A few weeks ago I attended a fantastic industry networking event in Manchester. Among the exhibitors was Industry Hollywood, a company whose sole aim is to help British actors to grow their exposure across the pond. They told me that UK talent is in real demand over in the “Land of the Free”.
So this got me thinking; is this actually true and, if so, why?
Take a gander at the casts of some of the most popular shows on American network TV and you’re sure to come across a fair few Brits. Archie Panjabi in The Good Wife, Linus Richie in Law and Order, Louise Lombard in CSI – this is just a small selection of Brits to “crack” the US drama scene.
The same can be said of many Hollywood movies, with the re-jigged Batman franchise, the upcoming Man of Steel, The Amazing Spider-Man and recent Oscar contenders such as The Social Network all featuring British performers taking roles that could easily be played by Americans.
So, on the surface at least, Hollywood has indeed gone potty for the “Limeys”. But why?
Could it be a cultural thing? In the UK, we have a long and noble theatre tradition, with actors cutting their teeth on stages across the nation before making the move to TV and onto film. In the US this tradition is often reversed. Might this create a different “style” of performance that is now “in vogue”?
In a 2007 interview for the Radio Times, Stephen Fry talked about the difference between American and British actors; “[Take] the supreme relaxed authenticity of a James Stewart or a George Clooney compared with the brittle contrivances of a Laurence Olivier or a Kenneth Branagh, marvellous as they are”
I would certainly agree that you can, at times, see a distinct difference in style when a British actor is dropped into an American TV drama. Take Christopher Eccleston’s short stint in Heroes – he sticks out like a sore thumb. There’s nothing wrong with his performance but it’s certainly different to those around him; he’s performing a role (brilliantly) while those around him are “inhabiting” their characters in a far more comfortable fashion. I’d say the same about the wonderful Hugh Laurie in House.
Now I’m a firm believer that good acting is good acting and I’m wary of the notion that we Brits are in any way “better” than our American cousins. But does our different tradition and altered style make us more attractive to US casting executives? Is there a fashion for “Brit style” acting at the moment?
In an interview for the Caledonian Mercury, Scottish TV producer Andrea Calderwood, who now works in the US TV Industry, gives another theory; Cost.
“,… Producers are always on the look out for new talent which won’t break the budget. Enter stage right all those eager and ambitious British actors hungry for that Hollywood breakthrough.”
Are we really just “White Mexicans”, a phrase that is apparently doing the rounds in LA?
Toby Hemmingway, a British actor making huge strides in his career over in America, might have a few words to say about that. In a recent interview for the Guardian, he claimed that British actors benefitted from being more resilient.
“It’s the natural pessimism. Being a good loser. Americans think 15 minutes of fame and it’s all over or it’ll make you. Brits are more dogged and realistic”
It’s an interesting idea; that Brits are more tenacious in their attempts to find work. But is it true?
And, indeed, should we be complaining if we’re simply “cheaper” as long as it get us the work?
Whatever the reason, I’m encouraged to try my hand in the states, should an opportunity arise.