Hollywood – the Brits have arrived. In fact they’ve always been there.


** Oscar nominations update for Brits:)

Leading Actress: Felicity Jones, Rosamund Pike

Leading Actor: Benedict Cumberbatch, Eddie Redmayne

Supporting Actress: Keira Knightly

Colin Welland won the Oscar for the screenplay of Chariots of Fire in 1981. He was mocked for the line in his acceptance speech: ‘The British are Coming’. I dedicate this post to him:)

This is an update to the article I wrote two years ago – it’s not only British actors pulling in the awards and nominations at the Golden Globes but British Film & TV too – win for Eddie Redmayne in ‘The Theory of Everything’  & nomination for Felicity Jones in the same film, nominations for Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley in ‘The Imitation Game’, nomination for Rosamund Pike in ‘Gone Girl, win for Joanne Froggatt in ‘Downton Abbey’, nomination for David Oyelowo in ‘Selma’, nomination for British film, ‘Pride’, nomination for Emily Blunt in ‘Into The Woods’, TV nominations for Clive Owen in ‘The Knick’, Dominic West in ‘The Affair’, Martin Freeman in ‘Fargo’, Kathy Bates in ‘Freak Show’ and Alan Cumming in ‘Good Life’ and I’m sure I’ve left some out.

Not a bad haul for a small country. Watch out Hollywood – the Brits are coming. hang on to your Oscars.

Finally drama schools in this country are noticing actors earn their livings on screen and they are putting a teeny bit of screen input into their teaching. British actors are realising that they can mix and match between screen and stage and that both can be seen as artistic endeavours rather than simply a way to make money between the real jobs. And truthful screen work filters back into your stage work. (See Jeremy iron’s comments in the preface to my book ‘A Screen Acting Workshop!)

This is the twelfth anniversary of my first book: Acting for Film:Truth 24 Times a Second. Something has rankled since then and I’m about to unrankle it…

Another book came out at the same time called Acting for Film by Cathe Haase… I dutifully bought it to read, and agreed with most of it until, right near the end, I read that British character actors fill movies with their booming, stagey voices to play mainly superhumans or witches. The author conceded that:

‘The British character actors, when they are not playing superheroes and witches, adjust their vocal production to a more natural vein, at least those of them who can.’

It got me thinking about the stereotypical Hollywood view of the British actor. It’s true that, until recently movies haven’t been taken very seriously by the theatrical elite in this country. In fact I still tirelessly campaign for more screen time in our drama schools.

But, actually, we’ve been quietly earning our keep in Hollywood since the very beginning, subversive, in camouflage – and winning Oscars. If you look back at the glamorous years of Hollywood, the 30s and 40s – it was hard to tell who came from where. The studios expected their actors to use American Theater Standard, as espoused by Edith Skinner who taught them to, ‘Speak with Distinction’. Later it became known as mid-Atlantic, because it was where the American and British accents met. Maybe that’s why so many actors like Cary Grant, Vivien Leigh, Lynn Fontaine, Joan Fontaine, Olivia de Havilland, Merle Oberon, Greer Garson, Claude Rains and Cedric Hardwicke slid under the radar. In fact there were so many around that C. Aubrey Smith founded The Hollywood Cricket Club for ex-pat actors in 1932, and the team included Laurence Olivier, Nigel Bruce, David Niven and Boris Karloff.

British actors (m) have taken away 16 Oscar wins in the Leading Actor category (Daniel Day-Lewis has just won for the second time – and, yes, he is a joint British/Irish citizen), and are matched by 16 British Oscar wins in the Leading Actress category. There are countless nominations and wins in other categories. You can check them out at British Oscar Winners

One of the first actors to be nominated was Charlie Chaplin – but since that was before the talkies, perhaps Hollywood didn’t notice he was born in Elephant and Castle, South London.

The 50s and 60s brought along Alec Guinness (by the way he famously said top tip was to whisper so that the camera had to come in close –  doesn’t work any more with radio mics…), Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor (watch Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf if you only think of her as Cleo!) – to be followed on by Deborah Kerr, Michael Caine, Albert Finney, Sean Connery, Audrey Hepburn (I know, Belgian by birth but English by upbringing), Julie Andrews, Anthony Hopkins, Ben Kingsley, Jeremy Irons, Richard Harris, Oliver Reed, Vanessa Redgrave, Bob Hoskins and Hugh Grant- to name a but a few.

Now we can also boast as our Hollywood stars: Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, Joely Richardson, Natasha Richardson, Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, Pierce Brosnan, Ewan McGregor, Andrew Garfield, Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, Emily Watson, Helen Bonham Carter, Daniel Craig, Alan Rickman, Clive Owen, Adrien Lester, James McAvoy, Christian Bale, Gerard Butler, Thandie Newton, Henry Cavill, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jude Law, Emily Blunt, David Oyelowo, Benedict Cumberbatch, Andrea Riseborough, Minnie Driver, Emily Mortimer, Tom Hiddleston, Rafe Spall, Ben Whishaw and so many many more – add in your own time to your own taste…(or tweet me & I’ll add!)

And that list doesn’t include the great film actors, male and female, who have made primarily British or European movies, much admired in America.

So wake up Hollywood, we’ve been on the inside all along – and not just a ‘booming character actors’.

(P.S. If you do boom – just remember screen work has no audience – use the voice you need to reach the other roles – but not less! Mumbling is just as untruthful – in life we want the other person to hear…)

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About Mel Churcher

I am an acting coach, voice coach, actor and director.