American Actors Who Can Do British Accents: Ranked

I am a British subject living overseas — also known in Britain as a foreigner. Nonetheless, I still retain the exact English accent I had when I left 15 years ago. I have always enjoyed rating American actors’ British accents. British, of course, is a complex word — there is no one British accent. There is a generic English accent that most associate with the Brits, but let’s remember Britain is four nations with many regional dialects, each containing distinctive sub-dialects. British accents are a complicated business, so only the hardest-working actors can master them; the question is, who did already?

1. Christopher Guest

This Is Spinal Tap (1984) Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, Spinal Tap
Image Credit: Embassy Pictures.

Rob Reiner’s This Is Spinal Tap launched the careers of three American heavyweight comedy actors: Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer. Like other American actors with a good command of British dialects, Guest had one British parent, his diplomatic father. Consequently, New York-born Guest lived in the United Kingdom for some time. The result is a hilariously English accent. In Nigel Tufnel, Guest found the perfect character to deliver his dry, deadpan genius lines such as “This one goes to eleven.”

2. Gillian Anderson

The X-Files (1993) Gillian Anderson, Selina Williams
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox Television.

The actress synonymous with playing Agent Scully in the hit science-fiction series The X-Files is also a dab-hand at British accents. Like other acting alumni, Anderson was born in America but grew up in London. Her dual-nationality life as a youngster saw Anderson spend periods between London and Puerto Rico, giving her the rare ability to switch between both dialects at will. This skill was apparent in 2021 when she gave an Emmy acceptance speech in an American accent, baffling those who considered her British by default. Ironically, she won the Emmy for her polished Margaret Thatcher performance in The Crown.

3. Sean Astin

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) Sean Astin
Image Credit: New Line Cinema.

When the first Lord of the Rings movie was released in 2001, most of us had forgotten about Sean Astin since the ’80s. He spent the ’90s in Hollywood purgatory and reemerged as a lovable hobbit, Samwise Gamgee, who is the deuteragonist to Elijah Wood’s Frodo. Astin either had a world-class accent coach or just natural talent — he nailed the West Country accent better than any actor I can think of.

4. Julianne Moore

A Single Man (2009) Julianne Moore
Image Credit: The Weinstein Company.

In 2011, Julianne Moore claimed British citizenship, honoring her Scottish mother, who passed away three years before. Speaking in a Telegraph interview at the time, Moore recalls her British mother returning home in tears after renouncing her British citizenship when they were young. Having a British mother is a huge advantage in developing any British accent, especially the tricky Scots version. It may explain Moore’s flawless variety of British accent delivery in An Ideal Husband and The End of the Affair. However, Moore produces a quite immaculate drunk, middle-class English accent in A Single Man.

5. Michael McKean

This Is Spinal Tap (1984) Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer
Image Credit: Embassy Pictures.

Veteran American comedy actor Michael McKean has recently been in several smaller movie roles following a successful stint as Chuck McGill in Better Call Saul. However, his greatest work must be as David St. Hubbins, the English rock star and frontman to the legendary mock rock band Spinal Tap, which would not have been possible without that incredible voice pastiche. David St. Hubbins — what was he the saint of? “He was the patron saint of quality footwear.”

6. Meryl Streep

The Iron Lady (2011) Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

Anybody who has seen a Meryl Streep performance understands her acting range, having played characters from all over the world. There are few moments in Streep’s career where disbelief was suspended; her Deep Southern, Irish, Italian, Polish, and Australian characters were all equally convincing. However, she played former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher with an almost chilling accuracy in The Iron Lady.

7. John Lithgow

The Crown (2016) John Lithgow
Image Credit: Dony Pictures Television.

The American actor is familiar to older generations mostly for his role on the long-running sitcom 3rd Rock From the Sun among a decorated movie career. However, younger audiences may know him from The Crown. Lithgow spoke recently in a discussion on his trepidation about playing Winston Churchill, knowing how scrutinized he would be in British acting circles. Thankfully, he was an admirable British wartime prime minister, drawing on his experience studying acting at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.

8. Renné Zellweger

Bridget Jones's Diary (2001) Renée Zellweger
Image Credit: Universal Pictures.

The late 20th century and early millennium were kind to Renné Zellweger, with breakthrough performances in several box-office hits, not least Bridget Jones’s Diary. English moviegoers will latch onto a bad English accent from our American counterparts — it isn’t often that an actor leaves us speechless. Zellweger absolutely owned the Southern English accent, and cynics had no ammunition whatsoever — Team America for the point.

9. Johnny Depp

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007) Johnny Depp
Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures.

Before his infamous court case drama with ex-wife Amber Heard, Johnny Depp was famous for being a glamorous movie star. Of course, we all know Depp best for his iconic Captain Sparrow, which he modeled on Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richard. However, prior to his meme-friendly pirate, Depp’s role as Tim Burton’s muse gave him other goes at a British accent in Sleepy Hollow and Sweeney Todd, which he delivered with aplomb.

10. Harry Shearer

This Is Spinal Tap (1984) Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer
Image Credit: Embassy Pictures.

The third part of the This Is Spinal Tap anglophile comedy character triumvirate is the laudable bass man, Derek Smalls, better known as Harry Shearer. Arguably, Derek has the best lines in the movie, delivered in hilarious Home Counties English. Upon describing bandmates David and Nigel as fire-and-ice “visionaries,” he says, “I feel my role in the band is to be somewhere in the middle of that, kind of like lukewarm water.” Moreover, who else could be the voice of Groundskeeper Willie in The Simpsons?

11. Clare Danes

Stardust (2007) Claire Danes
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

I first saw Clare Danes as her career leaped from the starting gates with Baz Luhrmann’s iconic Romeo and Juliet. In the years since, her movie career has taken a while to reignite, though several flicks have showcased her talent, not least Stage Beauty and Stardust, in which she speaks with solid English upper-class accents. Her latest transition to an Anglo accent in period drama The Essex Serpent has been such a success that co-star Tom Hiddlestone has been raving about her command of the old country’s accent.

12. Robert Downey Jr.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011) Robert Downey Jr., Noomi Rapace
Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures.

As far as this movie lover is concerned, the world found out too late about RDJ’s brilliance, though we can probably blame him for that. Before he climbed to A-list actor altitude, his acting range came through in several great performances. His first liaison with an English accent was in 1992’s Chaplin, though his greatest triumph was in the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes movies — we aren’t too sure about his Welsh Doctor Doolittle attempt, though.

13. Gwyneth Paltrow

Sliding Doors (1998) Gwyneth Paltrow
Image Credit: Miramax Films.

Before Gwyneth Paltrow (formerly Gwyneth Paltrow) “consciously decoupled” from her 13-year husband, Chris Martin, Gwyneth spent many days living in Britain. Before she met Martin, Paltrow complained about how shy British men were around her; soon, she met and married an English rock star and had two English kids. You might think this British connection gave her an advantage with her English accent. Not really: Paltrow’s most prominent English character parts came before she met Mr. Coldplay — her Sliding Doors accent is almost perfect at times.

14. Anne Hathaway

One Day (2011) Anne Hathaway
Image Credit: Universal Pictures.

Notwithstanding Anne Hathaway’s rather tone-deaf attempt at a Yorkshire accent in the 2011 Brit flick One Day (incidentally a new Netflix series), her other lingual crossovers have been successful. Her debonair upper-crust grifter alongside Rebel Wilson in The Hustle is more than passable. At the same time, her landed gentry dialect in Jane Austen is totally believable from a British perspective — just avoid the Northern English accents, Anne.

15. Peter Dinklage

Game of Thrones Peter Dinklage
Image Credit: HBO Entertainment.

Tyrion Lannister always pays his debts, but most importantly, he always delivers his lines perfectly with that distinctive wine-riddled, regal English accent. Okay, who are we kidding? Peter Dinklage, who plays Tyrion in HBO’s Game of Thrones, doesn’t present the greatest English accent and sometimes slides into American-tinged vowel digraphs. Still, we Brits forgive him — he’s Tyrion freakin’ Lannister, and we couldn’t imagine anyone else playing the most likable Lannister.

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