Over the past few years, there has been a coinciding increase in the presence of British actors in major features films, while a majority of American actors seem to be toiling away trying to fit into an industry they used to control. The Golden Age of America’s Hollywood is long over, but is this new age of foreign actors in American films just beginning? Looking at films today we can see a few reasons why this subtle shift has been taking place.
As actors are confronted with new technologies in movie making, a new premium is put on those who have a wide assortment of technical skills. Movies today don’t always have other actors or live sets with which they can interact which provides a distinct advantage to British actors who still put a premium on acquiring formal education in the art of film making. University programs and first-class acting schools are still very much a part of the film industry in many parts of Europe. In America on the other hand, most actors are raised on the streets. Trusted agencies like tradeshowcasting have been useful in getting true talent into the right roles. But many acquire their acting abilities on the job with many of them starting in commercials, as models, or by literally being scooped up off the streets as “discovered” talent.
There is a distinct difference in how British and American stars interact with the theater, which is always great training ground for a working actor. This is important distinction because acting on stage tests their most technical skills. Players don’t get the opportunity for do-overs, and have to get it right the first time, every time, for a few nights in a row. Many of Britain’s finest actors from Ian McKellen to Tom Hiddleston, got their start in theater and still respect the time they spend on stage and often return out of love for that kind of acting work. American actors view the stage as an alternative to film acting, in some cases as a last resort to get work as an actor. While some of them learn to love the stage, many just don’t seem to flourish in such a technical environment.
In large part due to the differences in technical training, British actors are now landing premium roles in serious American dramas while an innate ability to simulate an American accent has removed a major barrier for some. Laura Fraser, a Scottish actress, was able to flawlessly fit into the gritty American drama of Breaking Bad in its last few seasons, and Hugh Dancy has gotten much acclaim for his role as Will Graham on NBC’s Hannibal. For American actors, the focus has seemingly shifted towards comedies or action films like Transformers or big budget superhero films. In action films, the acting seems to get lost among the special effects, distracting from acting ability.
It should be noted this transition has been more of an evolution. American actors in the 70s and 80s were better trained as technical actors, earning them the top roles on a consistent basis. And perhaps it’s laziness, but many American actors have a different work ethic these days, which is tipping the acting scales much more toward disciplined British actors. It will be interesting to see how American actors try to fill the void and come out of this Hollywood slump in years to come.