This is one in a series on Odd Hollywood Jobs — not acting or directing, but rather the tasks you haven't heard of. You can read other segments in this series at the links below the story.
If Claudette Roche is doing her job, you won't hear anything except a perfect accent coming from an actor on screen. As a dialect coach, it's Roche's job to make sure actors master their characters' accents with such precision that audiences won't know the difference.
As a former actor, Roche fell into the job after doing what she calls, "Ask Five Friends." This entails calling on some close friends and asking them, "What am I good at?"
"I was open to anything. The first person said, 'Well you're a good cook.' ... She said, 'Open up a restaurant,' and I said, 'That's the last thing I want to do in life,'" said Roche. Another friend told Roche she could be a writer, but that didn't quite pan out.
Finally, a fifth friend mentioned that Roche was good with accents and suggested she become a dialect coach. Since then, Roche — originally from England — has coached countless actors and radio personalities how to master a non-native accent or how to quell their own accents if need be.
Roche joins Take Two to tell us more about her job, which accents are the hardest to master and why the American accent is so important.
On the one dialect many people have trouble with:
"I think Australian, because as Americans, we don't hear a lot of Australian, and we hear more English. A lot of Cockney. There's a certain similarity between Cockney and Australian. When an American is working on Australian, they end up sounding way too English or a strange hybrid of something. Australians are notorious for loathing when an American does their accent. I don't think anyone has anyone has said they've done it well."
On the similarities between Scottish and Jamaican accents:
"If I say the word 'wait.' Jamaican would be 'whey-it.' I met a Scot once, and said, 'So you're Jamaican?' And he said, 'What?' Because the Jamaican accent is influenced by Scottish people way back when, generations ago. The Scots landed in Jamaica, hence the accent is heavily influenced by Scotland. Some of those vowels are just the same."
On the most difficult part about her job:
"The most challenging is if it's an actor who needs to sound 100 percent American, that's the challenge.You and I don't actually speak English properly because we have shortcuts. Every language has shortcuts, doesn't mean it's wrong. It's just how we speak. It's teaching someone to have those little shortcuts that you and I accept. This word, 'spare.'… Here's what you actually said, 'sbare.'"
On the existence of a neutral accent:
"A neutral accent is neutral of the language. They've decided that the neutral Spanish language accent would be Mexico City, so actors or anyone on radio, from Venezuela, Puerto Rico, have to learn a Mexico City accent."
On the most surprising things she's learned as a dialect coach:
"I think it's how important the American accent is for people. I didn't realize how important it was, not just for actors, but for real people. A lot of people don't get jobs because they have foreign accents. They don't get jobs because people have a bias against them about their accent. They'll assume they are not as intelligent or perhaps they don't like people from that nation and people don't advance because they don't have the right accent and it's upsetting and sad, but I let them get that leg up."
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