Friday, March 27, 2009

Reader mail: Imported actors, opening credits and 'In Treatment'

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, my editors asked me to revive the reader mailbag column, and I thank the many of you who sent great questions. Space considerations only allowed me to answer three (initially, there were four, but one got cut and is being held for next week's mailbag), but I hope to get to more of them in the next few mailbags, and/or you can always try asking them the next time I have time to do an open thread discussion.

You can read the mailbag column here.

22 comments:

Stef said...

Good questions. I was wondering the same thing about In Treatment, which is coming up in my Netflix queue. So thanks for the advice!

Word ver: PUNCHED. Spelled out correctly! What does that mean for a foggy Friday?

Anonymous said...

I also have a question about In Treatment. I know the first season was based on an Israeli show. Is the second season also based on that show or is it all brand new? (Come to think of it...how closely was the first season based on it? Was it just the premise? Or were all of the storylines lifted from the original?)

Omagus said...

To kinda sorta tie together two of the letters, I had NO idea until Season 4.5 that Jamie Bamber (Apollo on Battlestar Galactica) is British. He was great with a non-specific North American accent. It must have been especially difficult for him to work in scenes with James Callis and not slip. Kudos to him for that.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I also have a question about In Treatment. I know the first season was based on an Israeli show. Is the second season also based on that show or is it all brand new? (Come to think of it...how closely was the first season based on it? Was it just the premise? Or were all of the storylines lifted from the original?)

Warren Leight talked about this when I interviewed him in January.

Anonymous said...

The first question reminds me of something strange I saw in the lead up to Life's premier two years ago.

NBC was running commericals with Damian Lewis, as himself, talking about his character, but he was talking in his American accent. Talk about surreal and blurring reality.

I understand why they did it, but it must have been a funny conversation between the publicist and Damian. As far as I know Hugh Laurie hasn't done that, right?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Lewis and Laurie have a different approach to the accent. Laurie feels he can switch it on and off, so he only uses it when he's acting. Lewis has a harder time, and so he's "American" whenever he's in some kind of professional capacity related to "Life," whether it's just killing time between takes or doing a press conference about the show.

Marc said...

Alan,

I asked you a questions re: the lack of CUPID promotion. I know you are pressed for space. I loved the new pilot. Wonder if you have any insight into why ABC is pimping every new show more than this.

Omagus said...

Alan: Lewis and Laurie have a different approach to the accent. Laurie feels he can switch it on and off, so he only uses it when he's acting. Lewis has a harder time, and so he's "American" whenever he's in some kind of professional capacity related to "Life," whether it's just killing time between takes or doing a press conference about the show.

Idris Elba is another one who I think takes the second approach, although for a different reason. He uses his American accent whenever he is in the States because he thinks it throws off people who are used to it when he speaks with his home accent. Speaking of which...


Alan: The simple answer to both is the success of Hugh Laurie on "House," but each gets complicated after that.

I get that The Wire was never the commercial success that House is. However, it was a fantastic show (arguably the best drama in American television history) with an extremely loyal following, myself included. So I would be remiss to not point out that both Idris Elba and Dominic West were Brits who convincingly played Americans on TV for a few years before House debuted.

Hatfield said...

Elba nailed it, for sure, but West had his slip-ups, as did Aiden Gillen as Tommy Carcetti.

And then there's Jeffrey Donovan, who, though American, is so good at different accents that perhaps he should be Anwar's dialect coach

Nicole said...

I thought that Bamber's dad was American, so that would probably help with mastering the accent.

Didn't Christian Bale promote The Dark Knight while using an American accent? I don't know if his reason was the same as Lewis though. I suspect publicists were concerned about a Welsh Batman. I do wish writers/producers and publicists would give the American audience more credit and let actors use original accents if it doesn't affect the character.

Jordan said...

Every time the scrubs credits run i think "wow, they were so young"

Stef said...

Idris Elba is another one who I think takes the second approach, although for a different reason. He uses his American accent whenever he is in the States because he thinks it throws off people who are used to it when he speaks with his home accent.

He just did an episode of Fresh Air with Terry Gross a few weeks ago right before he started on The Office, and I think he used his British accent in the interview. She asked him about his accents, though, and he talked about how what he used as his American accent on the Wire is very different from what he's using on The Office. It was an interesting conversation about dialects.

grand-sophy said...

While listening to the commentary on The Dresden Files, the short-lived SciFi series, I discovered that every time the camera rolled lead actors Paul Blackthorne (Harry) and Terrence Mann (Bob the ghost) had to switch accents, and very convincingly too.

BigTed said...

By far the worst Aussie-to-American accent in Poppy Montgomery's on "Without a Trace," even after many years. Anthony LaPaglia's isn't always much better.

BigTed said...

...is...

Oaktown Girl said...

When I see all the foreign actors on TV here in the US, it makes me curious about how many American actors have prominent roles on British and Aussie TV. And if there are any, when they are in scripted shows (not talk show hosts, etc), are they using British and Aussie accents most of the time?

I would really like to know if it goes both ways across the pond.If so, that's cool. If not, I'm a little upset by it. In any case, I hate that TV producers think we're all so shallow we can't handle foreign accents without a ton of back story. I'd much prefer to see actors using their natural accents.

Matter-Eater Lad said...

I've always thought an American actor could do all right playing Americans in British TV, but the only one who springs to mind is Megan Dodds, who's been in stuff like MI-5 and Not Going Out's first series. There'd certainly be work for them -- the most recent series of MI-5 released in the US had a Brit playing an American whose accent was straight out of Brooklyn, Oklahampshire, by way of Calisota.

Nicole said...

Robert Vaughn on Hustle keeps his accent and is a lead on the show.
Michelle Forbes was also in Waking the Dead for a few episodes. There are less examples than the other way, but I think it's more because there is less work available in the UK in general for actors, as opposed to Hollywood.

I also suspect that foreign actors who come over have more theatrical training and drama training in general, as opposed to the model/cheerleader/pagent queen trajectory taken by most US sitcom actors. The not so great actors usually end up in Neighbours, Coronation Street or the Bill.

Number Five said...

Alan, as someone who would instinctively ask you questions on this blog vs. e-mailing you for the column, let us know if you want us to do that again, and I'm sure we'd step up.

The other reason networks like to cast British and other foreign actors is because they can generally pay them less than equivalent American actors. Nicole's point that there's less work in Britain, Australia, etc, partially explains it, although I would have guessed the market for TV actors is too fluid to have that kind of differential.

Networks definitely should trust audiences on the accents though. I don't care about Lie to Me, but it'd be nice if it did really well and that broke the accent taboo.

Opening credits are like album covers - the best of them are beautiful pieces of art in of themselves - but we'll have to tell our kids what they were like, because they're wonderful but not essential, and if the networks insist on squeezing every last penny, it's better to lose them than another minute of the story.

Are the In Treatment DVDs even set up that you could view by patient? Given what you said, Alan, that seems silly. It's kind of like watching Lost in chronological order - it's an awesome idea but doesn't really make any sense.

Anonymous said...

@ Oaktown Girl

Here in Australia, we have very few, if any, American actors on Aussie-made programs. However, having said that, the majority of scripted drama and comedy on Australian tv is imported from the US. The American tv market is the largest in the English speaking world and as such will attract actors from around the world. With few exceptions, the foreign actors cast in American series all audition alongside American actors so they obviously have something that the producers or network are responding to.

American actors have been playing Brits, Aussies and other nationalities in films for a long time now (and vice versa). I don't think any of us can be too precious about where an actor comes from as long as they do a good job.

Professor Impossible said...

I thought James Callis on BSG was so-so, simply because he seemed to be using a sort of haughty intellectual accent which sounded a bit BBC, although his normal accent is definitely more musical. A great scene to think about with Dominic West is from Season 2 where he pretends to be a british john to go undercover with the prostitution ring. A brit doing an American doing a bad brit accent? Makes your head spin. I didn't notice any slips with West. Jeffrey Donovan is definitely awesome. Didn't realize Carcetti was one. Speaking of Dresden Files, it was funny to me seeing Claudia Black in that for the one episode because she did a really good American accent, whereas in Farscape I think she maintained her Australian accent simply because it became a part of the character. Also, Amanda Tapping in the Stargate shows did a really good job at American too.

Anonymous said...

Professor Impossible, right above: In BSG, this was part of Baltar's backstory. He was purposely using a high-class accent to hide his more working-class roots.