Richard Armitage speaking American, a retrospective, part 2 (Into the Storm)

Continued from here.

IntoTheStorm-bluray-dvd-for-sale-on-Amazon_Oct2514AmazonWhen Richard Armitage’s participation in Into the Storm was announced, originally as Category 6 — in July 2012 — one almost immediate concern once we learned that Gary Fuller (later Morris) was supposed to be an Oklahoman was the accent question. (See the long discussion here, for instance.) At that point, Armitage had been living in New Zealand for eighteen months, where he presumably hadn’t been hearing all too many American voices as a matter of course, and we had not heard him produce the correct accent before. Producer Todd Garner assured fans even during filming that Richard Armitage was “nailing” the Oklahoma accent. (We forgive you for lying, Todd, or maybe you just didn’t know what an Oklahoman accent was.) We waited a long time on that film, in part due to video effects studio insolvency, which led to them splitting up the work. Pickups for the film added scenes to it, and that, along with ADR in 2013 and changes made to the film after showing it to a test audience, allowed Armitage to reassess and dub over his performance, improving the accent after he’d been living in the U.S. himself. (A full timeline of the development of the film is found here.)

As stuff trickled out, I realized that my evaluation of Armitage’s execution of the accident was more positive when I was listening, rather than watching. When previous became available, we got different impressions of the accent — good on the “r,” for instance — and initial viewers were positive. My own initial reaction to the accent in the entire film was positive, which I think had something to do with the huge space in which I heard the film, and also the fact that Armitage spends a lot of the film screaming, which disguises the consonant issues in particular. A fuller evaluation of this question was going to have to wait. Then the DVD came out as I was taking a new job, and I drowned in that job, and so I am only getting around to thinking about this question more now.


Gary (Richard Armitage) comforts his son after rescuing him in Into the Storm (2012).

Whatever we want to call Armitage’s accent for Gary, it is definitely not Oklahoman. (Here are some reference points for that accent provided by RAFrenzy in 2012.) I don’t feel that that is such a problem, since Gary is supposed to be an English teacher and his speech should thus sound more elevated than that of his surroundings anyway. Neither of his film sons sound Oklahoman, either. Although the film was made in Michigan and one might expect Armitage to have picked up pieces of that region in Gary’s speech, to me, the accent sounded most like a sort of non-specific Western accent, building on the way Fred Clemson / Heinz Kruger spoke in Captain America. The film did have a dialect coach who (this is recollection) worked at least with Max Deacon and, I assume, also with Armitage. (I recollect someone on the film discussing that one thinks one has an American accent down and then has to start all over again — but I don’t remember who said it, or where, anymore.) I have read various things about the accent from the perspective of neutral parties, keeping in mind that American reviewers expect American characters to speak with American regional accents in American movies, so that they are only likely to comment on the accent when it became noticeable to them as not American.

Watching it now, two years after it premiered and four years after it was made, here are some specific points that struck me. I would still rate it positively on the whole, but there are some notable movements to consider when evaluating Armitage’s later performances of American accents.

Armitage’s biggest improvements in Into the Storm involve “a” and “o” vowels — this problem, notable in the “Symphony of a City” excerpts, is completely eliminated. He is still nasalizing to sound American, but not nearly as much as before — in fact, I was only disturbed by it one time in particular, when he says Donnie’s girlfriend’s last name:

On the whole, the errors in Into the Storm tend to be reduced to individual moments. First, something that I love about Richard Armitage’s English speech — the intervocalic alveolar flap — about which I have written many times — reappears here:

There’s something weird about the way he says “system” (it may have to do with his enunciation of the “r” in “another”), but the word that marks him as non-native here is “totaled.” I get why he’s enunciating the second “t,” for clarity, I’m sure — but almost any American would say something that sounds in varying degrees more like “todaled.”

Second, the “r,” to which I’ve referred previously as one of the hardest problems for the actor transitioning between accents or languages. The “r” in Auslaut (closing a word) is still much too effortful. This happens because he knows he has to put the consonant there but in British speech is not quite accustomed to doing so. And he’s trying so hard that he ends up emphasizing the word “there” itself, which also sounds odd to us:

The effort to speak the “r” correctly is to some extent distorting the vowels around it throughout the clip above, although very subtly in this case.

For comparison purposes or as another illustration of what is going on, here’s a clip where Armitage basically gets the “r” in Auslaut right — but it’s because he’s yelling or exerting himself.

He’s still emphasizing the “r” sound but because of the tension of the situation, it’s exactly right, and the mannerism of accenting the last syllable of a name one is shouting to make sure it carries makes him sound just right in this scene.

This difficulty in generalizing his errors must make it somewhat hard to work with a dialect coach. Even the linguistic and speech experts who do this job are trained to identify and modify speech patterns, his difficulties are not occurring at the obvious level, and often, he gets things just right. For instance, here:

He’s still trying too hard on the “r” in “your” but everything else is right, and “I got no” is perfect.

Or here’s another example of a (for this film) long stretch of scene. There’s absolutely nothing wrong here, and although he’s lowered the pitch of his voice a lot (perhaps to try to circumvent the nasalization issue?) he sounds not only resonant but also “like” a Richard Armitage I recognize. His best American accent. It’s all going along really well, and then he says “chasin’ trouble?” and it falls apart.

I don’t even know how to describe this, because the dropped “g” is definitely a feature of American speech. But it’s too much here; it sounds like he’s consciously dropping an “n” that he wouldn’t otherwise, which sounds affected (and it would definitely be seen as condescending in the U.S. to affect this sort of rural speech if one were not rural).

In the end, I think he sounds best as an American when he doesn’t sound particularly American. Witness this clip (there’s a bit of a slip of his English “a” vowel toward the beginning but otherwise it’s good):

The accent is a bit anodyne, insofar as he’s lost his own vowels but hasn’t necessarily taken on any clearly identifying American regional speech features. This was the pattern that struck me when watching the Berlin Station clip — but first I need to make my way through Hannibal, which will take a little more time.

~ by Servetus on May 28, 2016.

16 Responses to “Richard Armitage speaking American, a retrospective, part 2 (Into the Storm)”

  1. […] Continues here. […]

  2. I don’t know, Serv. My biggest peeve with ”Into the Storm” is the “don’t got no” line. I was taught to say “don’t have any” or ”don’t have a” & that ”don’t got no” wasn’t proper.

    • Are you referring to the clip above? If so, I think he is saying “I got no.” Which people say all the time. Or what are you referring to?

      “Don’t got no” is grammatically incorrect (double negative) but I hear people in the US say it all the time. Admittedly “ain’t got no” is a more common way to say it (also grammatically incorrect). It would be somewhat implausible if an English teacher said it except ironically — but if you’re not referring to the clip above, I guess I missed it.

  3. What an interesting post. Loved the clips with the analysis of his evolving American accent. Fun to watch and listen to. I agree with LadyGrayse about “I got no.” I don’t think a teacher would use that phrase. I don’t hear it used by educated people over 25, in general. But his character was stressed out, so maybe it was written that way to sound panicked. “I don’t have any” sounds too controlled. Thanks for sharing all your research. Meticulous, as usual. Calling it “interesting” really isn’t doing it justice.

    • Thanks for the kind words! I agree that a teacher would not say “don’t got no.” I found “got no” here realistic — we may just disagree🙂

      Hannibal is net. Have talked myself into being ready ot watch it again.

      • Wow, that will be challenging. Studying his accent with a speech impediment added! Thank heavens his character was a man of few words. I have never watched it more than once. But I will watch your clips. For educational purposes, of course. 🙂

  4. good morning, Servetus, i have watched Into The Storm on dvd and on HBO and Mr. Richard Armitage does a good American accent but not a lot of the Oklahoma accent. If you listen very closely once in awhile you will hear some of his British accent mixed in with the American accent and this part i really love, when he starts to get mad and speaks or yells in a stern(angry) voice or he has to shout over the noise you can hear Thorin’s voice.

    • I agree somewhat. The British accent creep occurs in ITS in some vowels, but not others (for instance, it’s interesting around the “er” question, which he has more or less conquered by this point in terms of the vowel, but not in terms of the consonant). Most of the “a” vowel problem is gone here as well.

      As far as Thorin, again only partially agree. I think this is very complicated by the fact that we don’t know what part of the voicing of the film comes from when.

  5. Great to read your thoughts on this, Serv. Not only as a non-native speaker of English, but also as someone who is not familiar enough with American accents, I do not really find myself qualified enough to voice a proper opinion on RA’s attempts at American accents. My general feeling is, that it sounds artificial. But then again – that could easily be motivated by the fact that he has spoken BE in most of his roles. BTW, am I only imagining it, but besides the nasal quality of his AE, does he also speak in a lower voice when he puts on that accent?

    • It does sound artificial — but I think more if you are looking at it as opposed to listening. I just read something about Brits doing English accents on tv that said that if you don’t expect the British accent you aren’t so critical of the American one and that very much mirrors my experience. I think, though, that it comes across in this film that he is obviously still trying, i.e., it doesn’t come across at all as effortless.

      In this role he definitely lowered the pitch of his voice (more noticeably than he had with Fred Clemson over against Symphony of a City).

      • Yes, a lot of it is expectation. I notice that tendency in me all too often (Michael Fassbender is one such case – I always detect an imaginary German accent in him…) Thus, the problem lies with the audience, not the actor. Although you confirm that there is something not entirely genuine about the accents. Using “Sarah Caulfield” as a benchmark, I presume he manages to be better than that?

        • Genevieve O’Reilly had two problems — the first was that she sometimes used expressions an American would never use. I never knew what to conclude about that, insofar as there are people whose job it is to make that kind of thing authentic and I assume Spooks had one. So at least potentially she was going off script. Armitage doesn’t do that, as far as I can tell. Everything he says is something you can imagine an American saying.

          Her second problem was that she’d regional accent switch. She’d be going along just fine in something that sounded (say) like Beltway DC and then she’d hit a consonant that gave her some trouble and suddenly she’d sound like Boston. This is a bit what Armitage does in “Symphony of the City” where he’s sounded pretty American standard and then he hits an “r” in Auslaut and suddenly it’s off to east coast Urban. He didn’t do that in ITS — he doesn’t always sound perfect but the accent is internally consistent.

          • All of this leaves me to wonder what those accent coaches actually do on set… Presumably they also listen in to the scenes to pick out if there are slip-ups…
            And whoa – I had to google Symphony of the City to figure out what that was… Never knew that he had done some American voice work before. Must listen in to that…

            • I wrote a detailed commentary at a time (linked in the predecessor / part 1 post to this one). It wasn’t the worst thing I ever heard but it was a jumble.

  6. Yeah, as a non-American and never having lived in the US either, I’m not one to voice a good, educated opinion either on American accents. Even so, I feel like Guylty does: to me, every time I hear him speak with an American accent it feels unnatural and forced. And those ‘r’s always feel too pronounced to me (don’t know about the vowels, though). Of course, it could also be me because it just doesn’t seem right that he should be speaking American. Then again, with other British actors I experience that cringing less. Hugh Dancy, for instance. No idea how good his accent is considered to be but to me it sounds good in a way Richard’s never has so far. i’m very curious to find out how I’ll feel about Daniel Miller’s accent…

    • Hugh Dancy is amazing in this regard. I don’t know if he’s a natural, or if it’s because his family has lived in Texas for a while, or because his partner is American and he lives in NYC (although he doesn’t sound NYC).

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