Actors often play roles well outside their wheelhouse. Whether a sweetheart plays an evil villain or an adult perpetually portrays teenagers, gigs demand the ability to pretend. But one of the most impressive masks an actor can wear is a foreign citizen pretending to be American.
Most of the actors and actresses on this list have covered up their natural accents for several roles. What’s most impressive is how well they did it. Some even adapted the accent and culture of a specific U.S. region for a role — a difficult task for even the best American-born actors. Here are 15 foreign actors who tricked us with their vocal skills.
1. Isla Fisher
Nationalities: Australian and British
Actress Isla Fisher grew up in more than one country. Fisher was born in the Arab country of Oman to Scottish parents, and lived in Scotland for a time before settling down in Perth, Australia. She identifies as primarily Australian, and her accent reflects this, though she spends much of her time in the U.K.
If that wasn’t enough, Fisher has long hid her native accent for film and TV roles. Those she’s best known for include Wedding Crashers, Confessions of a Shopaholic, and Now You See Me; in all three she had an American accent.
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2. Idris Elba
Actor Idris Elba hit the mainstream with one of his first American TV roles, as Baltimore drug kingpin Stringer Bell on acclaimed HBO series The Wire. The Brit soon participated in American action films, appearing in DC-owned The Losers before switching to the MCU to play Asgardian Heimdall.
Elba shows up in other sci-fi franchise films, such as Prometheus, Pacific Rim, and Star Trek Beyond. He returned to his natural accent as the star of BBC One series Luther and as political prisoner Kent on the miniseries Guerrilla.
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3. Famke Janssen
Actress Famke Janssen has a unique accent. She moved to the U.S. to begin her career around the age of 20, and her first notable role was villain Xenia Onatopp opposite Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond in GoldenEye. Interestingly, she adopted a Russian accent for the part.
Janssen rose to prominence as Dr. Jean Grey, beginning in the 2000 film, X-Men. She also stars as Lenore in the Taken trilogy and as Susan “Scottie” Hargrave on The Blacklist and the spinoff, The Blacklist: Redemption. In each of these productions Janssen had an American accent.
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4. Charlie Hunnam
Actor Charlie Hunnam only had a few gigs under his belt before he moved to Hollywood. There, he played up his heritage in numerous roles, but didn’t gain much attention until he starred as a biker on Sons of Anarchy.
Hunnam quickly picked up an action star reputation, starring in films like The Ledge, Deadfall, and Pacific Rim. He considered the role of Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey, but dropped out, allowing another British actor, Jamie Dornan, to step in. In 2017, Hunnam appears in The Lost City of Z and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, using of his natural accent.
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5. Diane Kruger
Another foreign-born performer, Diane Kruger (born Diane Heidkrüger) began her career as a model in Germany. She appeared in a few French films before scoring roles in American productions such as Troy and Wicker Park.
Of Kruger’s notable roles to date, she may be most recognized for actually playing a German actress, in Inglourious Basterds. While primarily appearing on the big screen, Kruger starred in FX crime drama The Bridge for its two-season run as a Texas police officer working with a Mexican detective.
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6. Dan Stevens
While discussing superhero TV series, we can’t ignore breakout star Dan Stevens. The Brit began his career on stage and in a few BBC novel and film adaptations. However, he got his big break as Matthew Crawley on Downton Abbey.
In fact, many of Stevens’ roles showed off his natural accent, but American audiences who weren’t Downton Abbey fans grew to know him as David Haller on Legion, which is based on the X-Men character of the same name. In one episode, Stevens plays a British version of the character, but is thoroughly convincing with both accents.
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7. Margot Robbie
The Australia native began her career down under, known for her role on popular soap opera Neighbours. But she didn’t achieve mainstream success until her small part in The Wolf of Wall Street, where she touted a Brooklyn accent playing the wife of Leonardo DiCaprio’s character.
From there, she acted as romantic lead Jane Porter in The Legend of Tarzan and played a journalist opposite Tina Fey in Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (using her natural accent). But Robbie is now best known as Harley Quinn in the DC Extended Universe. While fans know the character for her New Jersey-New York dialect, Robbie sticks with a non-regional American accent for her adaptation.
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8. Andrew Lincoln
It can be hard for actors in the U.K. to transition to Hollywood, but those who do it often have to adopt an American accent. What may also help? A less British surname. This might be how Andrew Clutterbuck got the stage name Andrew Lincoln.
Lincoln acted across the pond for years, appearing in films such as Love Actually. But he didn’t become a household name until 2010, when he landed the lead role on the hit AMC series The Walking Dead. As Rick Grimes, Lincoln is the only constant in an ever-changing cast of characters, receiving critical praise for his portrayal.
Next: She’s portrayed so many Americans that her accent disappeared.
9. Portia de Rossi
Not only did Australian actress Portia de Rossi change her accent, she also changed her name as a teenager (from Amanda Lee Rogers) and her career (having studied law in university). The chameleon didn’t gain much experience in her homeland before heading to Los Angeles. She picked up roles quickly after settling in the states.
Main gigs on Ally McBeal, Arrested Development, and Better Off Ted led to de Rossi’s rise in fame. In fact, she eventually completely adopted her U.S. accent beyond her acting roles. In 2017, she continued her role as Elizabeth North on Scandal. She also appeared in two episodes of Season 1 of the Netflix series Santa Clarita Diet.
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10. Daniel Kaluuya
The 2017 compelling horror flick, Get Out, has gained international recognition and praise. Though writer and director Jordan Peele is the subject of much of it, star Daniel Kaluuya won his fair share of fans for his portrayal. Many aren’t familiar with Kaluuya; until now, he’s mostly acted in his home country of England.
Kaluuya has appeared on several British programs, including the hit E4 teen drama, Skins (he was also a writer). He also had a main role on the short-lived BBC Three show, The Fades, and is the star of the second episode of the acclaimed anthology series, Black Mirror. In Get Out, the actor finally got to show off his American accent. We’ll likely see him revert to his natural voice for his role as W’Kabi in upcoming Marvel film, Black Panther.
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11. Yael Stone
Australian stage actress Yael Stone has both a unique name and origin story. Her father’s family is from Czechoslovakia, and she began acting as a child. Before moving to the U.S. for work, she appeared in a few Australian films and TV series.
As luck would have it, Stone was cast in Orange Is the New Black shortly after moving to New York. Her character quickly became known for her distinct accent, which was thought to be a mixture of Boston and Brooklyn. For fans who have only seen her on the Netflix hit, hearing her native accent can be a jarring experience.
Next: This British actor appropriately began with Downton Abbey.
12. Charlie Cox
Charlie Cox began acting while living in the U.K. and appeared on Downton Abbey, too. His first regular TV role was Owen Sleater on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, where he spent two seasons.
Unless you’re familiar with his earlier roles, you probably know Cox best as Matt Murdock, “The Man Without Fear,” on the Netflix series, Daredevil. This show was the first of the Marvel projects on the streaming network, beginning quite a phenomenon. He also plays the character in the miniseries, The Defenders.
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13. Ruth Negga
Actress Ruth Negga was actually born in Ethiopia, where her father was from. She was raised by her Irish mother in Limerick, Ireland and began her career with U.K. series such as Love/Hate and Misfits. But it was her recurring role on an American show, Agents of SHIELD, that got her larger recognition.
Though she filmed scenes (which were ultimately cut) for 12 Years a Slave, Negga’s first notable role in a major film came as Lady Taria in Warcraft. The actress finally gained the recognition she deserves as the star of historical drama Loving, which earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Negga has continued to deceive us with her southern accent on Preacher, having jumped ship from Marvel and made her way to the DC TV world.
Next: This actor makes it hard to tell which accent is real.
14. Sacha Baron Cohen
Like his wife, Fisher, Sacha Baron Cohen is known for his interesting voice. Because of the characters he’s played throughout his comedic career, Baron Cohen has adopted many accents over the years, and some fans may be confused about his true voice.
Born and raised in London, England, Baron Cohen rose to fame with the film Borat, where he played the eponymous man from Kazakhstan, which he followed with Brüno, who is Austrian, and Admiral General Aladeen in The Dictator, who hailed from a fictional Middle Eastern country. It’s hard to keep up with the accents and characters Baron Cohen takes on, so you’d be forgiven for not knowing where he was from.
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15. Toni Collette
Actress and singer Toni Collette was born and raised in Sydney, Australia, but fans of her most popular works may not know this. Like most on this list, she began performing in her home country but soon transitioned to Hollywood, where she’s starred on film, TV, and stage for many years.
Dating back to 1999, Collette was nominated for an Oscar for her role in The Sixth Sense, kicking off her tenure in American cinema. She received acclaim for turns in popular U.S. indie films such as Little Miss Sunshine and The Way, Way Back. But perhaps her most significant role is the lead in Showtime series, United States of Tara, where she played the many different personalities of a woman with dissociative identity disorder.
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