Movies

Actors Should Do More Weird Accents, Please

The trailer for Disney+’s Moon Knight introduces a puzzling, possibly British accent from Oscar Isaac. The accent embodies a 19th-century literature professor with a dark secret in a 1990s period drama more than a 21st-century conduit for an Egyptian god in a Marvel Cinematic Universe television series. While the accent is a bit unusual, seemingly based on nothing and stark in contrast to the trailer’s use of Kid Cudi’s “Day ‘N’ Night” (which I never expected to hear alongside a little Oscar Isaac accent), it gives the series a unique, slightly campy twist that makes the series even more compelling than a show starring Oscar Isaac and Ethan Hawke already was. Weird, indistinguishable accents are slowly making a comeback, so much so that the actor playing the main character in an MCU property is using one. And thank god, because weird accents should be in every single thing ever made.

Weird accents are different than bad accents. Weird accents aren’t accents that exist in the real world or beyond the performance. Weird accents are invented for the role and only the role, often a blend of several accents including the actor’s own, whereas a bad accent is simply a bad impression of a real accent. Weird accents – which do the most and the least at the same time – transcend reality and as a result, become cinematic in their own special way, while bad accents pull you out of the cinematic experience completely. Oscar Isaac’s Moon Knight accent is weird, while Emma Watson’s American accent in any film is bad (with all respect to her performance in The Bling Ring).

Over the past two decades, as cinema has on one end gotten more serious and on the other end, all superhero stuff, it has lost the artful weird accent. Or, at least, these types of accents only come every now and then. In the 80s and 90s, lower effort, slightly chaotic accents were more common. In the Loretta Lynn biopic Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980) Sissy Spacek’s Oscar-winning performance featured a slightly offbeat southern accent. The accent isn’t perfect, but it’s not bad either. Rather than focusing on whether or not she sounded exactly like Loretta Lynn, Spacek focused on nailing the character’s mannerisms, pivotal emotional beats, and moments.

In the instant classic Moonstruck (1987), Nicolas Cage and Oscar-winner Cher – two of the most bombastic actors we’ve ever had – lead an ensemble of over-the-top, screaming Brooklyn Italians. In the 90s, any guy you know playing a Russian villain simply did what they think a Russian accent is, such as Gary Oldman in Air Force One (1997). A few years later, Harrison Ford would do a similar chaotic good – but a tad more chaotic – Russian accent in Kathryn Bigelow’s K-19: The Widowmaker (2002). The same year, Tom Hanks introduced the most ridiculous Boston accents cinema has ever seen (this includes the entire cast of The Departed) in his role as Carl Hanratty in Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can. It didn’t make sense, but that’s also what made it make sense. Accents weren’t taken as seriously as an element of a performance they are now, and therefore would and could verge a little more on the edge – or over the edge – of camp.

There are few actors and filmmakers who have continued to keep the nonsensical accent present in modern cinema and television. The movement’s supreme leader is Nicole Kidman, who drifts further and further into camp with every role. Her accent sources are unclear, even when she is playing someone who lived, like Lucille Balle in Being the Ricardos. At this point, even Kidman’s normal voice, most recently featured in the beloved AMC theaters intro, is a weird accent, perhaps because it is so normal compared to her Russian but-make-it-ASMR voice work Hulu’s Nine Perfect Strangers.

Ridley Scott’s 2021 films The Last Duel and House of Gucci may mark the official return of the weird accent, which is fitting for a filmmaker whose career started at the peak in the 70s and 80s. In fact, the stars of The Last Duel barely attempts any accents at all. Set in 14th century France, Adam Driver fluctuates between something French, English, and his own American accent while Matt Damon pretty much just speaks like Matt Damon, while Ben Affleck does Ben Affleck but with a whimsical French flair that suits his blonde wig. It sounds like it would be a mess, but it works as it helps to keep the film focused on Jodie Comer’s performance without distractions. For House of Gucci, Lady Gaga claims that she spoke in her Patrizia Reggiani Italian accent – which is as campy as you’d expect a Lady Gaga Italian accent to be – for nine months straight, though Italian linguists have said it sounds more Russian than Italian. Whether the accent is accurate or not, it suits the character and the film’s extravagant 1980s style and themes. The rest of the cast followed in Gaga’s out-of-this-world direction including Adam Driver, Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, and Jared Leto (who will do some weird accent work on the Apple TV WeWork show WeCrashed) by using accents that don’t quite make sense but match the film’s tone and their respective characters.

In short, Nicole Kidman, Ridley Scott, and Oscar Isaac are single-handedly saving the weird accent, which should be revived. Isaac’s little accent in Moon Knight, like all of the best accents, embraces chaos. The return of these types of accents, which are a characteristic of a simpler, happier time in cinematic history when performances and stories were more original, hopefully marks a return to more original entertainment and a departure from the sameness we’ve seen across film and television in the superhero era.

Acting doesn’t make sense. Being alive doesn’t make sense. None of this makes sense, so not every accent has to make sense!

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