Stars you didn’t know aren’t US citizens
If you can make it in Hollywood, you certainly can make it anywhere. The US film and music industries are some of the biggest entertainment industries in the world, and so talent from all over migrate in order to get their shot at stardom. However, some stars are able to assimilate to American culture so well that as fans, we forget they are not one of ours. Musicians such as Keith Urban and Drake have dominated in their respective genres, for example, but the two are actually not American. Urban, for one, was born in New Zealand and raised in Australia, while Drake proudly reps the 6, a.k.a Toronto.
With actors, the realization can be quite shocking given the fact that some play characters for years before fans realize that they’re not American. Idris Elba, for example, was able to play notorious Baltimore drug dealer Stringer Bell on HBO’s The Wire for three seasons before fans realized he was actually British. In the same token, Nicole Kidman is one of Hollywood’s prominent actresses, however, people often miss the fact that she holds dual citizenship for the US and Australia. The actress has nonetheless managed to effortlessly portray Americans in films such as Bewitched and The Paperboy.
With Hollywood being the hub of facades that it is, it can be hard identifying which stars are from where — especially since some shy away from the spotlight entirely.
Anna Paquin had to tune out her family to turn on the southern charm
Anna Paquin has been in Hollywood since she was a wee tot, so realizing she isn’t actually American can come as a surprise. Paquin first got famous as the little girl in The Piano. Not only did she do a tremendous job in the film, but her performance was so riveting that it put her in a very elite category of performers. At the 1993 Academy Awards ceremony, not only was she a Best Supporting Actress winner, but at 11-years-old, she became the second-youngest actress ever to snag a trophy in the category.
Over the course of the years, Paquin has had small roles in the X-Men films and several other projects. She struck major gold again when, in 2008, she came back into the limelight with True Blood as Sookie Stackhouse — a waitress in Shreveport, Louisiana, whose life turns upside down when she realizes her small town is infested with vampires, witches, werewolves, and a bunch of other supernatural creatures.
When the show took off, fans were enthralled by her perfectly-crafted southern drawl. What made it even more impressive was the fact that the starlet had to convert from her usual mix of New Zealand and Canadian accents in order to master the Louisiana twang. The actress was so dedicated that at one point during filming, she had to stop calling her family and friends back in New Zealand to maintain her Louisiana accent.
Kiefer Sutherland will not be relinquishing his Canadian citizenship
Kiefer Sutherland comes from Hollywood royalty. His father, Donald Sutherland, has been in classics such as M*A*S*H, The Dirty Dozen, as well as the Hunger Games series. However, Kiefer has been able to forge his own path, of course, gripping the nation for 13 years as agent Jack Bauer in 24.
While we were busy watching him save the world every week, we totally missed the fact that Kiefer is not originally from the United States. The actor was actually born in London but lived in the US until he was nine and then moved to Canada. According to BBC America, Kiefer is actually capable of applying for British citizenship if he so chooses.
Kiefer has been steadfast in keeping his Canadian citizenship. He takes his civic duties seriously, lending his voice to Canadian politics and following in the footsteps of his grandfather, famed socialist Tommy Douglas, a “former federal NDP leader credited with launching Canada’s public health-care system,” according to CBC. On his Canadian citizenship, Kiefer told CBC, “I’ve been down in the States primarily because this is where the work that I wanted to do was and my daughters were born here, so that’s made that more complicated. But I’ve always felt I was Canadian and that’s who I am and I have no interest in changing that.”
Natalie Portman's Israeli controversy
Okay, so maybe she is a dual citizen, but the fact that she’s not all-American when she is one of Hollywood’s elite actresses is quite surprising. Natalie Portman was born in Jerusalem but was raised in the United States. The Oscar-winning actress has maintained dual citizenship of both countries and even speaks fluent Hebrew.
In 2018, Portman was nominated for the Genesis Prize, an “annual one-million-dollar award [that] celebrates Jewish talent and achievement by honoring individuals for their professional accomplishments, commitment to Jewish values, and contribution to improving the world,” according to The Genesis Prize. The actress caused quite the stir when she canceled a trip to Israel to receive the award in protest of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. The move was apparently so provocative that it had some Israeli leaders calling for her to be stripped of her citizenship altogether.
“My decision not to attend the Genesis Prize ceremony has been mischaracterized by others. Let me speak for myself. I chose not to attend because I did not want to appear as endorsing Benjamin Netanyahu,” Portman said in a statement (via The New York Times). “Like many Israelis and Jews around the world, I can be critical of the leadership in Israel without wanting to boycott the entire nation.”
Phoebe Tonkin had us all fooled
Sure, the cast of The Originals are all known and adored for their flamboyant foreign accents, but as one of the actresses playing an American on the show, Phoebe Tonkin had us all fooled. Tonkin played lonely werewolf Hayley Marshall, who found herself steeped deep in Mikaelson family drama when she got pregnant with a supervillain, Niklaus’ only child. Next to Joseph Morgan (Niklaus), Daniel Gillies (Elijah), and Claire Holt (Rebekah), Tonkin’s all-American accent was a refreshing note as her cast members were clearly from elsewhere.
Well, the cat came out of the bag during press tours for the show, of course, when it was revealed the actress is actually from Australia. Tonkin was born and raised down under and moved to the United States in 2011. While she wasn’t a full-blown citizen as of 2016, the actress was a proud green card holder, presumably on the path to full-blown US citizenship.
Millie Bobby Brown's strange turn of events
She may be one of the breakout stars on a show about a small town in the middle of America, but Millie Bobby Brown is a bonafide Brit. The teen sensation rose to fame in her role as the telekinetic Eleven on Netflix’s Stranger Things. Though she barely spoke in the first season of the hit show, whenever she did, it was clear her character was meant to sound like another resident of Hawkins, Indiana.
Having grown up in Dorset, England, Brown’s regular accent is as English as can be. However, in a strange turn of events, it seems as though the actress has been so dedicated to her role as Eleven that she had to retrain herself to speak in her native accent for her titular role in Netflix’s Enola Holmes.
“For the last five years I’ve been playing an American character in Stranger Things and I found it really challenging being British in this, even though I am a Brit,” she told Radio Times (via NME). “I had to learn how to speak again because I’m so used to speaking in an American accent!”
John Boyega believes an American accent is better suited for stormtrooping
There may not be any other dedicated fan base in film history as those who stan Star Wars. The franchise, which has been around for decades, has spawned generations of fans, so when it was rebooted in 2015 with The Force Awakens, the earth shook a little. The franchise brought back Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, as well as Mark Hamill, but it also onboarded a slew of new stars. One of the newer faces to helm the franchise was John Boyega. While the Star Wars franchise is an American staple, the lead actor was very obviously British when speaking.
Because Star Wars is notorious for keeping its plotlines under wraps, fans got to see and hear the actor as he did press rounds for a film no one had seen yet. So, doubts about how well he masked his very thick British accent for the film naturally surfaced, as he had revealed that he was mandated to use an American dialect. Nonetheless, like a true thespian, Boyega delivered and even admitted while on The Graham Norton Show that playing a stormtrooper with an American accent was the more convincing option anyway.
David Oyelowo successfully played Martin Luther King Jr. despite being British
David Oyelowo’s performance as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma is undeniably one of the best performances of the 2010s. Not only was the actor able to portray the late civil rights activist’s cool but impassioned demeanor, but Oyelowo was also able to mimic his signature booming voice. Sure, the fact that Oyelowo was able to play Dr. King without butchering his iconic stature was impressive, but what was even more impressive was the fact that he managed to turn his British accent into Dr. King’s notable Georgian accent.
Born in Oxford and raised both in Nigeria and England, Oyelowo had to train his voice for Selma. However, the process was not at all daunting for him. “It’s part of the work … I know that not only the accent but everything about any character I take on has to feel true … I went to drama school in the UK, and a big part of our training was accents and playing different kinds of roles,” he told HOT 97 in an interview. “Also I grew up loving American movies, so I’ve grown up around the accent in a way that maybe an American actor wouldn’t in reaction to the British accent or to British films. It’s always been a part of my life.”
It’s also worth noting that prior to Selma, Oyelowo also played Joe Little in Red Tails, a movie about the Tuskegee Airmen, and Louis Gaines in Lee Daniels’ The Butler.
Cynthia Erivo received heavy backlash for playing Harriet Tubman
When news that Cynthia Erivo would be playing the titular role of Harriet Tubman first came out, the internet was none too pleased. The actress received an onslaught of backlash because she was getting the opportunity to play one of America’s greatest heroes, yet she was a Brit. Skin color notwithstanding, parts of Black Twitter felt as though the story of Harriet Tubman was uniquely American, and as such, the role should be played by an American actress.
According to The Root, the actress responded to the negative responses in a now-deleted Instagram post stating, “I struggled a little with whether or not to post anything about this role, because even though there is so much celebration and encouragement coming through, there’s also anger and offense spurred on by my being from the UK. I guess there is a bigger conversation to be had about heritage and experience, also about who Harriet really was. That can not be had in an Instagram post, what I will say is that my journey to this woman has been long and detailed and one I have not taken lightly.”
In an interview with CBS Sunday Morning, Erivo asked audiences to simply give her a chance because as it stands, “There are few [Black women] examples we can look to, to model our lives after,” and so getting to play Tubman in the film was the opportunity of a lifetime.
Daniel Kaluuya's nationality stirs debate
Before Cynthia Erivo got the role of Harriet Tubman, another battle of Americans vs. Brits ensued. Daniel Kaluuya had done an incredible job of portraying the average African American young man ensnared by white liberal racism in Get Out, that when it came out that he was actually a British citizen, Samuel L. Jackson felt he had to put his two cents in.
“There are a lot of British Black actors in these movies … I tend to wonder what that movie would have been with an American brother who really feels that,” Jackson said during an interview with HOT 97. “Daniel grew up in a country where they’ve been interracial dating for a hundred years … What would a brother from America have made of that role?”
Naturally, Jackson’s point of view didn’t sit well with Kaluuya, who expressed his disdain for the comments in an interview with GQ. “This is the frustrating thing, bro — in order to prove that I can play this role, I have to open up about the trauma that I’ve experienced as a black person. I have to show off my struggle so that people accept that I’m black. No matter that every single room I go to I’m usually the darkest person there. You know what I’m saying? I kind of resent that mentality.” The criticism didn’t deter Kaluuya, fortunately. In 2019, he once again masked his London accent for the blockbuster film, Queen & Slim, in which he played an Ohio native.
Chiwetel Ejiofor has to work through some kinks
Chiwetel Ejiofor shattered all hearts with his poignant portrayal of Solomon Northup — a free black man who was sold into slavery and remained so for 12 years — in Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave. The actor’s London roots were obviously not a problem, seeing as though he snagged a Best Actor nomination at the 2014 Academy Awards. He was also in good company, as McQueen himself is from Britain, and his co-stars, Michael Fassbender and Lupita Nyong’o, are also not Americans.
Though Ejiofor’s star power got significantly stronger with 12 Years a Slave, the role of Solomon Northup wasn’t the first time the actor had to fake an American accent. Prior to playing Northup, Ejiofor was in Inside Man, Salt as well as American Gangster.
While the Ejiofor has done a great job of passing as an American on-screen, the process isn’t always smooth sailing. Speaking on polishing up his American accent, Ejiofor confessed to Esquire that sometimes “taking on an accent is like acting through jam.”
Damson Idris' dialect coach was an OG rapper
For his role as American gangster Franklin Saint in Snowfall, Peckham native Damson Idris had to shape up or ship out very quickly. To get the Londoner to adopt a South Central LA accent, show creator John Singleton enlisted the help of OG rapper WC who took Idris on a road trip he would never forget. The actor relayed the movie-like experience that helped him assimilate from “a British wimp to an American gangster” while on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Let’s just say, though there was a miscommunication about a potential drive-by, his day with WC ended with Popeyes biscuits, so it’s safe to say the encounter went swimmingly.
Idris’ time with the rapper clearly paid off since the hit FX show is, at the time of this writing, still on air. While Idris is undoubtedly pulling off the accent with ease, he can’t fool absolutely everyone. As he recalled to the Los Angeles Times about meeting Singleton’s mom for the first time, “I see his mum and I say something really British like, ‘How lovely your hair looks today.’ And she turns to John like, ‘He ain’t from here, huh?’”
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