Whenever an actor takes on a role that requires him or her to adopt an accent unlike their own, the results can elicit a pretty divisive reaction from audiences. Just ask Joseph Gordon-Levitt, a popular actor who’s received considerable flack for taking on both a French accent in last year’s The Walk and the signature intonation of National Security Agency whistleblower, Edward Snowden in Oliver Stone’s Snowden.
However, on television, pulling off a different accent can be even trickier, considering the actor in question needs to sustain that voice convincingly over the course of countless hours of storytelling. Perhaps the most famous example of this done successfully is that of English actor Hugh Laurie, who played a very American doctor on House for eight seasons. However, Laurie is far from the only TV star to develop a new accent for a character. Here are a few more examples that might surprise you.
1. Dominic West, The Affair
On many occasions over his career, this English actor has slipped into an American accent, and his role as Noah Solloway on this Showtime drama is just the latest example. The show focuses on the emotional repercussions of an extramarital affair and is clearly meant to be a commentary on how fragile the American family truly is. It’s a good thing then that West’s American accent — as well as that of his English co-star, Ruth Wilson — manages to convince viewers of the authenticity of his performance.
2. Toni Collette, United States of Tara
This actress first earned mainstream popularity for her role as Haley Joel Osment’s concerned mother in The Sixth Sense. So audiences may be shocked to realize that she actually hails from Australia. Her ability to slip into the personas of others comes especially handy in this Showtime drama, in which Collette plays a housewife and mother stricken with dissociative identity disorder. Created by Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody (Juno), the show was an excellent showcase of the actress’s power and earned her both an Emmy and a Golden Globe.
3. Alan Cumming, The Good Wife
A veteran of stage and screen, Cumming is something of a master when it comes to changing his appearance (and, yes, his voice) to suit a role. Movie fans probably know him best as the German teleporter, Nightcrawler from X2: X-Men United, but this Scottish actor’s most acclaimed role in recent years has been as Eli Gold, the Jewish political consultant he played on this CBS drama for seven seasons. Cumming consistently proved to be one of the most celebrated cast members on the show, earning many awards nominations as a result.
4. Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black
This sci-fi thriller — which airs on BBC America — is perhaps best viewed as the opportunity for star Maslany to demonstrate her impressive range. On the show, she plays several different characters who are all identical clones. For each distinct role, Maslany adopts an entirely different personality and a fresh accent. The Canadian star has long been a critical favorite for her work on the show and recently won an Emmy for her roles in the series, which recently aired its fourth season.
5. Charlie Hunnam, Sons of Anarchy
Yup, another English actor. This one has made a name for himself by starring as action heroes in films like Pacific Rim and the upcoming King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. However, Hunnam is best known for leading this hugely popular FX series as Jax Teller, president of a leading motorcycle club. While Hunnam’s film career continues to grow, his work on Sons of Anarchy still leaves many fans surprised to learn just how dissimilar his roots are to that of his character’s.
6. Andrew Lincoln, The Walking Dead
Moviegoers who saw Lincoln pop up as a love-stricken best man in the classic romantic comedy, Love Actually, still may not put two and two together, as the nearly all-British cast of that film contains a role with the future Rick Grimes. A native-born Englishman, Lincoln has been the leading man of one of the most popular shows on television for six seasons, playing the American everyman attempting to make his way in a zombie-infested apocalypse. Believe it or not, many fans remain oblivious to the actor’s true accent.
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