Actors do not always know what to expect from their next audition. Sometimes a new skill is called upon for the role you hope to score. One skill that may come up is the need to speak in an accent that is not your native one. This makes it difficult to focus on your acting because you are so worried about speaking in the new accent in a convincing manner. In fact, without some preparation, a new accent will ruin your performance if you cannot concentrate on your lines and acting. Or, if your performance is on point but your accent is done poorly, the terrible accent will overshadow even the best performance. One popular accent you will likely come across is that good old 1920’s American gangster accent.
Gangster, you ask? What exactly is that? And where do I find out how to do a gangster accent? This article will give you a general overview of where to reference this accent, what it is, and how to do a gangster accent tips.
7 Tips on How to Do a Gangster Accent
Tip 1: What Is a Gangster Accent?
If you’ve ever watched a movie about the legendary Al Capone you may already have an idea of what a gangster truly is. Basically, they were a heavy-handed inner city group of crime bosses. They were very influential and wealthy because of their status. Think modern day mafia or mobsters, if you will. Typically you could identify them by their sharp-looking suits, fedoras, cigars, Tommy guns, and of course that tell-tale accent. Typically the accent could be most likened to bigger city accents depending on where they were from. Thus, you heard a lot of New York and Chicago style sounding dialects. Often, you even had some Italian sounding accents as well. Due to that fact, this article on how to do a gangster accent will focus on those big city accents for dialect nuances and will show you a bit of lingo to get you going.
Tip 2: Where to Begin
One of the best ways to begin to learn any new accent is to listen to speakers that natively have the accent. This is such a good idea because you can hear how the accent sounds naturally and not as an interpretation. One very easy way to learn how to do a gangster accent is to watch interviews from New York or Chicago since these are typical regions where gangster accents are thought to be from. Any “man on the street” newscast will not only give you a raw accent to take in, but you can observe the gesturing that goes along with it.
As you listen, take note of any language nuances. Pay attention to the syllables that are emphasized, the timber in their voice, and the pace at which they speak. Another aspect to watch may not be something you thought of. Watch the speaker’s mouth as they talk. See if they purse their lips or if they are slack-jawed. Using these observations can help you form your mouth and lips properly making it easier to form the words and speak them in the accent.
Tip 3: Take in Some Films
There are plenty of gangster and mafia films out there for you to use as a reference as you learn how to do a gangster accent. Some films to put on your watchlist are Goodfellas, The Godfather, Scarface, and Road to Perdition. This is the fun part of learning this accent. The films are plentiful and full of action but keep a notepad nearby so that you can jot helpful observations down as well as any lingo you may catch. Learning the lingo will help make this type of accent more authentic as you figure out how to do a gangster accent. It will also give it more of a gangster flavor instead of just being a straight New York or Chicago accent.
Speaking of lingo, there are many lists online where you can get in on the linguistic fun of the 1920’s. Think of how much more convincing you will sound as you learn how to do a gangster accent if you say something like, “The Chopper squad is packing heat.” Or how much more authentic you sound using words like copper, dame, bangtail, or glomming. If you want an even more amusing way to learn some lingo, old cartoons that feature mobsters in them fervently use the lingo in a very animated way.
Tip 4: Listen Some More and then Repeat
Once you get comfortable with the sound of the accent, it is time for you to try it out. This time after you listen to the native speaker say a few sentences, repeat them back in the same accent. Use a recorder to tape yourself repeating the exact sentence. This way you can listen to the speaker again and then listen to your recording right after. You can gain valuable information this way because you can hear how your accent sounds and can adjust it accordingly.
After you like with how you sound mimicking a speaker, go on your own. Grab the morning paper or your favorite novel and being to read it in your best gangster accent. Continue to record yourself so that you can review it and make more adjustments to improve it.
Tip 5: Watch Your “T’s”
A major difference you will hear is the sound of the letter “t.” In many words, the letter “t” will sound like a harder “d” sound. This is especially true when the “t” is found at the beginning of a word. For example, the word “that” will now sound like “dat.” Another time you will hear this consonant shift is when the word has a double “t” in the middle. An example of this is the word “little.” This particular word will now sound like “liddle.”
Tip 6: Get an Outside Opinion
Now that you have the accent under your belt, get out of your comfort zone a bit by asking friends and family to give you a little constructive criticism about your accent. Using an unnatural accent in front of others can be very uncomfortable. Once you get in front of the casting director you want it to look like second nature and speak in your gangster accent confidently. Getting in front of friends and family will give you some experience speaking in front of others that will likely go easy on you and that you are already comfortable with. This will be an easy atmosphere to practice in to start.
Once you have spent some practice time with the fam, go ahead and step outside of your comfort bubble some more. A fun way to do this is to practice on unsuspecting people. Wait at a bus stop or stop someone on the street and ask for the time using your gangster accent. Step into a local diner that you do not often frequent and order in your accent. Watch the reaction of the waiter. Do they seem put off or suspicious? This may be a good sign that you need to work at that accent a little more.
If they ask where you are from, maybe your accent is well on its way to sounding authentic. You can then choose to tell the waiter why you sound like a 1920’s gangster and get some terrific unbiased criticism. Otherwise, you can continue to use it and get in some more practice.
Tip 7: Coaches Aren’t Just for Sports
Vocal coaches can be an incredible commodity when learning how to do a gangster accent. They have the skills to get your learning on the fast track because they already know what you should sound like. They can also help you avoid getting any bad habits by giving you real-time feedback and direction. Many vocal coaches will also give you some vocal exercises that you can do at home to speed up the process. This option may not be realistic for every actor because you do have to pay for their services. However, if you can afford it and you are in a little bit of a time crunch or are up for a part that is important to your career, you may want to consider it an investment.
In film and on the stage, the gangster genre is a popular one. You may find yourself needing to learn the accent in order to play a convincing role in these types of productions. Learning any accent can be a difficult road that can also be discouraging. However, taking it one step at a time and having fun while you do it can get you speaking like you just walked out of an Al Pacino movie.
Have you ever needed to speak with an accent to audition for a role? Which accent was your favorite one to learn? If you have any tips or tricks on how to do a gangster accent please feel free to leave them below to help other actors.
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