It took watching a recent Academy Award nominated film to put forth the following question. Are British actors superior in both talent and desirability, in most cases, than American actors? And it is such a question, which certainly is not the first time it's ever been asked.
A June 27, 2013 BBC America blog at website Anglophenia, both founded and superbly written by Kevin Wicks, asks a somewhat similar question, titled, "Are British Actors Better Trained Than Their American Counterparts?" Within the web-article, Mr. Wicks interviews Edward Kemp, the artistic director of Britain's very sought after and prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). The first question put forth to Mr. Kemp, is when Mr. Wicks begins in saying the following, "Many U.S. casting directors believe that British actors are better trained than their American counterparts, use their bodies and voices more effectively, have more facility with accents and are more skilled at comedy. How much do you agree with this?"
Mr. Edward Kemp's response to such a question reveals his professionalism, depth of insight, as well as by no means to demean American actors. Because his answer is primarily based on the response he receives from auditioning potential American students desiring to study at RADA. For according to such feedback from those potential U.S. students, they see the studio based training upon which much of American entertainment is based, both film and TV, as woefully unsatisfying. Yet those same potential U.S. auditioning students see RADA as liberating, in that it offers broader based training, and a superb foundational launch pad to propel one's career into many genre's and different media, which of course does include theatre as well as film and TV.
Perhaps this is why a certain gentleman named Benedict Cumberbatch, who, although in his case, studied acting for theatre at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) according to IMDb, has been in both theatre, TV, film and radio. This also explains why, he can go from playing a villain in the second Star Trek film reboot, Star Trek Into Darkness, to the first slave owner of Solomon Northup in the film 12 Years a Slave, to also playing mathematician Alan Turing in his current Academy Award nominated role in the film The Imitation Game.
Furthermore later into the Kevin Wick's Anglophenia discussion with Edward Kemp, the artistic director says that RADA students, obviously primarily British, get lots of vocal training on accents. So much so, that it is also facilitated and augmented by weekly individual singing lessons. Such training on accents he says, "...develops both their ear and vocal flexibility."
Now, to dispense with the suspense. I've mentioned The Imitation Game, which I have seen. Yet it's not the most recent Academy Award nominated film I have seen. That is referring earlier to the very first sentence, followed by the question, are British actors superior in both talent and desirability, in most cases, than American actors? For the film that birthed that question within myself that I had seen recently, was Birdman.
"Okay now look Darryl, there are no British actors in Birdman," one may say. Well actually there are two, actress Naomi Watts, whose maternal grandmother was Australian, and actress Andrea Riseborough. Only in this particular case it's not also so much the nationality of any actor in Birdman, but more so a terrific scene in the spectacular film. Now a spoiler is definitely ahead. For the scene involves Scottish actress Lindsay Duncan, and recently Academy Award nominated actor Michael Keaton, for which he's already been awarded three Critics Choice Awards (including ensemble), a SAG Award (ensemble) and a Golden Globe all from the film.
Birdman is a dark comedy, as Michael Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, a well-known Hollywood actor who had starred in three blockbuster superhero Birdman films. Yet currently to refresh himself as an actor, he's currently directing and acting in his own drama play during preview nights, before his plays opening night on Broadway. Whereas Lindsay Duncan plays the well-respected, no-nonsense, soft spoken New York Times Theater critic Tabitha Dickinson.
Thomson spots Ms. Dickinson while both are in a bar as she's writing notes. He then joins her to attempt small talk, hopefully to get a decent review from her. Yet she abruptly informs him that she's going to destroy his play, after opening night, even before seeing it. This now mystifies Riggan Thomson. Then she explains why.
She basically tells him that she hates him, for he represents all who came before him. For she sees him as just another creation from the Hollywood factory, producing spoiled and selfish children, all untrained in real art, who all measure their talent only by how well their film does on opening weekends. It's as if Tabitha Dickinson sees herself as a gatekeeper to the theater world. Like a roman praetorian guard, she will protect the sanctity of the theater from the likes of him. All of that angers Riggan Thomson, who tells her that he has risked everything for his play.
A week ago a woman and I discussed Birdman. The woman liked the film, as she saw a relationship theme between Riggan Thomson and his daughter Sam, played by Emma Stone. Whereas I, thought that was only a subplot. For the overall theme the unfolded before me while watching the film, was seeing an actor's attempt to jettison the unwanted label of being typecast.
So this begs another question. Are American actors therefore more susceptible to typecasting, than British actors? For actor Matthew McConaughey speaks of un-branding himself in the November 2014 issue of MAXIM, written by David Swanson, saying on pg. 86, "I put the memo out to my agent, and that was that. It took about a year for the industry to stop sending me any more of the things I'd been doing, and then there was nothing. Bone dry. Nothing." Similarly he tells of un-branding from acting in five romantic comedies in a November 2014 issue of GQ. Yet later, came the $5 million budgeted film Dallas Buyers Club. And we know the rest of that story.
Now we have British actor David Oyelowo, who like Benedict Cumberbatch, he also studied at LAMDA, and plays Martin Luther King Jr. in the current Academy Award nominated film Selma. But before that, he plays an elementary school principal in the sci-fi film Interstellar, also starring Matthew McConaughey. Before that, he was in Lincoln. And before that, there was his role as a P-51 Mustang fighter pilot in the World War II film Red Tails, by George Lucas as executive producer who spent almost $100 million of his own money on the film. He is such an actor, who has been appearing all over the place.
Perhaps also, there's the aspect of one's culture, spoken of by the second commenter to the BBC Anglophenia web article by Kevin Wicks. For the second commenter Andrea says, "...in the UK, acting is taken very seriously and considered as an honored profession." Indeed, we know of two British actresses, Judi Dench and Helen Mirren, whom both had been awarded the male equivalent of Knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II, as Dame Commanders. And we must include Daniel Day Lewis, as the only actor to have won three Best Actor Academy Awards. Having seen him in nine films, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, My Left Foot, The Last of the Mohicans, In the Name of the Father, The Crucible, The Boxer, Gangs of New York, There Will Be Blood and of course Lincoln. He is not just an actor. He is also a Talent Titan.
So again, are British actors superior in most cases than American actors? One gauge of answering such a question, is the voting dollars, euro or whatever, of the public audience.