GUY RAZ, host:
Listen to these five voices. They are all from the same actor.
(Soundbite of movie, "Sophie's Choice")
Ms. MERYL STREEP (Actor): (As character) The truth does not make it easier to understand, you know?
(Soundbite of movie)
Mr. STREEP: (As character) Rosie, I was thinking we might get another rooster for you.
(Soundbite of movie, "A Cry in the Dark")
Ms. STREEP: (As Lindy Chamberlain) We're talking about my baby daughter.
(Soundbite of film, "Doubt")
Ms. STREEP: (As Sister Aloysius Beauvier) We must be careful in the pageant that we neither hide Donald Miller nor put him forward.
(Soundbite of film, "Julie & Julia")
Ms. STREEP: (As Julia Child) I'm Julia Child. Bon appetit.
RAZ: Hmm. The many, many voices of Meryl Streep. Bob, what an amazing actress.
BOB MONDELLO: You know, I'd never heard those voices placed together like that before but oh, my God. You know, you always say she's inhabiting a character. She really does, doesn't she?
RAZ: That is, of course, our film critic Bob Mondello. He's been joining us each weekend this month to talk about some of the distinctive features from film this past decade.
And Bob, you're here today to help us talk about some of the decade's standout movie accents and of course, we've got to start with Meryl Streep.
MONDELLO: Yeah, and those last two were actually from this decade. The earlier ones were not, but the last two were "Doubt," when she took on a - sort of a Bronx accent, and "Julie & Julia," which is - I mean, that's more an impersonation than an accent but boy, did she nail it.
I think of Meryl Streep as representing the internationalizing of American acting, right, that she's one of many actors who go out and they do accents from all over the place. And you get used to the idea that an American actor can play anything because essentially, in our movies, American actors do.
Think about, for instance, Morgan Freeman - this is an example from a movie now - who is playing Nelson Mandela in a movie that opened just last weekend, "Invictus."
(Soundbite of movie, "Invictus")
Mr. MORGAN FREEMAN (Actor): (As Nelson Mandela) Reconciliation starts here. Forgiveness starts here, too. Forgiveness liberates the soul. It removes fear. That is why it is such a powerful weapon.
MONDELLO: Now, that sounds pretty persuasive, does it not?
RAZ: Oh, yeah. Absolutely.
MONDELLO: I mean, you know, why not get a South African actor for that? Well, because Morgan Freeman is well-known, and Clint Eastwood likes to work with him. So without him, the movie probably wouldn't get played.
RAZ: And Clint Eastwood directed that movie.
MONDELLO: Right. It's funny because lately, if a foreign star gets big enough, then the foreign star can internationalize, too. I mean, if you think back about it, Sophia Loren always played Italian, right? So in past decades, foreign stars stayed wherever they were, kind of, internationally, whereas Antonio Banderas or - listen to me trying to do an accent as I'm saying his name - or Penelope Cruz are sort of all-purpose Mediterranean or all-purpose Latina and you know, they end up playing all over the place because now, they can do that, too, because they've become big enough.
RAZ: And it seems to me that just about every British or Australian actor these days can really nail an American accent, people like Nicole Kidman or Christian Bale or - who I had no idea was even British...
(Soundbite of laughter)
RAZ: ...or Kate Winslet.
MONDELLO: Well, that's true. And actually, when you hear them do their own accents, when you actually hear them outside of the context of the movie...
RAZ: It's weird.
MONDELLO: It really is. I've got one that I want you to hear. This is James McAvoy, who was in this big action picture where he sounded totally American. It was called "Wanted."
(Soundbite of movie, "Wanted")
Mr. JAMES McAVOY (Actor): (As Wesley Gibson) You know when you have a dream and you're half-awake but still in the fringe of your brain, and then you open your eyes and you're so damn glad it was a dream? This was nothing like that.
MONDELLO: Now, I would maintain that that's a pretty good American accent, right? I mean, I didn't really question it.
RAZ: I wouldn't think it was an accent.
MONDELLO: Now, listen to James McAvoy being interviewed about that same film by Jay Leno.
(Soundbite of TV program, "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno")
Mr. McAVOY: It's based on, like, a graphic novel written by a guy called Mark Millar who, funnily enough, is from Glasgow, like me, in Scotland. But it's set in Chicago.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MONDELLO: Now, seriously.
RAZ: That is unbelievable.
MONDELLO: Isn't that amazing that that's what he sounds like in real life?
MONDELLO: It must be very strange to be the accent guy, the sort of vocal coach. There's got to be somebody behind the camera saying something like: You have to flatten the A. Right? You can't say can't. That isn't how an American says it. He says can't.
RAZ: And listening to that Morgan Freeman clip reminded me of Leonardo DiCaprio in "Blood Diamond." He plays a South African.
MONDELLO: Oh, right.
(Soundbite of movie, "Blood Diamond")
Mr. LEONARDO DiCAPRIO (Actor): (As Danny Archer) That diamond is my ticket out of this god-forsaken continent.
MONDELLO: Yeah, and he was pretty persuasive, wasn't he?
RAZ: He was absolutely.
MONDELLO: I think most of the time, I think actors get the accents basically right, I mean, enough so that you accept them.
RAZ: Were there any accents from the past decade, you know, that you watched in the theater, and they just stood out as being totally and completely atrocious, you were just appalled watching them? Sort of like Kevin Costner in "Robin Hood"?
MONDELLO: Oh yeah, well, that was special, wasn't it? In the last decade, I guess I'm more struck by the people who avoid using accents. There are - some stars get so big that they just - they feel like they kind of can't do it. You never hear Tom Cruise attempt an accent, for instance. He certainly avoided taking on a German accent in "Valkyrie," when he played a Nazi out to assassinate Adolf Hitler.
(Soundbite of movie, "Valkyrie")
Mr. TOM CRUISE (Actor): (As Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg): We'll have no choice but to seize power in Berlin to prevent the SS takeover. We have to kill Hitler.
(Soundbite of laughter)
RAZ: I didn't see this movie.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MONDELLO: Well, that's what the movie was like, I mean, you know, and on some level, that's why it kind of didn't work.
When George Clooney was shooting "The Perfect Storm" back at the beginning of the decade, the producers wanted him to do a Boston accent, and he said no. He said that he was - he explained his decision to the New York Times. I'm going to quote here: I'm a fairly famous guy, he said, and when you suddenly hear me with a weird accent, it'll take away from everything else. I don't want the audience spending the first 15 minutes of this movie like the RCA Victor dog, trying to figure out what I'm doing.
And I think that makes excellent sense, don't you?
RAZ: That's our film critic Bob Mondello. He reviews films for this program. And this month, he's been looking at some of the notable movie moments from the past decade.
Bob, thanks so much.
MONDELLO: Hey, it's always a pleasure.
RAZ: And we want to hear from you. What were your favorite accents from the past 10 years? Join the conversation at our Web site. That's npr.org.
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