How's Your British Accent?
Jaime: What's this?A British actor, living in America, is playing an American character on an American TV show. For this role they learn to speak with an American accent, with varying degrees of success. Then, one episode, they are required to go undercover as a Brit and, would you believe it, they can do a perfect British accent. This trope comes when a character has to assume an accent which for the character is fake, but for the actor is in fact their natural speaking voice, or at least their native regional accent. This can refer to any accent, British is just a common example. Happens surprisingly often, either played straight or for laughs. Almost the opposite of Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping which is a slip from an assumed accent into a native one that is not deliberate.
Jonas: Student ID. You're going to college. You're transferring in from England. How's your British accent?
Jonas: Student ID. You're going to college. You're transferring in from England. How's your British accent?
— Bionic Woman, "The Education of Jaime Sommers"
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Films — Live-Action
- In The Island, Lincoln Six Echo is a clone of a Scottish man named Tom Lincoln. All clones are brought up speaking with an American accent to avoid confusion. So when Lincoln Six Echo first encounters Tom Lincoln, he's surprised by the other's strange accent. Later on, he "fakes" the accent to trick a mercenary hunting him and makes sure to insert "shite" into a sentence. Ewan McGregor, the actor playing the Lincolns, is Scottish.
- In The A-Team, South African actor Sharlto Copley plays Capt. H. M. "Howling Mad" Murdock, a character known more for his bouts of insanity but also an aptitude for putting on accents and speaking foreign languages. In one scene, he shows off his "chops" by pretending to be a cameraman for a South African news team with a pitch-perfect accent. In another, he and B.A. Baracus inadvertently switch passports at the airport, forcing Murdock to pretend to speak Swahili, which Copley does in real life. After the ploy works, Murdock turns to his amazed comrades, asking "What, you don't speak Swahili?"
- An in-universe variation in Rock Star: Steel Dragon's guitarist Kirk (played by Englishman Dominic West — see The Wire example) calls Chris to invite him to audition to be the band's new lead singer, but Chris thinks it's his own band's guitarist pranking him and says "your English accent is even worse than your guitar playing" and hangs up. Kirk calls him again and says "there's not much I can do about the accent, but what do you suggest I do about the guitar playing?"
- The film City Island features an aspring actress who does this as part of an identity makeover. Like in the 30 Rock example further down, she is played by Emily Mortimer.
- In the 1998 version of The Parent Trap, one of Lindsey Lohan's twin characters is British-raised, and so must "fake" Lohan's American accent when they secretly switch places.
- The Merry Widow involves Capt. Danilo, from the tiny, Eastern European, Ruritania-style country of "Marshovia" being sent to Paris to romance the eponymous widow (It Makes Sense in Context). The king says "How's your French?", and Danilo rattles off some French dialogue. Actor Maurice Chevalier, of course, was French.
- On True Blood, Englishman Stephen Moyer plays American vampire Bill Compton, and famously struggles to mimic a Louisiana Cajun accent. It must have been a relief when a flashback sequence showed Bill in an English punk rock bar, and Moyer got to speak with his natural voice.
- In the Bionic Woman episode "The Education of Jaime Sommers", American Jaime (played by English actress Michelle Ryan) has to pretend to be English. And pulled it off flawlessly. This despite the fact that Jamie Sommers (the character) was 1) not an actress and 2) not trained in espionage (à la Sydney Bristow in Alias), and therefore shouldn't have had any training in the proper British Accent.
- Doctor Who:
- In the episode Tooth and Claw, The Doctor - played by the Scottish David Tennant with an Estuary English accent - "fakes" a Scottish accent to fool Queen Victoria. So Tennant, a Scotsman, is faking a different Scottish accent from his own, in a series where he speaks in an English accent as a character from another planet.
- Similarly, in the spinoff Torchwood, Jack Harkness - played by John Barrowman with an American accent - "fakes" his actor's natural Scottish accent at one point.
- A bit of explanation here. Barrowman is Scottish-born, but spent much of life in the US. Like most immigrant kids, he quickly adopted an American accent. As such, he uses an American accent when interacting with most people and his native Scottish accent when interacting with his family.
- In "The Daleks' Master Plan", Steven fakes Peter Purves's real Northern accent to sneak into a police station. Especially amusing is when the Doctor asks him why he's talking in that 'ridiculous voice'.
- In The Wire, Sheffield-born actor Dominic West plays American police detective Jimmy McNulty, who pretends to be a British businessman to go undercover (so to speak) in a brothel. His accent is terrible.
"Cwoikey! I was lookin' to get a little hanky-panky, and this one bloke gave me this number to cawl when I got acwoss the pond."
- In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Spike - a British vampire played by American actor - adopts (rather unconvincingly) an American accent. (He apparently asked his British co-star, Anthony Stewart Head, how he would fake the accent. He was told to "Go crazy on the R's".)
- It sounded a bit like he was lapsing into molespeak. "Oi'm just an owld frriend of Xanderrrrrr's . . . Oh, to hell with it, I'm your man."
- It's also later revealed that Spike has aristocratic origins and the accent he usually uses is another part of his fabricated punk image. So in the above scene we're watching an American pretending to be an upper-class Brit pretending to be a lower-class Brit pretending to be an American.
- In the House episode "The Socratic Method", the British Hugh Laurie's American character fakes an English accent to account for the anti-social hour he is calling a doctor to get further medical history for a patient. As a bonus for longtime fans, he uses the exact accent used for his previous Upper-Class Twit roles in Blackadder and Jeeves and Wooster. Though he does leave in one rhortic "r".
- Spoofed on Psych. Shawn tries to convince a hotel clerk that he's with Interpol by affecting a British accent and then pretending that his natural American accent is faked as part of his cover.
- In early 2007, Emily Mortimer had a recurring role on 30 Rock which she played with her native British accent. However, it was later revealed that her character was actually an American posing as a Brit. (Mortimer only did one line with an American accent and that was for The Reveal.)
- Burn Notice
- Irish Fiona, played by an English actress with a half-attempted American accent, reverts to her natural English accent to play a good-time girl.
- Also, a variant: in one episode, Michael has to pretend to be from Boston...and he talks like someone from Miami faking a Boston accent.
- A hilarious lampshading in the same show: When Fiona's brother thinks Michael is a fellow Irishman, Michael has to go "undercover" as an American arms dealer. The brother is unconvinced Michael can pull it off, calling his American accent "a little dodgy." This get even better because if you listen closely to Michael speaking "undercover", Michael nearly slips into an Irish accent.
- In an episode of Six Feet Under, Nate Fisher imagines his girlfriend as an Australian. Rachel Griffiths, who played the girlfriend, is actually Australian.
- Irish actor Jason O'Mara got to use his native accent when an episode of the American adaptation of Life on Mars had his character, American detective Sam Tyler, go undercover as an Irishman. In America!
- In an episode of Chuck Sarah has to pretend to be an Australian scientist, allowing Yvonne Strahovski to use her normal accent.
- In one episode, Sierra gets imprinted with the personality of an Australian fan, allowing Dichen Lachman to use the Australian accent she grew up with.
- Additionally, in season 2, it turns out before Sierra became an Active, she was Australian, and has Lachman's accent when playing "herself".
- In one episode of Alias, the internationally ambiguous Julian Sark pretends to be American. Julian Sark is Russian-born but educated in Britain and spends a lot of time in Ireland. As a result, his character has an Irish-influenced British accent despite being neither Irish nor British. He's played by the American actor David Anders and the American accent the character faked was the actor's native accent.
- Chuck on Gossip Girl is played by English Ed Westwick. Chuck is obsessed with Blair, who brings back a guy from her summer vacation in Europe who turns out to be a fake-American, his true nationality being British (though the actor is American). So Chuck, being Chuck, fakes an English accent to pull a Bed Trick on Blair... and we have an English actor playing an American character who fakes an English accent as done rather poorly by an American actor.
- Vicki Fowler arrives in EastEnders with an American twang, having been brought up in Florida by her British mother. The accent wasn't very convincing and after a few months the actress reverted to her native London speech pattern. This was handwaved as a deliberate effort by Vicki to fit in.
- A few episodes of Nip/Tuck feature a British actor playing an American pretending to be British because he thought American women found it sexy. His "fake" British accent is, of course, flawless, but his American accent? Not so much.
- One of the recurring characters on later seasons of Cheers is French Jerk Henri, who was always trying to steal Kelly away from Woody. Henri was played by American actor Anthony Cistaro. In one episode, Henri hits on a girl, who tells him she doesn't like French guys. Cue Henri, in an American accent, telling the girl that he's really from Portland.
- On The O.C., Marissa (Played by Mischa Barton who was born in London but moved to America as a child) pretends to be a British exchange student to seduce one of Kaitlin's classmates. Humorously, the classmate doesn't buy it, so she just pretends to be a stripper.
- In episode 11 of Almost Human, John Kennex pretends to be a New Zealander while on an undercover mission. Karl Urban, who plays Kennex, is actually from New Zealand.
- In an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Serena goes undercover as a British girl attempting to enter the New York "escort" scene. Saffron Burrows, the actress playing Serena, is from London but plays an NYPD detective.
- In the sixth season episode "Joust Like a Woman" from King of the Hill, Alan Rickman guest stars as the owner of a Renaissance fair, and spends most of the episode speaking in his natural British accent. At the end, when he's defeated and some coworkers launch a lawsuit, the character slips back into his natural voice...which is a terrible attempt from Rickman at a Texan accent.