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Inventing Accents: What’s All This Weird Talk On TV Lately?

Weird accents are abundant this week. Julie Garner plays “fake heiress” Anna Delvey in Netflix’s new drama Inventing Anna. The latter conned gullible New Yorkers out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Her best quality is her accent, a heightened Mitteleuropean rollercoaster of a voice that makes every stress and sound unexpected. Despite being a native German born in Russia, Sorokin listened to her English from east of Paris and north of Milan. It is impossible to ignore. The accent Garner uses does not sound much like the real Delvey, whose voice is available in interviews, nor does it sound like anyone you’ve ever met, in Europe or anywhere else.

Garner’s actions seem to be a deliberate ploy, but it is hard to tell if it is. You could argue that the exaggerated strangeness of the accent parallels the strangeness of the person if you were willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. Delvey extracted money from people by making it seem like she was the kind of person who deserved money. Like Netflix’s other recent scam contribution, The Tinder Swindler, the question that keeps coming up is why? Gardner’s startling vowels heighten a sense of bafflement. How can you trust someone who sounds like that?

Lily James’s physical transition into Pamela Anderson for Pam & Tommy has unsurprisingly received much attention, but her accent is more impressive. Once again, a heightened and strange voice fits the character of a high and odd person. It is easy to put on a yellow wig and strap yourself into some 34DDs, but it takes skill to capture Pammy’s raspy voice, a combination of Canada and California. James’s “generic American” school-play role as a waitress in Baby Driver did not inspire confidence. Maybe she is more confident with a specific goal.

Accents appeal to actors because they are natural show-offs, and a slight accent is closest to a pure acting test. American actresses face a glass ceiling until they can do their Zellweger. Can you alter the sounds coming out of your mouth, aside from empathy or comic timing? That’s what Martin Freeman does. His accent in BBC’s new cop drama The Responder is as thick as old scouse in the fridge. He does the police in many voices. “Look here,” he says. “You thought I was just a bloke from London, didn’t you?”

Tim and Watson and the father from Breeders. A bit American. Not quite. “I’m an actor.” He gets extra points for dropping the southeastern neutral for the regional. Coming from the other direction into RP’s open embrace is more accessible, but taking off for the territories is risky. Liverpudlians will have watched him intently, waiting for him to slip up. Who gave him the gig? Couldn’t a Scouser have played the role? Will Stephen Graham be cast in anything soon?

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