To truly captivate an audience, a film must make its viewers forget they’re watching it. This is known as the “suspension of disbelief,” and the phenomenon is partially pegged to character portrayals. Sometimes the difference between an audience being suspended in disbelief and not comes down to a badly executed accent.
Yet the art of accent-aping is far more subtle than you might think, and appears on a spectrum. Erik Singer, a dialect coach for actors and actresses, is an expert in this art.
In the video below, Singer dissects the accents of 32 different actors in iconic roles they’ve portrayed. Philip Seymour Hoffman, for instance, was spot-on in his depiction of author Truman Capote. Whereas Will Smith used a more “generalized African accent” for Concussion in his portrayal of Dr. Bennet Omalu, who has an Americanized Nigerian accent. Meanwhile, Tom Cruise’s Irish accent in Far and Away is a tad spotty. Watch a critique the accents of these actors and more in this clip from Wired.
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