There must be a secret commandment among American television producers specializing in geeky/SF/Supernatural shows. It goes something like this:
- Thou shalt have a (cute or smouldering) Brit playing the (American) lead.
- It’s advisable for a Brit to drop his voice an octave or two, maybe go with a southern accent.
- It is equally advisable for a Brit on occasion drop his clothes for artistic purposes.
- If there is no Brit for the lead, go with an Australian.
- If an Australian is not available, go with a New Zealander.
- Thou shalt NOT confuse a New Zealander with an Australian.
- Thou shalt NOT do the opposite of number 6.
- If thou wants a suspension of disbelief about fighting zombies, fighting cylons, or falling for telepathic waitresses then cast a Brit. They will make a viewer suspend disbelief and immerse themselves into another world.
- The casting of a Brit usually happens after many, many, many actors are considered for the part.
- The above commandments are about the male, but do not discount a Brit of the female persuasion.
If I have to add an addendum then number 8 would have a clause reading If one is doing a medical drama then cast a Brit, or substitute red-headed Scotsman capable of an American Accent. However, pretty much all the silly commandments have additions, exceptions, and clauses. The geeking out would never end. The whole exercise came out of my viewing habits and a recent episode of ABC’s new hit drama Once Upon a Time.
I started watching the show a couple of weeks ago and noticed the Prince Charmings on the show kept the American accents in their regal roles. Twenty years ago it would never faze me, but after seeing Cinderella’s Prince Charming it seemed…meh. The thought entered my mind this goes way better with a British accent. It’s not just about the accent, it’s about the way UK actors (Brits, Scots, and the occasional Welshman) carry themselves in a role.
You can google a number of articles on British actors as leads in American shows. (Heck, get a library card and you can get access to databases for the same search without wading through all the useless results online.) One person on Entertainment Weekly’s message board on Game of Thrones HATES the fact British actors are in a show like Game of Thrones. Game of Thrones is logical considering the whole novel models itself after Britain’s War of the Roses. Many people would say American parts should go to American Actors, while Canadians would quietly add and the odd Canadian. Let’s face it the British not only invaded television, they pretty much set up their own colony. When someone hears an actor, like The Walking Dead’s Andrew Lincoln, speak with their natural accent, it usually gets a shocked reaction as if they were an alien. (I would use Cylon, but I don’t know how many people saw Battlestar Gallatica.)
Now, before heading straight to the comment boards this is not about who’s actors are better. In fact the whole thing better be a wake up call for anyone in North America considering a career in acting, especially television acting. Why do these guys, and gals, score the parts? So many reasons, but I can narrow it down to two guesses:
1. Most are Trained
Take a good look at some of the bios for British actors in particular. They either trained at the London Academy of Musical and Dramatic Art, or the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Some actors may have trained at another place like Guildhall, but they took the time to learn their art. It’s not all about the Shakespeare, but the first thing student learn take a sledgehammer to their own regional accent. They either make it generic, or dial it down, either way they already know what it takes to begin a character and it’s all about the voice. That’s only one of a myriad of things learned in their study.
2. Their Look is Diverse
Diversity comes in all sorts of packages. We have the obvious diversity of ethnicity. I seem to see a lot of interracial couples on British TV. It’s nonchalant and the topic only gets broached if needed. Overall I see men and women with extraordinary features and yet look relatable. I first saw Terra Nova’s Shelly Con in Strike Back. She’s a beautiful woman yet she doesn’t look generic. The same goes for Lucy Griffith from Robin Hood as another actress without a generic beauty often seen from actresses. (You know like the same cheekbones, the same implants, or whatever is the hot thing in the surgeon’s office these days.)
Oh, but let me wax poetically about the men…
We have a diversity of hotness from the UK men. Ever seen Idris Elba? Check out The Wire and not only is man smokin’ hot, he’s also smokin’ talented. Like red heads? May I direct you to Damian Lewis and Kevin McKidd complete with convincing American Accents. Need a southern hero? Cast a bloke like Stephen Moyer or Andrew Lincoln depending if you need someone undead or someone to dispatch them. I know it’s more silliness and people can supply more names, but again nothing generic in their look and it’s all about relating to the character. Do they have have the same noses? Eyes? Hair? (Read: Did they see the same surgeon?)
It comes down to a simple question: Can they play a character? It’s something showrunners look for more than name recognition. They have a character and need someone to best embody the character. Right now they are British, Australian, and yes sometimes a Canadian.