I have a theory about why our entertainment industry is so enamored of British actors. It’s not based on science. My theory is based on what they do inside their theaters.
The last time I saw a Broadway play, I decided to have a cocktail during intermission. That drink cost me $20, and I had to wait in line for 10 minutes. It would’ve made more sense to run across the street to a local bar, where I could’ve downed a few shots for the same cost.
The last time I saw a play in London, however, I made a stunning discovery that changed my view of the world in a profound way. They sell ice cream during intermission! It’s a tradition that goes back over 100 years. And there are no lines, because vendors come down the aisles with little carts or trays, and their prices are reasonable.
That’s the perfect example of the difference between us and them. Style, charm, and a quaint sense of history.
There are other reasons British actors do so well on our shores, of course. For one, they have a historical attachment to the theater that goes back to the days of Shakespeare. I have to imagine this serves as a source of inspiration. It might also motivate them to take their command of craft to a higher level than Americans who grew up watching nonsense on network TV.
“British actors are also incredibly skilled at turning off their accents so they can morph into one of us Americans. Seriously, they’re like the creatures from ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers,’ and I have no idea why or how this is true.”
British actors are also incredibly skilled at turning off their accents so they can morph into one of us Americans. Seriously, they’re like the creatures from “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” and I have no idea why or how this is true. Could it be the ice cream? It might also have something to do with their dedication to the vocal side of acting, a key ingredient in every Shakespearean production. This would explain why so many American characters on American shows are played by British actors. It’s thanks to their training and also a result of necessity; anything less, and U.K. actors would likely have their opportunities limited to their home turf.
The problem here is that we’re unable to return the favor. When an actor from overseas tries to sound like one of us, they come across as an authentic American. When we try to sound like one of them, we sound like Austin Powers. That might explain why you never hear British actors complaining about us coming over to steal their jobs.
Being so far from the United States has also given the Brits a surprising advantage in this day and age. They’ve been self-taping for American projects long before self-taping was common practice. As a result, their auditions have been amazing through the pandemic and beyond.
I’m not suggesting we wave a white flag and allow these thespians to play every single character in our movies and TV shows, but it might make sense to raise our game. I’m always surprised when I meet with potential clients and their résumés have no real theater credits, just the shows they did in school. In a world where TikTok has a billion monthly users worldwide, most young actors I’ve met have zero interest in starting their own ragtag theater company.
But, hey, you know what? It’s all good, because I just remembered something about my last visit to a West End theater: They charged me for the show’s program. Now that’s something you would never see on Broadway. So, there you go. There’s still hope!
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