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TV Report Card: British Actors Playing American

“Americans do this lovey-dovey rubbish, right?” Fiennes and Walger in FlashForward.

Two years after the New York Times pegged a British-actor invasion to Hugh Laurie and House, a true army of (quite decent) Brits have landed starring roles playing Americans on U.S. TV. At the time of the Times article, only a few had landed plum parts as Yanks — like Kevin McKidd in the short-lived Quantum Leap ripoff Journeyman, and the late Natasha Richardson in the equally short-lived The Mastersons of Manhattan. The Guardian speculates that the British are simply easier to work with than Americans, although that doesn’t seem like the only reason for the recent flood of talent: The higher wages and steadier pay, more elusive on the BBC, are the most likely draw. Plus, Hollywood loves a fresh face who can out-act casting-call regulars (who the Guardian amusingly assumes are all like Johnny Drama on Entourage). But for all their training, not all of these British thespians can pull off the American accent. Among the current crop of small-screen hits — and with the exception of Laurie, who we all know is good — which of these actors are stumbling on those long a’s and soft t’s? You can see two of them tonight on FlashForward.

Matthew Rhys, Brothers and Sisters (ABC)
Some joke that British accents sound gay, but Matthew Rhys landed the role of Sally Field’s gay son on Brothers and Sisters by flying to California for eight straight pilot seasons and using his best American intonations. He’s doing an impeccable job — for the longest time, we had no idea he wasn’t even American.
American grade: A

Ed Westwick, Gossip Girl (WB)
You can see him skinnier, paler, and talking like a working-class Londoner in Anthony Minghella’s final film Breaking and Entering, but on the WB’s weekly Upper East Side hour, Westwick is convincing as snotty, rich Chuck Bass — but it’s probably because the accent sounds a tad Continental.
American grade: A-

Gabrielle Anwar, Burn Notice (USA)
Now in its third season on basic cable, this Miami-based bounty-hunter series has given a fine co-starring role to hottie Gabrielle Anwar, who once tangoed with Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman. Her accent is pretty natural as a cool Miami dweller (a lot more than we can say for Joely Richardson — more on her below), and there’s been a lot of talk about the chemistry between her and co-star Jeffrey Donovan. This looks like a steady gig.
American grade: A-

Sonya Walger, FlashForward (ABC)
The Lost alum (who on that show plays Penny with her natural accent) landed the choice role of Olivia Benford, and her American dialect is a bit more spot-on than Fiennes. We imagine her, Joseph, and British-accented co-stars Alex Kingston, Dominic Monaghan, and Jack Davenport all going out to lunch in L.A. and chuckling about how much easy money there is in Yank telly.
American grade: A-

Joseph Fiennes, FlashForward (ABC)
Probably the best part taken by a British actor this season, the role of Agent Mark Benford on the well-received, destiny-contemplating drama FlashForward went to Ralph Fiennes’s little brother Joseph, who got his first big break in Shakespeare In Love. While his accent leaves a little to be desired at moments, and while he seems to have just three emotions on this show (righteous anger, defensive anger, and great surety), he’s doing an admirable job of carrying the show and being handsome.
American grade: B

Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Without a Trace (CBS)
Introduced to audiences with a working-class London accent in her Oscar-nominated role in Secrets & Lies, Jean-Baptiste now attempts to sound like a New York City police detective alongside Anthony LaPaglia on the eight-season hit Without a Trace. In this clip you can hear the strain behind her Brooklynese — although she does get the “two-door, four-door?” part right.
American grade: B-

Joely Richardson, Nip/Tuck (F/X)
We wondered why every sentence out of this woman’s mouth sounded so labored — until we found out she was English. Acting-wise, she’s fine: a solid B in her sixth season as Julia McNamara. (Incidentally, her mother is played by her real-life mom, the flawless British grand dame Vanessa Redgrave.) But when it comes to sounding like a Miamian, Joely kind of sucks.
American grade: C

TV Report Card: British Actors Playing American