Talk about outsourcing! An increasing number of TV's all-American cops, firefighters and doctors are being played by actors not from the U.S. of A.
Of course, foreign actors have been hiding their accents to play Americans for years. House's Hugh Laurie was so skilled at trading in his upper-crust Cambridge lilt to play the titular grumpy doctor that many viewers were shocked to find out he was British when he spoke with his real voice on an awards show or during interviews. (One of Laurie's tricks to keeping his American accent pure was never to drop it while on set, a strategy that fellow Brit Damian Lewis — Homeland's Brody — follows.)
But blimey, the overseas influx is stronger than ever, particularly for male dramatic actors. Among the stars of new or recent series: England's Jamie Bamber (Monday Mornings), Hugh Dancy (Hannibal), Freddie Highmore (Bates Motel), Theo James (Golden Boy), Andrew Lincoln (The Walking Dead), Sam Palladio (Nashville), Eamonn Walker (Chicago Fire) and Tom Weston-Jones (Copper); Australia's Jesse Spencer (Chicago Fire) and Robert Taylor (Longmire); Denmark's Ulrich Thomsen (Banshee); Ireland's Jason O'Mara (Vegas); Sweden's Joel Kinnaman (The Killing); Wales' Matthew Rhys (The Americans) and Michael Sheen (Masters of Sex); and New Zealand's Antony Starr (Banshee).
What's behind this casting trend? For producers doing the hiring, they're simply looking for the strongest talent and expect the American accent to follow. Carlton Cuse, who worked with an able international cast on Lost, chose two young British actors for pivotal American roles in A&E's upcoming Psycho prequel Bates Motel, including Highmore as Norman Bates. "We were completely charmed by him," Cuse says. "We looked at a lot of actors, but the truth is, there currently seems to be a big gulf between Australian and British actors and American actors. The American actors just don't seem as well trained or as deep and complex."
Nor are they often humble enough to play a country sheriff, says Longmire exec producer Hunt Baldwin. He cast Taylor when he found that "the trait of humility wasn't apparent very much in the Americans we looked at." As for the actors, they're going where the work is. "Hollywood is the center of the industry," says Lewis. "People have been coming in and out of here for the last 100 years."
Of course, as good as these actors may be, they still have to master an American accent, which isn't easy. "American English's melody is very flat, as opposed to the British or Australian melody," says dialect coach Claudette Roche, who has worked with actors on American Horror Story, Boardwalk Empire and NCIS. Her tutorials range from pointing out the very specific — most Americans pronounce our as are — to teaching her students "to ask questions without intoning up." Her favorite U.S. impersonators: "Hugh Laurie. And Joel Kinnaman on The Killing — he's so fluid that I could not believe he is Swedish."
But not all foreign actors are as successful, says TV Guide Magazine critic Matt Roush. "The greatest danger in robbing an actor of his or her voice is that it may inhibit the star's personality from showing through," he says. "Look at Jonny Lee Miller. After playing Americanized characters on Eli Stone and Dexter, he has come into his own as Sherlock on Elementary. What a joy to listen to him speak his mother tongue the way it was meant to be heard." On the flip side, says Roush, "Jason O'Mara is an actor who has always seemed perfectly natural cloaking his Irish brogue and may have found his best role yet as one of Vegas' cowboy cops."
So to all those aspiring actors across the Atlantic: Keep your passports handy!