I know that in the wrong hands top-ten lists can be cheesy, tired and clichéd. They can overly simplify matters and reduce a broad and complex subject into convenient, restricted numbers. Fear not, TV Scoopers – these are not the wrong hands, and so I give you the Top 10 best British actors on American TV.
With the Emmy nominations out, everyone in Britain looks to see who we have nominated from Blighty. Some of these stars receive the acclaim and attention they are deserving of, while the impressive acting and convincing accents of others are neglected in little seen programmes. By limiting this list down to actors rather than all imports, I am omitting presenters (Cat Deeley, Craig Ferguson), reality show stars (The Osbournes), reality show judges (Simon Cowell, Nigel Lythgoe) and any other such folk who have achieved success Stateside (Gordon Ramsay, Darren Brown.) I am ignoring those whose British programmes have fared well (Ricky Gervais, Helen Mirren), those that have maintained their accent (Joan Collins, Alex Kingston) and those who were born in the UK but grew up elsewhere (Mischa Barton, Nicollette Sheridan). I am looking only to those who have managed to break through with nothing but a working passport and a fake New York twang. This list is for those whose performance skills are such that Americans can’t tell that they’re actually British. Impressive stuff indeed.
10) Ian Hart: Kids recognize him as Professor Quirrell in the first Harry Potter film but Hart has been a staple of the independent British film scene for years. He now seems to be in search of regular work and has turned to American TV and the Courteney Cox starrer Dirt. Hart acts as her sidekick, functioning schizophrenic photographer Don Konkey and though I’m not a fan of the show, can accept that his US accent is flawless.
9) Dominic West: For 4 seasons of gritty cops versus drug gangs drama The Wire, West has been indulging an American accent to make Americans jealous. The actor who attended Eton College has even spoken publicly on the current trend for Brits on US TV joking that “I don’t know why British actors are getting big parts in American TV shows. Maybe it’s because we’re cheap.” He might have been cheap, but is now enjoying his time on one of the most critically acclaimed TV programmes ever.
8) Jamie Bamber: I’m not a fan of sc-fi stuff like Battlestar Gallatica (so sorry for that), but have noticed that one of their cast is faking it. His accent that is. Jamie Bamber has starred as Captain Lee ‘Apollo’ Adama in the drama since its debut and through numerous scantily clad scenes has built up quite the US fan base. If only they knew that like fellow Brit Hugh Laurie, he attended Cambridge University and came away with a 1st Class MA Honours in Modern Languages. The boffin.
7) Marianne Jean-Baptiste: Once upon a time Jean-Baptiste was famously quoted as whinging that “the old men running the industry just have not got a clue…Britain is no longer totally a white place where people ride horses, wear long frocks and drink tea. The national dish is no longer fish and chips, it’s curry.” It was evident that she was looking for something more, and that something more came in the shape of her role as Vivian Johnson in FBI drama Without A Trace. This Londoner had previously been Oscar nominated for her role in Mike Leigh’s Secrets and Lies but for a constant acting gig, she turned to Hollywood and has not looked back.
6) Ian McShane: With the gnarly Western accents and tobacco chewing it’s hard to understand what anyone is saying in Deadwood, but somehow Blackburn born actor Ian McShane muddles through. And by muddling through I mean winning Golden Globe awards and getting to curse it up in a way only HBO allows. Forever Lovejoy, the loveable antiques dealer to a certain generation in Britain, he has refused to be typecast across the pond and has clearly relished spitting out lines like “Get a f**king haircut. Looks like your mother f**ked a monkey.”
5) Joely Richardson: Joely has managed to shake off her very English image (Lady Chatterley’s Lover) to re-invent herself as Julia McNamara in saucy drama Nip/Tuck. Her whiny American accent has had them all fooled stateside, but here we know her as part of the Redgrave acting dynasty. Though she announced her departure from Nip/Tuck at the end of season 4, she has since decided to go back for more and will earn a reputed $100,000 per episode.
4) Mark Addy: To us Brits, Addy is still most famous for his performance in The Full Monty – not so in America. In the US they know him as Bill Miller, a toilet salesman with a troublesome family in the CBS sitcom Still Standing. The popular comedy ran for 4 years and 3 seasons and is like the US equivalent of My Family (*wince*.)
3) Hugh Laurie What is there left to say about Hugh Laurie and his turn as the limping, cranky super-doc in House? Well here’s a little fact you may not know: Upon watching his audition tape, producer and top film director Bryan Singer lauded him as the kind of compelling American actor he wanted to cast in the show. Guess he feels a bit silly about saying that now.
2) Damian Lewis: Lewis starred as Major Richard Winters in the WWII drama Band of Brothers and faked such an impressive American accent that he fooled everyone on set. Other actors, crew, even the casting folk believed him to be American as he thought it would only be through adopting the accent early on that he would be considered for the role. He excelled in the part and won a Golden Globe for his troubles. He now has a new US show lined up called Life, planned to air as part of NBC’s autumn schedule.
1) Angela Lansbury: Who doesn’t love Angela Lansbury? As Jessica Fletcher, in the long-running show Murder She Wrote, she played a retired English teacher turned author of detective fiction, a role that would see her become one of the highest paid actresses in the world. The London born actress became one of America’s biggest TV stars, the show became one of the longest running detective drama series’ in America and a Norwegian rock band even named themselves The Jessica Fletchers in her honour. All of this – and with an American accent. Okay, so due to film and theatre parts, US audiences (or most of them) knew that she wasn’t American. But still – a British OAP on American prime-time takes some beating.Join TVScoop on Facebook for exclusive competitions and gossip