Why do Boston accents make good actors look bad?
Image Credit: Ali Goldstein/NBC; Andrew CooperLet me say right up front that I’m from Boston. So maybe it bothers me more than most to see so many actors butcher my hometown dialect. But seriously, why is it so damn hard to do a convincing Boston accent? I was reminded of this recently watching Leonardo DiCaprio mangle his vowels in Shutter Island. You’d think that after laying waste to his Beantown accent in The Departed, someone might have pulled him aside and given him a few tips or gotten him to a Red Sox game, where he could drink a few frosties with the locals in the bleachers and maybe learn a thing or two. But, no. It was the same honking mess. And he’s not alone.
Recently, I’ve sat there wanting to jab a knitting needle into my eardrums listening to Julianne Moore on 30 Rock, Tim Robbins in Mystic River, and Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting. Apparently, there’s something about pahking the cah in Hahvad yahd that makes it the Bermuda Triangle for actors trying to infuse their characters with a little local color. It’s downright bizah.
“It’s like anything else in acting,” says Hollywood dialect coach, Jess Platt, “if you sound like you’re trying to do it, it’s not going to sound natural. The whole idea of doing an accent is you’re not supposed to sound like you’re doing an accent. It shouldn’t draw attention to itself.” For the record, Platt has worked with Hugh Jackman, Daniel Craig, Michael Caine, Geoffrey Rush, and Mike Myers, so the guy knows what he’s talking about.
So who are the worst offenders in his opinion? “I watched The Departed and I heard some pretty horrible accents going on. I didn’t think Leonardo DiCaprio’s was any good.” But Platt says it isn’t just Boston that gives good actors trouble. “Do you remember the film Pollack? Marcia Gay Harden had one of the worst New York accents I’ve ever heard, and I’m from New York. I was shocked by it and yet she won the Oscar!”
Don’t get me wrong, there are some folks who can do Charlestown or Southie convincingly. Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Denis Leary come to mind. But that’s because they’re from there. Anyone who isn’t probably shouldn’t even bother unless they’re Amy Ryan in Gone Baby Gone. Honestly, it’s as embarrassing for them as it is for the folks who coughed up ten bucks to see their films. And if you think I’m being tough, just take a listen to the hodgepodge of suspect dialects in the trailer for Ben Affleck’s upcoming flick, The Town. It’s a shame Affleck couldn’t play every role. And as for you, Blake Lively, you’re on watch…