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Actors assume accents that aren't their natural language/heritage frequently in movies and on TV. Obviously, some of them are better than others. Some are downright laughable, but some are extraordinarily good. It seems to me that even an almost perfect imitation of, say a German accent, would none-the-less be detectable as fake to a native German-speaking person.

However, when I first started watching "House", I was so confused because I had thought Hugh Laurie was British. I became convinced that he was really American and had faked the British accent in the past. He was THAT good.

So the question is:. Could a talented actor use a foreign accent so well that someone who spoke that language his entire life couldn't discern a difference?

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    By your own anecdote, obviously yes – OrangeDog Nov 20 '19 at 11:02
  • Listen to interviews with Damian Lewis (Homeland), Freddie Highmore (Bates Motel, The Good Doctor), Simon Baker (Mentalist), Matthew Rhys (The Americans), and Christian Bale. – Ray Butterworth Nov 20 '19 at 14:29
  • I think it's a lot easier than it might seem to fool someone in this way. I constantly hear people (in North America) complaining about "fake sounding" foreign accents in TV and movies, yet I don't think I've ever heard someone complain about a "fake sounding" American accent. Especially amusing when you realize just how many popular actors in American cinema actually have foreign accents IRL. – Steve-O Nov 20 '19 at 14:43
  • Please ask Jamie Bamber and Cush Jumbo! :D – Darth Locke Nov 21 '19 at 20:54
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This just means that he is a good actor in this sense. Having a different accent is composed of two things. Firstly, you need to have the proper vocabulary (like elevator instead of lift), but that is the job of the screenwriter in the case of a tv show. Secondly, you need to modulate your voice. Being an actor and a good singer (btw, I recommend listening to his blues albums), Hugh Laurie knows well how to modulate his voice to make the right sounds, because having a good ear like trained musicians do have, it makes it easier to replicate the sounds a native speaker makes.

This accent is just hard work and a lot of training. For example, Gary Oldman is also British, but playing Commissioner Gordon and other American characters, he actually forgot how to speak with his native British accent. He had to go to an accent coach and learn it back. That means, that he had to do the exact same thing the first time - go to an accent coach and learn an American accent.

When it comes to House, he has a Mid-west US accent, and maybe someone who speaks the same accent could actually be a better judge if he really sounds as good as others think.

Also, you'd be very surprised at how many actors in Hollywood are just faking it. http://www.bbcamerica.com/anglophenia/2015/08/five-great-british-actors-whove-nailed-an-american-accent

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    am from the mid-west, was shocked when i learned he was British all those years ago – DForck42 Nov 20 '19 at 14:54
  • it's also possible to learn an accent without a dialect coach: norcostco.com/dialect-accent-acting-with-an-accent.aspx – Allison C Nov 20 '19 at 17:22
  • @AllisonC but that cd has "Instruction materials by David Alan Stern, Ph.D.", so technically he is your dialect coach ;) – TK-421 Nov 21 '19 at 7:16
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    Most British actors couldn't "make-it-big" without being able to do an American accent, most of the blockbusters are set across the pond! (Same goes for Aussies and Canadians). Also worth noting that a lot of Scottish actors do incredible English accents too (just look at David Tennant). – Bee Nov 21 '19 at 15:21
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If you looked at the American Presidential debates today you would have seen many different types of American accents; Bernie Sanders' accent is very different from Elizabeth Warren or Joe Biden. That requires the performer to not just change from their non-American accent; they also have to adopt in many cases a regional variety of US accent. Unless a generic US accent is asked for; that would be a whole other discussion as to whether a generic US accent exists at all. I am not American; to me Bernie Sanders would say "I parked my car" to sound like "I pahked my Kah".

You have two ways of getting the accent. One way is imitation. Some actors are great imitators. They can go somewhere where people are speaking that accent and try to repeat without thinking what is said. These people are also natural foreign language learners. The second way is through formal phonology ; you study what physically makes sound patterns with the tongue, throat, nose and lips of a speaker and change your way of speaking to that. At its most formal you could use the international phonetic alphabet to identify all this very precisely. If an accent trainer is taking a formal approach he or she could also use such an alphabet. Again, Bernie Sanders would get a far more precise phonetic alphabet set of symbols for "I parked my car" than what I did earlier.

It's worth mentioning as well that it's not just the sound; actors must also adopt other aspects such as physical posture. For instance an Australian actor will have by default a very different way of standing than most American people. Anna Torv when she was in Fringe would have had to bear that in mind. To pull it all off is a very skilled task.

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