When creating a character for a movie or a TV show, there’s a ton of work that is required. You have to know the character’s backstory, motivations, posture, relationships, and of course, the way they speak. Though we might not think about them in everyday life, our accents are an integral part of who we are as people. Mastering different accents is tough work, but for top actors, it’s just part of the job, and actors are used to doing lots of research.
Some of the actors on this list have spent their whole career taking on different accents, while others have one or two standout performances that are just too good to be ignored. A lot of them are so talented, you might not even know where the actor is from. The award winners here show off their talents in everything from emotional biopics to beloved romantic comedies, proving that there’s always room for a great accent.
18. Meryl Streep
Meryl Streep is one of the best actresses ever, and she’s pretty much done it all. From comedy to drama, she’s gotten rave reviews for a huge assortment of memorable characters. She won an Oscar for her role in Sophie’s Choice, which required her not only to speak with a Polish accent, but also to learn some of the Polish and German languages. Other accents she’s done include Italian, Danish, and New Zealandic, in addition to British and various American dialects. Meryl really is the best, and you can count on her to master anything that’s thrown her way.
17. Kate Winslet
Kate Winslet hails from England, but her characters come from all over the globe. Her most well-known role is probably Rose in Titanic, a wealthy young American traveling on the ship of dreams. Winslet completely nails an American accent in this and many other movies, but that’s not all she can do. She won an Academy Award for her performance in The Reader, playing a German woman who faces criminal charges for working as a guard at a Nazi concentration camp. In Steve Jobs, she played a Polish woman who had been living in America for years, making the accent even more complex. She kills it every time.
16. Hugh Laurie
Hugh Laurie is instantly recognizable from his starring role on House, but you might be surprised if you ever met him in real life. Laurie is actually British, but you would never know from watching him on the show! In fact, even some of the producers on House didn’t know he wasn’t American until after they had started filming. That’s when you really know you’re doing a good job. Hugh Laurie has done plenty of other work with his natural accent, but honestly I still just think of him as Dr. House.
15. Cate Blanchett
Cate Blanchett is known for her commanding, emotional performances, and her voice is an important part of this. She’s a proud Australian, but many of her most memorable characters are British or American. She won her first of two Oscars for playing Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator, which was a particular vocal challenge. Hepburn was American, but was known for her proper pronunciation and clipped speech, and Blanchett mimicked it perfectly. In 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, she played a deliciously evil Russian villain. She’s pretty great, no matter what country she makes her voice sound like it’s from.
14. Heath Ledger
An Australian like Cate Blanchett, Heath Ledger turned in some fantastic performances before his tragic death. He’s most fondly remembered for his performance as The Joker in 2008’s epic The Dark Knight, for which he posthumously won an Oscar. His terrifying take on the role consists of an American accent, but it’s nothing close to the average American. Wherever he drew his inspiration from, it worked like a charm. He also used a perfect rural Western accent in Brokeback Mountain. Heath was gone too soon, but his stellar character work lives on.
13. Johnny Depp
Johnny Depp might just be Hollywood’s biggest character chameleon. Time after time, he dives deep into roles that require him to change everything about the way he looks, and of course his voice. As Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean series, he uses some kind of half-British accent that sounds like he’s always had a bit too much rum to drink. He played Scottish author J.M. Barrie in Finding Neverland, and a proper British businessman in Murder on the Orient Express. Johnny Depp loves strange characters, and he embodies them with everything he’s got.
12. Matt Damon
Matt Damon has appeared in so many notable movies over the years, and the majority of his characters are American. From Jason Bourne to Good Will Hunting, his guy-next-door charm has won audiences worldwide. But he’s no slouch when it comes to accents. Particularly, he had to get the hang of a South African dialect for his role in the rugby biopic Invictus. South African is widely regarded as one of the hardest English dialects to perform, but Damon did alright. We’d love to see him experiment more in the future and try some interesting new accents. No doubt he’d do them well!
11. Leonardo DiCaprio
Kate Winslet wasn’t the only Titanic passenger who had some good accent work up her sleeve. While Leonardo DiCaprio didn’t play a foreign character in that movie, he’s done plenty to make up for it since then. In the political thriller Blood Diamond, Leo plays a gunrunner from Zimbabwe. Like South African, the accent of Zimbabwe is a tricky one that we don’t hear much in the United States. He’s also done lots of different American dialects, like New York, Boston, and Mississippi.
10. Renée Zellweger
I’ll be honest, I didn’t even know Renée Zellweger was American for a long time. She’s from Texas originally, but from her role in Bridget Jones’s Diary, you’d never know. Her British accent is flawless, and she just seems to fit the role so well. She also played famed British author Beatrix Potter in a well-received biopic. She took a break from acting for several years, but now she’s back and taking on interesting projects. In an upcoming movie, she’ll play Judy Garland, a classic Hollywood star with a very specific speaking and singing voice. No doubt she’ll kill it!
9. Idris Elba
Idris Elba has always flown a bit under the radar, but he’s built a career with some really interesting work. Many think he should be the next James Bond, a distinctly British character, but some of his most popular work to date has required an accent. He was great as strict manager Charles Miner on The Office, where he tried his best to get Michael Scott under control. He played South African leader Nelson Mandela in an emotional biopic, earning a Golden Globe nomination. In addition, he was chilling as an unnamed African dictator in Beasts of No Nation. Whether he gets to play James Bond or not, Idris Elba has already done it all.
8. Natalie Portman
Natalie Portman is another Oscar-winning actress who can completely disappear inside her characters. Nowhere was this more impressive than in Jackie, when she played first lady Jacqueline Kennedy. She’s not actually foreign, but Natalie was scary good at every nuance of her Boston accent. She also has a perfectly solid British accent, which she showed off in the dystopian thriller V For Vendetta. Natalie is actually Israeli-American, and it would be cool to see her play an Israeli character sometime. That accent would probably be a piece of cake for this talented star.
7. Andrew Garfield
Andrew Garfield still has a long career ahead of him, but it feels like we’ve barely ever heard his real British accent. He’s mostly played American characters, starring in high-profile projects like The Social Network and The Amazing Spider-Man. He also got an Oscar nomination for his work in Hacksaw Ridge, which required a very specific Virginia dialect. In a more interesting choice, he played a 17th-century Portuguese priest in Silence, learning an accent that most people don’t know anything about. That’s what it takes when you want to be on top.
6. Benedict Cumberbatch
Benedict Cumberbatch just seems British, and many of his characters have been. From starring in Sherlock to The Imitation Game, he often gets to use his natural voice. But not always. He booked his spot in the Marvel Cinematic Universe playing Doctor Strange, a cocky New York surgeon whose life is turned upside down after an accident. There’s no trace of a British accent there. He also played a southern slave owner in 12 Years a Slave, requiring a completely different vocal pattern.
5. Rosamund Pike
Rosamund Pike is easily one of the most underrated actress working today. The British beauty has often stood out in supporting roles, but she can be so good when she gets to shine. In the movie adaptation of Gone Girl, she completely steals the show as Amy Dunne, holding the audience in the palm of her hand. Her methodically perfect American accent is a huge part of this. In the new movie 7 Days in Entebbe, Pike plays a German terrorist who helps to hijack a plane. It’s choices like this that make her one of the most exciting, talented actresses around.
4. Christian Bale
Christian Bale was born in Wales to English parents, but you’d never know it from looking at his film career. He’s spent most of his time doing American accents, from the deep growls of the Dark Knight trilogy to the more natural sounds in movies like The Big Short. Bale also won an Oscar for his character in The Fighter, who had a thick Boston accent. As you can tell from this list, most successful British actors are highly skilled at doing numerous American accents, which opens up so many different roles to them. It’s clearly worked out for people like Christian Bale.
3. Tatiana Maslany
While most of the actors on this list showcase accents in different shows and movies, there’s one who does it all in ONE TV show, so we obviously need to give her props. On Orphan Black, Tatiana Maslany plays several different cloned versions of the same person, and they’re all totally different. This includes their nationalities and accents, which range from British, to German, to Ukrainian, to Colombia. That’s a lot for me to even think about. Maslany is stunning on the show, somehow managing to keep the characters separate and thoroughly develop all of them. It really is a mind-blowing talent.
2. Don Cheadle
A great accent in a movie can really help transport the audience. Don Cheadle is originally from Kansas City, but his work in Hotel Rwanda was anything but Midwestern. In the harrowing true story of the Rwandan genocide, Cheadle completely embodied the character of Paul Rusesabagina. Cheadle is probably better known for his work as Colonel James Rhodes in the MCU, but we’d love to see more of these global characters from him. We’ve seen it once, and that’s just not enough.
1. Margot Robbie
It’s probably becoming clear that many Australian actors have to master American and/or British accents to really break out in the industry. Margot Robbie’s American accent is pretty perfect, as she’s shown in movies like The Wolf of Wall Street and Suicide Squad. For her role in I, Tonya, she learned a very specific rural Oregon dialect, and she sounded exactly lie the real Tonya Harding. Margot will play Queen Elizabeth I in an upcoming movie, so it’ll be great to hear her do a classic British accent. She’s played so many foreign characters, it’s almost surprising when you hear her speak naturally.