Holiday preview: The accents
Not every actor can make a flawless vocal transformation: We asked locals and an expert to judge these stars' accents from their movie trailers
A Dangerous Method
Keira Knightley, Russian
The Accent In David Cronenberg’s psychoanalytical drama, Knightley cuts her vowels short as a Russian patient of Carl Jung.
Gold Standard Knightley’s costar Viggo Mortensen (who plays Sigmund Freud) adopted a similar accent when he starred as a Soviet-born gangster in Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises
An Expert Says ”It’s only the flavor of a Russian accent,” says Claudette Roche, an accent coach based in L.A., ”not a real one. But she says the word initiative like a Russian, without the v sound, like initiatif.”
A Local Says ”Her intonation is Russian, but her pronunciation is more like a Polish person, or Eastern European,” according to Olga Krylova of St. Petersburg. ”Russians, they usually pronounce r sounds quite differently.”
We Need to Talk About Kevin
Tilda Swinton, American
The Accent Swinton affects a flat American tone to play the anxiety-plagued mom of a disturbed child in an unnamed suburb. (The book on which the movie is based takes place in Nyack, N.Y.)
Gold Standard In American Psycho, Christian Bale’s meticulously nonregional speech placed him as a possible native of Anytown, USA — making his lethal character feel all the more terrifyingly familiar.
An Expert Says ”She sounds like she’s doing standard American, but with just a tiny dash of New York inflections,” says Roche.
A Local Says ”Tilda sounds like she could live here,” says Nyack resident Jean Godfrey-June. ”Practically everyone in Nyack is from Northern California via Brooklyn anyway.”
Leonardo DiCaprio, Mid-Atlantic
The Accent Never one to pass up a good accent (see: Blood Diamond, The Departed), DiCaprio attempts to copy the distinctively old-timey vocal patterns of former FBI honcho J. Edgar Hoover, who was born and raised in Washington, D.C.
Gold Standard Perhaps DiCaprio picked up a few pointers from his Aviator costar Cate Blanchett, who won an Oscar for going full blueblood as late screen great Katharine Hepburn.
An Expert Says ”The mid-Atlantic [accent] is what all of the old actors would have to learn,” says Roche. ”The real J. Edgar sounds like he picked this up at school. Rather than give Leonardo the exact same sound [as Hoover], which would be distracting, all he did was soften some of his r sounds.”
A Local Says The 1930s did not immediately return calls for comment.
The Iron Lady
Meryl Streep, English
The Accent Playing British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, Streep aims for a vowel-for-vowel reproduction of Thatcher’s endlessly imitated pleb-meets-posh enunciation.
Gold Standard It’ll probably be Streep herself after this movie comes out, given the actress’ reputation as a virtuoso dialectician. But we’ll give an honorable mention to Renée Zellweger’s charmingly unfussy lilt in Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001).
An Expert Says ”She rolls her r’s beautifully, and when she says absolutely she does a lovely dip on the u and this wonderful fresh t,” says Roche.
A Local Says ”In terms of sounding like Margaret Thatcher, I think Meryl makes her a little too sexy,” says Londoner Thomas Houlton. ”But I wouldn’t question her Britishness. Overall, I think it’s bloody good.”
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Rooney Mara, Swedish
The Accent The tattooed and pierced Lisbeth Salander hails from Scandinavia. So to play her, Mara takes on some swooping Swedish vowels.
Gold Standard Surprisingly few actors have ever tried speaking ABBA-ese on screen. Our winner by default? Drew Barrymore in Wayne’s World 2. (Runner-up: the Swedish Chef.)
An Expert Says ”She does a very modified, light Swedish accent,” says Roche, ”which is good because she needs to be understood by the multitudes. For example, she does a very rich and deep oo sound and shortens her long e‘s.”
A Local Says ”She sounds pretty genuine,” according to Sara B. Elfgren, who lives in Stockholm. ”But sometimes you can hear that she’s not Swedish—she has a slight touch of Eastern European.”
Jack and Jill
Adam Sandler, Bronx
The Accent Sandler puts a mild spin on his usual baby-slash-70-year-old-Jewish-man voice to play his own twin sister, an obstreperous Bronx gal with an earsplitting outer-borough whine.
Gold Standard The Connecticut-raised Ernest Borgnine took home an Oscar for his role in 1955’s Marty, in which he played a lonely Bronx butcher who says brother like bruddah.
An Expert Says ”This isn’t exactly the best of the lot,” laughs Roche. ”He just gives her a very broad New York sound, so basically it’s just his voice with a lisp and a little more nasal.”
A Local Says ”It does sound like a woman, but a woman with a lisp trying to talk like a New Yorker,” says Jennifer Blatus, who was raised in the Bronx. ”When he goes, ‘You look like you’re going bald,’ he says it like bawld. We’d say bwaaald.”