Are British Actors Better Than American Actors?
Is it perception or reality?
(By Carmichael Phillips)
(Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln)
I was watching this show on Netflix the other night. It was a great, dystopian tale. The world had come to an end. There were zombies roaming everywhere.
Perhaps you’ve heard of it? It’s called The Walking Dead, or something…
LOL! I can’t believe how late I am at discovering this amazing, binge-worthy AMC show. I also can’t believe that the lead character, Rick, is one of “them”. He’s a Brit!
Andrew Lincoln, the actor who plays Rick Grimes on the show, comes across as this All-American country boy hero type. Turns out, in real life, he’s not even an American.
Look, I’m not here to bash the British. It’s actually quite the opposite. I stand in complete awe of how successful British actors are at winning and playing quintessentially American roles.
I mean, how the heck can a British actor nail the lead role of Jax Teller on Sons of Anarchy. How the heck can a British actor play the role of American revolutionary Fred Hampton in the movie Judas and the Black Messiah.
We’ve seen British actors play Spiderman and Superman and Batman, and they’ve played Ernest Hemingway and Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln. These are core American roles; it seems to me.
(Charlie Hunnam in Sons of Anarchy)
Which leads me to my question. Are British actors fundamentally better than American actors? Is there something special about the training they receive? Do they approach the craft differently than American actors do?
Or, is there bias at work here; a kind of “British privilege”, of sorts? In other words, do American casting directors hear that very refined, very proper British accent and assume, “This guy must be a pretty good actor. He comes from England.”
Actor Wood Harris, had a very interesting take on this very subject. Harris, is best known for playing Avon Barksdale on HBO’s The Wire.
Not so long ago, he sat down for an interview with VladTV, where he talked about why British actors like Idris Elba, who starred alongside him on The Wire, end up becoming very successful in America.
‘British actors often better than American actors because they grow up with Shakespeare from day one.’
“They [British actors] deserve the roles. They’re often better [than American actors] because they grow up with Shakespeare from day one, and they grow up with a lot of poetry in their lives.”
Actor Martin Freeman, in an interview on the Tonight Show, also attributed the great success British actors often achieve to their deep theatre backgrounds.
“It’s not completely true of all British actors and all American actors, but generally, we [British actors] go to drama school and generally we come up in theatre. That is a cultural difference. We are a bit more steeped in theatre,” said Freeman.
Meanwhile, Samuel L. Jackson scoffed at the notion of superior training, dismissing it as a perception, rather than a reality.
‘American directors think British actors are better, because they’re classically trained.’
(Samuel L. Jackson)
“They [American directors] think they’re [British actors] better trained, for some reason, than we are, because they’re classically trained.”
My personal opinion is that it’s just a matter of talent meeting opportunity. If the crème de la crème British actors are coming to the states because that’s where the work is, some of them are bound to break through.
For example, if Hollywood was in the UK, instead of California, perhaps the best American actors would be flocking to London in droves, competing for work.
In that alternate universe, British actors would be writing a column like this, wondering where the hell all these “bloody” American actors were coming from, and why they are so successful at competing for British roles.
(David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King)
Ok, enough pontificating! Let me get back to my other favorite new show: Snowfall on FX.
It’s a gritty show about the early days of the crack epidemic in the inner cities of America. It’s a quintessentially American tale with quintessentially American urban characters.
So, naturally, the lead actor is from South-East London! Of course!
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