the area in particular and listen to them talk. Non-Americans have been able to pick up the accent due to the constant American media in their daily life, while Americans now have more access to British stuff and therefore more opportunities to pick up the accents.

As to why the most common accent imitated is the southern English or RP one? It's the one that's always used. How often do you get an Oop North character in mainstream American media (not featuring Sean Bean)? Anne Hathaway was savaged for her Yorkshire accent in One Day - when she had probably never even heard what a Yorkshire person sounded like in her life. It's not necessarily restricted to Americans. Kim Cattral is British born but raised in Canada and has worked in America most of her life - but she can do a pretty good Liverpool accent because that's where her family's from. So really the stereotype is restricted to Americans who a) don't have a good ear and b) haven't had access to the required accent. And it's not as though one can't get better at an accent with sufficient practice. Liv Tyler was criticised for her attempt in the film Onegin but had perfected it by the time she played Arwen.

As one last point, a lot of projects that require an accent will have a dialect coach. And as the classic military saying goes, shit rolls downhill. So if you hear a bad accent in a movie, who do you think approved it?