Hometown Pride: Boston Accents on Film

Mark Wahlberg and Amy Adams in “The Fighter” (2010)

I’m a Boston gal at heart. When I moved to the Big Apple nearly 6 years ago, I retained something that could be considered a setback: my accent. I remember the first day of class at Circle in the Square Theatre School and the late K.C. Ligon telling me, “We need to work on that” upon hearing me speak. K.C. was a well-respected speech coach within the industry and I credit her and Ken Schatz with helping me ease up on my native dialect.  Fun Fact: K.C.’s mother was stage actress, Nora Dunfee, famous for her performance alongside Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump as the Elderly Southern Woman on the bench towards the end of the movie.

Being a Boston girl, I am always aware when actors can and cannot do a good “Boston Accent.” Most commonly, people think of the Boston accent as it is when done by Mark Wahlberg, Ben Affleck, or Matt Damon. But, like any accent, there are certain subtleties that set different sections of Massachusetts apart from another in terms of dialects. Katharine Hepburn, for example, had what is known as a Boston Brahmin accent which is more refined and often considered more “upper-class” than my standard, Boston accent. All I need to do to retain my accent is talk to my parents and I automatically revert back to my natural tongue.

On film, it always helps when there are actual Boston natives involved on the screen or behind-the-scenes within the production if set within the Boston area. Amy Ryan is said to have refined her speech from Jill Quigg, a local whom Ben Affleck ended up casting alongside Ryan in Gone Baby Gone (2007.) Quigg went on to appear alongside Christian Bale and fellow Boston native Mark Wahlberg in The Fighter (2010.)

As a person with a native Boston accent, I can tell you right now, that the actors I have found to be the most convincing with the accent (in recent years) are as follows: Christian Bale (The Fighter) Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone)  Blake Lively (The Town) Amy Adams & Melissa Leo  (The Fighter.) But, there are those who tend to go overboard with their dialect and it sort of  sounds like they are making fun of us.  Not cool. To illustrate how good these actors do their accents, here are some clips. None of them are natives. Although, in all of these movies, at least one or two native speakers are in the films with them. Also, my acting coach, Ken Schatz, has always said that I need to get rid of my “moshpit” in regards to how I speak. You’ll notice that oftentimes, for as much as we elongate our “A”s and drop our “R”s, we also tend to mumble sometimes. These actors seem to pull of that characteristic well.
Blake Lively (The Town):

Amy Adams & Christian Bale (The Fighter):

Melissa Leo (The Fighter) She is probably the most stereotypical in terms of how people perceive the accent :


Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone):

And for the record, we don’t all swear that much. Well…maybe we do.

A “Keane” Sense of Talent: Abigail Breslin & Damian Lewis

Long before Abigail Breslin got an Oscar nomination for Little Miss Sunshine, and before Damian Lewis played a Marine in television’s Homeland, the two starred in a little known indie film called Keane (2004.)  Lewis landed his  part on Homeland  because the producers were so impressed with his performance in this little-known film. Currently, it’s available to stream on Netflix, and I saw it a few years ago (before Homeland was a series, actually) and fell in love with its simplicity. It’s psychologically thrilling, and proof that a little movie can yield big results for actors. You never know what may be just around the corner, so don’t knock a project just because it’s small.

From Netflix: After losing his daughter in a Port Authority bus terminal, distraught New York father William Keane (Damian Lewis) befriends Lynn Bedik (Amy Ryan) and her 7-year-old daughter, Kira (Abigail Breslin) — but can he really be trusted? Keane uses alcohol and drugs to numb his pain, but Kira helps him break through his haze and open his heart to new possibilities. There’s just one catch: Keane’s daughter may have never existed at all.

Damian Lewis is fantastic in the film, and now that I think about it, I never even realized he was British when I first saw it. Abigail Breslin was still young enough to play cute and adorable children, and now she’s in the new film The Call, and growing as beautiful as her talent. I saw her onstage when she did the Miracle Worker in 2010 on Broadway.  It was her first stage production, and as such, I picked up on some flaws, but overall her acting ability translated to the stage. But let me say this: Abigail Breslin is meant to be on film. She knows how to act on film. She’s been doing it since she was extremely young. This movie is proof that she had talent even at a young age. Damian Lewis does a fine job of acting with her and Amy Ryan. It’s obvious why he got his part in Homeland because of this. He plays all the colors of his character: the sane, mentally ill, and frustrated father just to name a few. This film is definitely worth checking out.

For my fellow actors, and especially those familiar with the “sound exercise” in Method acting, the following scene is a great example. Basically, the exercise deals with an actor singing moment, by moment, line by line, pacing themselves over the course of the verse/song. Throughout, one’s emotional state might change drastically. I have done many an exercise where I am crying by the end of it. This scene with Damian Lewis is a great example of that exercise in action.