STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
You know, when Tom Hanks played the role of Captain Richard Phillips, whose ship was hijacked by Somali pirates, a lot was made of Hanks's Boston accent in the film. Some critics thought it was just awful. But a writer for Boston magazine gave Hanks credit, saying the actor didn't make the mistake of going over the top making that ahh sound. As Boston magazine put it, less is more, which brings us to a new movie about mobster Whitey Bulger.
It's been filming in and around Boston for months now with a list of high-profile actors, including Johnny Depp, who is trying to get that accent just right. Bostonians will tell you this could make or break the movie. From member station WGBH, Anne Mostue reports.
ANNE MOSTUE, BYLINE: There are plenty of films about the Boston mob.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE DEPARTED")
LEONARDO DICAPRIO: (As Billy) Put the gun - put the gun down, alright? I came here to talk some sense into you.
You didn't come here to talk, alright? You came here to get arrested.
MOSTUE: Leonardo DiCaprio and Jack Nicholson worked with Hollywood dialect coach Tim Monich to nail that south Boston accent in "The Departed."
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE DEPARTED")
JACK NICHOLSON: (As Frank Costello) Do you know John Lennon?
DICAPRIO: (As Billy) Yeah, sure. He's the president before Lincoln.
MOSTUE: And from "The Fighter" about Lowell, Massachusetts, boxer Micky Ward, who could forget the infamous pack of sisters?
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE FIGHTER")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Get your hands off my sister.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #2: Charlene - skank.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #3: Gail, oh my god, what'd you do to your nose?
MOSTUE: It probably helped that one of those sisters, actress Erica McDermott, hails from Cambridge. Then there are the not-so-good accents. Asked Boston residents who fails, and they mentioned Diane Lane in "A Perfect Storm."
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "A PERFECT STORM")
DIANE LANE: (As Christina Cotter) Remember, I'll always love you, Christina. I love you now, and I'll love you forever. There's no goodbye.
MOSTUE: Or Julianne Moore on "30 Rock."
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "30 ROCK")
JULIANNE MOORE: (As Nancy Donovan) That house is never going to sell. I'm going to take it off the market and see what happens in a year or so.
ALEC BALDWIN: (As Jack Donaghy) Well, what about your plans? The condo - the store for pale teens.
MOORE: (As Nancy Donovan) I can't run a store and make change for people.
JOE STAPLETON: I'll tell you, the Boston accent is tough. I think it's a very tough accent to do.
MOSTUE: Joe Stapleton has been an actor and a dialect coach in Boston for more than 20 years.
STAPLETON: Couple things you have to keep in mind - you're in a rush. (Using Boston accent) Hi, how are you? How's everything going? How you doing? And you don't move your lips a lot.
MOSTUE: Directors drill actors over and over again. Boston native and casting director Angela Peri says they sometimes use her voice as an example.
ANGELA PERI: Like, they'll have me read pages of the script and then send it off to the lead actor and he'll listen to the accent.
MOSTUE: When an actor is a lost cause, Peri goes to the streets. She cast the movies "American Hustle," "Ted" and "The Fighter."
PERI: Boston is great because we have so many characters, like the sisters. I went everywhere. We saw over 500 girls to pull those sisters together.
MOSTUE: But the locals are also tough critics. They're listening closely to the accent.
BRENDAN LYNCH: I definitely think it matters. You know, depending on the movie, a bad one could just kind of take you out of the movie and just ruin it, basically.
MOSTUE: Brendan Lynch grew up not far from Whitey Bulger. He says he's eager to see the mobster portrayed on screen. And he enjoys the variations in accents.
LYNCH: I don't think Alec Baldwin did the best job in the world in "The Departed," but I thought he did a really good job in the role. So I don't think it necessarily hurt. But no, I don't get offended. It's just - you know, they're trying.
MOSTUE: Trying, even if the roles have become a bit of a cinema stereotype. But it's business for coaches like Joe Stapleton. He starts every actor with the same lesson.
STAPLETON: (Using Boston accent) Moving, talking, looking, walking. And those are the couple of things you can kind of keep - you know, when you're first starting out. And the first one you probably want to master is (Using Boston accent) hi, how are you?
MOSTUE: (Using Boston accent) Hi, how are you? Try it for yourself. For NPR News, I'm Boston native Anne Mostue.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.