So, you wanna talk American, eh!?
TONY ALCANTAR: Knack for accents keeps him busy
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.”
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.