It’s nearly 40 years since the actor and writer Colin Welland made his famous pronouncement at the 1982 Oscars ceremony that “The British are coming”. This followed the winning of no less than four Oscars for the year’s surprise hit movie Chariots of Fire. Not only did his prediction come true, it has continued to come true for the last four decades and shows no sign of slowing down.

Of course, there have always been British and Irish actors who have made it big in the States. Charlie Chaplin was a Londoner by birth and Maurenn O’Sullivan - Jane to Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan - was born and brought up in County Roscommon. But was really in the late 80s and 1990s that the real exodus began.

There are a number of reasons for this, some generated by Hollywood and others by the stars themselves. In the case of the former, Tinseltown has always been slightly in awe of the perceived class of the British acting fraternity. Many of the actors who have made it big there today received their training at UK theatre schools like RADA including Anthony Hopkins and Fiona Shaw while others, like Kate Beckinsale and Tilda Swinton, went to prestigious universities like Oxford and Cambridge respectively.

This kind of formal training is not generally available in America which has tended to add a certain mystique to the performer.

American perceptions of male British actors as the perfect baddies has also helped to boost the UK presence in Hollywood. These range from Jeremy Irons’ standout vocal performance as Scar in the original animated version of The Lion King to the Anglo/Irish actor Daniel Day Lewis’ starring performance as Bill The Butcher in Martin Scorsese’s The Gangs of New York.

That’s not to say that British actors are always typecast as the antagonists in the movies. There are plenty of heroes too including one of the highest-paid UK stars in Hollywood, Liam Neeson, not to mention Daniel Craig who has done so much to transform the 007 franchise.



It’s also the matter of money that has done a great deal to lure British and Irish actors over the Atlantic. Given the huge budgets of the most expensive Hollywood movies, the fees that actors can demand dwarf those available in the UK. This is how actors like Colin Farrell have successfully amassed enormous net worth, with Farrell's estimated to be around $30 million. Emily Blunt is not very far behind at an estimated $25 million.

Last, but not least, there’s the question of accents. Professionally trained actors generally need less assistance from voice coaches to give a passable impression of a different nationality - so those from the UK can easily sound American. This is even easier for those with a natural Irish accent as this has many vowels and other sounds in common particularly with dialects from New York and the Eastern Seaboard - a small thing maybe, but useful for the film-makers nonetheless.

So it’s an exodus that’s sure to continue in the future – and neither Hollywood nor the UK and Irish stars who are rewarded so handsomely are likely to complain about that!

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