Acting in the UK vs US

Acting in the UK vs US

24 Apr 17
School Blog

Acting in the UK vs US

Previously, I wrote about the different characteristics of theatres in the United Kingdom and United States after observing many as an American audience member in England. After reflecting on those observations, I began considering the differences in the art of acting between the United States and United Kingdom as well.


Thinking about recent successful American films and television shows, I began to notice that a large amount of these productions star British actors, even when the characters and stories are inherently American. Whether it is Damian Lewis playing an American WWII hero in Band of Brothers or Daniel Day-Lewis portraying the titular American president in Lincoln, more and more British actors are being cast in American film and television productions.


From both observation and research, I have come to understand a few key differences as to why this is the case. The first major difference is how actors from both regions are trained in their field. While there are well-known and respected drama conservatories in the United States, most people looking to pursue acting will study theatre at undergraduate universities. If they decide not to attend university, they will most likely get training by gaining experience on sets in big cities like New York or Los Angeles.


In the United Kingdom, I have noticed that pursuing acting as a career is seen as more of a reasonable occupation rather than a farfetched or hopeful dream as it is with many in the States. People here are encouraged to attend drama schools and study theatre for years to prepare themselves for a lifelong career in the performing arts. It is viewed as more of a career in the United Kingdom in the sense that most potential actors here take their arts education seriously and believe it is necessary enough for a career to go through years of demanding theatrical training.


This classical training could be a factor in why British actors are being cast over American actors. Without proper training, most American actors are only able to achieve and express a certain range of emotions and diversity in their performances whereas properly trained British actors are more likely to be able to show more variety in their craft. While researching, I found an article with Stage, where actress Julia Eringer noted that “An LA film company will typically want to hire you for being you – bringing you to the set.” I have also noticed this concept with some of the major Hollywood names today. For example, when watching Jennifer Lawrence or George Clooney on screen it often feels like you are just watching Jennifer Lawrence or George Clooney, only in different scenarios. British actors who go through training are more able to blend into roles they are cast in and are able to act truthfully even if it is against their personal public image.


Another difference between British and American actors is what they hope to achieve from acting in the end. I remember last year, Sir Michael Caine came to my school and talked about his career with students. One person asked what advice he had for aspiring actors, to which he replied by saying, “work to be the best possible actor you can be.” He explained how so many young people today, especially in Hollywood, use acting as a gateway to fame or fortune rather than a craft in itself. He talked about how he became successful by “working as hard as possible to become the best actor I could be, not whether or not I was famous”. Caine is living proof that working hard to improve your craft can be more beneficial for actors in the long run than simply seeking fame.

This is not to say that all American actors are just looking to be famous, nor does it mean all British actors want or have had classical training. However, with the recent increase in British actors in Hollywood, one has to wonder if these British casting decisions is directly related to the differences both in training and in general attitude towards acting in each region.

Catherine Collier