Leonardo DiCaprio

Actors With the Best Fake Accents in Films

Props, costumes, production sets, and CGI can only do so much to transport audiences to a different time and place; the rest of the work lies in the actor’s ability to truly inhabit a narrative, and invite the audience to believe their character and their milieu. Adopting a specific accent is one of those abilities that allows an actor to create a believable character, and while it may seem like a common enough challenge for an actor, excelling accents can be tough. Given the underestimated skill it takes to convincingly pull it off, it’s only fair to give credit where it’s due, so here’s a list of actors with the best fake accents in films:

Meryl Streep

Throughout her illustrious career, Streep has taken up more accents than the average person could recognize. However, her Polish accent in Sophie’s Choice was one of perfection. Being Meryl Streep, practicing lines with a dialect coach was not enough, so she took it upon herself to learn Polish (and German in the last few weeks before shooting!) for the role.

Not only did Streep manage to speak Polish in the film, she also flipped between English and German with a Polish accent.

“I thought if I learned to speak Polish, then the diphthongs and the sounds of that language would be in my mouth,” she said in an interview with Entertainment Tonight.

Another noteworthy Streep accent we just couldn’t leave out of the discussion was her Australian dialect for Lindy Chamberlain in A Cry in the Dark, the true story of a mother who lost her baby to a dingo (yep, the line “a dingo ate my baby” is, in fact, about a tragic true story).

The general consensus when it comes to mimicking the Australian accent is that it’s bloody hard (see what we did there?), and non-Australian actors who’ve tried it are almost always criticized for it. Streep, however, managed to take it up a notch. Not only did she study the Australian accent with a fine-toothed comb, but she also mimicked the New Zealand-born Chamberlain’s idiosyncratic enunciations -– a result she admits she “sweat bullets” trying to achieve.

Philip Seymour Hoffman

In the biographical film Capote, based on the life of Truman Capote, the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman shined in his portrayal of the famous journalist, winning him the Oscar for Best Actor.

Capote’s unique vocal inflection was incredibly difficult to impersonate without it becoming a parody, and according to dialect coach Erik Singer, Hoffman pulled it off exquisitely: “The accent is dead-on perfect, and it’s totally integrated. It’s integral to the character and what the actor is doing as the character.”

Leonardo DiCaprio

Not one to shy away from adopting accents in films, the Los Angeles native has adopted accents from all over the United States through several eras for his films, from a Brooklyn native in The Wolf of Wall Street or a mid-19th century Irish-Catholic in Gangs of New York.

What really impressed a vast majority of audiences, however, was DiCaprio’s flawless accent in Blood Diamond, where he portrayed a man from Rhodesia, or modern-day Zimbabwe.

As a South African critic put it for Vanity Fair, “Leo is unbelievable … I could believe that he was a South African (as Zimbabwe borders South Africa, the accents can be very similar). Leo gets every word right.”

Hugh Laurie

If you were shocked that Hugh Laurie is actually an Oxford-born Englishman, you can join the estimated 81 million viewers of House who watched him play a gifted, foul-mouthed American doctor for eight seasons and were none the wiser. Moreover, prior to being informed on Hugh Laurie’s nationality, House’s executive producer Bryan Singer was incredibly relieved to have finally found what he believed was an American actor, after auditioning so many foreigners who just didn’t sound right.

“When you’ve got this volume of dialogue and this kind of complexity of writing, you really want to find an American actor,” he told The Paley Center for Media before admitting his shock when told by the casting directors that Laurie was, in fact, British.

Laurie’s American accent was so flawless, Google manages to churn out an overwhelming amount of blog posts and discussion forums dedicated to variations of the words “Hugh Laurie,” “accents,” “American,” and “British.”

Idris Elba

The London-born actor, who in real life has a distinctive Hackney accent, has wowed critics and audiences with two particular accents worthy of a mention; first, when playing drug kingpin Stringer Bell from Baltimore in The Wire, and second, as Nelson Mandela in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.

To perfect his Baltimore accent, Elba admits to spending lots of time in a barbershop to familiarize himself with the slang and particular nuances exclusive to Baltimoreans. The result was virtually spot-on.

Perfecting the accent for Mandela, however, came with a little more intense, technical training, as Elba had to embody the specific vocal qualities of Mandela along with a South African accent.

His dialogue coach on the set of the film told The Telegraph that his accent “is one of the closest to the original I have heard. This, coupled with his great technical acting skill and considerable emotional resource, makes for a compelling and brilliant performance.”

Cate Blanchett

Though an Australian herself, Blanchett is renowned for her chameleon-like performances, accruing such a long list of accents you’d be forgiven for not knowing her true national origin without double-checking an interview. Even then some may be confused, as her own Australian accent has morphed; Her ability to instinctively pick up the accents she’s surrounded by in real life has become so habitual for the actress that she admits it’s “politically incorrect” and embarrasses her children much of the time.

Blanchett’s many memorable character accents range from 16th century British to Brooklyn-American, Southern-American, Irish, French, German, Ukrainian, and even Elvish — but from her long list of impressive vocal accomplishments, her remarkable impersonation of Katherine Hepburn in The Aviator deserves an honorable mention.

Director Martin Scorsese had been impressed by Blanchett’s precision and boldness since Elizabeth, and knew if anyone could take on such an iconic character it’d be her. As the New York Times described, “Hepburn’s distinctive voice, loud, clipped and with a pronounced upper-class New England accent … became crucial to her performance.”

Blanchett pulled it off so well, it won her the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

What are your favorite performances where an actor pulled off an impressive accent? Let us know in the comments below! Learn more about Acting for Film at the New York Film Academy.

How These 6 Actors Prepared for a Role

Preparation is as much of an actor’s job as a performance itself, particularly when a character’s physicality, speech, or persona are vastly different from your own. Whether an actor’s challenge is primarily physical, mental, emotional, or even vocal, truly embodying a character’s traits in all their nuance produces the most memorable and admirable performances (not to mention benefits come Award season!).

Consequently, great transformations require great dedication, with some actors taking it upon themselves to go to famous extremes to prepare for their roles. Here are some of the most noteworthy examples:

Ben Platt – Dear Evan Hansen

The Tony-winning lead actor of Dear Evan Hansen delivers a gut-wrenching performance, displaying an incredible amount of anguish through the anxiety-ridden teenager, Evan, eight times a week. This kind of repetitive emotional and physical exertion can prove exhausting for the best of us, and among the many differences between acting for camera and acting on stage is the exaggerated movement and vocal projection required for stage actors.

In this New York Times article, Platt talks of the “monkish existence” he has in order to prepare for each show. In addition to losing 30 pounds for the role, Platt gives precedence to solitude and silence in order to rest and recover, notoriously turning down every opportunity for social gatherings. He also refrains from gluten and dairy, takes supplements, and attends physical therapy sessions twice a week that regularly involves the practice of cupping. Much to his chagrin, he’s also developed a habit of nail-biting and obsessively cracking his knuckles — habits he picked up from his character, Evan.  

Charlize Theron – Monster

A former model, Theron had become typecast as the “sexy blonde” before landing the 2003 role of real-life-prostitute-turned-serial-killer Aileen Wuornos.

The statuesque actress famously transformed her physical appearance to such an extent that audiences found her unrecognizable; she gained 30 pounds; dyed and thinned her hair; partially shaved and bleached her eyebrows; layered tattoo ink on her face for the weathered pallor of Wuornos’ skin; and donned unflattering dentures and contact lenses.

Theron devoted five whole months to researching Wuornos’ life in order to truly become her, resulting in a win for the Best Actress category at the Oscars (there’s a theme here). Fifteen years on, Theron continues to make drastic physical transformations, recently gaining 50 pounds for her role as Marlo, the overwhelmed mother of three in Tully. Admittedly, Theron says she struggles a lot more to shed the weight at 42 than she did at 27.

Jamie Foxx – Ray

Foxx went from Booty Call to winning an Oscar for his portrayal of the legendary blind musician, Ray Charles. To transform into the iconic musician, Foxx shed 30 pounds through a weeklong fast, followed by a painfully strict diet and daily workouts — though in this New York Times article, Foxx said that the weight loss was the easy part.

In addition to eyelid prosthetics and sunglasses modelled on Charles, Foxx had his eyes glued shut for 14 hours a day, calling it “a jail sentence.” He also suffered panic attacks for the first two weeks, and crew members would sometimes forget and leave him behind at restaurants or around the set.

Leonardo Dicaprio – The Revenant

The seasoned actor was nominated for an Oscar six times before winning his first in 2016 for his portrayal of Hugh Glass in The Revenant — and rightfully so. Shooting on location for nine months in Canada and Argentina in freezing wilderness was “a living hell” for cast and crew members alike. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki were intent on creating the most realistic aesthetic for the film, using minimal CGI and only shooting with natural daylight.

As such, an incredible amount of rehearsal went into schedule, to maximize the one hour of optimal light they had per day whilst subjecting DiCaprio to “agonizing” feats against mother nature.

In an interview with Yahoo, DiCaprio refers to some 30-40 sequences involving going in and out of freezing rivers, sleeping in an animal carcass, and, of course, that bear scene, as “some of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do.”

Although the horse carcass was a prop and the bear a product of CGI, eating a raw bison liver was 100 percent real. The vegetarian actor volunteered to make the edible sacrifice to serve Iñárritu’s immersive vision, concerned the faux liver provided wasn’t authentic enough.

“When you see the movie, you’ll see my reaction to it,” he says. “It says it all. It was an instinctive reaction.”

Jared Leto – Suicide Squad

No list about method acting and extreme transformations is complete without including the controversial antics of Jared Leto. Known for his over-the-top commitment to roles, the naturally slender actor seems to be constantly starving or gorging, having lost 25 pounds for Requiem for a Dream, gained 67 pounds for Chapter 27, and most recently lost 40 pounds for his 2013 Oscar-winning role as Rayon, a transgender HIV-positive woman in Dallas Buyers Club.

Besides his physical appearance, however, Leto truly immerses himself in his characters by never breaking off-camera. His Suicide Squad co-star Will Smith famously said, “I’ve never actually met Jared Leto. We worked together for six months and I’ve only ever spoken to him as The Joker.”

Leto also sent Smith bullets with a love letter — similar to what fellow castmate Margot Robbie received, only instead of bullets, there was a live rat. All Suicide Squad castmates received dubious gifts from “The Joker,” and these details served to renew a public debate about the nature of authentic method acting and its value in contemporary film.

Hilary Swank – Boys Don’t Cry

In 1999, Swank played a groundbreaking role of a real-life transgender youth who was born female but lived as a male, until he was killed in 1993 for that reason. The tragic true story prompted Swank to commit everything she had to the role. She took on the persona of Hilary Swank’s brother, James, for four weeks prior to shooting. Roaming around Santa Monica in disguise, with stuffed her pants, flattened breasts, and a lowered voice, the actress said she was treated differently in public and felt like she lost every ounce of her femininity.

She told EW, “It put me in a state of real hopelessness. I cried a lot for days.” The tears didn’t last long though: she won the Best Actress Oscar that year for her work.

What are your favorite stories of famous actor preparation? Let us know in the comments below! Learn more about Acting for Film at the New York Film Academy.

Stars Protecting the Earth: Celebrities Who are Environmental Activists

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Summer is a time for playing in Earth’s beautiful spaces, near oceans and lakes or in mountains and forests, so we thought we would pause to honor those celebrities who look beyond their own star-status to protect our environment.

By using their considerable wealth and influence to create public awareness, create organizations, make films to highlight dangers, or teach by example with glamorous green homes and environmentally friendly vehicles, celebrities who care make a big difference! Today, we celebrate the environmental contributions of some names and faces you’re sure to recognize.

Matthew Modine

NYFA Board Member and award-winning actor Matthew Modine is a passionate crusader for protecting the earth. The actor, who currently stars in Netflix’s Original Series “Stranger Things,” has actively promoted environmental causes in many ways, from serving as a guest editor for Metro’s Earth Day edition to founding the Bicycle For a Day movement. As Modine said in his Metro piece, “Environmental compassion, if it is to have any tangible significance, requires vigorous minute-by-minute action by each and every human we share the Earth with.”

Ted Danson

Beaches on oceans and lakes are prime spots for summer fun, and there is perhaps no one on this list who has dedicated himself so consistently to issues concerning Earth’s water than Ted Danson, the man who won our hearts as the lovable recovering alcoholic bartender on “Cheers.” Danson focuses his environmental attentions on all aspects of this life-sustaining natural resource. He even helped write an educational book on the subject called “Oceana: Our Endangered Oceans and What We Can Do to Save Them.”

Daryl Hannah

She’s the iconic mermaid of “Splash” and an activist who’s not afraid to create waves! Hannah has been arrested several times for her activism, including during protests against the Keystone Pipeline. She lives off the grid, drives a biodiesel car, and blogs about environmental issues at DHLoveLife.com. She was also the executive producer of “Greedy Lying Bastards,” a 2012 documentary that hits hard at climate change denial.

Leonardo DiCaprio

Following the tremendous success of “The Titanic” (1997) and his leap to superstardom, DiCaprio established the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, “dedicated to the long-term health and wellbeing of all Earth’s inhabitants.” The non-profit organization focuses on global warming, preserving Earth’s biodiversity and supporting renewable energy. It also produces web documentaries to promote public awareness such as “Water Planet” and “Global Warning.”

Pearl Jam

It’s not only actors who’ve embraced environmental concerns, but also bands like Pearl Jam. Pearl Jam crisscrosses the globe on tours, doing their best to minimize their negative impact. According to One Green Planet, “Pearl Jam has also partnered with numerous organizations to help offset the carbon emissions of the estimated one million fans driving to and from the band’s concerts and provides information about other initiatives on their website. In 2011, Pearl Jam was named 2011 Planet Defenders by Rock The Earth for their environmental activism and their large-scale efforts to decrease their own carbon emissions.”

Cate Blanchett

In the land down under, the Elvin ruler of “Lord of the Rings” fame “lives off the grid in a ‘green’ house.” During her time as artistic director of the Sydney Theatre Company, Blanchett “spurred the installation of solar panels on The Warf Theater,” according to One Green Planet. “She is also responsible for the theater’s installation of one of the world’s largest rainwater collection systems.”

Brad Pitt

Besides being the quintessential A-list celebrity and tabloid focal point, Pitt has an ongoing interest in environmental concerns, especially having to do with sustainable architecture. He narrates “Design: e2,” a PBS television series focused on worldwide efforts to build environmentally friendly structures. In 2007, as a response to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Pitt founded Make It Right to organize housing professionals to finance and construct sustainable, affordable houses in New Orleans’s Ninth Ward, and has since expanded its mission to create and promote “healthy homes for communities in need.”

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the many celebrities in the entertainment industry that have used the spotlight to promote environmental activism. Margaret Atwood, Robert Redford, Sting, and James Cameron are just a few of the other names that could have been on this list.

Tell us your favorite environmental celebrities in the comments, and we at NYFA wish you a green summer!

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