THE FINEST HOURS’ Holliday Grainger on Mastering The Perfect Chatham Accent

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Chris Pine and Holliday Grainger in THE FINEST HOURS. Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.

Chris Pine and Holliday Grainger in THE FINEST HOURS. Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.

Courtney Howard // Film Critic

British actress Holliday Grainger has delighted us before in her natural accent in projects like JANE EYRE, ANNA KARENINA, THE BORGIAS and CINDERELLA. However it’s now that she’s tackling her most challenging role yet as Massachusetts-born Miriam, the fiancé of coast guard hero Bernie Webber (Chris Pine), in THE FINEST HOURS. Not only was the talented beauty able to transform her stereotypical “thankless girlfriend” role into a hearty, sizable one, but she fills those “woman in waiting” duties with pathos, fortitude and vulnerability– a testament to the real woman who inspired the part.

While it Gillespie concedes that,

“Everyone was hyper-aware of getting it right.”

Grainger had the most work to do to perfectly portray Miriam’s strength. At the film’s recent Los Angeles press day, she admitted that her toughest day was her first on set where she felt like she was being stared at like, “some sort of zoo animal.” The scene required her to barge into her fiancé’s commanding officer Daniel Cluff’s (Eric Bana) office.

“It was kind of easy [to relate] because Miriam, in that scene, was kind of a fish out of water and I really did feel that way on my first day. It was slightly terrifying for me being my first day in a Boston accent and acting opposite someone doing a Mississippi accent. The last thing I had done in American was Southern American. So all day I was thinking, ‘Don’t slip into Southern!’ I have to stay in that accent otherwise I would’ve just… Sometimes I find it much easier to stay in accent when you’ve got the accent. When you’ve not got the accent perfectly, you don’t start on your own time going off piece completely.”

She credits her voice coach and Katherine Hepburn for helping her nail it. However, her strategy to record Chatham citizens backfired on her.

“We had a voice coach, Wendy Overly. She recommended some films. I watched a lot of Katherine Hepburn to begin with. To be honest, that helped more with characterization than accent because her accent is different. I went around Chatham with my driver to the local pubs trying to record someone. But it turns out, Chatham is quite well-to-do town and there’s no rural Massachusetts accents like there were in the 1950’s. So it didn’t work – I wound up recording a lot of Valley sounding girls.”

The internet proved to be a greater resource for Grainger.

“There’s this great website The International Dialects of English Archive and that is quite specific about time periods so you can know what the specific educational background of someone is. There’s a couple of women on that with the right sound so Wendy and I used that as a base. She’d give me reams and reams of sentences every morning and night.”

THE FINEST HOURS opens on January 29. For our review, go here.

About author

Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.