Those only familiar with Holliday Grainger from her high profile appearance as the 1930s gangster Bonnie Parker in the much-hyped A&E miniseries Bonnie & Clyde could be forgiven for thinking she was born and raised on American soil. A perfect Texas drawl disguised her natural English accent.
“I’m from Manchester,” she said in our recent sit down, “northwest England.”
“Home of the Stone Roses,” I replied, mentioning the Mancunian hit makers of Love Spreads.
“I’m a bit too young for that but it’s a small town so the Stone Roses are never too far away,” she replied with a wicked laugh.
This weekend the twenty-seven year old brings a new accent to the maritime drama The Finest Hours. She plays Massachusetts native Miriam, a bride-to-be anxiously awaiting the return of her Coast Guard fiancée (Chris Pine) from a life and death mission during a brutal New England nor’easter.
“I think I’m quite good at adopting accents,” she says. “Once I started the Bonnie and Clyde Texas accent it was very easy. Within a day I was speaking in the accent all the time and I found it quite comfortable.”
She was so secure with the twang she’d often keep the accent going even when not on camera. The Finest Hours presented more of a challenge.
“I found this much harder. I actually stayed in my own accent on set for the first week or two because I didn’t feel comfortable enough in the accent to stay in it.”
To master the 1950s coastal Massachusetts brogue she worked with a dialect coach and tried, unsuccessfully, to get some real life input.
“I went to Chatham (Massachusetts] and spent an afternoon trying to record people but Chatham is now so affluent and touristy. I was going into bars and restaurants and talking to people. ‘Where are you from? Oh, you’re from New York. You’ve just moved here. Which pubs have young girls working in them who are from around here?’ I’d go and record some of them and they’d sound like they were from bloody Manhattan. Like bloody Valley Girls or something. It was not like the 1950s accent I needed to hear.”
Her character’s real life daughter Patty ended up helping out, introducing Grainger to a contemporary of Miriam’s who “had the right way of talking. The resonance.”
The actress nailed the New England burr and then refined it during production.
“In the middle of shooting the producers would say, ‘It’s too strong, bring it back.’ In my mind [I was thinking] has she been at work where she speaks quite well or is she angry? It’s fluid. People change their accents all the time.”
Ironically after all that work it’s likely Miriam didn’t have the usual regional accent.
“In actual fact Miriam’s first language wasn’t even English,” says Grainger, who will next be seen starring opposite Alicia Vikander and Judi Dench in Tulip Fever. “She was brought up speaking Finnish so she didn’t actually have the traditional accent but for the purposes of our movie we’re not going to play around with that. It’s too complicated.”
As for her own Mancunian lilt, don’t expect to hear it every time she opens her mouth.
“I change my accent all the time depending on whom I’m talking too,” she says. “If anyone had to characterise me they’d be bloody lost.”
THE FINEST HOURS SIDEBAR WITH JODY THOMAS, CANADIAN COAST GUARD COMMISSIONER
“We work very closely with the American Coast Guard, there is no mile of our coast line that we don’t share along the lower parallel. We do the same work they do. I’m watching them but I could be watching my own people. I feel enormous pride in what a Coast Guard does. To have a movie like this produced that talks about the kind of work we do, even if it’s not the Canadian Coast Guard is quite extraordinary.”