This has been a really fun project for me, because I get to work with Craig Mazin! Craig is the amazingly talented writer and showrunner on The Last of Us. We also worked together on Chernobyl, and I cannot sing his praises enough. He is a fantastic writer, which just makes my job easier. When the script is excellent, it makes words fit better in the mouth, and makes accents so much easier to do. It’s partly a rhythm thing, and partly just that accents are made around words, and when the words aren’t put together in a way natural to an accent, it makes the actor’s job so much harder! A good writer takes that difficulty away. Another reason I love working with Craig is his attention to detail. It is really wonderful to work on a project where everything is important! Ok, enough about Craig, onto the job!
For this job, I’ve been working with an English actor, who is doing a ‘general American’ accent. The story is set in post-apocalyptic Boston, and the character was raised in a quarantine zone. It’s interesting to consider what the first generation of people who were raised in a closed society would sound like. There are two ingredients you need for a new accent/dialect to come about: isolation and time. A post-apocalyptic quarantine zone would be just about as isolated as one could get. However, not much time has passed in this story (only about 20 years or so), thus all my linguistic musings are pretty much mute. It’s still interesting to consider though!
Down to the nitty gritty then: I have a few main goals when doing something like British to American. First and foremost, I want the accent to support the character and story without distracting from it. When an accent is bad, it takes the audience out of the story because they’re thinking about how bad the accent is! But sometimes the reverse is true. When an accent is too overly perfect it can take the audience out of the story as well. So it’s all about finding a balance that lets the story and the character shine.
With a show like this, I work on ways for the accent to feel natural with the actor, and this often involves physical work as well as looking at the script and getting the mouth used to new sounds. This is a long project, so once the first steps of getting the accent sounding good and getting the actor feeling connected and comfortable whilst in the accent are complete, I then move on to the maintenance stage (9 months is a long time!). I am on set to monitor consistency, and do little ‘tune ups’ and ‘check ins’ when necessary. I often think in long jobs the first half of my work is getting the actor to forget that they’re doing an accent and the second half of the job is to remind them they’re doing an accent. At first it’s about not getting overly distracted by the accent, and trusting that they’re doing it right! and later once they’re very comfortable, I’m there to remind them when they sometimes get too comfortable and forget to add in an ‘r’ sound!