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Setting Your Movie In Boston? Bettah Get The Accent Right

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The Hollywood movie about mobster Whitey Bulger has been filming in and around Boston for months, with a list of high-profile actors. That means getting Johnny Depp and the others to sound like they're from Boston. And as locals certainly know — getting that Boston accent right can make or break the movie.

There have been plenty of films about the Boston mob — Leonardo DiCaprio and Jack Nicholson worked with Hollywood dialect coach Tim Monich to nail that South Boston accent in The Departed. And who could forget the infamous pack of sisters from The Fighter, about Lowell, Mass., boxer Micky Ward? (It probably helped that one of those sisters, actress Erica McDermott, hails from Cambridge).

Then there are the not-so-good accents. Ask Boston residents who fails and they mention Diane Lane in A Perfect Storm, or Julianne Moore on 30 Rock.

"I'll tell you, the Boston accent is tough. I think it's a very tough accent to do," says Joe Stapleton, who has been an actor and a dialect coach in Boston for more than 20 years.

"Couple things you have to keep in mind. You're in a rush. Hi, howareya. How'severythinggoin'? Howyadoin'? You don't move your lips a lot."

Directors drill actors over and over again. Boston native and casting director Angela Peri says they sometimes use her voice as an example.

"Like, they'll have me read pages of the script and then send it off to the lead actor and he'll listen to the accent," she says.

When an actor is a lost cause, Peri goes to the streets. She cast the movies American Hustle, Ted and The Fighter.

"Boston is great because we have so many characters," Peri says. "Like the sisters, I went everywhere. We saw over 500 girls to pull those sisters together."

But the locals are also tough critics. They're listening closely to the accent.

"I definitely think it matters," says Boston native Brendan Lynch. "You know, depending on the movie, a bad one can just kind of take you out of the movie and just ruin it, basically."

Lynch grew up not far from Whitey Bulger. He says he's eager to see the mobster portrayed on screen, and he enjoys the variations in accents.

"I don't think Alec Baldwin did the best job in the world in The Departed but I thought he did a really good job in the role, so I don't think it necessarily hurt. But no, I don't get offended, it's just, you know, they're trying."

Trying, even if the roles have become a bit of a cinema stereotype. But it's business for coaches like Joe Stapleton. He starts every actor with the same lesson:

"Movin', talkin', lookin', walkin' — those are a couple things you can keep when you're first starting out. ... The first one you want to master is hihowahya?"

Hihowahya. Try it for yourself.

Copyright 2014 WGBH Radio. To see more, visit http://www.wgbhnews.org.

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