the actors are coming!

quick question. is it just me noticing something that always goes on or is there really a bit of a british invasion on american screens?

so, we all know about hugh laurie, both sides of the pond. english actor impresses all with his grasp of american english as house. we’re all on the same page with this, right? old news. see, the thing is that i don’t have a tv, and haven’t had one for a few years now. this means that i see some things from the US that haven’t been on tv in the uk and i don’t see any of the magazine style tv shows that fill up the schedules, so i don’t know what ‘we’ know about. this puts me rather on the back foot as a tv reviewer, but bear with me.

hugh laurie talks slang with ellen

what i want to talk about is what seems to me to be a thing. you might be able to tell me whether it is a thing or not. it’s just something that seems to be happening more and more. maybe i am wrong, but is there some sort of english invasion on the screens of the US?

with laurie/house it could be seen as a one off. and then there was ian mcshane as al swearengen in deadwood. he plays a character originally from england and has a rather cut and shut accent which works. for UK viewers it was less that he was in an american show that was the big deal and much, much more that someone who had played a long running middle of the road show here – lovejoy – could actually act. coincidentally, deadwood was also the beginning of my addiction to the style of watching enabled by the box set. i watched all of season one with my brother over a few days at christmas one year. we ate, we took a sofa each, and we watched deadwood. a perfect festive season.

so, this brings me to the wire. and a definite shift – two english actors, both playing americans. HOWEVER – i can’t remember if i knew idris elba was a hackney boy before watching, but i certainly had no idea who dominic west was.

mcnulty (west) and stringer bell (elba)

imagine my shock when i saw him in the hour.

dominic west in the hour.

it was quite good, i wasn’t crazy about it. but it was very strange seeing mcnulty toff up. if you like mad men then you might like this, too.

and if you haven’t heard idris elba sporting his real accent, i can verify that his accent in luther is authentic. i loved luther. very watchable. if you like crime drama it’s a treat.

idris elba – luther

so, this was when i started thinking that there was something going on with our actorly exports – two major parts in the wire being played IN AMERICAN by brits? interesting.

then something else happened – homeland came onto UK tv. ANOTHER two actors, both playing americans. being me, i didn’t recognize damian lewis as being from here, and in any case he has played american before (band of brothers for example) and is one of those english actors who speaks in RP (recieved pronunciaton) or, as it is now more commonly recognized ‘BBC english’, which makes ‘doing accents’ rather unsurprising since those that have it tend to use it as a baseline from which to deviate.

damian lewis talks about homeland

david harewood from homeland – as himself. not the strongest brummie accent, but it’s there.

so then i started thinking – what about women in all this? alex kingston comes immediately to mind. in ER she keeps her english accent. she is also pretty high profile here, having been a major character  in dr who.

it’s not as if british actors are new in town, after all, charlie chaplin and stan laurel were brits. but what i am wondering is, is being an actress really that far behind being an actor? are women uncle tomming it like james mason who played his englishness as either ‘englishman as villain’ or ‘english accent as german nazi’? what do you think? i mean, i am very much NOT  an expert. i barely know who actors are. i wouldn’t even be able to name these actors if it weren’t for wikipedia. so maybe i have it all wrong?

ETA thanks to kirsty for pointing me to this post where people seem to be mainly complaining that british actresses are playing american parts. you can’t please ’em all.

20 responses to “the actors are coming!

  1. I was actually going to say something intelligent, but show me pictures of Hugh Laurie and Alex Kingston and my brain appears to travel all the way down to my groin…

  2. I had a similar thought recently! After seeing Linus Roache bob up in not one but two Law and Order series.

    There is also an over-representation of Australians too, up to and including the guy who played Jim Robinson in Neighbours turning up as Vice President in one show and head of the CIA in another. I would not have picked him to go on to bigger and better things.

    • i like it, but at first it feels really disorientating. but then, i was completely freaked out as a kid when i went to this big ‘brodie girl’ thing in edinburgh and geraldine mcewan was there, and she spoke in an english accent! NOOOO – she is MISS BRODIE! spinster of morningside, edinburgh!

  3. Also, on subsequent thought: maybe (as a wild generalisation) UK/Australian actors look more ‘real’ than US ones; less likely to have teeth fixed, that sort of thing. And perhaps, in the American TV milieu, it is acceptable, or even desirable, for men to look lived in (vis. McNulty), but less so for women. Maybe.

    • i hadn’t thought of that. i’d heard that they like the training the uk actors get, and yeah, they are a LOT less likely to have had any ‘work’ done. maybe the USA just isn’t ready for real women? actually, i read on wikipedia that alex kingston was turned down for desperate housewives for being too fat.

  4. There are probably more women than you think; I can offer Parminder Nagra (also ER and now Alcatraz) and Jaime Murray who was in Hustle here but actually done more American telly now.

  5. What the heck? I never knew Hugh Laurie is British! Hearing him speak in his normal voice makes me suffer all sorts of cognitive dissonance.

    • i know that feeling well! i knew that both the black actors in ‘the wir’e and ‘homelands’ were british, but i didn’t know either of the white ones were. it seemed less of a big deal to discover the ‘homelands’ guy was a brit, but i saw ‘mcnulty’ in ‘the hour’ after steeping myself in ‘the wire’, so i had something invested in him *being* mcnulty apart from anything else. to see him being a posh englishman was almost sick making.

      laurie had a long career in the uk before he went to the usa – largely as part of a comedy duo with stephen fry. so not just a change of accent, but genre as well. here’s an example http://youtu.be/hnHv7NGWb0k

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