The Accent Coaches have been preparing British actors for pilot season for several years. Here, they share with you the feedback from American directors, casting directors and managers who audition and represent British actors.
1. Casting – it’s worth having a serious think about the roles, productions and characters you are going to be put up for. Get advice from as many people as possible, preferably Americans. It may well be different from the roles you’re put up for in the UK. With this in mind you can then start to research the different American accents you’d like to go armed with.
2. What to Prepare – be realistic about what you can achieve before you go. Of course every actor is different and it depends on how confident you are with learning a new accent. It can take an average of 3-4 coaching sessions, plus lots of practice, to get your accent to a good standard. If you struggle with accents it may take longer. You will definitely need a ‘Standard American’, otherwise known as ‘Network American’, ‘Broadcast American’ or ‘Newscaster Standard’. Think Brad Pitt, John Barrowman, Oprah Winfrey, Forest Whittaker, George Clooney, Minnie Driver, Thandie Newton, Gillian Anderson etc.) You may also want to work on an east coast accent such as Boston, Brooklyn, New Jersey or the Bronx, but mostly Americans want to hear a good ‘standard’ accent. Then if they feel confident you can deliver, they’ll assume you can do or you’ll be able to work on an East Coast accent, should it be required.
NB: We often find actors slip more comfortably into an New York or deep Southern accent. If that’s the case for you, don’t fret. It’s ok to go with what you can already do, but do keep it consistent. English actors often drift between the two when there are many miles between them!
3. Adapt Your Audition Attitude – the main feedback we’ve had from American casting directors has been,
‘Sure, the accent was good, but the actor was just too polite. You know, just too British.’
So what does that mean? Well if we tell you that Americans ‘run for Presidency’, while Brits ‘stand for election’, that gives you an idea what they mean. It’s a cultural difference. Americans have a strong, ‘YES WE CAN’ mentality, as opposed to the ‘I don’t mind if I do’ of the Brits. It’s the front-footed energy of striving for the all-American dream that makes Americans (especially actors) appear confident and comfortable with owning their space. So when it comes to entering the casting room, enter with confidence, be direct, look them in the eye, be front-footed and do not be afraid to get into sell, sell, sell mode. They want you to be at your best and to believe in yourself; there’s no room for self-effacing modesty. It may be an endearing British quality but if you’re playing an American then wear your ‘Yes I can’ badge with pride. They will forgive a dodgy vowel or wobbly ‘R’ if you have a ‘Totally American’ presence.
4. The Accent Rhythm – Americans have a Standard American Groove. The accent has a totally different rhythm and musicality from the British. That striving forward, ‘yes we can’ confidence and sense of space all contributes to a ‘driving through’ feel in the sound. Less twiddle, more push. Head toward those last words, driving through each one on the way. Don’t just focus on getting individual sounds right; be sure to get the feel of the American accent in the mouth and body.
5. See an ‘R’, Say an ‘R’ – one manager we talked to said,
‘What is it with you guys growling and barking all your ‘R’ sounds? We don’t do that!’
Brits are in danger of making the ‘R’ sound too strongly, not doing it enough or being inconsistent. The rule is simple; ‘SEE an R, SAY an R.’ Do not commit the cardinal sin of putting in ‘R’s’ where there aren’t any written. For example; in your own accent the words ‘mother’ and ‘idea’ may rhyme, but they don’t in Standard American! Learn to keep the ‘R’ out of the words it doesn’t belong in. Also, watch out for overdoing the resonance of the ‘R’, don’t pull it back too far or sit in it too heavily. Remember, it’s got to blend in. It is connected to, and almost part of the vowel. Think of saying the vowel and the ‘R’ together, rather than one after the other.
Our final American accent faux pas is overdoing the ‘American twang’. Do not over do the nasality. Don’t push the sound through your nose but think of it as a warm sound that resonates and vibrates on the soft palate (the fleshy bit at the back of the mouth), through into the facial mask, and down into chest resonance. It’s not a strident honking noise!
6. Practice and Warm-Up – finally, make sure you’ve got lots of practice material and warm up exercises. You need your accent to be ready to go. Sometimes you can expect to have several meetings a day, so you want to be ready from the off. There’s nothing worse than hearing the accent ‘switch on’ halfway through the speech!
Try out your accent at the grocery stores, at the diner, while you’re out and about. Get used to speaking the dialect changes. For example, bathroom & restroom (not toilet!), cell phone, sidewalk and ‘shall we go get a…’ omitting the ‘and’. This will help you ‘feel’ more American. Check out this website for British and American terms.
Devise a little practice text with the American words and then use it as a springboard sentence to launch you into the accent at any given time.
So that’s our advice, now what’s stopping you? Off you go and let us know how you get on!
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