So, you wanna talk Amer­i­can, eh!?

TONY AL­CAN­TAR: Knack for ac­cents keeps him busy

The Province - - E-today - Glen Schae­fer

Tony Al­can­tar was a Chicago ac­tor in the mid-1990s, mulling a move to ei­ther L.A. or New York where they make more films, when he no­ticed some­thing strange about one of his favourite TV shows, The X-Files.

Al­can­tar had a knack for di­alect work — rec­og­niz­ing and do­ing ac­cents — and he no­ticed that al­most every­one ex­cept Fox and Mul­der was speak­ing Cana­dian.

“I didn’t know where it was filmed, but I re­mem­ber jump­ing out of my chair be­cause I heard a ma­jor Cana­di­an­ism,” says Al­can­tar, long since re­lo­cated to Van­cou­ver. “That cer­tainly lit a lamp — wait a minute, this big show is filmed in Van­cou­ver?”

Al­can­tar had done im­prov with Sec­ond City in Chicago and Toronto, and had worked in the­atre, but not many movies came to the Windy City. By 1998 he was in Van­cou­ver.

“I thought Van­cou­ver would be the soft­est point of en­try, where I wouldn’t have to stand in line be­hind a bunch of other guys just like me,” Al­can­tar says over a latte in a down­town cafe dur­ing a break from his lat­est gig, with Halle Berry.

Which brings us back to Al­can­tar’s knack for ac­cents. Once in Van­cou­ver he got fre­quent roles in U.S. pro­duc­tions film­ing here, and he slowly de­vel­oped a clien­tele of Cana­dian ac­tors looking to talk Amer­i­can. With a mas­ter’s in fine arts from Chicago’s Roo­sevelt Uni­ver­sity, he also taught classes in im­prov com­edy.

Amer­i­can star Berry’s lat­est role is as a woman with mul­ti­ple per­son­al­i­ties in the based-on-fact drama Frankie and Alice. The pro­duc­ers brought Al­can­tar in to coach Berry to speak dif­fer­ently as each per­son­al­ity.

“She has to sus­tain her core char­ac­ter, a notso-ed­u­cated girl of the 1970s, but then she also has to play the other two per­son­al­i­ties,” he says. “She wanted to make sure th­ese char­ac­ters were clear from each other.”

Af­ter he got the call to work with Berry, her Swedish co-star Stel­lan Skars­gard called Al­can­tar up for help with his char­ac­ter, an Amer­i­can doc­tor. In both cases, Al­can­tar’s job is mostly to lis­ten.

“I get in close to the ac­tor’s call time, and be­fore the scene goes we run over their di­a­logue,” he says. “I met Halle and Stel­lan be­fore we started shoot­ing and we went over parts of the script that would be dif­fi­cult for the sounds they needed to make. Th­ese peo­ple got where they are through ex­cel­lent work habits — they’re hun­gry to get it right. Some­times I’ll de­sign a lit­tle cheat for a par­tic­u­lar sound or phrase if it’s hard. Ev­ery time, each of them says, ‘No, I want to get it right.’”

On set, he’s quiet. “With ac­tors on set, hair and make-up have a mo­ment, lighting has a mo­ment — they’re get­ting pulled in ev­ery di­rec­tion. I tell them, if you guys are hit­ting it, I’m not go­ing to say a word.”

That movie wraps two months of film­ing mid-month. Al­can­tar’s other big job this year is with Ir­ish ac­tor Elaine Cassidy, who plays an Amer­i­can in the CBS TV mys­tery se­ries Harper’s Is­land, which wraps in Jan­uary.

“We started in the spring with the pi­lot,” says Al­can­tar. “There was a re­hearsal we had off­set that was al­most a knock-down, drag out for her to get this par­tic­u­lar sound, but she had a break­through. It was sim­ply the sound for ‘out’ or ‘house.’ It’s hard for the ear to dis­cern, which is why ac­tors need coach­ing be­cause they can’t hear the dif­fer­ence.”

For the 2006 hor­ror com­edy Slither, with El­iz­a­beth Banks, Nathan Fil­lion and Jenna Fis­cher bat­tling an alien in­va­sion, di­rec­tor James Gunn wanted them to sound like they all came from the same small town. Al­can­tar says he doesn’t mind that his work can go un­no­ticed. “If it didn’t jump out at you, you didn’t no­tice that any­thing was wrong.”

Al­can­tar also teaches classes at the Van­cou­ver Academy of Dra­matic Arts, and off-duty, he’s al­ways got an ear open for ac­cents in movies, on the street, on the ra­dio.

Ex­cept at home with his wife Marie, a Czech­born fit­ness in­struc­tor.

“It’s funny, peo­ple say can you do a Czech ac­cent and I say no be­cause I would be im­i­tat­ing my wife,” he says. “I don’t cor­rect her English, I love my wife and she’s not a pupil of mine, it would cross a line.”

gschae­[email protected]­p­rovince.com

JA­SON PAYNE — THE PROV­INCE

Tony Al­can­tar was called in to help Halle Berry with ac­cents.

Swe­den’s Stel­lan Skars­gard was tak­ing the role of an Amer­i­can doc­tor and needed help to get the proper ac­cent.

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