The Well-Accented Performances of Matt Damon

Actors are called upon to do a wide range of accents, which is more challenging than many people appreciate. Even a highly skilled actor such as Tom Hanks can drop an adopted accent amidst the demands of playing a complex scene (see, e.g., his intermittent Bostonian voicing in Catch Me if You Can). Other actors do an accent so poorly that you pray they will drop it so that you never have to hear it again (e.g., Kevin Costner’s English accent in Robin Hood).

One of the best accents I have heard in recent years was Matt Damon’s masterful take on a white South African’s voicing in Invictus. Ever behind on movies, I only saw True Grit last night, on the plane home from London. Damon pulled off a dead-on impression of a man with a serious tongue injury. I have worked with patients with such wounds, and to my ear he was simply spot-on. Bravo.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

9 thoughts on “The Well-Accented Performances of Matt Damon”

  1. Redwave72:

    Do you have a roouueeem?

    A what?

    A roouueem.

    Oh, a room!

    That’s what I have been saying, you idiot.

  2. My understanding is that Costner was attempting a tour of English accents as he meandered through the movie.

    Double hat tip to van Dyke, who was drunk throughout the filming of Mary Poppins (he claims not to remember a bit of it).

  3. I think I once listened to Damon do the commentary on the movie Rounders and he talked about how he and Edward Norton used to go back and forth doing impressions of famous Hollywood actors, each one trying to crack the next up the most. Maybe it was Norton saying it, and saying how good Damon was at impressions.

  4. Lifetime Bad Accent achievement award to Andie McDowell for every time she tried to sound like she’s not from the South.

  5. Might as well distinguish between
    1) local-accents-in-native tongue adopted in drama intended to be persuasive(I think the brilliant back-and-forth between Damon’s south Bostonese, and Robin William’s Chaaaahlestownie in Good Will Hunting is as good as it gets)
    2) “foreign-accented” English adopted as a conceit to aid the audience in suspending disbelief in drama (e.g. the German-accented English spoken among German characters in American WWII flicks) and
    3) pseudo-foreign accents used for comic effect, like Clouseau, the French-accented-but English-speaking French cop, amid a cast of Oxonian-English speaking fellow French cops.
    In the first category, Damon is unquestionably one of the best working today, and Robin Williams has been consistently brilliant. But the Brits and Aussies, who seemed to be generically better trained in this skill-set, never fail to impress me. e.g. Olivier, Laurie, Crowe, Pearce, Lapaglia. The second category is harder to judge, precisely because it is a substitute for realism, rather than an emulation of it. In the comic category, while Sellers’ farcical Clouseau is fun, his subtler performances as Strangelove/Muffley/Mandrake and Guiness’ tour-de-force in Kind Hearts and Coronets are my favorites. Go back to some of the old stuff.

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