Welcome to the first entry in a new series of weekly features. Top 10 Tuesday. Considering the amount of coverage we have given to Doctor Who‘s recent return, we have decided to focus additional content on all things British this week. It is only fitting that we do the same with the first entry of this new series. This entry of Top 10 Tuesday is all about British Actors playing American characters. Perhaps I should have titled the piece “Top 10 American Jobs, Stolen by British Actors” in jest.
10. Dr. William Masters as portrayed by Micheal Sheen in Masters of Sex
On the Showtime series Masters of Sex, Micheal Sheen plays the brilliant gynecologist Dr. William Masters. Dr. Masters is a cold, but passionate, man of science. Horrified by the way society treats sexual dysfunction, Masters puts everything on the line to pursue a taboo subject in medicine. Sheen plays Masters with a vulnerability masked by an adherence to ethics and principals. A mask that he rarely lowers.
09. Jimmy “McNutty” McNulty as portrayed by Dominic West in The Wire
McNutty, as he is oft called, is a hardworking , intelligent, and ambitious detective that sets off the chain of events that flow through the HBO series The Wire. Dominic West plays Jimmy McNulty with equal parts sly wile and self destructive narcissism. Constantly drinking to inebriation, and sleeping with anything that will have him, McNulty is a barely functioning mess who only prospers when working the job.
08. Charlotte “Chuck” Charles as portrayed by Anna Friel in Pushing Daisies
In Bryan Fuller’s gorgeous and lyrical series Pushing Daisies, Rochdale native Anna Friel plays the sweet and adventurous Charlotte. Charlotte’s life is changed forever when her childhood friend Ned (Halt and Catch Fire‘s Lee Pace) accidentally causes the death of her father by a (at that time) unknown side effect of resurrecting his mother. Friel’s Charlotte learns to take death in stride, as a part of life. Full of energy and a hint of mischief, Charlotte helps to bring Ned out of his shell.
07. Russell “Stringer” Bell as portrayed by Idris Elba in The Wire
As the man behind the man in HBO’s The Wire, Russell “Stringer” Bell is a drug dealing gangster who successful plots a turn towards legitimate business that is cut short by the ghosts of his past. Idris Elba, of London, brings a contemplative intelligence to “Stringer” Bell. Stringer’s own sly moves lead to his eventual downfall, as his caution gives way to the emotions of others. Stringer was too smart for the game, but too dumb to know that there wasn’t a way out. Stringer’s tragedy is in how close he came to legitimate success despite the eventuality of his failure.
06. Dr. Gregory House as portrayed by Hugh Laurie in House
Dr. House, the titular character of Fox’s medical procedural series House, was the only truly exceptional element of an otherwise barely decent show. Modeled after troubled genius detective Sherlock Holmes, House is a detective of medicine, a famous figure within diagnostician whose brilliance is only matched by his prickly attitude. House struggles with an addiction to painkillers and turbulent relationships with the few people he cares about. Laurie’s Dr. House is playful, intense, unpredictable, and at times destructive to himself and those around him.
05. Lydia Rodarte-Quayle as portrayed by Laura Fraser in Breaking Bad
Though her appearance on AMC’s Breaking Bad was short lived, Lydia was a final antagonist and twisted mirror foil to Bryan Cranston’s Walter White. Like Walter, Lydia is a highly intelligent, well educated intellectual surrounded by thugs and immersed in danger. Like Walter, Lydia is capable of exceptionally vile acts in service of her ambitions. Laura Fraiser masterfully played the nervous behaviors and obsessive habits of Lydia, while showing us that the meek can truly be terrifying.
04. Richard D. Winters as portrayed by Damian Lewis in Band of Brothers
Though Damian Lewis is perhaps better known for his role as Brody in Homeland, it is his portrayal of Winters in HBO’s World War 2 miniseries Band of Brothers that I found more compelling. Winters is a quiet introspective man that quickly rises through the ranks due to his leadership qualities. While not as complex as Brody, Winters is a far more believable (not just because he is based on a real person) presence. Lewis brought a subtle anxiety and unease to Winters that made his acts even more heroic.
03. Sarah Connor as portrayed by Lena Headey in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
Lena Headey entered an iconic American role as an unknown British actress. As Sarah Connor (who had previously been played in film by Linda Hamilton), the Game of Thrones star brought a vulnerable lack certainty to the role. Less of a physical powerhouse, Headey’s Connor was more cerebral, lending credibility to her parentage of the man who would one day lead the rebellion against the robots. As a whole, Fox’s Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles took a more existential and philosophical approach to the robot Apocalypse. Headey’s portrayal of Connor as a conflicted and desperate mother was a big part of what made the show a cult favorite.
02. Will Graham as portrayed by Hugh Dancy in Hannibal
NBC’s Hannibal is one of the best series currently on TV. Surreal, moody, and poetically written, Bryan Fuller’s adaptation of the Thomas Harris novels takes a more heightened approach than the movies that came before. As Will Graham, a brilliant former FBI Agent and current teacher at the FBI Academy, British actor Hugh Dancy plays a damaged and pessimistic observational genius who can empathize with (and so catch) serial killers. Dancy’s Graham is often refereed to as being “on the spectrum” which refers to the autism spectrum. Hugh Dancy injects Will with frailty and frustration, in portraying a man that is not understood by the outside world.
01. Al Swearengen as portrayed by Ian McShane in Deadwood
I did a double take when I saw British actor Ian McShane talk in his natural accent for the first time. As Al Swearengen in HBO’s Deadwood, Ian McShane spat vile words in poetic phrasing, reigning in criminals under his rule. Ian McShane’s rich vocal tones commanded respect and obedience. Swearengen owned the local saloon and brothel The Gem, from which he stood on the balcony like a lord, observing people and pulling strings. McShane brought charisma to Swearengen, his eyes bearing the weight and exhaustion of a wearied officer, and yet sparking with the intensity of a politician. It is this gravity that makes McShane’s Swearengen the best Amercian character played by a British Actor.
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