Americans Pretending To Be British Part 9: Gillian Anderson

Gillian Anderson in The X Files

Here’s a curious thing. For someone with a decent intimate working knowledge of both the upper-crust English accent and the accents of North-Eastern America, Gillian Anderson appears to have little or no control over which one will emerge from her gob.

Or should I say she has perfect control and possibly pretends not to so that she can choose which one will best suit the occasion she finds herself in, without being accused of being a big fake.

It’s a matter of being able to fit in, for someone who clearly has a lot of experience in the matter: born in Chicago, Gillian spend a couple of years as a child in Puerto Rico, then moved to London until she was 11 years old. Plenty of time to sharpen up those sibilants and glassify those vowels. She then moved to Michigan, and learned to hide her Britishisms when it was appropriate to do so. She then moved to New York at the age of 20, in order to kickstart her career.

So the question is, how did the nine years she spent in London manage to cast such a long shadow over the way she talks?

By way of example, here she is being interviewed by Ellen Degeneres. Every inch the American girl:

And here’s her appearance on the UK chat show Parkinson, rocking the cut-glass Keira:

Gillian has admitted that she notices the switchover herself, telling the Telegraph: “Even on the phone my accent will change. Part of me wishes I could control it, but I can’t. I just slip into one or the other. When I moved to the States I tried hard to cling on to my British accent because it made me different.”

Which is odd, because the one thing her accent switcheroo does now is stop her from appearing to be different, depending on where she is. If she did the US accent in Britain and vice versa, maybe she’d have a point.

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.

He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.

Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic

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