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Why are British actors so good?

People will say "the training" or "the theatre" but we have training and theatre here. Why's it better there?

by goop excludedreply 6201/15/2015

There may be "training" in the U.S., but other than at a few select drama schools, the type of drama, speech & voice training that American actors get pales in comparison to that at the British schools.

by goop excludedreply 106/28/2011

They're not.

by goop excludedreply 206/28/2011

A working actor in England has to have more than breast implants,dyed hair, and a leaked sex tape.

by goop excludedreply 306/28/2011

Because "METHOD" acting is shite, it's just shit, and RADA is really good and has been going for hundreds of years literally.

Our people are just fucking lazy and Brits actually Learn To Act.

by goop excludedreply 406/28/2011

Um, like Keira Knightley?

by goop excludedreply 506/28/2011

I think British and Irish actors take it more seriously as a profession and craft. The don't see it as a vehicle to fame, celebrity and money like their U.S. counterparts, many of whom start acting with no training or even the wish to take acting classes.%0D %0D I believe that much of it is a vestige of the old studio system which the UK lacked. Most U.S actors aspired to Hollywood and broad appeal. Britons didn't have a movie industry at the time (or much of one) so the theater was for all intents and purposes their only option. It required serious dedication and training, which required a certain level of literacy that wasn't there for Hollywood counterparts and it set a precedent for succesive generations of actors.%0D %0D I hope this made sense.

by goop excludedreply 606/28/2011

Most British actors that come to prominence in the US have strong stage backgrounds. There are plenty of crap actors in the UK, and you'll find them on Emmerdale, East Enders and Coronation Street. But the actors who go all the way master their craft on the stage, and then gravitate to films and television. %0D %0D In the US, it seems to be all about the fame, and less about the craft. And if you want to be famous, you've got to be a movie star. There are plenty of good actors in the US who started off on stage: Streep, Pacino, Hoffman (both Dustin and Phillip Seymour), but the majority of movie stars would be laughed off the stage (and some who have ventured there, have: Julia Roberts and Jennifer Garner).

by goop excludedreply 706/28/2011

Oh yeah, well we have Patti LuPone!

by goop excludedreply 806/28/2011

And don't forget Megan Fox.

by goop excludedreply 906/28/2011

They also get more experience. One small English speaking country fills an entire cable spectrum and an entire theatre district.

There must be steady work for even bad actors. That's why you see so many of them recycled for export series.

by goop excludedreply 1006/28/2011

I think it may be it's ingrained in them from their strong theatrical tradition, Shakespeare,etc. Plus, I think that "theatrical" English accent is tres sexy! Sir Ian McKellen reading the Taco Bell menu would beat Tom Cruise playing Hamlet anyday! And---I LOVE Dame Judi Dench and Dame Helen Mirren!

by goop excludedreply 1106/28/2011

R10, are you saying there are always enough roles to go around in the UK? I'm not sure if that's the case. From what I hear there are a lot of our of work actors over there.

by goop excludedreply 1206/28/2011

I remember British actor Edward Fox(or James Fox--the one from The Day of the Jackal) saying that, as a young up-and-coming actor, he felt that the British acting style was stale, stodgy, and boring. He was much more interested in the American style, and was influenced not by Olivier and Giegud, but by Brando and Clift.

by goop excludedreply 1306/28/2011

R12, I'm talking out of my ass; I only know what I see of British Actors in the US. Many of the same actors used in one program end up in other series.

by goop excludedreply 1406/28/2011

R14, you are right that a lot of the same UK actors turn up on certain shows. That's because there are fewer British actors than American actors since the country is much smaller, so you see a lot of them more frequently.

But within the UK there is fierce competition for parts with hundreds of actors trying to get the same role, just like in the US.

by goop excludedreply 1506/28/2011

The hardest thing about acting in any country must be the looking for work all the time. It would depress me.

by goop excludedreply 1606/28/2011

Best example that shows the difference between European and US actors can be seen in Inglorious Basterds. I thought Brad Pitt was overshadowed by Christopher Waltz, Michael Fassbender and the other German actors yet the film was of course promoted as if Pitt was the main character.

by goop excludedreply 1706/29/2011

Michael Fassbender's father is German, but he is Irish

by goop excludedreply 1806/29/2011

UK exceptionalism

by goop excludedreply 1906/29/2011

As someone who has worked in both markets, you could say all of this is true or false to one extent or the other - it's hard to speak relatively about acting as a profession because there are so many exceptions and variations.

I would answer the OP's question, why are British actors so good by saying, they're not. Britain has its fair share of terrible actors - well beyond R7's indictment of British soap opera actors (and there are plenty of good actors on those shows, as well as bad).

In the States, actors are mostly concerned with getting union cards as a means of validating their ability. In Britain, throughout the industry, its drama school. What drama school did you go to? And there are tons of them and only some are accredited and recognised. For a British born actor, drama school is a mandatory rite of passage, unless they were plucked out of some stage school at an early age to be on a soap.

That said, drama school training itself is no guarantee of ability or success. British actors do not really study "the method" or whatever component it is that makes acting emotionally alive and vital. They study everything that goes on around that: movement, voice, etc. But that component is more or less left to the individual to figure out. That, I suppose, is seen as something natural. There is a quality to British acting of reticence which works quite well when you're doing Shakespeare or playing someone British. In other works, this quality leaves British actors seeming way out of their depth (Diana Rigg in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, anyone?). Or leads to the kind of hammy, overacting you often see from actors like David Suchet or Michael Gambon on stage. It is much worse in the regions.

Drama school also tends to promote an isolation of sorts in performance where actors - bad actors - are clueless as to how to interact with another actor and think acting is something that only happens on their lines while they make ridiculous hand gestures. Believe me, I've seen it. And when these actors, fresh out of drama school, can't get what they want and steal focus, they create scenes and make excuses and try to direct the other actors, etc. I call these actors "drama school nutjobs." They also freak if there is a line change because, of course, they're not really delving into characters, they're just sounding out the script. It's really pathetic. I've worked with some of them, a few years back when I was making film shorts, and they even pretty much say "cut." There are plenty of them out there - products of the cutthroat British drama school system where a bunch of mediocrities just pit students against one another - and they are nightmares.

Most good actors say they never learned anything in drama school.

British actors are also obsessed with dialects especially their American dialects and, again, contrary to popular belief, they're not very good at it. I've been in acting classes where I was the only American and everyone else had to struggle with an American text and they are uniformly terrible. You see the good British actors - there are plenty of bad ones.

But it's the same with American actors. If you watch tv drama in the States you quickly recognise that there is a core group of about 20 actors that get cast in all the supporting roles. And they're all good. But when you think of the number of SAG members - it's a pretty small pool of talent. So to pretend that acting is somehow in the DNA of a nation...maybe. It might just be that there are different sensibilities towards it, a different artistic culture at work. Britain, for the moment, does subsidise the arts though we are undergoing major cuts. There is an active culture of new writing here for the sake of finding new voices; the work that gets produced and audiences are used to is generally more challenging than what gets produced on stage in the States because audiences are more literate, open-minded. In the States people go to the theatre to be entertained. In Britain, while the same is true, people understand it's also a place to wrestle with ideas.

by goop excludedreply 2006/29/2011

In the U.K. is perfectly normal for actors to appear in TV and film and on stage, back and forth through their careers. There's more exposure to a broader spectrum of talent and a stronger emphasis on modesty among actors. In many cases, the income is less fantastic than in the U.S. and greater need to work "between projects." So British actors tend less to be pigeon-holed early on, less enveloped in praise and expectation that they continue only in a narrow range or trajectory; training aside, there's also more opportunity for them to become good along the way of their careers.

by goop excludedreply 2106/29/2011

When you're talking about good British actors, you're really talking about the older actors like the "Sirs and the Dames". It's the same here. Most of our older actors are good too.

Britain has it's fair share of Hollywood-style fame whores. Judd Law, Keira Knightley, Sienna Miller, Hugh Grant and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers comes to mind.

by goop excludedreply 2206/29/2011

R21, you left out "...and have singing careers." There are fewer jobs, if they want careers they have to be jobbing about.

I think you're wrong about modesty. They're British so of course they might be "British" about it but that's just a false modesty. British actors egos rage as much as any other actors. Though there is more a sense of "just getting on with the job." There's none of the American sense of "we're puttin' on a show!"

by goop excludedreply 2306/29/2011

But R22, there's a huge underclass well below them of mostly terrible actors, just as in the States. So there's no truth to the generalisation that all British actors are good.

by goop excludedreply 2406/29/2011

It used to be true that there was a lot more work for British actors but now there are so many more drama schools and courses.%0D %0D I went to acting school in London and NYC, in the early 80s. So many fellow acting students from my drama school in England went on to have acting careers, a few are famous and even the less high profile ones, I still see on TV. Not a single person I studied with in NY have I ever seen in anything nor all the budding actors I met working in a zillion New York restaurants and catering companies in the 80s. Not one of them have I ever seen in anything. Tell a lie, there's one girl I knew in NY who is a professional extra.

by goop excludedreply 2506/29/2011

On the other hand, R25, I went to school at Columbia College, Chicago in the '80s and there are a ton of people I went to school with who have gone on to successful careers as actors, screenwriters and directors including David Cromer and Anna Shapiro, among others. Hell, we even went to school with Andy Dick.

It's all relative. A lot of people in their 20s want to be actors, may go to school and go through the motions but aren't really cut out for it. It's a brutal business.

by goop excludedreply 2606/29/2011

Not all British actors are good!

by goop excludedreply 2706/29/2011

R20, the drama school crazies your describing remind me a little of the failed actress character in "Shaun of the Dead".%0D %0D It's all relative. I think that Americans and Canadians appreciate the differences they see in British actors and interpret it as better then their own actors abilities. None of them realize that there are probably Brits who do the same thing.

by goop excludedreply 2806/30/2011



by goop excludedreply 2906/30/2011

One other point regarding productivity in the British system is that national and regional and local theaters are subsidized by the government. This provides opportunities to participate and earn a living as an actor that don't exist in the US.

by goop excludedreply 3006/30/2011

U.S. film and to an extent even stage acting has degenerated much like everything else because success is equated with $$ and popularity and looks- NOT quality. Not that this isn't omnipresent, but I think much less so in other countries with good theatre programs (U.K. Australia, Germany, etc.)

Part of this IS because many European actors make films so they can afford to perform stage roles as well. Stage and film are somewhat different and you can do one well and be mediocre at the other. Stage acting requires a higher level of consistency and stamina than film acting, so British stage actors often have more of a palette to choose from- they can PULL from their stage abilities when acting from the camera. But that's REALLY not the big difference.

#1 Public funding- European actors simply have more support to act all day and all year. This status quo however is vastly deteriorating.

#2 So many Americans will settle for GOOD ENOUGH acting- so long as they get the role and the accolades. If successful actors, or American Idol finalists, or whomever sell tickets then they feel that they don't NEED to work to improve.

The "good enough" philosophy extends to training. Americans are taught to worship some technical school or another. Acting students spend so much time trying to please various guru instructors instead of trying to truly be in the moment. American actors are taught to worship some school of technique (i.e. the instructor's ego/power) instead of thinking for themselves. But all acting technique is really a means to an end. It's less relevant even than musical or singing technique because music involves a more abstract sense of communication.

I recently saw i friend in a film who had gone to a "top five" conservatory and was rather shocked that she had wasted her time and money. She would have been better off just auditioning and trying to figure out why everyone is saying "no". This is the problem with students who do "good enough" for an acting teacher or coach and get A's or are told they are "so talented".

#3 Too many young actors THINK they are in the moment simply because they are "feeling" something. But that is a bastardization of "The Method" or "The System" or "Meisner". Acting is first and foremost about communication. If the audience isn't sensing what you are "feeling" then you might as well be shoving a dildo up your hole- at least that would be more "real".

#4 Lack of empathy: Lastly, even though I feel that actors are some of the most selfish neurotic people on the planet, an actor must develop a certain sense of empathy for the character in order to truly transform. I don't mean empathy as in the selfless, caring empathy nec (see selfish/neurotic above), but they must be able to embrace the role and the character for who they are and communicate in the moment instead of forcing the issue.

For whatever reason this sort of empathy has been lost to some degree in american And empathy is required to give a shit enough about the audience/viewer to explore your communication of your role to them.

by goop excludedreply 3106/30/2011

[italic]. . . Discipline[/italic].

by goop excludedreply 3206/30/2011

[quote]there's a huge underclass well below them of mostly terrible actors, just as in the States. So there's no truth to the generalisation that all British actors are good.

True. Let's not forget that in the U.S. there are scores of brilliant actors who simply will never eek out an anything but a precarious living off of acting. It's a lot to sacrifice and this is a HUGE country to go traveling around auditioning for regional theatre everywhere. European actors have a much more geographically concentrated circuit so it's somewhat easier for them to lead a somewhat more balanced life. (let's not forget that they have FREE healthcare!) Many of the most talented American artists simply have to leave the profession to live at any level of comfort. So public (and state) support are an integral part of the problem. Most traditional American audiences are afraid to pay for the unknown and the unknown rarely lasts longer than a two week run in the states.

I was mainly referring to the already "successful" TV and film actors in the states.

by goop excludedreply 3306/30/2011

Speaking of adorable British guys, who is John Finnemore's* girlfriend?

*brilliant comedic writer and actor

by goop excludedreply 3412/02/2012

American actors have been raised in a culture of Evangelical Christianity, Guns and Walmart. Not a lot of intellectual space to work their craft.

by goop excludedreply 3512/02/2012

In the UK, there is more of a tradition of rep theatres --- where the same group of 20 or so actors will perform in all of the shows for a season. This allowed the same actor to develop his/her craft by doing Shakespeare, Ibsen/Checkov, musicals, comedies, and the occasional farce in the same year.

Many American theatres used to do this, but the 'Theatre Rep' approach went by the wayside at most American theatres in the 1990s.

by goop excludedreply 3612/02/2012

Interesting thread I just found.

I think it is changing in the UK too. I saw Jeremy Irons interviewed about it and he said the rep theatre he started out in are all gone and his son started working in film and TV because theatre work has become harder to find.

Sadly I think the Brits have become just as shallow as the US. I doubt you'll see the current generation going back to the classics a la Dench and Maggie Smith.

I went to a UK summer program once and the UK actors were just obsessed with getting to LA and being on Breaking Bad or whatever. They were bored by the classics we were studying.

by goop excludedreply 3707/28/2013

I've always thought it was down to what R36 and R30 pointed out - more regional and rep theaters giving British actors a decent and useful amount of experience.

Sorry to read R37's quote from Jeremy Irons about the dwindling number of theaters. It makes a huge difference.

by goop excludedreply 3807/28/2013

God how I hate people calling England, The UK.

>>>>>>>>>> I went to a UK summer program once and the UK actors

Yucky, yucky.

by goop excludedreply 3907/28/2013

um r39....not all of the UK is in England....Scotland ring a bell?

by goop excludedreply 4007/28/2013

They seem to be more interested in making the part work instead of asking for shit before even stepping in front of the camera...

by goop excludedreply 4107/28/2013

the older generation: Maggie, Sir Ian, Emma, Brannagh, Ralph Fienes

the younger: Kate Winslet, that whore Jude Law and everybody else did, Jude Law, the True Blood people, Russell Brand....

by goop excludedreply 4207/28/2013

When we're discussing regional and rep theater, we are including Ireland, Scotland and Wales with England. It is the UK, or hadn't you heard?

by goop excludedreply 4307/28/2013

I think that's r39's point, if I may.

My impression was that the poster hates when people mean England but say "the UK".

by goop excludedreply 4407/28/2013

[quote] I went to a UK summer program once and the UK actors

ok, the program was in London but the students were from all over....the UK.

by goop excludedreply 4507/28/2013

I honestly think British people are more down to earth which makes it more realistic where as Americans can be a bit goofy, no offence

by goop excludedreply 4606/18/2014

In what world is Jude Law a good actor?

by goop excludedreply 4706/19/2014

They're not.

American teenagers just go, "Ooh, funny accents! OMG SO BRITISH TEA AND CRUMPETS!!!" and think it's awesome.

We've got a few crap actors of our own.

by goop excludedreply 4806/19/2014

They have a national system that promotes acting as a profession, not just picking ridiculously good looking people with limited talent. The hone their craft at drama school, appear in local rep companies that link talent nationally. Their consumers don't respond well to a vacuous model-a-like on TV, but seem to prefer authenticity on their TV's and they don't have a system of pilot season...where material is as easily disposed as created. Just my opinion.

by goop excludedreply 4901/15/2015

I like how British shows have real-looking people and their appearance jives more with the actual job they are portraying in the show. I was watching some show, one of the many law and order types on now, and the female attorneys were all wearing low cut tops and mini-skirts with ridiculous shoes. An assistant looked like she was wearing a dress more suited for an evening cocktail party and of course all were about 25. Hollywood is ridiculous. Hey, let's get barely legal bimbettes to play nuclear scientists or heart surgeons.

by goop excludedreply 5001/15/2015

The American actors you're aware of-- the ones in Hollywood-- are mostly cast for looks. Beyond Meryl Streep and a handful of others, they basically play themselves in every role and the scripts are adjusted to account for that. We've been trained that if someone is good looking we pretty much forgive them anything.

Or to put it another way, think of how few Hollywood stars were even in their high school drama club or school play. A lot of them were models who decided that acting wasn't all that hard.

As for Brits, they have their share of bad actors, but since you don't have to be beautiful to land a major role, more people with legit acting chops rise to the top there.

by goop excludedreply 5101/15/2015

True R50 - you look at the US and UK casts of any series that was remade here and no one on the UK show would have made the cut due solely to looks: The Office, Queer As Folk (okay Charlie H), etc.

by goop excludedreply 5201/15/2015

Americans produce very good actors. This is an old and dead conversation one could probably have heard in the 1950's.

The problem is 'celebrity' vs 'actor'. AND, there's not much summer stock anymore, is there? The stage is a terrific vetting ground, an arena imnsho, and being good looking is not going to cut it. Seems to me the stage either forces an actor to push towards having mastery over their talent.

Brando, Hopkins, Hepburn, O'Toole, Burton, Olivier, Steiger, Newman, they have something in common?

I did see a Drama professor, a UK transplant to NY, who spends free time acting still etc etc, talking about being a little stunned that so many young American actors show up to auditions very ill-prepared. He and the others in the audience then feel disrespected. That's just a microcosm of what America's always contended with, don't you think?

I have no idea. I'm just bored.

by goop excludedreply 5301/15/2015

It has to do with how the Brits are in general.

Americans are generally more over the top, and that's fine, but Brits just aren't, so when it comes to acting it's kind of inevitable that there will be more of a sense of sincerity and genuine emotion.

I think so anyway. Watch a US comedy compared to a UK. US characters are hardly ever really believable compared to UK.

by goop excludedreply 5401/15/2015

It's very hard to make a living as an actor in the US. We barely subsidize any of the performing arts. There's hardly any safety net. British actors can live on the dole between jobs. American actors have to be direly broke just to get EBT. Not to mention one has to pay for health care premiums from one's salary here. If you're making a low salary, it's very difficult to pony up the money for monthly health care premiums. But to get Medicaid, you gave to virtually give away everything you own.

UK actors can come over here and work with very little regulation while it's virtually impossible for US actors to work in the UK without dual citizenship or permanent residency through marriage.

In the U.S., you can barely survive between acting jobs, so you have to get another job for subsistence-level pay and that job comes first over acting. If American actors had the subsidies that British actors/performing arts get and the ability to work in more than one country, you'd see more Americans devoting themselves to acting as a real career. As it is, Americans who aren't connected to the entertainment industry through family can only devote a certain amount of time to an acting career and have to give it up after a few years.

by goop excludedreply 5501/15/2015

All of that Meisner and method crapola produces small, dull actors obsessed with "how they FEEL", rather than caring how we the AUDIENCE feels!

by goop excludedreply 5601/15/2015

That last sentence isn't necessarily true, R55

by goop excludedreply 5701/15/2015

[quote]UK actors can come over here and work with very little regulation...

No, that is false.

American Actor's Equity and British Equity have a reciprocal system for stage actors working abroad. I'm sure the same is not true of SAG/AFTRA, but how many British actors can easily get known to big LA casting directors, or flown over for scale projects?

by goop excludedreply 5801/15/2015

There are so many great points made on this thread.

I was classically trained, so I tend to think lack of classical training in anything - be it singing, dance, or theater, is important. A lot of people who go to LA at 18 -- because an 18-year-old is so much more valuable than a 20-year-old etc. - don't have good, if any, training. Since the birth of television, we see people on TV who are mediocre and think, well, I can do that.

What I see is not so much people being cast on looks but on type. It's a faster way to cast and less interesting. I've always loved seeing casting against type, but one hardly sees any, particularly on TV.

Then you see these horrific reality stars deciding they can act, which is so disrespectful to the art of acting. Worse than that is that people cast them. Someone objected to Kim Kardashian being in something and the answer was, "She has 10 million Twitter followers." That is what casting agents look at now.

Acting is seen to be far down on the food chain here. It's not treated as an honorable profession or any profession. A friend of mine was in the hospital and told the nurse he had been a dancer, and she said, "What Broadway shows have you done?" You're not a success here to the average person unless someone has heard of you or you've done Broadway, TV, or films.

I see people on TV who mumble, who speak with regional accents when the character isn't from that particular region, who swallow their words - I find it gross.

As far as empathy, it will be interesting to see how many great actors there are in 10 or 20 years. Kids today have no empathy, no connection to others - there has always been bullying, but now it's rampant, and I guess kids have always killed each other because they didn't like them, but it's increased. Empathy is quickly becoming a thing of the past.

by goop excludedreply 5901/15/2015

They are not better than the US actors. There are plenty of shit actors in the UK. Just watch one or two bbc america shows.

by goop excludedreply 6001/15/2015

Also, I don't see anything wrong with wanting to make movies. As someone said, a lot of Brits do it so they can afford to work on the stage. Americans don't necessarily do it for that reason, but there's no reason to see films as someone being a fame whore. Actors need to take the opportunities they get when they get them because you age out of those opportunities or go out of fashion very quickly.

Jude Law went back to the stage and did Hamlet and received good reviews. Why, if someone offers you a film role, shouldn't you take it? I'm not sure about now, but he used to be in just about every film that came out. Sometimes he was very good and sometimes he wasn't. I've seen Daniel Craig on stage twice, and I think he's a fantastic actor. Hugh Jackman does movies, but he always returns to the stage, and he's an incredible performer.

Now, I feel differently about reality stars. I say if they really want to act or sing they need to get some training and then go to a tiny theater somewhere and work on their technique.

I'm always happy when acting professionals have some success. Most of them work very hard and deserve it. And if you didn't work hard, you're not that good, and someone just gives you a part, your success isn't going to last long.

by goop excludedreply 6101/15/2015

There is no reciprocal agreement for film and television between the U.S. and UK. You simply have to have more Americans working in a U.S. production than foreign employees. Rules are stricter in the UK and involve sponsorship for foreign actors. It's a lot easier to use British actors pretending to be American, or actors who were born in Britain and hold citizenship but live in America and speak with American accents, like Veronica Cartwright or Kim Catrall.

Even if an American actor does a great UK accent, you'd hardly finding one heading up a TV series playing a UK character, like you have UK actors starring as Americans. You have no American equivalent to Hugh Laurie, Andrew Lincoln, Linus Roache, Damian Lewis, Matthew Rhys, Kelly McDonald, Laura Fraser, Ruth Wilson, or Hugh Dancy in UK programming. It's pretty easy for Americans to do Scottish accents (they're so broad nowadays), but you'd never find an American starring in a UK TV show as a Scottish character. A special dispensation has been issued to Meryl Streep for the occasional film where she's allowed to portray a character from the UK, but that's about it. She's not the only one who can do accents. I've seen excellent productions of Oliver Twist in local theater where even little kids do very good British accents.

by goop excludedreply 6201/15/2015
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