In recent years, British actors have been snatching up roles in the United States that previously would have gone to American actors. Some movie stars like Samuel Jackson have lamented the fact that young American actors aren’t getting many of the best roles anymore. But just why is this happening, and can anything be done about it?
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As noted by The Hollywood Reporter, over the last decade there has been a new British invasion of American shores, but this time it isn’t their army or their rock ‘n roll bands. Instead, highly trained British actors and actresses are getting roles as Americans in the United States.
There are several possible reasons why this is occurring. One of the factors that most people point to when looking at the phenomenon is the fact that British actors are simply better at accents and dialects than American actors. Certainly, British actors have far more exposure to American dialects (American television programs are so popular in the UK) than American actors have to British dialects. Very few Americans are watching Masterpiece Theatre on PBS so they can pick up Cockney rhyming slang.
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In fact, no one watching David Harewood on Supergirl who hadn’t seen him interviewed elsewhere would have any idea that he’s actually British. He sounds as American as any American. The same applies to most British actors working in the United States now. Several of the actors on the Walking Dead are actually British, even though their characters supposedly live in the southern United States.
The character of Jax on Legends of Tomorrow is supposed to be from the United States, but the actor playing him is from the UK. Franz Drameh sounds convincingly American, but ironically got to show off his real accent this last week.
In the episode, the Legends crew were infiltrating NASA, with Jax pretending to be British. Many viewers might have thought that Jax had a very good fake British accent, but in reality it was the other way around.
As noted by Entertainment Weekly, one of the most remarkable examples of this British takeover of American TV and movie roles can be seen in the film Selma. In this movie about Doctor Martin Luther King Jr., the role of King himself – as well as several other characters in the movie – were filled using British actors. And because of the skill these actors had with dialect, moviegoers had no idea they were British.
But even aside from the issue of British skills with dialect and accents, it’s also true that American actors of today tend to get their start working in commercials or in small independent films, rather than by attending theatrical schools and honing their craft on the stage. The professionalism of British actors is giving them an advantage that’s hard to beat.
At one time, the United States was producing some of the finest actors in the world. But these actors – people like Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman and so on – were products of actual acting schools. They had, like British actors do now, spent years developing their skills as actors in plays and small productions off-Broadway before moving on to Hollywood.
The ugly truth is this more professional approach to an acting career in the United States is starting to fade away. While there are still professional acting schools in the United States and major theatrical productions in places like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, it doesn’t have nearly the vitality or influence it once did in Hollywood. In short, the British actor invasion may be here to stay.
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