Bryce Dallas Howard’s wicked portrayal of Elton John’s mother, Sheila, in Rocketman is one of those performances that really ties a film together. Part of the reason that happens to be true is the fact that Howard manages to keep her on-screen accent intact all throughout the film, which — as any actor will tell you — is extremely key.
Maintaining a non-native accent is one of those factors that can praise or bury a particular role in a film, no matter how beloved; in fact, it all depends on how good an actor is with keeping up the act. To that extent, there’s usually some sort of device or strategy in play, and when speaking with Bryce Dallas Howard in a recent interview, she told me an interesting story about how she learned to nail the accent consistently for a role. Interestingly enough, this story involves fellow acting powerhouse David Oyelowo.
When I did As You Like It with Kenneth Branagh, David Oyelowo actually, the first day of rehearsal, he suggested to me to stay in the accent the entire time. I was like, ‘Oh, isn’t that embarassing? Are you going to think I’m such a phony American?’ And he was like, ‘No, no, no, no. We’re not going to think anything, you’re going to feel really confident if you’re in that all day.’ He was absolutely right, so I’ve done that ever since when I’ve done any kind of dialect. So those are kind of the ingredients.
This anecdote came up, among other things, during my conversation with Bryce Dallas Howard, on behalf of CinemaBlend, ahead of the home video release of Rocketman. So of course, the opportunity to ask her just how she’d landed Sheila’s rather effecting accent was too good to pass up.
Even better is the fact that Oyelowo, a man who’s pretty good at holding down an American accent himself, is the one to have given Howard this perfect tip. Time and again, David Oyelowo has proven that he’s a master of slipping into an America accent that’s lightyears away from his own dulcet British tones, as audiences are about to once again see with his role in this weekend’s Don’t Let Go.
Obviously, this is pretty expert advice given to Bryce Dallas Howard, but even with keeping her Rocketman accent on at all times, there might be some times when she wants to tweak things up a little. This is where a little bit of additional help comes into play, and she had a fantastic support system on set to maintain the illusion.
Most of the additional help Howard cites as landing her on the straight and narrow is because of dialect coaches. Though as you’ll read in another excerpt from our conversation, Rocketman provided her an embarrassment of riches when it came to enriching her vocals:
I’ve had situations where I needed to do a dialect, and there hasn’t been a dialect coach on set, and there’s no comparison. It’s very very important to acknowledge that when an actor is doing a dialect, usually if it’s working there are people who are really paying attention and listening. So [thanks to] my dialect coach and Dexter [Fletcher] and all of the Brits on set, I stayed in the dialect the entire time, because that’s kind of the only way to really, really, really protect yourself, in my experience.
The results can’t be argued with, as Bryce Dallas Howard’s Sheila is one of the emotional anchors that helps Taron Egerton’s Elton truly shine as he moves through director Dexter Fletcher’s musical fantasy biopic. Rocketman wouldn’t be the same without either of them, and it’s because of that fact the world owes David Oyelowo a bit of thanks for the end result, a result that saw the film go on to become one of this summer’s biggest surprises at the summer box office.
Rocketman is currently available on Digital HD, DVD, Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD. So if you haven’t taken the journey just yet, there’s no time like the present.