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Filtering by Tag: Acting with a dialect

How I Booked a Part on Oscar Winning Argo and Made it Bigger

Annie Little


The Audition and the Dialect

I knew the audition was a big deal when I saw Ben Affleck was directing and George Clooney was producing, among others. There were three different Swiss Air roles, and I'd be reading for all of them... and they all required a European accent. One problem: in real life, I sound about as European as Mary Tyler Moore. But I had worked on a passable British accent, so I could build on that... especially if I hired a dialect coach. So I called Andrea Odinov Fuller and she took my passable British dialect up a notch by adding a dash of a Swiss-German and the sing-song melody of a European 1970’s airline attendant. I put myself on video and practiced my lines a hundred times (probably more, who am I kidding?!), watching them back and fine tuning my accent. Though it was a strategy that could potentially backfire, I decided to go into the audition in my dialect. So, when the casting director asked me where I was from, I was forced to say in my British accent, “Salt Lake City, Utah.” To my ear it sounded absurd, so I was relieved when she seemed not the least bit phased. I read each part only one time, and there were no adjustments. The roles would be cast off tape by the producers. She said 'good job' and that was it. 

Booking the Role

Over the next few days, I thought about my 5 minutes in the room, hoping something I’d done would be enough to make the phone ring.  It didn’t. I let it go. I completely forgot about it until three weeks later when I got a call from my agent. I had booked the role, and was scheduled to shoot for three days. I was stunned (and excited, obviously) to say the least. For secrecy reasons, they didn’t give me the full script, only the material that was relevant to my scenes. I looked over the pages, and noticed that at one point my character was to “speak German into a walkie”. I thought, that’s strange… do they know I don’t speak German? Do I need to speak German?  I’d better come to set knowing some German. I had some ideas of what my character might say at that point in the script, so I went to my friend Tom Lommel, who's fluent in German, and asked for some help. I figured at the very least I’d have it in my back pocket if need be. 

I thought, that’s strange… do they know I don’t speak German? Do I need to speak German?  I’d better come to set knowing some German.


The lines Ben Affleck scribbled down for me to say.

Cut to one week later, and there I was, dressed in a perfectly vintage airline uniform, about to shoot my very first scene, which for me, was the most challenging of them all. With my new Swiss accent, I was to make the boarding announcement in the terminal over a loud speaker to hundreds of background actors as well as director and star Ben Affleck, and the other lead actors, playing the Americans who had managed to slip away from the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Ben approached me as they were setting up the shot and introduced himself. His presence was commanding, and he seemed somehow lighthearted and serious all at the same time, if that's possible. He quickly scribbled down a bunch of alternate lines he wanted me to say. I was to improvise, except for my last line, which needed to come at just the right moment. He explained that my final boarding call would be the cue for the sea of background actors milling around the concourse to create the perfect opening for he and the other actors to reach my counter. Okay great. Moments later, they rolled cameras on the first take, and let's just say the timing didn't didn't exactly work out. In my own defense, it was difficult for me to see when they were crossing through this particular spot between two pillars at a distance. After that first, and frankly somewhat disastrous take, Ben beelined to my counter and very dryly told me I f***ed up the shot. Then he laughed. So did I. Phew. Without further adieu they stuck a crew member with an earpiece on the floor so he could tap my leg when I needed to say that particular line of dialogue.

After that first, and frankly somewhat disastrous take, Ben beelined to my counter and very dryly told me I f***ed up the shot. Then he laughed. So did I. Phew.


The Stunt

As we continued to shoot, the vibe on set felt electric and alive. Things were constantly changing. The second day we did a small stunt scene where I was to be shoved against some glass doors when a guard realizes I don’t have the key to open them. They padded me up under my airline uniform and carefully explained how this was to happen. It was a very heightened scene (and in fact, the part where I hit the doors made it into the theatrical trailer). Satisfied that I was properly protected, Ben told me that if I could just go for it and not hold back for fear of being hurt, we would be able to do it fewer times. With that in mind, I went for broke, and in the end, we were able to get it in just a couple of takes.

Where Preparation Meets Timing

They set up for the next scene, which was where the German dialogue had been mentioned in the script. I waited, and in my head rehearsed the German lines I'd created and painstakingly learned. But no one mentioned it or asked about it, and in fact it seemed to have been all but forgotten. They were just moving right along, and it seemed increasingly likely they were going to just skip it entirely. I decided I couldn’t live with myself if I let the moment pass, so I screwed up my courage and raised my hand. Unexpectedly, everyone stopped what they were doing to look at me as I said, (insert throat clearing), “Excuse me, Ben? I can speak some German here that would make sense.”  “Let’s hear it.” he said. I did my lines and I told him what they meant.  “Cover that.” he said, as he pointed at me. And just like that, I had added my character's very own mini-scene to an Oscar-winning film.

So what does this all mean?  

Here are my takeaways:

1.  Prepare to succeed by doing your homework. Hire that dialect or audition coach if you need one.  Be ready to seize a moment of opportunity, expected or not.  

2.  Artistic leadership. Take the job and make it yours, and think about the story that you're a small, or large, part of telling. Remember to always be respectful and definitely don’t be annoying, but also don't be afraid to bring your gifts.

3.   Be grateful and open to possibilities. Be open to the possibility of booking the job. Be open to the possibility of getting a bigger role than you started with when you booked the job. Extras get upgraded. Co-stars become recurring roles. It happens. Be grateful for what you have, but be ready to contribute and step up if asked. Anything is possible.