Ty Glaser, a salon:friend currently surviving pilot season in LA, explains why nailing a credible American accent means never letting up
‘YOU are listening to 106.7, K-Roq, alternative first’
‘1-800 triple seven, four AIS’
‘Get your 2015 Mercedes C-class in SoCal now!’
These are some of the many commercials I am repeating aloud to myself every day as I drive around sunny LA (don’t hate me, is it chilly back home?). I’m pretty sure it would be rather annoying if you were sitting in the passenger seat next to me. Sometimes I’m even annoying myself to be honest, but such is the task of getting to the point where I can pass for an American, no questions asked. It’s a lonnnnnnng but fun and interesting journey.
When I came out to LA for my first pilot season last year I was fairly confident about my US accent. I had worked with it a number of times on a couple of theatre projects, an ep of Secret Diary of a Call Girl, a crazy horror feature film, and two shorts. Surely it was just a bit of brushing up I needed, no? Oh dear, how wrong could I have been? A year later, I’m over here again, and nearly every day I discover new words that just aren’t said the same! No matter how American you might think you sound, in reality these people across the pond very often stress a different syllable or use a different word entirely (think ‘conTRIbute’ not ‘CONtribute’; ‘résumé’ instead of CV). All these little things, ready to give you away in an instant. Eek!
The best method by far is of course the most obvious (and the most tiring), requiring the commitment of a blinkered actor-soldier: the second you step off the plane, speak to everyone in your US accent. No matter how good or bad it might be, do not let up even when you are jet-lagged or hungry or crying about how bad your American accent is. You will piss people off (loved ones especially do not seem to enjoy hours of chit-chat in an accent not your own: why?! WHY?! So unhelpful), but if you do do this, religiously, you will gain the confidence you need to walk into an audition American, play your scenes American, and then happily surprise the CD and producers when, lo and behold, it turns out you are British! Huzzah!
It is an on-going process, but luckily, as with all things, practice definitely makes perfect. Before you can even consider yourself in the game over here, you have to have a strong, believable accent. It’s the last thing you want to be worrying about when going into an audition, especially when everyone else you’re up against actually IS American (bastards). Thank the lord of lords then that people such as dialect and acting coach Gaby Santinelli exist.
Gaby, one of the salon:collective’s founders, is the Skype saviour of many salon actors but I have been able to work with her face to face. As well as one-to-ones in her gorgeous little apartment off Franklin Avenue, one of my favourite times of the week is the accent class we have with her on a Monday afternoon, when six British actors sit around a table for two hours pretending to be American (No waaaay! Yes waaaay! Hey. How YOU doin?!). Thank god no actual American (apart from Gaby, obvs) can overhear us practising our schwa sounds (‘Whut’ not ‘what’, ‘wuz’ not ‘was’ etc) and phrases such as ‘BUMPER sticker’ (not ‘bumper STICKER’) repeated in unison like a little choir of American parrots. I love it: there is always something new to learn (‘secre-tairy’ not ‘secretry’, ‘mili-tairy’ not ‘militry’ anyone?).
My life is changing. I have written this whole blog in an American accent. I no longer adjust my text messages when my phone belligerently spells realized with a z or theater with an -er. These are the steps you have to take to succeed. Seriously. SERIOUSLY. Two weeks ago I had an audition for a comedy pilot for ABC. I didn’t get the job, but I was walking on air on my way out of the meeting, beaming from ear to ear: I’d gone in American, read the role in American and then thanked them in my English accent. The CD and producer did a double take, then told me my US accent was flawless. BOOM! WINNING!
Half my life (it seems) of practice is beginning to pay off! Thank you Gaby, thank you loved ones, thank you K-Roq radio station for your incessant commercials. Onwards and upwards! Next audition please!
Photograph by Brigitte Jouxtel