It can be pretty surprising to find out an actor you could have sworn was American was actually British. Certainly, there are a number of great British actors who have managed to successfully adopt an American affectation. Male and female actors alike on television or film have come a lot closer to imitating us than some Americans can imitate them.
Welsh-born Bale is no stranger to American productions and American roles. While he first came to prominence as child actor in Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun, in which he played an English boy living in a Japanese POW camp, his first role as an American came with 1992’s Newsies. He’s held a number of other roles since then that required him to play an American, including: psychopathic businessman Patrick Bateman in American Pyscho, FBI Special Agent Melvin Purvis in Public Enemies, con artist Irving Rosenfeld in American Hustle, and perhaps most famously, Bruce Wayne/Batman in the Dark Knight trilogy. In interviews, he seems to switch effortlessly between his native Welsh and his American.
An actor most Americans wouldn’t have guessed is British, he had a few roles to his name before Steven Spielberg cast him for the HBO series Band of Brothers, where he played Richard Winters. He’s gone back and forth playing Brits and Americans ever since, moving from patriarch Soames Forsyte in The Forsyte Saga to Los Angeles Detective Charlie Crews in Life to American terrorist Nicholas Brody in Homeland and more recently, King Henry VIII in Wolf Hall. No matter the nationality of his character, Lewis is comfortable in either accent and his American sound never betrays his British roots.
Emma Watson makes headlines as much for her activism as for her roles, which have certainly taken off since she wrapped up the Harry Potter series that made her a household name. Making the move to America in 2011 to attend Brown University, Watson surely studied American accents along with the rest of her curriculum. Since coming to the States for her education and acting career, she has twice starred in films that required her to adopt a pretty spot-on accent. The first came in 2012 when she played Sam in the adaptation of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. In 2013, she portrayed Nicki Moore in The Bling Ring, who was based on Alexis Neiers, one of a number of real-life thieves who broke into the Beverly Hills homes of several celebrities.
Certainly well-known on both sides of the pond, more Americans tend to know Laurie for his role of cranky Dr. Gregory House from the medical drama House than they do for his time opposite Stephen Fry and Rowan Atkinson. He portrayed house for roughly eight years, being nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor six times along with six nominations and two wins for the Golden Globes. Despite his absolutely convincing American accent, Laurie is more than happy to out from under the shadow of House, though he’s also played Americans in Stuart Little and Veep.
It’s an interesting thing to watch Mulligan in the Doctor Who episode “Blink”, right at the point before her career really took off with 2009’s An Education. At the same time, she made a move to American productions, where she starred alongside Bale as Carole in Public Enemies, then went onto more American characters, playing Michael Douglass’ daughter, Winnie Gecko in the Wall Street sequel, Irene in Drive, Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby, and Jean Berkley in Inside Llewelyn Davis. This year, she comes back to Britain with roles in Far from the Madding Crowd and Suffragette.
Nothing gets more American than Superman, but Supes/Clark Kent actor Henry Cavill had a number of British roles before putting on the iconic cape, such as Tristan & Isolde, The Count of Monte Cristo, and Stardust. In the past couple of years, he’s turned to doing more American roles, which he has proven to be quite good at in his performances. In addition to Superman/Kent in Man of Steel and next year’s Superman v. Batman: Dawn of Justice, this year he took on the role of American spy Napoleon Solo in the film adaptation of The Man from UNCLE.
Coming to attention in Russel T. Davies’ Queer as Folk where he played young Nathan Maloney, Hunnam kept his British accent at first in the short-lived Judd Apatow series Undeclared where he played English-born student Lloyd Haythe. While that role is mostly forgotten among American audiences, he earned star recognition with his role as Jackson “Jax” Teller on the Hamlet-inspired biker show Sons of Anarchy. He took on another major American role in 2013’s Pacific Rim where he played Raleigh Becket opposite our next entry. This year, he reteams with Pacific Rim director Guillermo del Toro as a British character in the horror film Crimson Peak.
Elba had a number of roles in his career until he landed a star-making role in the American HBO crime drama The Wire, where he played drug dealer Russell “Stringer” Bell. Following this role, he’s gone back and forth from playing Brits to playing Americans, including Monty James in Tyler Perry’s Daddy’s Little Girls, General Stone in 28 Weeks Later, Charles Miner in the US version of The Office, DCI John Luther in Luther, and Stacker Pentecost in Pacific Rim with Charlie Hunnam. While the majority of hi American characters have had believable accents, his Captain Janek from Prometheus needed some work, as did the rest of that film.
There’s no denying the great career of British actress Kate Winslet, who has had such great roles as Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility, Rose in Titanic, and Sylvia Llewlyn Davies in Finding Neverland. However, she’s held a number of American character roles as well, with one of the first being Clementine in 2004’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Since then, she’s held further American roles such as Anne Stanton in All the King’s Men, April Wheeler in Revolutionary Road, and Erudite faction leader Jeanine in the Divergent film series.
It’s been a long time since Hoult’s breakout role in 2002’s About a Boy with Hugh Grant. He had more roles in Britain such as Kidulthood and Coming Down the Moutain before turning to more American roles with his portrayal of Kenny Potter in the 2009 Tom Ford film A Single Man. This was followed with more American accent-required roles in 2011’s X-Men: First Class as Hank McCoy/The Beast, a role that has continued into sequels X-Men: Days of Future Past and next year’s X-Men: Apocalypse. He’s also played American zombie R in the black comedy romance Warm Bodies. With many opportunities still ahead of him, it certainly seems that Hoult’s flawless American accent will have more roles in which to display itself.
Where’s Rufus Sewell on your list? He starred in “Eleventh Hour” on CBS a few years back and nailed the American accent. Coming up this November, he’ll be nailing it again in “The Man in the High Castle” on Amazon Prime.
Doug Bordelon says
Emma Watson? Are you serious?!? Did you see her in the Perks of Being Wallflower? She sounded sort of American, but every fourth word she spoke had more of an English than an American accent. No. Sorry. Emma Watson most definitely does not belong on this list.
She got better by The Bling Ring.
Laura Thornton says
The entire British cast of Band of Brothers did a great job of fooling me almost to a man. I kept watching, becoming fascinated with one then another actor, convinced each was an American, only to look them up on Google and find out that, once again, my American ears had been fooled .
Marni Newhouse says
Alan Cummings! He should be #1 on the list in my mind.
Jennifer Simpson says
Ummm how about Andrew Lincoln, lennie james or any of the others from Walking Dead who surprise me when I hear their live British accents?
gee whiz — why not Tom Wilkinson? he’s amazing at speaking American.
No love for Mark Sheppard? His American accent is flawless.
Michelle Peeples says
I have to agree with Jennifer Simpson. How could you forget Andrew Lincoln, Lennie James David Morrisey Lauren Cohan all from the Walking Dead. James Frain (True Detective Season 2) and Mark Addy (prior to Game of Thrones he was on a sitcom here in the U.S. called Still Standing).
Well, Lauren was actually born in the States and then moved to England. She kind of sits in that bubble with Andrew Garfield and Gillian Anderson.
You forgot to mention Henry Cavill played Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk in The Tudors and was terrific. Interesting that the opposite is not true. There are few American actors who can paly a convincing British, Scottish or Welsh accent. Rene Zellwegger and Gwyneth Paltrow come to mind but I cannot recall anyone else!
Lee Anne says
Julian Ovenden does a convincing American accent as well, both acting or singing.
Josh Bowman who acted in the Sunday 10 pm series ” Revenge ” had the most perfect American accent I ever heard
I definitely agree with the “Band of Brothers” list. Two other “Good Wife” alumni that come to mind are Archie Panjabi (Kalinda) and Mathew Goode (Finn Polmar). I agree North Americans have a harder time going the other way.
I was totally shocked when I found out that Jonny Lee Miller is British. He nailed an American accent on “Eli Stone” and ought to be on this list.
Perfect American accent by Damian Lewis in Band of Brothers, expect the last 2 minutes, when he pronounces the word “con-TRAC-tor” instead of “CON-trac-tor”.
Paul Blackthorne deserves a mention- nailed it in Arrow. I was so shocked when I realized he was British… and Mark Sheppard too.
Oh and definitely have to mention Hugh Laurie- thanks for putting him on here- his accent is amazing
Margie P. says
Yes, what about Andrew Lincoln & so many of the other cast members of The Walking Dead? I’m very surprised they were overlooked in this assessment. Their American accents are so authentic that I was shocked when I heard them speaking in their native British accents.
This article was a focus on film stars. We have a companion article about TV actors where he is mentioned: https://www.anglotopia.net/british-entertainment/brit-tv/telly-ten-british-tv-actors-can-totally-nail-american-accent/
Chris Haynes says
A glaring omission is Dominic West from The Wire, I watched the show from start to finish and had no idea he was English, let alone from my home city of Sheffield.