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Roscoe W. Chandler: I confess! I was Abie the Fishman!

Ravelli: Well, how did you get to be Roscoe W. Chandler?

Roscoe W. Chandler: How did you get to be an Italian?

Ravelli: Hey, whose confession is this?

When an actor plays a native of a nationality or area other than their own. (Not counting those actors who play an extraterrestrial, who are never from the same place as their character. One would hope.)

Israeli and Arab actors tend to wind up playing each other quite frequently (though Israeli-for-Arab is more common than the other way around). Gung-ho movies made during World War II featured every kind of Asian except Japanese, since the Japanese-American actors were all in concentration camps were otherwise occupied. And very few Russian characters during the Cold War were played by native Russians. For foreign actors who are frequently employed to play foreign characters, see Plays Great Ethnics.

The most common examples have their own tropes: Fake American, Fake Brit, Fake Irish, Fake Russian, Yellowface, and Fake Mixed Race. See also: Fauxreigner where the character is pretending to be a nationality they aren't (or acting more stereotypical than they actually usually do).

If you are actually from the area in question, you may remember one or more of these examples as "That foreigner with a strange accent. Where are they supposed to be from?" On the other hand, some actors are really good at it. An added complication is that human appearance varies even within nationalities and ethnicities as a result when playing a historical character the foreigner might have been selected because s/he greatly resembled the original.

Often the result of the WTH? Casting Agency or the desire for a director to have someone who speaks his or her language in the cast.

Examples of Fake Nationality include:


Advertising Edit

  • Iron Eyes Cody, the actor who portrayed the "Crying Indian" in a legendary public service announcement from the 1970s, made a living portraying Native Americans over the course of seven decades. Despite claiming to be (and living in the fashion of) a Native American, he was in fact an Italian-American born Espera DeCorti.


Comics Edit

  • Judge Dredd's landlady/maid (it varies sometimes) Maria has always talked with a heavy Italian accent, but years later when it was revealed that she had died and left a large inheritance to Dredd, it also turned out that she never really was Italian and was faking her accent "for some reason" the entire time.


Film Edit

  • In the 2000 Korean movie JSA, Korean actress Yeong-ae Lee plays Swiss army Major Sophie E. Jean, who's supposed to have grown up bilingual in Switzerland. The film includes some daring stunt linguistics with Sophie opposite a more senior Swiss officer, played by Christoph Hofrichter (who Is german.) For some reason, they speak mainly English - he in a reasonable approximation of a Swiss accent, she, well, rather not. You could make the excuse that she had been poorly schooled in the local language by her Korean parents, but she's supposed to be a high-flying military legal specialist, and it doesn't work well.
    • The same movie has a Swedish officer played by a German actor. The looks work, the accent doesn't.
  • Very cleverly and subtly spoofed in the Jim Carrey film The Majestic, set in the 1950's. In the movie-within-the-movie, Sand Pirates of the Sahara, the villain is "The Evil but Handsome Prince Khalid" who is played by B-movie actor "Ramon Jamon". "Ramon Jamon" is played by Cliff Curtis, a Polynesian Maori from New Zealand, who has made a career out of playing Latin Americans (Blow, Training Day, Live Free or Die Hard) and Middle Easterners (Three Kings, The Insider)...
    • ...and has also played a Spaniard (The Fountain) and a Chechen (Traffic).
  • Peter Sellers played ...
  • Mickey Rooney as Holly's awfully stereotyped, Yellowface Japanese neighbor in Breakfast at Tiffany's.
  • Ben Kingsley, a Brit of Russian Jewish and Kenyan Indian ancestry, has played...
  • The Lebanese actor Tony Shalhoub is often hired to play Italians (Wings, Big Night, Cars) due to his curly dark hair and swarthy Mediterranean features. (The idea of Italian in the English-speaking world is heavily informed by the stereotypical southern Italian, God forbid them from discover there are Alpine-dwelling blonde, blue-eyed Italians as well...).
    • Lampshaded in a Wings episode: "Joe, please explain to the nice man with the gun that I am not a Libyan terrorist."
    • Shalhoub memorably created an entire language and accent for his cab-driver character in the comedy film Quick Change. (Or it would be memorable if anyone had ever seen the flick.)
    • Tony Shalhoub's character of Fred Kwan spoofed this practice in Galaxy Quest when he mentioned that Kwan is a stage name used to fit his character of Tech Sargeant Chen's Asian nationality.
  • Film example: 1999's The Mummy is a festival of Fake Nationality. Its Egyptian/Arabic characters include Ardeth Bey (portrayed by Israeli Oded Fehr), professor Terrance Bey (Erick Avari, British-Indian), Gad Hassan (Omid Djalili, British-Iranian), and of course its titular mummy Imhotep, played by Arnold Vosloo (Afrikaner South African) as well as his ancient girlfriend Anck Su Namun (Patricia Velasquez, Venezuelan).
    • It gets better: Arab-English Evelyn Carnahan (she states her mother was Egyptian) is played by Jewish-English actress Rachel Weisz. Fehr himself is something of an expert in Fake Nationality, as he also played Saudi terror mastermind Faris Al-Farik in the TV show Sleeper Cell. His character in Sleeper Cell even lampshades this by pretending to be Jewish, saying many people from the Middle East seem to look alike so he's passed as Iranian, Kurd, Jew, etc.
      • There's also Benny, who according to supplemental materials is supposed to be Hungarian, is played by Chicago-born Irish-American Kevin J. O'Connor.
  • Al Pacino in Scarface. Although there were some actual Hispanic actors. Also in the credits they denounce all the criminal acts of Scarface, and state that Hispanics are hard working people.
  • Yet another Israeli, Mark Ivanir, a Russian-born immigrant, is a master of Fake Nationality. A partial list follows: a Pole in Schindler's List, a French mercenary in Walker Texas Ranger, a German in Monk, a Yugoslavian in The Terminal, and a Greek in Dollhouse. I'm leaving out all of his appearances as a Russian, since they're (sort of) justified.
  • The Mask of Zorro gives us Anthony Hopkins and Catherine Zeta-Jones (both Welsh) as the original Don Diego and his daughter.
  • In the first and third Die Hard movies, Englishmen Alan Rickman and Jeremy Irons played German terrorist brothers Hans and Simon Gruber. A scene was added to the first film when the producers discovered how well Rickman could also fake an American accent.
  • Sean Connery has portrayed so many non-Scottish characters (almost all with his own distinctive Scottish accent) that there is simply no point in listing them all. Ironically enough, in the one movie he starred in that was at least partially set in Scotland (Highlander), he played an Egyptian. Not only was he an Egyptian, but he was an Egyptian who was pretending to be a Spaniard and had at one point been married to a Japanese princess. Who appeared to be a Scot of course...
    • For that matter, Connor MacLeod was played by Christopher Lambert, French accent and all. And the Kurgan is played by an American, Clancy Brown.
      • According to director commentary they worked with a voice coach try to give him a non-specific "European" accent for the "modern" parts of the film, to show how he must have moved from country to country over the centuries, picking up scraps of accents here and there.
    • There's a missed opportunity for a Bond One-Liner in the scene in The Rock where a bad guy beats Connery, calls him English and refers to his own Irish parentage -- why didn't Sean say something along the lines of "I'm Shcottish, arshhole!" Though it's particularly annoying when he's playing Irish-Americans, such as in Family Business or The Untouchables. Or The Longest Day ("It takes an Irishman to play the pipes").
    • In You Only Live Twice, a portion of the plot revolved around making Connery into a Japanese guy. All they really did was dye his hair black, use eyeliner to fake epicanthic folds, and dress the 6'2" tall, Scottish actor him in a kimono.
    • He plays an Irishman in Darby O'Gill and the Little People.
  • Ditto Arnold Schwarzenegger. The only time he's ever been without his trademark accent is in a deleted scene from Terminator 3. In the scene, Arnold plays an American sergeant that is supposedly the future inspiration for the T-100s look like. However, he has a very broad Southern accent. The General in charge mentions the accent. A technician says, in Arnold's own voice: "We can fix it." Seen in this hilarious clip.
    • Though he's a former East German in Commando, which mostly explains his accent.
    • Not true that he's never been without his trademark accent. His first film, Hercules in New York had him billed as "Arnold Strong", and all his lines dubbed by another actor due to his thick accent and poor English. His next role was in The Long Goodbye, where he had no lines at all, playing a deaf-and-mute hitman.
    • In the first Terminator film, he at least tries to shake off his accent and use a regular American one. It doesn't quite work as his usual accent always keeps slipping in but he tries. After this though he became a star and his accent was so well known he was told to never lose it. But compare his first "I'll be back." in Terminator to later ones.
    • After Terminator, he hired an accent trainer, so he didn't lose his trademark accent and start sounding too American. This is probably after his accent became well-established in the American mind as part of his image.
  • In the film The Peacemaker, with George Clooney, the Bosnian terrorist trying to nuke the UN building is played by Marcel Iureº, a Romanian.
  • Jean-Claude Van Damme is another actor that's prone to playing other nationalities than his own Belgian, especially American. Much like Arnold, he rarely bothers with anything but his own Belgian accent, even when playing American Colonel Guile in the Street Fighter movie.
    • Very few Belgians have the 'Belgian accents' depicted in movies. Most Belgian Francophones have an accent similar to that of Northern France (not including Paris). In Belgium, the stereotypical 'Belgian accent' tends to be either played for the laugh or bashed mercilessly; the few people who do have this accent often face prejudice.
    • Some of Van Damme's films attempt to justify his accent by making him Cajun or French-Canadian.
  • Erick Avari, an Indian who grew up in the Himalayan foothills, has played members of over 24 nationalities, including ancient Egyptian in both the original Stargate movie and in Stargate SG-1.
  • Similarly, Vin Diesel's indeterminate ethnic phenotype allows him to convincingly play many different nationalities, from Italian-American to ancient Carthaginian.
  • Aussie western The Proposition has a primarily English cast, most of whom speak in their natural accents; justified, as during the time period it's set, Australia was still entirely made up of English convicts and the accent hadn't shifted to it's modern version. However, Aussie David Wenham spoke with a put-on British accent, and English-born Aussie Guy Pearce and American Danny Huston both spoke with Irish accents. At least that makes sense as many of the convicts were Irish.
  • Peter Stormare, a Swede, has made a career out of playing just about every European nationality, from Spanish to Russian; has also been Fake American and even Fake Mexican.
    • Most famously, he's known for Fake German in VW commercials.
  • James Bond has many examples. For Your Eyes Only has three fake Greeks, a fake Belgian, two fake East Germans and a fake Russian, at least. That's before we get to the Liverpudlian character who's putting on an Austrian accent.
    • Not to mention Bond himself, who has only been played by an Englishman by two actors of the six (Connery was already mentioned, Lazenby is Australian, Dalton is Welsh and Brosnan is Irish). Three if you include David Niven.
      • Actually averted with Sean Connery. James Bond was born to a Scottish father and a Swiss mother. Ian Fleming actually created this background as a nod to Connery.
  • American Don Cheadle played a fake Rwandan in the movie Hotel Rwanda. And got an Oscar nomination for it. He also played Basher Tarr in Ocean's Eleven, Oceans Twelve and Oceans Thirteen, with possibly the worst British accent in a film since Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins.
    • The worst, or at least most egregious, before Dick Van Dyke, was probably Ingrid Bergman's attempt to do a Cockney accent when playing Ivy Peterson in the 1941 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It is especially silly, because there were a lot of Swedish immigrants living in the poorer areas of London at the time the story is set, so there was nothing wrong with her own accent, and on top of that neither of her American co-stars, Lana Turner and Spencer Tracy, are making the slightest attempt at even a Hollywood generic British accent. The only redeeming factor, is that most of the time, Bergman seems to forget she is supposed to be doing the accent, so there's some relief. When she is doing it, it's every bit as grating as Dick Van Dyke's.
  • It's inexplicably common for young female leads in films set in Ireland to be played by non-Irish actresses. For instance: Kate Hudson and Frances O'Connor in About Adam, Kelly Macdonald and Shirley Henderson in Intermission, Laura Fraser in Divorcing Jack and Minnie Driver in Circle of Friends (all British except Hudson interestingly enough). It even applies to slightly older 'Irish' female characters - witness Julia Roberts in Michael Collins and Samantha Morton in In America. There might be something of a vicious circle in play: there are few prominent young Irish actresses to cast for major roles leading to the filmmakers to cast foreign actresses, leading to even fewer young Irish actresses achieving a breakthrough to prominence in the first place.
    • Actually, while Frances O'Connor was born in England, she grew up in Australia from age two.
    • In a rather amusing inversion of this, Irish actor Jason O'Mara portrays an American cop in the U.S. adaptation of English cop show Life On Mars. His real Irish accent is shown with one episode...where he's "faking" it undercover, infiltrating an Irish gang.
      • O'Mara also played an American secret agent in The Agency. In one episode, he went undercover as an IRA operative. Viewers criticized his "phony" accent.
    • So strong is this trope that Saoirse Ronan (of Atonement and The Lovely Bones), arguably one of the most prominent young Irish actressess has yet to be cast as an Irish character in a film.
      • Ms. Ronan was born in the United States, but she moved to Ireland when she was three.
    • Maureen O'Hara flagrantly averted this subtrope in The Quiet Man, but she may be the exception.
  • Speaking of Fake Irish, one of the main characters in the movie Michael Collins, that of Éamon de Valera, and Irishman who authored the present Irish constitution and who took part in one of the biggest events of modern Irish history (the Easter Rising)... was played by an Englishman, Alan Rickman. Though, at least Rickman had some Irish Catholic background. Still, given that the movie had a less than flattering portrayal of de Valera, it could be intentional to cast someone who was English.
  • Brad Pitt played something in Snatch. It was originally meant to be steretypical East End cockney, but Pitt apparently sounded like the legendary Dick Van Dyke. So instead he put on something approximating Irish to portray a "pikey", i.e. Funny Foreigner stereotype of an Irish Travellers.
  • In 300, a good part of the million man Persian army is made up of blacks, samurai-masked warriors, and 7 feet tall monsters, but very few of them actually look Persian (though a lot of faces were hidden). Indeed, the emperor himself was played by a Brazilian. This probably made the whole controversy surrounding the film a lot worse.
    • This is partly justified in that the Persian army is explicitly said to be made up of people from all over the empire, not just native Persians. That doesn't stop Gerard Butler's Scottish accent from being absolutely hilarious.
      • Which is also Truth in Television, to an extent. One of the few things about the movie that is...
      • Butler's accent is actually entirely consistent with traditional Translation Convention- in English-language adaptations of Ancient Greek plays, a Laconic (Spartan) accent is traditionally depicted as Scottish, as it carries appropriate connotations of cultural austerity, dry wit and barely controlled rage; furthermore, a Scottish accent was often called the "Doric" back in the day...and as it happens, the Spartans were Dorians. It works, too.
    • Of course, it's not meant to be realistic, though it's somewhat jarring when The Queen's Greek is otherwise in effect.
  • The atrocious film Sniper 2 had Tom Berenger as the titular sniper battling villainous Hungarian-speaking Serbs in Cuban-style military uniforms through the streets of Budapest, Serbia (the actual capital is Belgrade, Budapest is the capital of Hungary). Three cheers for looking up basic facts on the Internet...
  • In Owen Wilson's film Behind Enemy Lines, all of the Serbian characters were portrayed by Croatian actors, probably because no Westerner can tell the difference and no self-respecting Serbian actor would play the stereotypical role of the bad guy terrorist.
    • To be honest, no Serbian or Croatian person could tell the difference, either. Not even by accent, since accents depend on where the person is from, rather than what ethnicity they are - a person born in Belgrade is going to have a different accent from a person born in Bosnia or Croatia, but people from a certain part of Croatia or Bosnia will have the same accents regardless of their ethnicity.
  • Any film set in Ancient Rome will invariably cast British actors as Romans.
  • Gerard Butler, a Scot, as Attila the Hun, who historically would have come from as far East as modern Mongolia, in the dramatized Attila.
  • Not to mention The Conquerer, where John Wayne of all people played Genghis Effing Khan!
  • Who can forget Esteban Colberto from the Colberto Reporto Gigante?
  • Subverted by Peter MacNicol's character Janosz in Ghostbusters II: He spouts a bizarre accent throughout the movie, and when someone finally asks him where he's from, he replies in confusion: "The upper vest side."
  • Pierce Brosnan is so well known for playing James Bond that many people are surprised to find out he is actually Irish (and not British). Brosnan himself seems to have gotten tired of this and most of his more recent films have him play Irish, or Irish-American, or simply an Irish accented American. Lampshaded in After the Sunset:

 Woody Harrelson: It's okay to be happy to see me. Just because you're English doesn't mean you need to hide your emotions.

Pierce Brosnan: I'm Irish. We let people know how we feel. Now f* ck off.

  • The tendency of Robin Hood not to be played by an actual Brit has been lampshaded in Robin Hood: Men in Tights when Cary Elwes (British) remarks, "Unlike other Robin Hoods, I can speak with an English accent." Ironically, he is also well-known for his Southern American accent in Twister and Kiss the Girls.
    • Elwes also played stereotypical blond Californian jet pilot Kent Gregory in Hot Shots! Pretty impressive, since Californians are among the most daunting Americans for foreigners to play.
    • It's a particular indictment of Kevin Costner's atrocious semi-attempt at a British accent in the then-recently-released Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, which a good part of the film was a parody of.
    • This is particularly ironic considering the fact that the real Robin Hood didn't speak English at all, or at least not modern English. English language as we know it didn't even exist at the time, let alone a British accent. Robin Hood was more likely to speak the Norman version of French (spoken by the Norman nobility) and early Middle English (spoken by the lower classes). The widespread insistence on having actors speak RP ('posh' British accent) when playing characters in period dramas set in Middle Ages or Renaissance is also amusing, since such an accent did not exist at the time. An accent tinged with Anglo-French would be pretty much impossible to simulate, as Anglo-Norman French probably sounded like French, Italian, and Icelandic jammed awkwardly through a meat grinder and would be nails-across-a-blackboard to any modern French speaker.
      • Maybe, but the same "or at least not modern X" could be a problem with any work set more than 200 years ago or so, and yet it's still a convention that actors generally speak with an accent similar to a modern person of the nationality of their character. So it's funny that that is ignored so often for Robin Hood for some reason. Especially when other actors in the same work do match their character's modern equivalent, but not the title character.
  • Young Frankenstein. In ascending order: Inga, Frau Blucher (* WHINNY* ) and Inspector Kemp.
  • Adam Sandler plays a fake Israeli, quite horribly, in You Don't Mess With the Zohan.
    • Also Emmanuelle Chriqi, a Canadian of Sepharad (Jewish)Morrocan descent plays the Palestinian hair salon owner and love interest of Adam Sandler.
  • Olivia Colman plays the Ax Crazy Polish secretary in the radio sitcom Hut 33; she does so with an accent that sounds more Russian than Polish, possibly justified by the Rule of Funny.
  • Jean Reno was born in Morocco to Spanish Andalusian parents and is commonly known as a French actor. Apparently, that range has driven producers to see fit to cast him as Italian (in The Professional), German (in Mission Impossible) and Belgian (in Hotel Rwanda).
    • Note that he also played an Italian (Enzo) in the French film The Big Blue.
  • Gerard Butler (a Scot) and Jeffrey Dean Morgan (an American) play Irishmen (with varying degrees of success) in the film P.S. I Love You.
  • Juliette Binoche played a Bosnian woman in Anthony Minghella's Breaking And Entering, occasionally speaking her "native language" with a strong French accent.
  • Australian Nicole Kidman and French actors Vincent Cassel and Matthew Kassovitz played Russian gangsters in Birthday Girl.
  • Vincent Cassel again played a Russian gangster in Cronenberg's Eastern Promises, with other Russians being portrayed by a Danish/American (Viggo Mortensen), a British-Australian (Naomi Watts), a German (Armin Mueller-Stahl), and a Pole (Jerzy Skolimowski).
  • Rade Serbedzija's international career has consisted of playing all kinds of fake nationalities, usually Russians (The Saint, Mission Impossible II, Snatch, Space Cowboys, 24), but he's also played a Czech (Duet), a Greek (The Truce), and an Italian (Stigmata). He's actually Croatian.
  • Russian Oleg Menshikov and Lithuanian Ingeborga Dapkunaite played a Bosnian Serb and a Bosnian Muslim, respectively, in Prime Suspect 6: The Last Witness.
  • In an opposite example, Serbian actors Branka Katic and Dragan Micanovic played Russians in the UK TV series Auf Wiedersehn, Pet. Katic has also played Russians on Trial and Retribution and H G Wells: War With The World. In the upcoming John Dillinger biopic Public Enemies, she plays Romanian-born Anna Sage.
  • Christopher Lee has played all kinds of fake nationalities, including Chinese. Being a prolific actor capable of speaking many languages helps.
  • Mandy Patinkin, a Jewish guy, plays Inigo, a Spaniard in The Princess Bride. American Wallace Shawn played Italian Vizzini, and French wrestler/actor Andre the Giant played the Turk Fezzik.
  • Aliens, The Magnificent Seven and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly also have Jewish American actors (Jenette Goldstein and Eli Wallach, respectively) playing Latino characters.
  • The Welsh actor Hugh Griffith played various English characters in Shakespearean theater and English and French characters on film. He had a tour de force performance as the Arab Sheikh Ilderim in Ben-Hur and was nominated for a Tony for playing American Southerner W.O. Gant in Look Homeward Angel. He did get to play Welshmen now and then.
  • John Rhys-Davies, the Anglo-Welsh actor, has played a Portuguese sea captain (Rodrigues in Shogun), an Egyptian (Sallah in Film/raidersOfTheLostArk), a Frenchman (Porthos in two different productions), a Dwarf, Americans, Leonardo Da Vinci and occasionally a generic Englishman. Despite all this, he's still respectful of his heritage and has even performed in Welsh for TV. Something about that dark Brythonic complexion which says 'Mediterranean coast' to casting directors (or 'cover him in latex' to Peter Jackson)....
  • While we're in Indiana Jones: Alison Doody said she didn't expect to play Elsa in The Last Crusade, "since they were asking for an Austrian 30-year old, not an Irish 22-year old". Also, the only villain with its own nationality is Mola Ram: Paul Freeman and Ronald Lacey are British, Belloq is French and Toht is German; Julian Glover is British, Donovan is American (but considering he played a Greek James Bond villain...); and Cate Blanchett is Australian, Irina Spalko is Soviet - Ukraine, actually.
    • Glover's (natural?) Scottish-sounding accent slips in a scene near the end, when he is saying: "The Nazis want to write themselves into the Grail legend....take on the world." I don't think this hurts the film too much; I just took it to mean that Donovan either was an immigrant or had one or two foreign-born parents, and so grew up with that accent before he tried to change it.
  • Nearly every Spaghetti Western ever filmed has Spaniards playing Mexicans, since they were shot in Spain and Spanish actors were more readily available than genuine Mexicans. Also, for obvious reasons, Italians played characters from both sides of the border. And then, in a class by himself, we have New Yorker Eli Wallach as Tuco Ramirez, "The Ugly".
  • Alfred Molina is a London-born actor whose father and mother are from Spain and Italy, respectively. He has played:
  • The 1998 adaptation of The Man in the Iron Mask featured an eclectic array of fake Frenchmen. Most notable were Englishman Jeremy Irons as Athos, Irishman Gabriel Byrne as D'Artagnan, American John Malkovich as Aramis, American Peter Sarsgaard as his son, and American Leonardo DiCaprio as King Louis XIV, none of whom particularly bothered to disguise their country of origin. This was made particularly noticeable by having an actual Frenchman, Gerard Depardieu, round out the cast.
    • Hilariously, the only accents that did match were John Malkovich and Peter Sarsgaard, playing father and son, and only because both men happen to hail from St. Louis.
  • Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård has played characters who are German (conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler in Taking Sides), Saxon (Cerdic in King Arthur), ambiguously French (Lambeau in Good Will Hunting), presumably British (Bootstrap Bill Turner in Pirates of the Caribbean), and Spanish (Francisco Goya in Goya's Ghosts). He also has several Fake Russians on his resume.
    • Yet Skarsgård is the sole Swede in the American remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which features lots of Brits and Americans speaking with Swedish accents.
  • An odd aversion occurred in the film Shattered Glass. The real Kambiz Foroohar is Iranian-American. Upon watching himself portrayed in the movie, he posted an entry on a popular Iranian-American blog lamenting that although he was the first Iranian character depicted on film after 9/11, he had been portrayed as "generic ethnic guy", by an actor he had been told by the film's producers was Indian-Canadian. The "Indian-Canadian" actor in question then wrote into the same blog and clarified that actually, he was Iranian as well. Awkward...
  • Tony Randall played the titular Chinese wizard in Seven Faces of Dr. Lao. Although as the title also implies, the character can appear in pretty much whatever form he wants.
  • Halle Berry attempted a strange Kenyan accent for Storm (an actual African) in the first X-Men 1 film, though she dropped it after this film.
    • It seemed to be a (poor) imitation of the rather odd British-African accent American Iona Morris used for the 1992 cartoon series.
    • While we're on X-Men: Canadian Wolverine is played by an Australian; Professor X/Juggernaut(Americans) and Magneto (Polish) are played by Englishmen; German Nightcrawler is Scottish; American Rogue is played by a New Zealander; American Jean Grey is played by a Dutchwoman; both Iceman (American) and Colossus (Russian) are Canadian.
    • In X Men First Class, , Xavier and Magneto are still from the British islands (James McAvoy is Scottish, Michael Fassbender is a German-born Irish), Azazel[1] is a Russian played by a Brit, and both Moira McTaggert (Australian) and Beast (Brit) are Fake American.
  • Subverted somewhat in Pocahontas, in which Disney used Native American actors as the voice talent for the main Native American characters (Irene Bedard, Michelle St. John and Russell Means). But of course they cast Mel Gibson as the Englishman John Smith. The main (British) villain is also played by an American, David Ogden Stiers.
  • Fisher Stevens played Ben, dubbed "Racist Indian Guy" in Short Circuit and its sequel. Stevens is very, very white.
    • It could also be read as an early attempt at subverting Indian stereotypes. Sure, he mangles the language for laughs but on the other hand he's technically the smartest character in the movie and ended up becoming the focus of the sequel, in part because the character was so popular.
  • The English Patient has Juliet Binoche (French) as Hana (French-Canadian); Willem Dafoe (US American) as Caravaggio (Canadian); and Naveen Andrews (British Indian) as Kip (an Indian Sikh). Ralph Fiennes, who plays the title character, actually is English.
    • Actually, Fiennes qualifies here as well because, despite the title, his character is actually Hungarian.
    • While we're on Naveen Andrews, in Mighty Joe Young he plays an African. Add an Arab, that's three ethnicities by the same guy.
    • Elsewhere, Willem Dafoe has played a Mexican in Once Upon a Time In Mexico and Jesus in The Last Temptation of Christ.
  • The early '80s film Night Crossing, about a family that escaped East Germany by balloon, featured British actors in the main adult roles, Americans as the kids, and Germans in practically every other role.
  • Slumdog Millionaire 's titular Mumbai "slumdog" is played by (ethnically Indian) Briton Dev Patel.
  • The pan-Scandinavian movie I Am Dina, set in nineteenth century rural Norway, featured illustrious actors from all three countries and then some - like Gérard Depardieu, playing one of the male leads. For the sake of realism (one assumes), it was decided to do this in English. The result was hotly debated, but the biggest irony was probably that the only English actor was cast as a Russian.
  • This caused a mild uproar in the US (and a huge uproar in Asia) when Chinese actresses Zhang Ziyi and Gong Li and Chinese-Malaysian Michelle Yeoh were cast as Japanese characters in Memoirs of a Geisha. The film was Banned in China and Ziyi stated that it was like an American faking a French accent while speaking Russian (they performed in English with fake Japanese accents).
  • Off-hand references in other examples notwithstanding, there deserves to be a primary mention of Dick Van Dyke's legendary performance as the cockney chimney sweep in Mary Poppins. This and Mickey Rooney's performance in Breakfast at Tiffany's are probably the ultimate examples of this trope in filmdom. Incidentally, in Mr. Van Dyke's Biography episode, he stated that the hatred of his accent in the film is responsible for more pain during his acting career than anything else he's ever done; he believed that his performance should be memorable -- not his horrible accent. (Which he didn't think was that horrible anyway.)
  • Bram Stokers Dracula has significant examples. Canadian Keanu Reeves and American Winona Ryder stand out with the worst fake British accents since Dick van Dyke, and Englishman Gary Oldman plays the title character -- the Romanian Dracula.
    • Also, Welshman Anthony Hopkins is the Dutch vampire killer Van Helsing.
  • The cast of the 2006 film adaptation of Perfume: Story of a Murderer has British actors/actresses, and German actresses playing Frenchmen/women. Only Dustin Hoffman, an American, was playing an Italian living in France.
  • Kelly McDonald traded her very pronounced Scottish brogue for a West Texas twang in No Country for Old Men. Made even stranger by the fact that, with the exception of Javier Bardem's Anton Chigurh, McDonald was the only non-Texan who had a major role in the film. (Bardem, who is from Spain, probably also qualifies for his portrayal of Chigurh, in spite of Chigurh's mysterious origins, although he supposedly has a "Dallas" accent. Eyeroll...)
  • The Boys from Brazil features Gregory Peck (American) as the German Josef Mengele and Laurence Olivier (British) as Austrian Jew Ezra Lieberman.
  • In Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven, Kurdish Saladin is played by Syrian Arab Ghassan Massoud. Closer than many portrayals. The same region at least...
    • Also, the French characters were played by Orlando Bloom (English), Liam Neeson (Irish), Brendan Gleeson (Irish), Marton Czokas (New Zealander), Jeremy Irons (English), David Thewlis (English), Kevin Mc Kidd (Scottish) and Michael Sheen (Welsh) to name a few. The only actual French person was Eva Green.
  • The Dark Knight Saga is another such festival of Fake Nationality, mostly of British actors pretending to be American, such as Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, and Tom Wilkinson. Others Fake Americans include Irishmen Cillian Murphy and Liam Neeson (note: it was never stated Ducard was American, but Neeson uses an American accent), Dutchmen Rutger Hauer, and Australian Heath Ledger. In fact, the only actual principal American actors on set were Morgan Freeman, Katie Holmes, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Aaron Eckhart. Singaporean Chinese actor Chin Han played the Chinese Lau, and French actress Beatric Rosen pulled a Lzherusskie as Natascha, prima ballerina of the Moscow Ballet.
    • Heath Ledger played American characters quite a bit.
      • Not to mention a Fake Brit in A Knight's Tale.
        • And, although the majority of the cast was British, Casanova was Italian.
    • Also, we can't know that the Joker is American; nothing is solid about his past.
  • The aforementioned Irishman Liam Neeson also played a Scot in Rob Roy, a German in Schindler's List and a Frenchman in Les Misérables.
    • Also a (presumably) Spanish Jesuit in The Mission.
  • This whole long list and not one person has cited Meryl Streep's multiple portrayals of nationalities other than her American one:
    • Polish in Sophie's Choice.
    • Italian in The Bridges of Madison County.
    • Australian in A Cry in the Dark.
    • Danish in Out of Africa.
    • British in The French Lieutenant's Woman (though only her Show Within a Show character) and as Margaret Thatcher in the upcoming biopic The Iron Lady.
    • Irish in Dancing at Lughnasa.
  • Audrey Hepburn, born to British and Dutch parents played American (Breakfast at Tiffany's), Russian (War and Peace), French (Love in The Afternoon) Belgian (The Nun's Story), and Native American in (The Unforgiven) characters.
  • Ralph Fiennes and Kate Winslet, both English, play Germans in The Reader with accents.
  • In 2006's All the King's Men, Brits Jude Law, Anthony Hopkins and Kate Winslet try to play southern Americans. Only Law comes out sounding respectable as far as accents go.
  • Mel Gibson, an American raised in Australia plays the Scottish William Wallace in Braveheart with an accent.
  • Pete Postlethwaite plays Kobayashi in The Usual Suspects. Not much can be said about the character for certain due to an Unreliable Narrator, but the name sounds Japanese and the actor is very white. It could be a code name of course.
  • Averted in Inglourious Basterds. Tarantino pulls off the applaudable feat of casting all characters with actors of the right nationality. This comes in handy during long stretches of dialogue in French, English, and German, respectively. Recognition of fake accents is even an important plot point in the movie.
    • Except for Mike Myers (Canadian) who was cast as an Englishman.
      • Of English descent though.
    • The English Hicox is played by half-Irish, half-German (Irish raised) Michael Fassbender.
      • Justified as he spoke fluent and perfect German.
      • And Fassbender actually wanted the part of Landa, but was told by Tarantino that any guy who was cast as Heathcliff was "not fuckin' German enough to play Landa." (The plans for him to portray Heathcliff have since been scrapped, although he is going to play Mr. Rochester. Which is a good thing, because we really don't need another Aryan Heathcliff.)
  • Most of Peter Lorre's (an Austrian-Hungarian Jew) career is built on this trope. A small list of the nationalities he was casted as:
    • Japanese (the Mr. Moto series) - although he reportedly refused heavy makeup and relying on stereotypes
    • Chinese (They Met in Bombay) - where he did wear heavy makeup and rely on stereotypes
    • French (Mad Love, Passage to Marseilles)
    • Russian (Background to Danger) - bizarrely, frequent costar Sidney Greenstreet (an Englishman) plays a German agent
    • Mexican (Secret Agent) - although another character states he's "not really a Mexican..."
    • German - innumerable movies made in WWII, with the then all-too-common irony of a Nazi character being played by a Jewish actor who fled Germany when Hitler came to power
  • Lee Meredith, an American actress from New Jersey, played the Swedish Ulla in Mel Brooks' The Producers. In an interview, she said that her use of stilted, formal Swedish, and her fake vaguely Scandanavian accent, made Norwegians assume she was rural/small town Swedish; while the Swedes thought she was Norwegian.
    • In the 2005 musical remake, the film version of Ulla was played by Uma Thurman; who, although American-born, is at least half-Swedish.
    • The first stage version of Ulla was played by Cady Huffman, another American.
  • Most of Lou Diamond Phillips' early roles were Mexican-American characters (La Bamba, Stand and Deliver, Young Guns), but his ancestry is quite mixed [2]. More recently, he has played both King Arthur and the King of Siam on stage.
  • In his time, Alec Guinness assumed more than a few nationalities, appearing as...
    • ...a Saudi prince in Lawrence of Arabia. Where like Christopher Lee example above, he pulled it off by looking a lot (http://www.gonemovies.com/www/mywebfilms/drama/LawPrins.jpg) like the person he was portraying (1307109799_king-faisal-i-of-iraq-kopiya.jpg)
    • ...a Russian Bolshevik in Doctor Zhivago.
    • ...an Indian guru in Passage to India.
    • ...a Roman in Fall of the Roman Empire.
    • ...and Adolf Hitler in Hitler: The Last Ten Days.
  • Vincent Schiavelli, an Italian-American, stole the show in Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies as the German Dr. Kaufman.
  • The 1943 film adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's novel For Whom the Bell Tolls, (which is about the Spanish Civil War) had every kind of foreign actors playing Spanish characters: Swedish (Ingrid Bergman), Greek, Russian, Mexican, Maltese, German, Hungarian. There was one Spanish actor too.
  • Machete brings us Jewish-Irish Steven Seagal as a Mexican drug lord. And no, he doesn't try at an accent.
  • American Kathy Bates played an Eskimo in North.
  • Angels and Demons has quite a bit of this, notably Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer as the Italian Vittoria Vetra. The character of the camerlengo had his nationality changed from Italian to Irish in the film, where he is played by the Scottish Ewan McGregor.
  • The film version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera has this all over the place. It is set in France, and it is assumed that most characters are French. While the Phantom's nationality and family background is never explicitly stated, it can be assumed that he probably wasn't Scottish like his actor Gerard Butler. The British Miranda Richardson plays the French Madame Giry, her daughter Meg is played also by a British actress (Page Three Stunna Jennifer Ellison), Christine Daae, of Swedish descent, is played by the American Emmy Rossum and the Italian diva Carlotta is played by the British Minnie Driver.
  • The little-known lowish-budget Christian film Hansie, about South African cricketer Hansie Cronjé, was shot almost entirely in South Africa, with some scenes intended to be in India; all the characters in the movie are either South African or Indian, and most if not all the actors, writers, etc., are South African. Inexplicably, Hansie Cronjé's wife, Bertha, is played by American actress Sarah Thompson. Her Afrikaans accent is, quite frankly, terrible to the point of causing the audience's ears to bleed (it's like something between Dutch and German and maybe a little Australian). To be fair, the Afrikaans accent can be described as something between Dutch, German and Australian, ... but not in the way she portrayed it. At all. But ja, at least she tried, hey.
  • Most of the Tibetians in 2012 were not played by actual Tibetians: Tenzin is played by Singaporean Chinese actor Chin Han, and his brother Nima by Canadian Chinese actor Osric Chau. Also, the Croat-Danish actor Zlatko Buric portrays the Russian Yuri, and his also-Russian girlfriend Tamara is played by French actress Beatrice Rosen, who also pulled a Lzherusskie in The Dark Knight.
  • A most absurd one in the Thai superhero film Mercury Man. The Big Bad is an Afghan terrorist named Osama bin Ali, but he is played by a Thai actor. No effort is made to change his appearance or voice to remotely sound Middle-Eastern.
  • British actor Orlando Bloom has played:
    • American (Oregon) Drew Baylor in Elizabethtown.
    • American (North Carolina) Harris Parker in Main Street.
    • Scottish Will Turner in Pirates of the Caribbean.
    • Irish Australian Joe Byrne in Ned Kelly.
    • American Todd Blackburn in Blackhawk Down.
    • Cayman Island native Shy in Haven (but with his British accent).
    • Frenchman Balian in Kingdom of Heaven (again, with his British accent).
    • Played for laughs in the DVD extras of Knocked Up, where he participated in a skit in which Judd Apatow hired him for the male lead role (played in the movie by Seth Rogen) thinking he would use an American accent, which he refuses to do, leading Apatow to assume that he just can't. Bloom tries to play it off by saying that a British man can get a woman pregnant just as easily as an American man can.
  • Zoe Saldana, who was born in New Jersey and spent her teen years in the Dominican Republic has played:
    • African Nyota Uhura in the 2009 Star Trek reboot.
    • Cayman Island native Andrea in Haven.
    • Caribbean Annamaria in Pirates of the Caribbean.
    • Colombian Cataleya in Colombiana.
  • Let's be sure to mention India-born British Vivien Leigh, whose most memorable roles were as a Southern Belle in both Gone with the Wind and A Streetcar Named Desire. The role of Scarlett O'Hara has also been played by England-born Joanne Whalley.
  • Troy (2004) featured Greek and other Mediterranean characters, but not a single Greek actor. A sampling:
    • American Brad Pitt as Achilles (with an atrocious British accent).
    • British Orlando Bloom as Paris.
    • German Diane Krueger as Helen of Troy.
    • Australian Eric Bana as Hector.
    • Irish Brendan Gleeson as Menelaus.
    • Irish Peter O'Toole as Priam.
    • Scottish Brian Cox as Agamemnon.
    • Australian Rose Byrne as Briseis.
    • Welsh Owain Yeoman as Lysander.
    • British Saffron Burrows as Andromache.
    • And so on...
  • The Brothers Grimm had Jonathan Pryce playing the French baddie, complete with an hilarious French accent.

 Gnl. Delatombe: Zis is what I call Victorhy!

  • Pat Morita's heavy Japanese accent in The Karate Kid franchise is notable due to his natural American accent.
  • Liam Neeson and Arnold Vosloo both played (presumably) American biochemist Dr. Peyton Westlake//Darkman.
  • Johnny Depp is this trope. Aside from his legendary portrayal of English pirate Captain Jack Sparrow, he's broken out the British accent for several roles; better still, in Don Juan de Marco, he played--ready for this?--an Italian-American who reinvented himself as a Mexican lothario--who speaks with a Castillian accent.
  • Robert Downey, Jr. is an American who in Tropic Thunder played an Australian who was playing a black american and while that briefly pretended to be a Asian farmer.
    • He also played a very convincing Australian reporter in Natural Born Killers. It wasn't intended at first but his performance was inspired by an Australian journalist and he and Oliver Stone decided to work with it.
    • Not to mention Sherlock Holmes
  • The Social Network has British-American Andrew Garfield playing the Brazillian-American Eduardo Saverin and Anthony Minghella (of Italian, Scottish and British descent) portraying the Indian Divya Narendra.
  • Pick an old Western with Indians in it. Any of them. Mostly portrayed by Jews and Italians in brownface, for the characteristic plains Indian big nose. More recently, Asian actors have had such roles, as evidenced by Brotherhood of the Wolf. At the same time, white actors have claimed indigenous ancestry to make it seem "less racist" that they're playing nonwhite characters. Examples include Johnny Depp (Tonto) and Noah Ringer (The Last Airbender).
  • Mike Todd's 1956 film of Around the World in Eighty Days had Shirley MacLaine as an Indian princess.
  • In Taking Lives, most of the main French-Canadian characters are played by French actors using their own French accents. The difference between Quebec French and France French is as big as the one between British English and American English. Even more bizarre, the movie itself was shot in Quebec City and there are some bona fide French-Canadian as secondary characters.
  • Angelina Jolie has played several non-American characters:
  • Michael Mann's adaption The Last of the Mohicans cast the English Daniel Day Lewis as American Hawkeye and the American Madeleine Stowe as English Cora (although Cora's sister Alice was played by genuinely English actress Jodhi May).
  • My Big Fat Greek Wedding is full of this.
    • Nia Vardalos is a Greek-Canadian playing a Greek-American.
    • Lainie Kazan is Russian Jewish on her father's side and Turkish Jewish on her mother's side.
    • Michael Constantine was born in the United States to Greek immigrant parents.
    • Andrea Martin is an Armenian-American; the scene where Rodney & Harriet try to recall the ethnicity of Rodney's secretary, which turns out to be Armenian, may be a reference to this.
    • Joey Fatone is Italian-American.
  • Yoshiko Otaka (aka Shirley Yamaguchi) made a career under the false identity Li Xianglan, playing the role of a Chinese woman in propaganda films in colonial Manchuria. In fact, most people at the time believed she was Chinese because her grasp of the language was that good.
  • Edward Furlong played a white skinhead in American History X, when in reality he's actually part Mexican and Native American.
  • Colombiana has a pair of these. The first being the already mentioned Zoe Saldana as a Colombian. The second being Maori actor Cliff Curtis playing a Colombian-American gangster.
  • Ron Perlman is an American who played French strongman One in the French film The City of Lost Children, since he is the only American who memorized all his lines and didn't speak French.
  • Most of the cast in the American remake of The Debt.
  • The "Somali" pirates in The Expendables are very obviously not Somali, but played by Americans of West African descent. Peoples from those two regions look nothing alike.
  • South African actress Charlize Theron has yet to play a South African character.
  • Most non-French film adaptations of The Three Musketeers qualify; The Three Musketeers 1993 had exactly one French person in the cast (Julie Delpy), which is still one more than The Three Musketeers 2011 (and neither of them were even filmed in France, going for Austria and Germany respectively).
  • Daniel Radcliffe (British) technically portrayed Fleur Delacour (French) while she was polyjuiced as Harry Potter in the film adaptation of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows. Aside from this, Warner Bros made a point to avert the trope in all films of the series because as part of the deal that gave WB the film rights, JK Rowling insisted on an all British cast to maintain the books' cultural identity.
  • In Time Regained, American John Malkovich plays Baron de Charlus, entirely in French, going the trope one better. Some reviewers noted that the halting style of a non-native speaker worked in his favor for a scene late in the film, in its present, where Charlus has gone senile.
    • Conversely, Jeremy Irons' turn in the title role in Swann in Love almost two decades earlier was dubbed into French, along with that of the Italian who played Odette, because neither of them spoke the language well enough.
  • In War, Inc. Hilary Duff plays a Central Asian pop star, and unlike some people with Fake Nationality she doesn't drop the accent when singing (James Marsters, this troper is looking at you).
  • The Manchurian Candidate original, in addition to Khigh Dhiegh, had Henry Silva (Sicilian-American) as a Korean, and Angela Lansbury and Laurence Harvey as Americans, Not Even Bothering with the Accent. The 2004 remake didn't follow this trope, and cast Americans as Americans, Englishmen as Englishmen, and this one guy of European extraction played by a Swiss actor.
  • In Shin Godzilla Japanese actress Satomi Ishihara  played the character Kayoko Ann Patterson, an American agent of Japanese descent. The actress had commented that learning to speak lines in English was the most frustrating part of the role.


Literature Edit

  • In The Heroes of Olympus Piper's famous Cherokee father has never played any native american roles in his movies.


Live-Action TV Edit

  • Star Trek has a lot of these:
    • The character of Khan Noonien Singh, a Punjabi Sikh played by Mexican Ricardo Montalban. His chiseled features, made up darker, worked, even while not remotely from "northern India". His accent, pimping as it was, didn't.
    • Chicago-born, Lithuanian German-descended Walter Koenig as Russian Pavel Chekov. (He's the one with the gun.)
    • Star Trek the Original Series has, in addition to the aforementioned Chekov, a Canadian (William Shatner) playing an American (James T. Kirk), another Canadian (James Doohan) playing a Scotsman (Scotty), and an American (Nichelle Nichols) playing an African (Uhura). In fact, the only characters portrayed by an actor of the same nationality are McCoy and Sulu. McCoy was a U.S. Southerner played by a Georgia-born actor with a slight-but-legit Southern accent (DeForest Kelley) and Sulu was an Asian-American played by a Japanese-American (George Takei).
      • Although Sulu was intended as a "pan-Asian" character, and in fact "Sulu" is nonsensical as a Japanese name, so there is still some divergence from George Takei's actual ethnicity. The "name blatantly not matching the ethnicity" is part of the spoof of Tony Shalhoub's character in Galaxy Quest.
        • Wait, Sulu is "pan-Asian"? Didn't he say at some point that he was born in San Francisco?
      • In the 2009 movie, we have a Korean-American (John Cho) playing a pan-Asian/Asian-American/possibly Japanese character (Sulu), an Englishman (Simon Pegg) playing a Scotsman (Scotty), a New Zealander (Karl Urban) playing a US Southerner, and a Dominican-American (Zoe Saldana) playing an African (Uhura). Interestingly, the actor who plays Chekov (Anton Yelchin) is actually Russian, but still uses the fake "Nuclear Wessels" accent.
    • Star Trek the Next Generation has an Englishman (Patrick Stewart) playing a Frenchman (Picard), an American (LeVar Burton) playing an African (Geordi La Forge), and another American (Denise Crosby) playing someone of Ukrainian descent (Yar).
      • Yar was originally written as a latina, "Macha Hernandez" and the Greco-Brit Marina Sirtis was slated to play her.
      • LaForge's actual origins are deliberately vague--he's a Military Brat whose parents moved wherever Starfleet sent them. All we know for sure is that his mother was in Africa when he was born.
        • The post-Nemesis Expanded Universe puts Zefram Cochrane High School (as LaForge mentioned in First Contact) in Mogadishu, Somalia. Yes, that Mogadishu. I guess it's better in the 24th century...
    • Enterprise has a Korean-American (Linda Park) playing a Japanese woman (Hoshi). But in general, the later series were more accurate, with human characters either played by actors of appropriate nationality, or being from worlds other than Earth.
    • In Star Trek Generations, the Spin Offspring character of Demora Sulu was the daughter of Hikaru Sulu (Japanese-American) and Susan Ling (a common Chinese surname). She's played by Korean-American Jacqueline Kim, thus making it a two-level Fake Nationality.
  • Lost has British (of Indian descent) Naveen Andrews as Iraqi Sayid Jarrah, Newzealander Alan Dale as the British Charles Widmore, and the Australians in flashbacks are overwhelmingly played by non-Australians faking the accent. Additionally, Frenchwoman Danielle Rousseau is played by Croatian actress Mira Furlan, while Russian Mikhail Bakunin is played by Venezuelan-born Andrew Divoff. Nigerian Eko is played by British actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, but this is justified since his parents are Nigerian and he does the accent right for once. Similarly, Korean-born American Daniel Dae Kim plays a Korean...who can't speak English at first.
  • Sherlock 's third episode The Great Game has British actress Haydn Gwynne playing a Czech women. Gwynne is fluent in French and Italian, so she often plays different nationalities.
  • Carlo Rota, a British-born actor of Italian ancestry, plays the Lebanese Yasir Hamoudi on Little Mosque on the Prairie. (Note that on Twenty Four Rota plays Morris O'Brian, whose ethnicity has not been specified but is likely Irish, and on an episode of This is Wonderland he played an Italian hotdog vendor.)
  • NCIS
    • The Israeli Ziva David is played by Cote de Pablo, whose parentage is Chilean.
    • For that matter, Ari the Big Bad is played by Rudolf Martin, a German.
    • There's also Anglo-Saxon Michael Weatherly's Fake Ethnicity as the Italian-American Tony DiNozzo.
    • And American (of Irish and Italian ancestry) Armand Assante as Frenchman Rene Benoit, a.k.a. La Grenouille. (But then, France is between Ireland and Italy, so...)
  • Betty's family in Ugly Betty is Mexican-American, but while all members of her immediate family are played by Hispanic actors, none of them are of Mexican descent. There's America Ferrera (Honduran-American), Tony Plana (Cuban), Ana Ortiz (American of Puerto Rican and Irish descent) and Mark Indelicato (American of Puerto Rican and Italian descent). This wouldn't be that notable except that it still holds true when you include her extended family from the episode "A Tree Grows in Guadalajara", which was composed of Justina Machado (Puerto-Rican-American), Rita Moreno (Puerto Rican) and Lillian Hurst (Puerto Rican). The episode also had Lilyan Chauvin (French!) playing a Mexican native.
  • The animal hunter in Eureka has a horrific supposed Australian accent. To an actual Australian, it sounds like a strangled mix of South African, Irish, New Zealand accents using occasional Australian words.
  • British Hugh Laurie as American Gregory House on House. In a season one episode House calls a doctor in the middle of the night and fakes a British accent, claiming he's from London and forgot what time it would be in America. For that scene, Laurie did not speak with his real accent, but with the accent he used when he played Bertie Wooster. It was meant to sound "over the top" and be a wink to people who know Laurie's work in Jeeves and Wooster.
  • The George Lopez Show: Carmen's actress is actually Albanian-American. Still, she was the only non-Hispanic actor ever given opening credits status, which makes it pretty remarkable.
  • SF Debris humorously lampshades this tropes in his review of Star Trek the Next Generation with the quote and video above where Brit Patrick Stewart plays Frenchman Jean-Luc Picard, with his own British accent.
    • The British accent is at least a decent second choice. A Frenchman who speaks English completely fluently will tend to sound British, as that's the accent taught in French schools.
    • Speaking of Star Trek, Voyager had Robert Beltran, who does not really identify as indigenous, play a Mayan.
  • Kato in various adaptations of The Green Hornet. While the first radio actor to voice the role was apparently Japanese (Raymond Hayashi), American Roland Parker voiced him for most of the series run (where Kato's nationality shifted from Japanese to "generic Oriental" to "Filipino"), while American Mickey Tolan played the role towards the end. In the film serials, Kato's nationality was specified as Korean, but the role was played by Chinese actor Keye Luke. And in the TV series Kato was (presumptively) Japanese but played by Chinese actor Bruce Lee.
  • Mixed with the Fake American concept on the short-lived series "New Amsterdam". Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, a Dane, plays John Amsterdam, a NYC cop who is actually an immortal Dutchman doomed to walk the earth until he found his soul mate and went through an interesting string of relationships and Americanized aliases. His American accent was good enough to fool most viewers.
  • David Carradine, who is an American of Cherokee, English, Irish, Italian, Scottish, German, Spanish, Ukrainian and Welsh descent, played the half-Chinese Shaolin Master Kwai Chang Caine in Kung Fu. Carradine's half-brother Keith portrayed a teenage Caine, while an equally non-Asian Radames Perá played young Caine.
    • And contrary to popular belief, Bruce Lee was never attached to the series.
  • In the 1987 British made-for-television film Scoopl, Norwegian actor Sverre Anker Ousdal plays insane Swede Erik Olafsen. Funny thing is, Olafsen is a rather Norwegian spelling, the most common Swedish equivalent would be Olofsson. Not to mention that there is nothing in the plot that requires the character to be a Swede - making him Norwegian would at least be more accurate.
  • In Heroes, we have the Indian-American actor Sendhil Ramamurthy playing the Indian character Mohinder Suresh; at the beginning of the show he attempted to do some kind of Indian accent (possibly Tamil?), but after a few episodes he settled on a (relatively good) straight British accent. We also have the Korean-American actor James Kyson Lee playing the Japanese (and Japanese-speaking) character Ando Masahashi, presumably under the tutelage of his authentically Japanese colleague Masi Oka.
  • Buffy and Angel used this, most obviously with Americans David Boreanaz, James Marsters, Juliet Landau and Alexis Denisof playing the Irish Angel and English Spike, Drusilla and Wesley Windham-Price respectively.
    • California-born James Marsters took this to an extreme in the Buffy episode "Doomed" (4x11). Playing the British vampire Spike, he replicates a Brit's very poor imitation of an American accent when Spike tries to change his speech to avoid detection by the vampire-capturing Initiative. This rather remarkable feat can be considered the lingustic equivalent of "chicken-fried chicken": chicken pretending to be cube steak pretending to be chicken.
    • In Boreanaz's case his character's nationality wasn't revealed until two seasons in, while he had been speaking with a basic American accent and his Irish accent in flashbacks was rather poor so he continued to speak with his regular accent.
    • See here for some of the natter about how Alexis Denisof's American accent sounds fake and put-on...
  • On MASH, Asians of every nationality and descent were used to play the native Koreans.
  • The Play of the Week adaptation of Rashomon (not to be confused with the Akira Kurosawa film) had actors of several nationalities playing Japanese characters. None of the actors were Asian, let alone Japanese. Among them: Ricardo Montalban (Mexican), Carol Lawrence (Italian-American), James Mitchell (Anglo-Portuguese), and Oscar Homolka (Austrian).
  • Seinfeld featured a Finnish character... using a Russian accent.
  • Hogan's Heroes is actually a surprisingly complete aversion. Of the main cast, which included French, British, American and German characters, only Sgt. Shultz was represnting a different country, he was Austrian.
  • In Fawlty Towers, Manuel, who's from Barcelona, is played by a German-born British actor.
    • Who is also Jewish, and in fact, escaped Germany right after Kristallnacht.
    • The "American" in the Waldorf Salad was a Canadian actor that made a career of being the token North American on British shows.
  • Swedish actress Helena Mattsson was recently cast as a Russian gold-digger on Desperate Housewives.
  • Daniel Davis of Arkansas has made a career playing proper Brits, most notably on The Nanny. According to his IMDb profile, during the run of that series viewers would write in saying that his castmate Charles Shaughnessy (who actually * is* British) should take lessons from Davis on how to do a proper British accent!
  • 24 has produced several examples:
    • The above-mentioned Vosloo as Habib Marwan, an Arab Big Bad of Turkish origin.
    • Marisol Nichols, who is of Spanish and Hungarian ancestry, plays the Arab-American Nadia Yassir.
    • British-Sudanese actor Alexander Siddig played Hamri al-Assad, a presumably Lebanese terrorist mastermind turned Atoner.
    • Sean Majumder played an Arab terrorist on the show, despite being half East Indian and half Newfie.
    • In a particularly jarring example, American Dennis Hopper played Big Bad Victor Drazen, a Serbian warlord.
    • Don't forget Indian-American actor Kal Penn playing an Arab of indeterminate origin.
    • Aki Avni, an Israeli, plays an Arab terrorist. For about twelve seconds.
    • And Jack Bauer is played by a Canadian actor of British ancestry. Damn it!!!
    • Anil Kapoor, a Bollywood (Indian) superstar, is playing an Arab of presumably Iranian origin, though not a terrorist, but a foreign President.
  • American Richard Basehart portrayed a British stage actor on an episode of Columbo.
  • New Yorker Bernie Kopell was over-the-top German villain Siegfried on Get Smart.
  • Khigh Dhiegh made a career out of playing "yellow peril" Asian villains, like Yen Lo in The Manchurian Candidate and Wo Fat on Hawaii Five-O. In real life, he founded the Taoist Institute in Hollywood. But he was born Kenneth Dickerson in New Jersey, of mixed Anglo and North African/Arab heritage, with no trace of East Asian-ness.
  • The True Jackson movie has an actor sloppily juggling an American and Scottish accent...while playing a Frenchman.
  • Numb3rs features Amita Ramanujan - a Tamil character played by a Rajput actress. More egregious than it sounds, since the two groups look significantly different.
    • Plus Navi Rawat (the actress) is half-Jewish...and the actors who play her parents look nothing alike.
  • Power Rangers RPM has a New Zealander playing the extremely Scottish Flynn McAlisteir. He made a game effort on the accent, at least. Not to mention the full cast of Fake Americans in every season since 2003.
    • Now that Saban has the series back, Americans are playing the Rangers again, though filming's still taking place in New Zealand and there will probably still be some Fake Americans involved.
  • Subverted in an episode of the Ellery Queen TV series, in which an Indian man is obviously played by a white guy with makeup. It turns out that, in-universe, he is a white guy in makeup playing an Indian.
  • In Season 1 of The Closer, Marina Sirtis, of Deanna Troi fame, plays an Iranian woman. Though Greek, she plays a sleuth of Middle-Eastern and Levant characters.
  • Margaret Cho's All American Girl did this in spades: Margaret Cho was the only Korean-American in the main cast of the show. The actress playing the grandmother (Amy Hill) was Japanese-American, as was father Clyde Kusatsu; mother Jodi Long and brother B.D. Wong were Chinese-American.
  • In Rescue Me, African-American Daniel Sunjata plays the Puerto Rican Franco Rivera.
  • The cast of Allo Allo is made up of dozens of Englishmen playing Frenchmen, Germans, Austrians, Italians and Swedes. Only three characters in the show are British. Despite that, everyone talks English, but they pretend they can't understand each other and speak with different accents.
  • In a very early episode of The Saint, Simon Templar has to rescue a kidnapped American girl in Rome. Said girl, played by English actress Sally Bazely, is the definition of Not Even Bothering with the Accent.
  • On Community Abed and his dad are Arab-Americans: Danny Pudi (Abed) is half-Indian and half-Polish (and grew up speaking Polish), while Iqbal Theba (Abed's dad) is Pakistani. The Arabic they speak, however, is real.
    • Señor Chang, a.k.a. El Tigre Chino ("The Chinese Tiger"), is played by Korean-American actor Ken Jeong.
  • In Mission: Impossible, Leonard Nimoy, as the Master of Disguise, went undercover as a Japanese person and did kabuki.
    • And as The Complete Mission: Impossible Dossier pointed out, when he disguised himself as the villain (played by Wo Fat himself, Khigh Dheigh) he somehow became several inches shorter...
  • On Ringer Henry's American wife Gemma is - well, was - played by British actress Tara Summers. Averted on the same show by Ioan Gruffudd and Jaime Murray, however, who do indeed play Brits.
  • Adelai Niska on Firefly, a crime boss of indeterminate Eastern European ethnicity (though he tells his henchman to cut off Mal's ear in Czech), is played by New Yorker Michael Fairman.
  • In Thirty Rock, Fred Armisen guest-stars as Liz's middle-Eastern neighbour whom she immediately suspects is a terrorist. He just wants to participate in The Amazing Race.
  • Done with each of the leads on Strike Back. American Philip Winchester plays British Sgt. Michael Stonebridge, while Aussie Sullivan Stapleton plays Ex-Delta Force soldier Damien Scott.
  • Ahmad Kahn on NYC 22 is an Afghan refugee-turned-NYPD rookie. His actor is British of Arab or Persian descent.


Professional Wrestling Edit

  • This is fairly common in pro wrestling. Many monster foreign heels of the 70's and 80's, such as Ivan Koloff and the original Sheik, were actually North Americans posing as foreigners. In addition, a number of caucasian wrestlers, such as Paul Diamond and Jamie Noble, have posed as orientals wearing masks.
  • The Iron Sheik, an Iranian, had a brief run in the early 90's as Col. Mustafa, an Iraqi.
  • Although billed as being from Russia, Nikolai Volkoff was actually from Yugoslavia.
  • Cuban Armando Alejandro Estrada is played by American Hazeem Ali.
  • Burqua-clad Syrian valet Raisha Saeed is portrayed by American Melissa Anderson.
  • Mexican Chavo Guerrero Jr. became Caucasian suburbanite Kerwin White, officially 'turning his back' on his ancestry in one of the more controversial angles of recent years.
  • Canadian (though of Italian descent) Anthony Carelli playing Italian Santino Marella.
  • Parodied with the WWF/E's The Machines, a supposedly Japanese tag team whose membership included "Giant Machine" (obviously Andre the Giant in a mask), and "Hulk Machine" (Guess Who?) The group was actually a cover for a Charlie Brown From Outta Town angle when Andre was suspended for no-showing an event.
  • Sabu, in reality an American-born wrestler of Lebanese descent, has been billed as hailing from Saudi Arabia, and from Bombay, India. Sabu attempts to maintain the illusion by not speaking in public, though he has been overheard speaking to his opponants during matches in a perfectly American accent. At one point, ECW were billing him as from "Bombay, Michigan" as an in-joke.
    • While at the same time, his tag-team partner, Rob Van Dam, was billed as being from "Battle Creek, India".
  • Yokozuna, depicted by Samoan Rodney Anoa'i. Somewhat subverted in that while he represented Japan and had the Japanese Mr. Fuji in his corner, he actually was billed as being from Polynesia.
    • Incidentally, Mr. Fuji himself qualifies for this, as he's actually American born in Hawaii (though of Japanese descent).
  • Kofi Kingston was originally billed as being from Jamaica, per his angle. He was actually born in Ghana (and raised in America), which WWE finally admitted.
  • New York Bodyguard Ezekiel Jackson, played by a Guyanese Wrestler, but eventually WWE decided to drop the charade.
  • Also, Mexican wrestler Hunico's new bodyguard/running buddy Camacho is billed from Juarez Mexico, but is played by the Samoan Tevita Fifita.


Theatre Edit

  • The title character in Othello has been played by a Caucasian (with or without blackface) more often than would make one comfortable. Do they figure no one will notice?
    • Indeed, this was how it was done in Shakespeare's day. The first black actor to play Othello was in 1825, but don't think just because they went black they never went back - Constantin Stanislavski played him in 1896, Sir Laurence Olivier in 1964, Paul Scofield in 1980, Anthony Hopkins in 1981.
    • All these examples are not necessarily "blackface" - Othello is described as a "moor", which some assume to mean black and some assume to mean Arab. The Anthony Hopkins and Orson Welles portrayals made use of this ambiguity. Laurence Olivier's, though? Definitely black, and a little weird.
    • Yes, just because he uses the adjective 'black' on himself doesn't mean he was actually imagined as being any darker than leather. This is Shakespeare. It also helps that neither the writer nor the audience had had any extensive nuanced experience with other races.
    • In an interesting twist on the play's theme, in an 1998 staging which was called the "photo-negative" version, Patrick Stewart played Othello in an otherwise all-black cast.
  • Similarly, Monostatos in The Magic Flute is referred to as a moor in the libretto, but is not always portrayed as black. It helps that (in North America, at least) operas rely on subtitles, so phrases like "the wicked moor" can be given as "the wicked Monostatos".
  • Controversy surrounded Miss Saigon when it was being transported to Broadway after a successful run in London. The Actor's Equity Association would not allow Jonathan Pryce, who had created the role of The Engineer in London, to play the role on Broadway. According to them, allowing Pryce, a Caucasian, made up to look like an Asian in the show, would be an affront to Asian actors. A counterargument was that the Engineer is of mixed descent (French-Vietnamese), and Pryce was being discriminated against for being Caucasian. After pressure from Cameron Mackintosh, the producer, the general public, and its own members, the AEA relented and Jonathan Pryce was allowed to recreate his role on Broadway. A controversy also sprung up related to Lea Salonga, the female lead, but it was not racially related.
    • Parodied on a Little Britain sketch in which a pushy stage mother desperately tries to get her son a part in Shakespeare's Henry V. When she suggests him for the role of Henry V, the director tells her that Jonathan Pryce has already been cast in the lead, to which she replies "But he's Chinese!"
    • And of course, Lea Salonga, who is Filipina, has been cast as Vietnamese (Miss Saigon), French (Les Misérables), Chinese (Mulan, Flower Drum Song), and Arab (Aladdin).
  • The character of Christmas Eve in Avenue Q is an immigrant who sings about how her life sucks, in part, because she worked in a Korean deli (or, in some versions, a Chinese restaurant) upon coming to America, despite being Japanese. In the Australia/New Zealand tour, she is played by Filipina Christina O'Neill.
  • In Sunday in The Park With George, this is guaranteed to happen, because the first act is set entirely in France with French characters (with two Americans and two Germans in the company), and the second act is set in America, with American characters.
  • In the premiere of Pilgrims Musa and Sheri in the New World, Musa, an Egyptian, was played by an East Indian actor, and Gamila, also Egyptian, was played by a white American actress.
  • Sound Horizon usually does this for their live shows out of necessity. The band is Japanese, but almost all of the Rock Opera albums are set outside of East Asia (Ancient Greece, 14th century Germany, France, etc). Obviously, it's rather difficult to find German or French performers that can sing live in fluent Japanese, so Japanese people playing Westerners it is.


Web Original Edit

Universal Edit

  • Generally, almost all works that portray Indians, even if they hire Indians, do not pay attention to the regional accent of the actor. Most western viewers do not notice this, but it can get annoying to viewers who can pick out Indian regional accents. It's as annoying as watching an actor with a strong Texan accent play a character in Fargo. Outsourced (TV series) is a very egregious example. A lot of actors are from differrent backgrounds than the characters they play. For example, Rizwan Manji who is an Ismaili Muslim plays Rajeev Gidwani who is a Sindhi Hindu. Rebecca Hazelwood who plays Asha in Outsourced (TV series) is part Indian-part English has played a lot of Indian characters of various backgrounds (although she is decent enough of an actress to pull it off). Generally, it's not a big deal because the specific regional background of the character doesn't really matter much to the story line. Generally averted in all movies directed by Mira Nair which is why she is able to pull off stories that are sensitive to the background of the characters (see Mississipi Masala)

Notes

  1. who is a demon, thus not from Earth, in the comics
  2. Phillips' father is a Scots-Irish American with one-quarter Cherokee blood, and his mother is a Filipina with Spanish, Chinese, and Japanese ancestry

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