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.
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.)
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 …