This is in response to a blog posting I saw featured on the site Cinematical entitled What Makes British Actors So Versatile?
I decided to take a general look at the theory that is postulated and came up with the following points:
Best of the Best: I generally agree with comment from a user regarding getting the “cream of the crop” of British screen talent. I watch plenty of British TV and you soon realize that there is definitely getting range of observable talent.
Language: from an American perspective, we often think of the versatility of British actors mostly having to do with donning an American accent. While many do succeed, a lot do fail to pull off a convincing accent, especially when the role hones in on a particular U.S. region.
Versatility, Part II: As stated above, many Americans may be amazed by the ability of actors to affect an accent not native to them. This is definitely a skill, but not the only skill we should look at when defining versatility. To be versatile does cover a large array of skills, including but not limited to: the ability to perform in a variety of genres, (as mentioned in the article) the ability to physically change one’s appearance, etc. With this broader definition, we may discover that the list of truly versatile performers is very exclusive, without respect to where they are from.
The UK film and theater industries: in many ways, the UK film industry, relative to the juggernaut of the Hollywood system, is a cottage industry. As a result, I suspect this forces many more aspiring actors to focus on drama and theatrical training, given the tradition and prominence of “treading the boards” in the UK. This extra training also allows the actor in training to spend time developing and honing their skills “off camera.” So when they are “camera-ready, the results speak for themselves.
In contrast, the Hollywood system is primarily focused on star-making; this relies a little more on superficial qualities and talent can be sacrificed for popularity, likability or perceived attractiveness.
It should be noted as several commenters to the original article noted, we must be careful about the generalization many of us make (including myself) of grouping all actors from that part of the world as simply “British.”