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5 British Actors Who Have Played Iconic American Roles

Updated on June 19, 2018
Farawaytree profile image

Here Michelle dives into some of pop culture's most entertaining performers and shows...

This is a list of 5 bold, British acting talents we have grown to know and love as they play Americans in film and television

These actors and actresses are doing a top notch job both with their acting skills and superb American accents.

1. Andrew Lincoln

Andrew Lincoln's portrayal of Rick Grimes, the Southern good-guy sheriff who becomes the gritty leader of a group of survivors in a zombie apocalypse - is nothing short of astonishing.

"The Walking Dead" would be eaten alive without this British actor in the lead role.

Lincoln's portrayal wouldn't be so astonishing if he hadn't already been an established British theater and television star in his own right before taking on "The Walking Dead'.

The ability of Lincoln to play one of the most dominant American leads in television history - all the while being British - doesn't just happen by accident.

Lincoln worked for a number of years on British television and stage before landing the role in "The Walking Dead" in 2010. Some may remember him as "Mark" in the much-loved film, "Love Actually," where he plays a man pining for his best friends wife.

Andrew Lincoln in, "The Walking Dead"
Andrew Lincoln in, "The Walking Dead" | Source

The difference between Lincoln's character in "Love Actually" compared to his character of "Rick Grimes" is the difference between night and day.

Lincoln's obvious dedication to his craft has earned him numerous nominations and several awards.

The surprising fact that Andrew Lincoln is actually British, and speaks with his native tongue in real-life interviews, may still surprise many many viewers who love him from, "The Walking Dead".

The hit AMC show is still going strong, even adding a spin-off series, "Fear The Walking Dead" into the mix.

Andrew Lincoln Interview - No Spoilers

Arguably, it has been Andrew Lincoln's character who has carried the "The Walking Dead" to the level of fame it has achieved thus far. Lincoln's natural likability blended with his versatility as an actor is a rare and great talent.

Kudos to Andrew Lincoln for not only for having one of the most convincing American accents expressed on television or film by a British actor but for making his character of "Rick Grimes" completely beloved and unforgettable.

2. Damian Lewis

Another British film and television star who worked a number of years in theater and British television before hitting American fame is Damian Lewis.

Americans may know Lewis better as "Sergeant Nicholas Brody" in the Showtime drama, "Homeland," or as the character of "Charlie Crews" in the NBC drama, "Life".

Lewis also garnered critical acclaim, nominations, and an award for his role in the HBO series "Band of Brothers" in 2001.

Lewis has received critical acclaim and two awards for his role in "Homeland".

Damian Lewis as Sergeant Nicholas Brody in "Homeland"
Damian Lewis as Sergeant Nicholas Brody in "Homeland" | Source

British Damian Lewis - No Spoilers

Damian Lewis has been in over a dozen films including Stephen King's "Dreamcatcher" and "An Unfinished Life" with Morgan Freeman and Jennifer Lopez.

If you've ever watched Damian Lewis in "Homeland" you'll notice his absolutely flawless American accent.

You would never realize Lewis is actually British unless you had prior knowledge.

Lewis is currently starring in the Showtime drama, "Billions" in which he plays a crooked hedge fund king profiting off of his shady dealings.

His character in this current show, "Bobby Axelrod" appears to the public to be generous, good man, but in truth, he is just a criminal.

There has been some buzz over Damian Lewis possibly playing the next James Bond. Lewis has many fans rooting for him to be in that coveted Bond role, but the jury is still out.

If Damian Lewis has shown viewers anything, it is his uncanny ability to play both good guy and bad guy, as well as his utterly convincing American accent. Keep an eye on this one.

3. Charlie Hunnam

It's unlikely most women or even men, for that matter, are unaware of Charlie Hunnam.

The 36-year-old actor shot to fame playing "Jax Teller" in the FX drama series, "Sons of Anarchy".

For 7 seasons Hunnam captivated audiences in this tragic biker drama.

Not only did Hunnam nail the role of misguided outlaw with a heart of gold, but he propelled himself into the heartthrob arena with women swooning over him left and right.

Playing the quintessential American biker may have distracted audiences from the fact that Hunnam is actually British. Though Hunnam's natural British accent has appeared to fade in recent years, you can still catch it in interviews.

Charlie Hunnam in "Knights of the Roundtable: King Arthur"
Charlie Hunnam in "Knights of the Roundtable: King Arthur" | Source

Charlie Hunnam Interview - No Spoilers

Hunnam got his big break in a major role at age 18, playing "Nathan Maloney" in the British homosexual drama, "Queer as Folk".

Hunnam played a 15-year-old gay boy living in Manchester's gay village. The show was quite popular and depicted life in the gay dating scene (think "Sex and the City" but for gay men).

After "Queer as Folk" Hunnam went on to play in a handful of television series and films including the WB series, "Young Americans," a FOX series titled "Undeclared" as well as the films " "Abandon" and "Cold Mountain".

After landing his role as "Jax Teller" Hunnam became one of the most sought-after actors in Hollywood, and even flirted with the role of "Christian Grey" in the highly anticipated film, "Fifty Shades of Grey".

Hunnam ultimately pulled out of the film due to scheduling pressures, much to the intense disappointment of his fans.

Hunnam has also starred in "Pacific Rim," and "Crimson Peak," and "Knights of the Roundtable: King Arthur".

Although Hunnam was once criticized for his poor rendition of a Cockney accent in the film, "Green Street" in 2005, his control of both an American hit series and American accent has clearly been rock solid.

4. Ruth Wilson

As the lone woman on this list, Ruth Wilson is one of those rare gems that is only just beginning to be discovered by American audiences.

Ruth Wilson was born in Ashford, Kent, and began her acting career in 2005.

Prior to acting, Wilson did some modeling, and then went on to study History at the University of Nottingham. After the University of Nottingham, Wilson went on to graduate from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.

Wilson has been widely unknown to American audiences until Showtime's drama series, "The Affair" where she plays the mistress in a love triangle.

Ruth Wilson in "The Affair"
Ruth Wilson in "The Affair" | Source

Ruth Wilson Clip - No Spoilers

Ruth Wilson won a Golden Globe for her role as "Alison Bailey" in "The Affair" and the series is set to continue on to season 3.

Before "The Affair" Ruth Wilson appeared in the dark British crime series, "Luther" as "Alice Morgan. There she played a highly intelligent sociopath alongside "Luther" star Idris Elba.

Thanks to Netflix airing several popular British series, Wilson may be familiar to some viewers from "Luther".

In 2007, Wilson won a Golden Globe for her work in "Jane Eyre"

Now that Wilson has been more in the spotlight for her dynamic portrayal of "Alison Bailey" in "The Affair," more viewers will begin to recognize her and realize that she is yet another British talent turning her American role into gold.

Wilson's character in "The affair" feels earthy, genuine, and sincerely American. One would never guess she is from the country of tea time.

5. Rupert Friend

An actor, screenwriter, director, and producer in his own right, Rupert Friend is one of the most surprising Brits on the list who has starred as an American in a major television series.

Best known to American audiences as "Peter Quinn" in the series, "Homeland" on Showtime, Friend has won viewers over with his portrayal as the handsome, smooth-talking assassin.

Rupert Friend was born and raised in Stonesfield, Oxfordshire and was a bit of a late bloomer into acting.

Friend originally wanted to be an archaeologist and was set to sail around the world when he got the news that he was accepted into the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art.

Rupert Friend
Rupert Friend | Source

Rupert Friend Interview - No Spoilers

Friend's first breakthrough acting role was in "The Libertine" as Billy Downs. Friend then went on the star as Wickham in "Pride and Prejudice" alongside Keira Knightley, whom he ended up dating for several years.

Friend has been nominated for several awards in his career, mainly for his role as "Peter Quinn" in "Homeland". In 2015, Friend starred in "Hitman: Agent 47", which is a role based on the widely popular video game franchise.

Friend had to shave his head for the role in "Hitman: Agent 47", and played a merciless assassin, not completely unlike his character in "Homeland". Friend was cast in the role after actor Paul Walker - who was prepped for the role - passed away.

There is no doubt that Rupert Friend has completely nailed his American accent in the role of "Peter Quinn" in "Homeland" and he has won over viewers of the show, resulting in his once supporting role, turning into a major one.

Friend was apparently considered for the role of James Bond, but according to the Bond casting director, Friend declined to entertain being Bond.

Rupert Friend appears to just be getting started in his American roles. He is definitely one to watch as his acting talent is blatantly obvious.


© 2016 Michelle Zunter

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    • Farawaytree profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Zunter 

      2 years ago from California

      Thank you Pamela!

    • profile image

      Pamela Jane 

      2 years ago

      What a fun post! I knew about Hugh Laurie because I used to watch him in the "Geeves and Wooster" series with Stephen Fry. But what really knocked me out was how brilliantly he played an American with a bad British accent once on "House".

    • Farawaytree profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Zunter 

      2 years ago from California

      Well, thank you I'm glad you enjoyed reading and a happy Sunday to you!

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is an interesting and enjoyable hub. I've been very impressed by several British actors and actresses when I've discovered that they've changed their accent for a TV role. Hugh Laurie is the example that I'm most familiar with. I don't think I could change my accent deliberately!

    • Farawaytree profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Zunter 

      2 years ago from California

      Yes, Hugh Laurie is another one! Andrew Lincoln - when you hear his actual voice - is a fantastic talent!

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana Adler 

      2 years ago from California

      Wow I had no idea! The Walking Dead guy?? I guess you're right, he's a much better actor than I thought :) Usually, I can never tell. I was just as surprised to find out Hugh Laurie was British.

    • Farawaytree profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Zunter 

      2 years ago from California

      I can see your point there about Ruth Wilson. I loved "Luther" though. If you ever get to catch her in "The Affair" - do so. She's found her niche.

      Thank you for visiting! :)

    • Mark Sammut profile image

      Mark Sammut 

      2 years ago from Malta

      Cool list. Not really a fan of Ruth Wilson in Luther. Mostly because her character feels a bit too over the top. But they're all very talented.

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