Berlin Station Eps 1-3: Accent on America

 

I don’t know if other bloggers have the issue I’ve been battling; I want to/ought to write on a topic, and I just don’t do it. I come up with legitimate excuses, but in the end, I think my procrastination might be directly related to my point of view of the work.

This is the case with with Berlin Station, which I’d like to address before I get to my Love, Love, Love experience.I promised a  forthcoming post  about Berlin Station the very night the first two episodes became available, but somehow, it never materialized. After successfully accessing Episode 3 last night on my laptop, using the EPIX free trial, I am ready to share.

I wouldn’t call this a review. I’m focusing on Richard Armitage first, and what interests me about the series, second.

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Richard Armitage’s ability to perfect an American accent has been an obsession of mine for years. The earliest examples I heard were when he tried to recite poetry in a New York accent (Manhattan Transfer) when I later heard an audio interview of him imitating a Hollywood casting director, as Heinz Kruger in Captain America and then in Staged. 

Once Armitage started looking at big films and possible American TV series as next steps in his career path, it was a given that to be successful he would have to master an American accent. First, with proficiency speaking American, more opportunities open up for him – unless he gets a director who cares more about Armitage’s general talent, and is willing to forego perfection with the accent. Or, unless the director or casting director decides to have him speak with his own British accent, either by explaining it away or not bothering. ( Colin Firth, for instance, has been in a few American movies where he just kept his British accent – no explanations. Archie Punjab is on the TV series Blindspot  playing some sort of American intelligence agency director. She plays it with a British accent – no explanations given). The viewer just has to figure out that he came to the U.S. from the UK for some reason if none is provided. But with a perfect American accent in his skills set, these obstacles would be avoided.

So – perfect American for more opportunities.

My obsession with Armitage’s American English is also fueled by my unwavering belief that he has the talent – the gift – to do anything asked of him and more. I’ve imposed this ability on him – it’s part of Perry’s Richard Armitage. I know he can do a perfect American accent the likes of which would make the most critical listener bet good money that he’s American.

And I think that could be one of the problems with why I don’t think Armitage has nailed it. For one, I am not a stranger listening to him for the first time – so I know, not only that he’s British, but his is  a voice, even slightly changed, that I know so  well, I think something happens in my brain that won’t let me hear him as an American all the time.  There are times in Berlin Station when Daniel Miller sounds to me like a Brit, even though I know the actor is using an American dialect.

At other times, he makes some of the obvious pronunciation errors many British actors  frequently make – the too-hard final R. In Berlin Station,  I noticed it on and off  (his American accent is very inconsistent  between American and UK accents, as well as among American accents)- but particularly, I noticed it in Episode 1, when he said the name Claudia Gartner, in Episode 2, when he greeted Gemma Moore, as Deputy Director and when he said on the phone, that Thomas Shaw as a murderer. There were numerous other instances where at least one of his Rs is rhotic. Now, I’ll give  you that  murderer is, even for me, a difficult word to say properly. Most Americans pronounce all three vowel sounds the same – mer- der – er-. There ought to be a difference in the first syllable – but often, there isn’t. ( Though many New Yorkers have solved the tongue twister by just saying mer-der-uh.  That works quite well for me.

As I mentioned,  I’m finding that Daniel Miller’s accent is all over the place. Yes, I know – he was raised in Germany and grew up bi-lingual, but he also grew up on a U.S. Army base, so as a youngster, he was also exposed to a variety of American dialects. Maybe he’s all over the place because while growing up, he picked up dialects from a variety of U.S. regions – but I doubt it.

Another error in  American pronunciation I spotted, is how he sometimes pronounces his O sound. I noticed that he said the word you closer to the word yew, and  soon was also spoken with a sort of diphthong sound – as though there’s some E in there.

Now, there could be a reason for this, depending on how specifically the dialect coach directed him. While it is not perfectly clear, it seems as though after leaving Germany, Daniel Miller may have spent time in the Washington D.C. area. My college bff is from Maryland and has worked in DC all her adult life. The very first night I hung out with her in her dorm room, she offered me a cake. Do you want a cake? It took a five minute discussion to figure out that she was offering me a Coke. She doesn’t have as strong a dialect thee days, but her Os are still more closed, or anyway, different from mine. So maybe that’s the reason – or maybe, it’s just Richard Armitage slipping into a British dialect or struggling with an American one.

I’ve already discussed in comments and elsewhere, that he pronounces the name Shaw  differently from other characters – but then, he’s also not consistent with this, nor are all the other characters. Different characters pronounce the name differently.

I’ve also noticed that in some cases, Armitage pronounces the O sound in some words in a much more open sound than I am used to hearing. Closing to an A. Two words I noticed were office and loss ( something – but not quite, like ah fiss and lawhss. Some Americans do pronounce those O sounds with their lips in a larger circle than others – but they’re not the same people who come from the D.C. area, in my experience and the sound is not quite the same as Daniel Miller’s. (Admittedly,  office and loss are words New Yorkers, especially those from the boroughs,  are known to pronounce with an awe instead of any O sound at all – cawfee is a classic. I don’t speak that way, but it’s possible that what I think is the perfect way to say loss and office, isn’t the norm.)

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There have also been instances in Berlin Station where I can hardly understand Daniel Miller at all. There seems to be a lot of mumbling and fast talking – and not just with him – but I’m noticing him most. His conversation with the female asset, when he reveals what the CIA has on her  (embezzlement from her employer)  was hard to catch the first time around, and there’ve been some other examples of not so intelligible lines. ( But in fairness, this is true with a number of characters in some situations).

There have been times when Richard Armitage exhibits an excellent American accent  but you never know what you’re going to get.

I took note that in a recent interview – maybe the funny one where he was on the sports show, Guys in Blazers, he said he ” was trying to speak in in an American accent.” Keep trying.

And there you have it. With all that work, and all the time spent also learning how to speak convincing German ( forget the Spanish) I was expecting Richard Armitage to knock that American accent out of the proverbial American ballpark – and so far, he hasn’t.

Now that I’ve gotten the American accent out of the way – to be continued …

 

 

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24 thoughts on “Berlin Station Eps 1-3: Accent on America

  1. You are right. I had noticed it too. His accent wasn’t consistent in Into the storm either. Not Every actor can succesfully pull that off
    He’s not Gary Oldman. I find it hard to understand him in Berlin Sometimes. And his German accent… Mein Gott…

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  2. Like you, I spend a lot of time noticing and thinking about accents. But I am wondering: what are you comparing him to? Because there is no such thing as “the” American accent unless you are using broadcast media standard as the measuring stick. Even that has changed quite a bit over the years and is more flexible than it used to be. If the character of Daniel grew up bilingual in Germany, I would expect his accent to sound mixed, vaguely “American,” depending on where his parents and his friends on the army base came from. If his mother was from the American South and his father was from D.C. or New York or Massachusetts, he might end up with an unusual accent. So plenty of variation would be permissible, but the one thing I would *not* expect is for him to sound like an Englishman, Northern or otherwise.

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    • What am I comparing him to is a fair question. I think some of the theories about how this character could wind up with a mixed accent might work in real life, but in the case of a TV series. If the dialect coach factored in his German beginnings and exposure by different accented parents and his life long experience, I would want to know that I just don’t think so. And, he is not consistent with the same sounds. Maybe he’ll get better.

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  3. I have to agree. I can’t put my finger on it exactly, as you have done, but something is slightly off with his American accent, though I will say it improves with each role as an American that he takes. I didn’t have any problem with it in Hannibal, almost certainly because of the speech impediment he was working with, but it’s just not all the way there yet. He’s no Andrew Lincoln, whose native British accent manages to take me by surprise whenever he’s out of his Rick Grimes character!

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    • Yup – I’m having my own trouble pin pointing it – but I know it’s a problem. I can identify that I’m not hearing what I want to be hearing Anyway, not all the time. There are passages where I think he’s very good – although in one of them, when he was talking to his cousin watching Max skate, he got into something very casual and sounded almost a little southern – or maybe his speech was just more fluid.

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  4. Sometimes I feel like Richard needs to hire the diction coach from that famous scene in the movie Singin’ In The Rain; the one where Lina Lamont is trying to learn how to pronounce “and I can’t stand him”. Jean Hagen was brilliant! Here’s the scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q3OkXi5osfU. I know it’s not the same situation but maybe Richard should take a few months off from his career and instead of reading many books for research, he should practice, practice, practice and watch American TV shows for three hours every night! Until he can master a few accents from over here, he will not become a major player in Hollywood. That is, unless he was serious about taking martial arts. ;p

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    • As an American viewer, I did notice ah-fiss as a strange pronunciation for office and a few other odd vowel sounds. None of them are wrong, but they are not consistent with each other. In the US we have many dialects. Even the infamous southern drawl varies widely depending on which part of the south you are visiting. I agree that Richard could perfect an American accent. It would be helpful to know the region that Daniel lived in when he arrived in the USA from Germany and where his parents are from within the US.
      I still love the show. I can’t claim that I am even remotely objective when it comes to Richard. It seems almost decadent to me to be able to turn on the TV each Sunday and see him there. Imperfect accent and all, I will take 7 more weeks of bliss and pray for a season 2 that includes Daniel Miller.

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      • I hear you. If Daniel dies, Richard knows he’ll get a thousands messages saying, “WHY?!” hahaha… I think he loves to die on screen. 😉

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  5. LOL! I’ll be an outlier. I come from the Midwest, but our university has people from all over the world–and the states. Let alone listening to others at Chicago museums on trips and such. You can cross the street sometimes and hear a different accent because that person was from somewhere else–the coupon versus kewpon pronunciation is a classic regional dialect difference. Or catsup versus ketchup.

    For me, a Pittsburg accent on a forensics competitor at Nationals was difficult to understand. Sounds were either elongated or truncated–and everything in between. Ha! But it was interesting. And I have some New York cousins and their regional dialect was very different for me when interacting with them in our childhood. I’m sure someone probably thinks that I have an “interesting” accent. I once had a nurse ask me if I was an actor, because my voice sounded animated to them–meaning I changed my vocal pitch for emphasis now and again. She had a very quiet voice, .

    As for Richard Armitage, I just view his Daniel MIller accent as being quite good. Though I will now look for the pronunciations you and others mention to see if I hear something different. Though I will heartily agree that Richard has smoothed out his pronunciations since his Into the Storm role. Not every American talks with a nasal twang, as he did back then. Ha!

    And when Celt Rhys and Brit Richard have a go at the American accents in a Berlin Station scene between their characters, I am very impressed. They both have deep male voices. Sighhh! And I’m a little hard of hearing anyway. So deep male voices–even in person–are sometimes lost by me, too. Maybe they need some ADR on Berlin Station. Or the male with the deep voice needs to come closer. *wink*

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    • Glad you think his Daniel Miller i quite good. It is true, as you point out, he is speaking in even a lower (deeper) voice – but not in the dramatic way Thorin did. He did say, on that TV clip I referenced, that he thought it was necessary to lower his voice because souds are inthe back of the throat. IDK – I think Rhys Ifans is excellent – but I am not that familiar with his natural Welsh accent, and I am not that familiar with his other work.

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      • Rhys has a very heavy accent–Notting Hill is but a small example. However, he is also very good at dialects. When he appeared in Vanity Fair as the hoped for love interest for Romola Garai’s character, he affected an aristocratic accent.

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      • I to think Rhys is more comfortable with it, he certainly sounds it. It is likely also due to his Welsh background, considering how heavy his Welsh accent is in English i think he probably speaks Welsh too. It is entirely different sound world and i think it makes certain sounds much easier to achieve. I know a few Welsh singers and their German for example tends to be very very good. Nothing comes without enormous amounts of practice but they manage to get the sounds spot on with very crisp diction.
        I was surprised by how heavily accented Rhys English is 🙂 I’d never heard him in interviews before, just on screen and i hadn’t realised before how he sounds off-work.
        Interesting his tone of voice is not at all different from his natural one, his voice is neither deeper nor higher than when he speaks his normal English.

        To me it sounded almost like Richard was speaking with a version of his stage voice, as he himself said, deeper than his natural one. It’s possible it’s a case of being too conscious of it and working at it too intentionally. That’s why sometimes it doesn’t sound like it flows naturally because he is probably thinking about it as he pronounces it. I think he was right in staying with it all the time, practice, practice, practice is probably the only solution until it becomes so natural he doesn’t have to think about it. Only then will the ‘overdoing’ it by trying too hard go away completely. I really think he slips only when he thinks about it because it’s probably like with any foreign language. When you think about it and doubt it you never sound quite right.

        But i think it has to be said that doing a different accent in your own language is much harder in many ways than learning a completely foreign one. Because you are constantly fighting lifelong patterns your brain knows and automatic reflexes. Your brain is constantly fighting it as you speak. Whereas learning a new language doesn’t face that problem, just just learn it all fresh. Hard because you have to accumulate new information, but in many ways less hard. It’s proven time and time again for example in singing, often natives have poorer diction than foreigners who speak the language confidently.

        I love his natural accent and way of speaking and i hope he never looses it. So i hope he can stay in his American one for as long as needed to get more natural without affecting this. Hearing Rhys sound as Welsh as he does gives one confidence it can be done 😉 Maybe as long as he is in NY he could try to stay in his American accent all day every day as he goes about his day, he’ll probably pick up a lot just from people he speaks to. Eventually it will becomes like second nature. I don’t think a very specific one is necessary. I wouldn’t be able to tell but what Rhys sounds like is very generic to me, so something generic should do it.

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        • I just watched Episode 4 – I can see why critics who saw four episodes were more positive. At some point, I got hooked , finally in tonight’s episode.
          Yes – his voice is definitely gravelly – which is so opposite to his naturally smooth, velvety voice. He seems to think it helps him with his American accent – which I’m getting used to. His stage voice in Love, Love Love is higher than usual at times, especially in Act I, when he is playing someone immature, and he’s sort of wheedling. Rhys is good. Still digesting episode 4, and just waiting for it to come on again in about 30 minutes. It might be confusing for him to be using his American accent all day while playing a Brit every night.

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          • Well, i’m trying to avoid spoilers, which may be a futile attempt anyway as who knows when/if i’ll get to watch it. BSt anyway, but LLL looking more unsure by the day too 😦

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  6. I so agree with your comments. As a Brit, I find his American accent unconvincing and distracting from his overall performance to the extent that I think he probably would have been better off playing the role with a British accent a la Colin Firth. IMO his accent sounds too laboured and contrived. Conversely, I have no problem with Rhys Ifans’ American accent, sounds more “natural” to me. Have any TV critics been critical of his accent or is it just a fandom issue?

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    • I’m finding his accent a bit labored also. Part of the problem is I’ve been following him for so long, that any variation from his normal accent is grating to me. His voice with slightly Northern British accent is one of his major selling points IMO. I noticed last night that he dropped the second “t” when he said “that”, but nothing else too glaring. I agree about the mumbling as well. And what’s the story on the skinny sideburns? Off-topic, but had to mention it.

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    • I read one review, which I hope someone else has bookmarked ( I can look for it later) – I don’t think it was from a major site – just not sure. This reviewer really criticized his accent. I’ll look around for one of the blog posts with a title called “ouch.” Otherwise, I don’t recall too much criticism.

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  7. Is the problem that the accent is too area specific? instead of doing a generic American accent, it seems incredible to me that he can produce so many varied voices for Audible but on film he looks awkward almost as though he is having to concentrate so much that the acting is taking second place. I have only seen the first two episodes on YouTube so it isn’t the best audio quality.

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  8. I just wonder: is his accent really more important than anything else about this series and his acting?!?
    I think in the first 3 episodes he already had some amazing scenes and did remarkable multilayered acting…
    Maybe just shift your focus?

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  9. I’m no American but from what I hear I find his accent in Berlin Station better than the accent he used in that tornado movie, Into the Storm (I found his American accent in that quite disastrous and very difficult to listen to). Having said that, even in Berlin Station I feel like his American accent is somewhat off. I was wondering whether I thought that because I’m so used to hearing his British accent and I just can’t get used to hearing him with an American accent or whether the accent really is a little off. Reading this convinces me that it isn’t just me, the accent really is a little off… I guess he needs a little more practice. Maybe with him living in New York now and being there until at least the end of the year will also help him with his American accent in the future.

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