Some actors can nail an accent bang on, but others would be better off not bothering, like these ten for instance...
I suck at accents and impressions. I was born in Yorkshire, can’t do a Yorkshire accent. My Welsh comes across all racist curry house. My Scottish is always a quivering Miss Jean Brodie. I can only do my own voice which I don’t want to, a too-high, campy RP. But I’m not a professional actor.
Some can do it and are truly impressive, like the underrated Peter Serafinowicz. He can do Darth Maul, Terry Wogan and Pele and nail it every time.
This list is not about the likes of him. Some people do shit accents in films and it is our duty to mock them. I’m not including Kevin Costner in Robin Hood because he didn’t try, nor Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins because it kind of worked and he’s cool anyway.
Keanu Reeves in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
Famously horrible but it has to go in anyway. It’s actually hard to tell what he’s meant to sound like. Keneenu gets the most stick for his role in this film and rightly so, it’s awful, but there are voices all over the place. Delicious beautiful delight Winona Ryder isn’t so bad because she’s quiet but Anthony Hopkins and Gary Oldman are clearly doing it for laughs – “I have crossed oceeeaaans of tiiime to fiiind you”. Oldman is good at silly voices and clearly enjoys them, consider his comedy Texan in The Fifth Element for example.
Sean Connery in The Untouchables (1987)
“Do you know what a blood oath is, Mr. Nesh? Och aye the noo.”
Connery has form for this as is well known but it’s especially egregious here because he’s playing an Irishman, surely not that much of a stretch across the Straits of Moyle. But no, Connery does not bother, that’s his voice, like it or lump it. This is a problem with quite a few superstars on this list – the filmmaker has to do anything to appease them to get them on the production and then because of their power (and often talent) they act how they like and cannot be stopped. So here, Connery regularly mentions that he’s Irish and nobody pulls him up on it.
He does not care at all though, for that’s his voice. In The Hunt For Red October he’s a defecting Soviet Scottish submarine captain. In Highlander he’s an Egyptian Spanish Scottish semi-immortal warrior. The Name of the Rose gets a pass because everyone does their own thing – they just act – and all the better for it.
Orson Welles in The Lady From Shanghai (1947)
Dreadful Oirish tomfoolery from Welles here, who as director and producer did not need to make his own character Irish, merely not local. He just did it for the acting and it is rubbish, the worst sort of piglet-under-the-arm bucolic Irishness. Damn good film though if you can get past his voice (you can, it is really good).
The scene in this clip was the direct inspiration for Robert Shaw’s famous speech in Spielberg’s Jaws.
Brad Pitt and Harrison Ford in The Devil’s Own (1997)
To Pitt’s credit, he learnt from this that he could not do the voice, so when it was time to play an Irishman again in Snatch he didn’t bother and just muttered gibberish for laughs
They both win (or lose) for attempting strange, strange sort of Irish (again) in this stupid pro-IRA nonsense. They are crap, the film’s crap, it’s all crap.
To Pitt’s credit, he learnt from this that he could not do the voice, so when it was time to play an Irishman again in Snatch he didn’t bother and just muttered gibberish for laughs, an acting decision which would have improved The Devil’s Own tenfold.
Michael Caine in On Deadly Ground (1994)
Watch this clip. Would you believe that Sir Michael is meant to be Texan? You can tell because of his bolo tie. Caine is here in one of his finest paycheck moments, utterly neglecting to give a fuck. Caine is better than Connery for three reasons: 1 – He is just better than Connery; 2 – For proof see The Man Who Would Be King and decide; 3- He at least sort of attempts accents, but not much. Whether it’s proper Cockney like in Alfie – “Shadders? On me lungs?” or slightly posher Cockney as in Zulu – “Don’t you throw those bladdy spears at me.”, he’s always a trooper and great with it.
If you haven’t seen On Deadly Ground then drop everything and watch it immediately. It is awesome. Steven Seagal has a ferocious hand slap fight and delivers a horrifying three minute long environmental speech (cut from the original ten minutes).
John Wayne in The Conqueror (1956)
This is not a good film and it was not a good idea to have John Wayne play Genghis Khan. He has a pointy hat and eye make-up to give him slitty eyes, but if you look closely you can see it is still John Wayne. He also sounds just like John Wayne except he’s doing something. He’s speaking even slower than usual. That’s it, that’s his accent.
“This woman is for my pleasure” is not a bad line, though.
Ewan McGregor in the Star Wars prequels (1999 – 2005)
McGregor is a total dish and far from the worst thing in these films but there’s something off about his voice. He’s British and an actor so he should be able to do RP, and has done so in other films – if he’d have stuck to that he’d have been fine. Instead he took the odd choice to do an Alec Guinness impression. Not only that but a fairly elderly Alec Guinness impression, from a 30 something McGregor. It’s just really weird and it nags, this ineluctable feeling that he’s doing it wrong.
The gambling on the pod race scene was a terrible idea too and he got lucky. Idiot about the clone army too.
Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
There’s very little of him in this trailer because most clips have been deleted from Youtube but Rooney goes the whole hog here, pretending to be Japanese with slitty eyes and big teeth and lots of Ah-so velly solly rubbish. He actually yells ‘Horry Gorightry’ at Hepburn at one point.
It’s fucking awful and fucking racist.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s is annoying in many ways aside from him. I hate how too many girls have that Hepburn poster. I detest that terrible song by Deep Blue Something, it’s sewage. There’s also something very wrong about Holly herself. She wants jewels from Tiffany but if she didn’t buy so many Givenchy dresses she might be able to afford them. And why is she so poor anyway? She’s a prostitute who looks like Audrey Hepburn. Ka-ching! She must be pathetic at accounting or just appalling in the sack.
Rooney goes the whole hog here, pretending to be Japanese with slitty eyes and big teeth and lots of Ah-so velly solly rubbish. He actually yells ‘Horry Gorightry’ at Hepburn at one point.
And what a waste that would be.
Nicolas Cage in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (2001)
It’s hard to tell with Nic Cage, he does his own thing. Is he acting? What is he up to? John Hurt is okay, a bit hammy, and Penelope Cruz sensibly sticks with Spanish/Mediterranean but what is Cage doing? He’s an Italian army officer as interpreted by Super Mario. He’s ever so weird, that Nic Cage. Startling accent in Con Air too (although that film rocks).
Christian Bale in the Batman trilogy (2005 – 2012)
Bale can do an upper-class New York accent just fine. His Bruce Wayne voice is the same as his voice for Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, which is accurate because they are the same character (delusional rich boy, girlfriends die quite a lot) and he does it well.
It’s his Batman that’s the trouble. He sounds like a bad wrestler, growling and rumbling. It’s also quite indistinct. There must have been some situation when he’s been threatening goons and they’ve had to ask him to repeat his warnings. “RAAARGH RAAAAGH I’M BATMAN” he rants.
Try to do the Batman voice. Now try to do it fighting a hoodlum
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