Many actors get slammed for bad accents or, in the case of Kevin Costner in "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves," not bothering to try one at all. But Jennifer Jason Leigh has been rapped for mastering an accent all too well.
Leigh nailed Dorothy Parker's affected, clipped mid-Atlantic brogue so well in Fine Line's forthcoming "Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle" that audiences who saw an early cut of the film--especially at its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival--simply couldn't understand her.
Parker's snippy upper-crust delivery was her signature. Leigh, known for her thorough research of every part she plays, grabbed every tape of Parker's voice she could get her hands on to master her character's intonation. And master it she did.
The result: Many of her lines had to be redubbed.
"It is true we had to reloop some of the dialogue after we showed the film in Cannes," said Ira Deutchman, president of Fine Line Features, which is releasing the film later this month in New York and next month in Los Angeles. "We had to make it more understandable. Dorothy Parker had a habit of dropping off the end of her sentences. It was one affectation we had to correct."
Some who saw one redubbed version at a screening in New York say Leigh's mouth doesn't quite match the dialogue in parts. But director Alan Rudolph, who praised her performance, said those glitches have been resolved.
"I really think people are making a molehill out of a flyspeck," Rudolph says. "Whether she's understandable or not is in the ear of the beholder. The problems with the sound had nothing to do with Jennifer's accent. She looped at most 40 lines, which took her about an hour, while the average film takes four or five days of looping.
"The problem was that, in the beginning of the film, we had bad raw stock and there was a lot of static. That included all of the scenes in the Algonquin Hotel," he says. "We didn't know that until later. But an actor can't win with an accent. If Jennifer had just done a flat voice, guess what criticism we would hear?"
Rudolph had heard complaints that Leigh's Katharine Hepburn-esque accent as the brash reporter in "The Hudsucker Proxy" was grating, but hadn't seen that film.
"That is not the case in this film," he says. "Jennifer isn't just some actress coming in to play a role. She is Dorothy Parker."
Leigh, who is filming in Seattle, could not be reached for comment.*