Foreigners act just like us -- on U.S. shows

AUSTIN, Texas -- English-speaking foreigners are invading American television this fall, but they're cleverly disguised. The new wave of Brits and Aussies are impeccably trained to act and sound just like home-grown Americans.

Blame it on Emmy nominee Hugh Laurie, whose first season or two on Fox's House made everyone believe he was a grumpy guy from America. He's not; he's a charming, witty Englishman.


Or credit CBS' long-running Without a Trace, which secretly boasts a trio of non-American leads masquerading as New Yorkers. Anthony LaPaglia and Poppy Montgomery are both Aussies; Marianne Jean-Baptiste is a Brit.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it raises a question: Has Hollywood run out of Americans?


What prompted this immigrant invasion?

"Everyone is looking for new faces," says David Eick, executive producer of NBC's The Bionic Woman. "And the British performers have really nailed the American accent. They are sounding effortlessly American, so I think it's easier for casting directors and producers to take that leap of faith."

Networks and studios routinely use casting agents in England, Canada and Australia to fill American TV roles. And acting schools in those countries offer extensive dialect training in American accents -- which some find easier to master than others.

"My indigenous accent is completely impenetrable. Even I don't understand it sometimes," says McKidd, who plays a time-traveling reporter in Journeyman.

McKidd is best-known in the States for his lead role in HBO's Rome, for which he used a mainstream British accent. His route to an American dialect took him from the aforementioned impenetrable Scottish highlands dialect to what he calls a "middle-class Scottish" accent to the plain old middle-brow English-English used for most of his previous work.

Ryan, who plays Jamie Sommers in the Bionic Woman remake, says she's been working on her American accent for "quite a long time."

She's well-known in England for top-rated serial EastEnders and Poirot, but she's unknown and thus new here. Producers refer to her casting as "just an old-style Hollywood discovery."

Damian Lewis, who plays a San Francisco cop wrongly convicted (and later cleared) of murder in Life, speculates that the unknown Brits might be desirable on American TV for another reason: Less fame means less money.


An English star famous on the BBC commands considerably less money than a proven American star on NBC.

"I can only assume that we're cheap," Lewis says. "But seriously, there are a lot of Brits over here because you keep asking us. . . . This is the center of the global entertainment industry. People from all over come here because it's where the work is."