Blightyvision: And now for something completely different …

As I said elsewhere, I’m prepping for a jaunt outside the country — to the UK, specifically — during which I’ll leave you with (hopefully) quality reading.  But I’m also prepping for the finales of two excellent shows — “Mad Dogs” and “Marchlands” — both of which air tonight, and both of which I am genuinely desperate to review.  Provided my sources come through, you’ll have one next week whilst I’m away and one the following.

In the meantime, I thought I’d upend my usual format to throw my impending jaunt into sharp relief.  Since I’m taking myself out that way, this week I’m having a look at actors who’ve crossed the other way.  I’ve reviewed multiple performances of two of these three actors in previous columns, but this time I want to look at them off their home turf.  So yes, I’m reviewing individuals rather than shows, and US shows rather than UK.  Don’t worry, you kids are tough, you’ll be able to handle it.

I talked a bit back about Hugh Laurie being the one to kick off a new wave of this in 2004 with House M.D. To be honest, I’m not sure what percentage of the audience watching the premiere was watching Just Because.  In my case, and the cases of many of my friends, it was more like “Hugh Laurie’s doing a whatnow?”  That said, given the huge success of the show (now in its seventh season) and its international acclaim, all involved with the casting decision made an excellent choice.

Three years later came The Riches, starring executive transvestite Eddie Izzard in a decidedly dramatic role.  Casting Laurie as an American wasn’t too odd  in and of itself, but the irony of casting two very English actors (Minnie Driver was Izzard’s screen wife) as two very Southern characters with a very American mindset did not escape me.  That said, and despite its short run and Stupid Unresolved Cliffhanger upon being canceled, I was of the opinion that Izzard and Driver did very well.  Yes, the former’s American accent had to mature over time, but overall he did very well in the role and it was a pity to see him go.

The third is one I was unaware of until Trisha herself pointed me to it: Leverage, which started in 2008 and stars Timothy Hutton as the mastermind of a team of good-guy thieves.  I think a commercial or two had flown by me for it, just long enough for me to go “Hey, isn’t that Jane!?”  Indeed, Gina Bellman is a recurring character in it — Sophie, a grifter and frustrated actress who is decidedly not American.  However, playing an international art thief, she’s required to have an American accent in store — among dozens of others.  And while she plays the role with a touch of her “Coupling” crazy, she can pull the dramatic scenes as well.

One thing may or may not jump out at you, dear reader, but it bears mentioning that all three were known originally for their comedic work.  In rather a timely manner, people have been grumbling about film casting and wondering why Brits are “stealing” so many inherently American roles (mostly superheroes, apparently).

The fact of the matter, in my mind, is this — and these three shows back me up at least somewhat.  When you get right down to it, British comedy is a boot camp.  Laurie and Bellman both come from BBC comedies, one by Curtis and Elton and one by The Moff, and the old style of Britcom that pretty well demands that every line be a joke or the lead-in to a joke doesn’t allow for much breathing room.  British comedians come away with heavy training (intentionally or otherwise) and an excellent sense of timing.

So people saying British actors are better for their Shakespearean training or other such drama-school talk doesn’t really answer everything for me.  Rather, I look at the ones who are succeeding long-term in the States, at least on television, and see people who could carry a studio audience for four seasons or succeed as a stand-up comic.  There’s something to be said for trained actors, but it’s the seasoned comedians we end up clinging to week after week.

And on that note, next week I return you to your regularly scheduled blogging.