It would appear that American audiences have their favourite British actors, and they’re not necessarily the ones you’d expect. After responding to the bi-annual Q survey the US citizens who took the poll placed Sir Sean Connery as America’s favourite British actor. There were a lot of actors and actresses who didn’t make the grade though, as we list here.
The poll in question is conducted regularly to find the most popular on-screen actors and actresses. Connery beat the likes of Liam Neeson, Anthony Hopkins, Judi Dench and Maggie Smith to the British top spot, meaning that the former Bond is the most widely known British actor across the US, despite the fact he hasn’t been working on our screens for some years now.
It makes us think about all the other actors of current times who didn’t even place in the list of 20 actors. In the last decade alone, the presence of British actors in Hollywood and beyond has seen a substantial increase. This has been due to a number of reasons, like the increase in production of big budget films taking place in UK studios like Pinewood and the broad success of the Harry Potter movies, which proved an all British cast could still sell tickets abroad.
As a result, many of the most sought after roles in Hollywood, especially the bad guys, have been going to British actors – Tom Hiddleston as Loki in Thor, Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen in Twilight, Hugh Laurie as prime-time medical drama bad boy, House etc.
With so much talent to choose from, it’s understandable that some went under the radar. Still, there are many contemporary actors and actresses working today who deserve recognition, flying the flag for Great Britain in Hollywood.
Michael Caine: “You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!” is a classic line of dialogue which put Caine in the history books. Since serving in the Korean War, Michael Caine has proved his mettle as an actor. For many, their first introduction to the beloved actor was as Lt. Gonville Bromhead in Zulu. It was his performance in Alfie which really set chins wagging though, and from then on he’s been a fan favourite in movies like The Italian Job, Gambit, Get Carter and the recent Batman movies. A memorable recent comedic role was as Victor Melling in Miss Congeniality. And work still isn’t slowing down. Surely Michael Caine must be the equal of Sean Connery in terms of legendaryness?
Julie Andrews: Everybody loves Julie! And if you don’t why on Earth not? While in recent years she’s turned most of her talent to voice acting – she played Gru’s mom in Despicable Me, the Queen in Shrek 2, 3 and 4 and was the narrator in Enchanted – Julie is best known for her classic roles back in the 1950s and 60s. She played Cinderella in 1957, before going on to play the practically perfect nanny Mary Poppins alongside Dick Van Dyke. Following it up with the classic The Sound of Music, Julie is known the world over for running up that hill as Maria singing “The hills are alive with the sound of music.” She was also charming as Queen Clarisse in The Princess Diaries and its sequel.
Sir Ian McKellen: His beginnings were in the theatre and he’s a veteran Shakespearean actor. Very few hold a candle to Sir Ian McKellen. He has played Hamlet, King Richard II, Macbeth and Richard III in his career. And yet it is massive movie franchises like X Men and The Lord of the Rings which have made him a household name. He is Magneto, he is the wizard Gandalf, and he has a voice which sends chills up your spine from the richness. Amusingly he took time in 2005 to work on long running British soap opera Coronation Street (because he’s a fan). He reprises his roles of Gandalf and Magneto in the second instalment of The Hobbit and X Men: Days of Future Past.
Kate Winslet: How Kate Winslet was missed by the US citizens who took the poll, is beyond me. Over the years she has proved herself time and again to be one of our most award worthy actresses, receiving five Oscar nods for: Sense and Sensibility, Titanic, Iris, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Little Children, before she won for her role in The Reader. Then again Winslet has always been very picky with her roles, rarely choosing mainstream projects in favour of gritty female characters. Most recently she was nominated for a Golden Globe for the comedy Carnage in 2012 and won for her role in the television miniseries Mildred Pierce. A movie of hers which is a gem to watch, is Finding Neverland.
Gary Oldman: A legend in his own right, Daniel Radcliffe cites Oldman as his inspiration as an actor, ever since he starred opposite him in the third Harry Potter movie. It’s difficult to pinpoint when he first came to prevalence. He’s played such varied roles, including Dracula, Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg in The Fifth Element, and more recently starred as Commisioner Gordon in Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is his most acclaimed work in the last ten years. We can look forward to performances from him in the latest RoboCop and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Busy, busy, busy.
Dame Helen Mirren: The queen of class and elegance, Dame Helen Mirren has had quite the career, one which exploded back in 2006 when she portrayed Queen Elizabeth II in the biopic The Queen. Even before then she was a popular choice for stage, television and film, with roles in the The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Gosford Park and Calendar Girls. Most recently she gained acclaim for portraying Alma Reville in Hitchcock, starred in the remake of Arthur with Russell Brand and lent her voice to Pixar’s Monsters University. She’s not one to be trifled with.
Ralph Fiennes: Part of me understands why Ralph Fiennes wasn’t included on the list. His most iconic role is Lord Voldemort, who he portrayed from 2005 onwards when the Dark Lord returned in Harry Potter 4. However, he’s barely recognisable with his digitally removed nose, bald head and pale and rubbery skin making him appear snake-like beneath his cloak. He’s had some bloody good roles though, including his Oscar nominated performances in Schindler’s List and The English Patient. More recently he’s starred in In Bruges, played Keira Knightley’s cold husband in The Duchess, and taken up his place in the James Bond franchise. Perhaps he’s just too good at immersing himself in a role, for people to keep note of his actual name?
Emma Thompson: Not just a one trick pony, Emma Thompson doesn’t just act, she writes too. Spending her early years working for television and acting out classics like Much Ado About Nothing (She played Beatrice), Emma won her first Oscar for her work in Howards End in 1992. Eventually she put pen to paper and wrote the screenplay of Sense and Sensibility, for which she won her second Oscar. She also wrote and starred in Nanny McPhee, whilst also starring in great movies like Harry Potter, An Education, Brideshead Revisited and Men in Black 3. Her portrayal of the jilted mother in Love Actually remains one of her most honest and beautiful performances, despite the limited role.
Michael Sheen: Michael Sheen can be forgiven for his role in the Twilight Saga (although he did portray the vampire Aro brilliantly when compared to other actors), because he has made some corking movies over the years. Many may know him from his role as Lucian in Underworld with his ex-partner Kate Beckinsale. That's just a taster of his capabilities though. He gained critical claim for his performance as Tony Blair in The Queen, which allowed him to move onto grittier roles in films like Blood Diamond and even Frost/Nixon in which he played David Frost. Other notable appearances include Midnight in Paris, Tron: Legacy and as the voice of The White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland.
Rachel Weisz: For a lot of people their first introduction to Rachel Weisz was in the 1999 hit The Mummy, followed by the sequel The Mummy Returns in 2001. Most people agree that her lack of presence in the third film is one of the factors which made it un-watchable. Outside of the Mummy franchise though, Rachel’s a very talented lady. She won an Oscar in 2006 for her supporting role in The Constant Gardener, and has starred in many films over the last fifteen years, including Enemy at the Gates, About a Boy, The Lovely Bones, and more recently Oz the Great and Powerful.
James McAvoy: Who knew Mr Tumnus would become such a sought after leading man in Hollywood? Starting his career on UK television screens in Shameless, McAvoy played the lovable faun in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, before gaining Oscar notice in The Last King of Scotland. He’s proved himself an excellent actor since, playing the romantic lead in Penelope and Becoming Jane, and holding his own against Angelina Jolie in Wanted. He also charmed us with his voice work in Gnomeo and Juliet and Arthur Christmas. Recent movies like Filth prove his grit as a performer, and he’s officially reached Comic Con status in X Men: First Class and beyond. Good on him!