So I guess the big question is, if I hadn’t written Man Up, would I have guessed that Lake Bell wasn’t actually British? The answer is an unequivocal “No.” I have never known a woman more dedicated to the craft of accents than Lake, down to her finding out exactly where I was from in London (Wandsworth, to be precise), staying in that Wandsworth accent for the entire duration of the shoot, only to totally freak out the crew when we wrapped, and she did a thank you speech in her native accent. It caused them to all go a bit Liam Gallagher on her. (See entry No.3, below.) Though there are many other American actors and actresses who have got my attention with their British ways, these are my Top Five.
1. Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher, The Iron Lady (2011)
Let’s start with a big, dramatic hitter. Streep obviously nails every accent she ever does, but when she goes British, she wins awards. In The Iron Lady, she flawlessly spoke in not only Thatcher’s accent, but also the accent that Thatcher tried to disguise with elocution lessons and voice coaching. So a British accent disguising another British accent. Now that’s acting.
2. Julianne Moore as Charley, A Single Man (2009)
I love this film, and I love Julianne Moore, and her accent in it. But I don’t just love the impeccable Sloaney drawl she does, I love that she also has to do it DRUNK. Drunk accent acting! That is not easy. I don’t even sound that British when I’m drunk. So hats off to Julianne, for sounding note perfect as she sips many alcoholic beverages, and descends into a pitch-perfect Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous.
3. Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer in Spinal Tap (1984)
It’s no secret that Liam Gallagher once walked out of a Spinal Tap gig, because he didn’t realize they weren’t a real band. ”’I’m not f**king having that’ were, I believe, his precise words. Anyway, let’s just take a moment to revel in three actors, not only speaking in a British accent, but improvising in a British accent. That’s taking accent skills and turning them up to 11.
4. Mike Myers in, well, lots of films
I feel like Mike Myers does not get enough love for his general accent ability, covering not just a posh, hilarious London accent as Austin Powers, but a full-blown Scottish accent in So I Married An Axe Murderer, and in Shrek (oh and as Fat Bastard). Being incredibly funny, in an authentic comedy accent that is not your own, may not win awards, but it should.
5. Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones, Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)
It is no small feat to take a well-loved, very British character, have everyone be horrified that a Yank is playing her, and then totally become that character, so much so, that you could never imagine anyone else playing her. This is the plummiest of British accents, and in many ways, I don’t know anyone who actually speaks like this, so props to Zellwegger for coming up with an authentic British dialect all of her own. We like it, just as it is.
*Special mention for Kevin Costner, as Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, who begins the film with a British accent, then resorts back to American. Costner reportedly said he wanted to do it in a British accent, but it never quite jelled—for him or the voice coach. But none of this matters, because he is Robin Hood, and his acting makes you believe he is British, and I refuse to accept any notion it’s not one the greatest films of all time.
Tess Morris has been writing since she could walk (not 100% true) and her first words were “Elvis is the King!” (100% true). Her latest screenplay, the romantic comedy Man Up, stars Lake Bell and Simon Pegg. It opened in select theaters November 13th, and opens wider still this Friday, November 20th (and On Demand and Digital everywhere).