Christian Bale and the Actors Who Work Least in Their Native Accents

With Out of the Furnace opening this weekend, Christian Bale is going to be doing a whole lot of what he does best: acting in an American accent. He's not alone. 

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With Out of the Furnace opening this weekend, and American Hustle preparing to assault taste levels across America starting next Friday, Christian Bale is going to be doing a whole lot of what he does best: acting in an American accent. We're tempted to say he's the major actor who works least within his own accent, but we wanted to make sure, so we took a look at a handful of the performers most often asked to play outside their native tongue.

Christian Bale: 15%

Bale is a strong example of an actor who very rarely plays characters who are from where he's from. That'd be the UK. In his last 20 films, Bale has played Brits only three times: The Prestige, The New World, and Reign of Fire. Sixteen other times, he's played Americans. Once, he played a Greek, but it's not polite to talk about Captain Corelli's Mandolin. And he's trending ever more American, including every one of his last ten roles. Batman played a big part in this trend, but even now that he's placed the cowl on the shelf, he continues to work within the muddy flatness of American English. Which accent he chooses to indulge in as Moses in Ridley Scott's upcoming Exodus could be a streak-breaking question.

Meryl Streep: 95%

Okay, this one is purely instructive. Meryl Streep -- queen of accents -- would probably be an American actress who plays non-American quite a bit, right? Not lately. In her last 20 films, Streep has only played Brits once -- The Iron Lady (Oscar-winning though that performance may be). The flow of accents just doesn't travel this way. Americans don't play Brits (or Aussies, or Kiwis, or Italians), it's the other way around. [Apologies for saying Julia Child, in Julie & Julia was British. She's just so fancy!]

Gary Oldman: 40%

You don't even have to have that great of an American accent to play Americans constantly. Gary Oldman's native London accent has been repeatedly called upon to contort itself into any number of American dialects, all with the same chewy results. His numbers are more balanced than Bale's. He's played Brits seven times in his last 20 films -- plus one character of Vague Middle-European extraction in Red Riding Hood -- to his twelve American roles. You can't even say that the Batman films -- where he played police-commissioner James Gordon -- were padding his stats, since his role as Sirius Black in the Harry Potter franchise provided more than enough balance.

Naomi Watts: 10%

Watts is something of a hybrid case, since she was born in Great Britain and lived there until she was 14, at which point she moved to Australia. She's most often described as an Aussie actress, though she's only played women from there twice in her past 20 roles -- once in Ellie Parker and most recently in the son-swapping drama Adore. In that same spans, she's played Brits five times, including her most recent Oscar nomination for The Impossible and Woody Allen's You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (below), Russian once (Eastern Promises), and Americans twelve times.

Hugh Jackman: 15%

Aussies end up being the actors most often called upon to stray from their native accent, both because Hollywood doesn't make very many movies set in Australia, and also because (we suspect) many American producers and execs figure that Aussies and Brits are interchangeable. And so we have Jackman, who's played almost as many Aussies (3) as Brits (4) in his last 20 films. He's still a predominantly American-accented performer these days, though, padded out a bit by alllll those movies where he's played Wolverine.

Toni Collette: 35%

Collette's another Aussie who has played the majority of her highest-profile roles in an American accent (including her Oscar-nominated role in The Sixth Sense). But she has actually managed to play Aussie in a whopping (for this list, anyway) seven roles in her last 20. Most of them are small Australian films that never got released theatrically in the States, but props to Ms. Collette for keeping it real and remembering where she came from. She even managed to get to stay in her own accent in the California-set Enough Said this year.

Mia Wasikowska (20%) and Isla Fisher (6%)

These two actresses are too young to properly compare them to their more veteran counterparts. Still, it's worth noting that Wasikowska (7 Americans, 4 Brits, 3 Aussies, 1 European) has worked far more often than Fisher, who has only played Aussie once in her last 15 roles.

Melanie Lynskey: 5%

As few films as Hollywood makes in Australia, they make even fewer in New Zealand (well, aside from the ones set in vast fantasy lands). So it's no surprise that a reliable supporting performer like Lynskey wouldn't have too many Kiwi roles in her filmography. She's only played characters with her native accent twice in her past 20 roles, instead playing almost exclusively Americans, to the point where -- despite the fact that her breakthrough role was in the New Zealand-set Heavenly Creatures -- you probably forgot she wasn't American at all. Lynskey would be the performer on this list who worked the least in her native accent if it were not for …

Nicole Kidman: 0%

Amazingly, for an actress who is so readily identifiable as Australian, Kidman has not played Aussie even once in her past 20 film roles. She was even in a film called Australia -- AUSTRALIA! -- and even there she played an Englishwoman. In that span, Kidman has played three Brits, provided we are willing to interpret the vague liltings of her voice in the fantasy-set Golden Compass as British, as opposed to, like, elvish or something. She's played more Italians (Nine) and Africans (The Interpreter) than she's played Aussies.  That feisty harpoon-wielder from Dead Calm is gone. Long gone.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.