William Conacher, a dialect supervisor on Netflix’s “The Crown,” shares insight for any actor to approach a given dialect.
It’s a physical feat.
“Learning a dialect has more in common with learning a dance than it does with learning a song. It’s about training your muscles to make shapes. The muscles you’re talking about are tiny ones in the mouth and the lips. The more flexible you are in the first place—if your diction is really good and muscular—you’ll have more awareness of the changes you have to make to acquire an accent.”
Acting is inherent in a dialect.
“It is very difficult to work on how somebody says something without working on why they say it, so there is a crossover with acting. There’s no point in being able to do an accent if you can’t express your intention within it. I know a lot of directors [who], when I interview for films, the first thing they’ll say is, ‘You’re not going to try and be an acting coach, are you?’ ”
You can sound natural when speaking in a dialect.
“I like to find words for actors to practice from the real script, but we’re never actually reading the whole dialogue, because if you start drilling that, you’re going to become a little bit robotic.… The most common mistake is [to think] that you have to change everything. People are very frightened of when it feels a little bit like themselves, so they try and change too much.”
Think of learning a dialect as ‘oral posture.’
“I might choose six or seven different vowel sounds that are different from the actor’s own vowel sounds, then I’ll trot through the script and find every word that applies to that vowel sound so they have a set of drills that they can start working on. They’re not actually drilling the dialogue, they’re just drilling the sounds that need to change. You don’t necessarily have to spend a lot of time with a dialect coach. You can identify the physical changes in your oral posture yourself.”
A dialect is your own voice, just in the shape of someone else’s.
“The advice I give people all the time is: Don’t try to give an impression of the queen, of Freddie Mercury, of Winston Churchill. Analyze what they did, the specifics of how they spoke. So much of how the queen sounds is because the jaw doesn’t really move very much and neither do the lips. If you try to speak without moving your jaw and lips very much, you will sound a bit more like the queen. It’s about getting the actor to understand the shapes that the queen makes, and then using their own authentic voice through those shapes. It’s not about doing an impression. It’s about finding your own voice in the shape of somebody else.”
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