Some stars make it big in Hollywood without ever disguising their non-American heritage. Christoph Waltz continues to play characters that hail from Germany and Austria. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s accent is so thick that not even his biceps can compete with it. These stars have carved out a niche for themselves in Hollywood so that they don’t need to conform to roles– the role conforms to them.
But some actors genuinely surprise us when we find out they weren’t born and raised in the United States. Pulling off a proper American accent is half the battle, and shying away from TV interviews also has a lot to do with it. But a lot of the time, the characters are so iconically American that the actor becomes synonymous with the performance, tricking us into believe that they were American all along. After all, isn’t that what a great performance is supposed to do? So it’s no mistake that many of these actors are working at the top of their class.
Here are 15 Actors You Didn’t Know Weren’t American.
15. Michael Fassbender
Michael Fassbender is one of those actors who can believably slide into any accent and time period without giving the audience pause. Since his feature film debut in 2007, Fassbender has played a Spartan warrior in 300, a WWII British Lieutenant in Inglourious Basterds, a humanoid robot in Prometheus, and Magneto in the X-Men series. His ability to swap accents made Fassbender the ideal casting choice for the upcoming Assassin’s Creed film adaptation, in which his character is literally transported back in time to the Spanish Inquisition. Since Fassbender has donned a convincing American accent in a number of his films, including The Counselor and Steve Jobs, it’s reasonable to think the actor was born and raised in the States. However, Fassbender has a diverse background that has undoubtedly aided him in portraying an eclectic range of characters.
Fassbender is of German and Irish nationality. He was raised in the Republic of Ireland but also spent his summers in Germany, where he learned to fluently speak the language. At the age of 17, Fassbender moved to London, where he continued to hone his acting skills on the stage. In addition to his work in Hollywood, Fassbender continues to work on lower-budget European films. In fact, the actor still resides in Hackney, London, where he lives in the same apartment that he’s had since the 1990s.
14. Charlize Theron
Though she doesn’t have a discernible accent, the first language that Charlize Theron learned to speak was actually Afrikaans, which is one of the 11 official languages of South Africa. Theron was born in Benoni, South Africa and grew up on a farm outside of Johannesburg. At the age of 16, Theron won a modeling contract and moved with her mother to Italy and eventually New York City. While pursing a career as a professional dancer, Theron suffered knee injuries and ultimately decided to fly to Los Angeles to become an actress.
Since the beginning of her career in Hollywood, Theron has actively protested against being cast as mere eye-candy, and today she often portrays rugged and forbidding characters. Her dramatic transformation and performance as real life murderer Aileen Wuornos earned Theron an Academy Award for Best Actress in 2003, and in just the last two years alone Theron has made an appearance in five feature films, including Mad Max: Fury Road and The Hunstman: Winter’s War.
13. Nathan Fillion
Nathan Fillion is best known for playing Richard Castle in eight seasons of the hit ABC series Castle, but many came to love him years earlier during his first leading role as Captain Malcolm Reynolds in the Joss Whedon cult hit series Firefly. Though Captain Reynolds was born and raised on the planet Shadow, Fillion was actually brought up in Edmonton, Alberta in Canada.
Fillion attended both high school and college in Alberta before moving to New York City in the mid ’90s to pursue a career in acting. He landed the role of Joey Buchanan on the hit soap opera One Life to Live, followed by a bit part in the World War II epic Saving Private Ryan, where he played the other Pvt. James Ryan, who spends a majority of his time on screen balling his eyes out. Fillion also works as a voice actor by providing his silky and often sardonic tone to portray various characters in animated superhero movies. The actor is slated to make a cameo appearance in Guardians of the Galaxy 2, out May 5, 2017.
12. Malin Akerman
Despite having almost no discernible accent, Malin Akerman was actually born in Stockholm, Sweden and continues to speak Swedish today. In addition to English and her native language, Akerman is impressively fluent in French and Spanish as well. Akerman moved to Canada at a young age, but continued to visit her father in her home country following her parents’ divorce. She currently holds dual Swedish and Canadian citizenship.
Initially not interested in acting, Akerman was able to land a number of modeling jobs that helped her pay for her education while she was studying to become a child psychologist. However, as her exposure increased she eventually decided to drop out of college and pursue acting full time. Akerman is best known for her roles in The Proposal, Childrens Hospital, and Watchmen, where she dyed her signature Swedish blonde hair brown for her portrayal of Silk Spectre II in Zack Snyder’s adaptation of the iconic graphic novel.
11. Keanu Reeves
Keanu Reeves has a diverse background which includes English, Native Hawaiian, Chinese and Portuguese ancestry. Though Reeves was born on September 2, 1964 in Beirut, Lebanon, he is actually a Canadian citizen via naturalization. Keanu spent much of his childhood living in various parts of the world, including Lebanon, Hawaii, New York City, and even Sydney, Australia.
In 1971, when Reeves was eight years old, he moved with his mother and step-father to Toronto, Canada, where he spent most his adolescence. After being expelled from four high schools in just five years, Reeves ultimately decided to drop out of school to pursue a career in acting. Of course, the risky decision eventually paid off, and Reeves has probably played more characters that have gone on to save the world more than any other actor.
10. Margot Robbie
Most American audiences first got a glimpse at Margot Robbie when she starred alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in 2013’s The Wolf of Wall Street. Robbie portrayed real life Naomi Lapaglia in the film and she absolutely nailed a Bay Ridge, Brooklyn accent– despite claiming that she found the intonation absolutely grating to listen to. Even though she was just 23 years old at the time, Robbie ended up stealing many scenes away from co-stars DiCaprio and Jonah Hill, leaving many of us wondering why we hadn’t seen the actress before.
Despite often playing American characters since Wolf, Robbie was actually a successful TV star in Australia before making the move to Hollywood. She was born in Dalby, Queenland and grew up on the Gold Coast of Australia before starring in the popular Australian series Neighbours. Robbie appeared in Suicide Squad earlier this year, where she continued to display her impressive voice work with her portrayal of the deranged supervillian Harley Quinn.
9. Riz Ahmed
In less than a week, audiences will largely know actor Riz Ahmed for his appearance in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, where he plays Bodhi Rook, a Rebel pilot and defector of the Imperial Army. But prior to this role, Ahmed is recognizable from starring alongside Jake Gyllenhaal in the 2014 thriller Nightcrawler, before appearing as Nasir Khan on the HBO miniseries The Night Of. He was nominated for a Golden Globe for his starring role in the HBO crime drama.
In both roles, Ahmed donned an American accent and played passive characters who quickly find themselves in over their heads. In The Night Of, Ahmed plays a Muslim man accused of murder, and it is his lawyers job to convince the jury that Nasir is innocent, despite overwhelming discrimination and bias in a post-9/11 world. But unlike his character– who is American with Pakistani roots– Ahmed was born and raised in England by his Pakistani parents. Aside from acting, Ahmed has worked as a rapper under the name Riz MC and produces music that tackles controversial social and political issues of our time.
8. Rachel McAdams
Before hitting it big with American audiences in 2004 by appearing in both Mean Girls and The Notebook, Rachel McAdams had a successful acting career already up and running in Canada years before she made the move to Hollywood.
McAdams was born in London, Ontario, Canada on November 17, 1978. She continued to live in the area before going on to attend York University, where she studied theatre acting for four years. While she started off acting primarily in Hollywood comedies and romance movies, McAdams has recently branched out into more visceral roles, including her performances in Spotlight, winner of the Best Picture Oscar in 2015. McAdams also starred in True Detective, and her performance as Ani Besserides was arguably the only consistently engaging aspect of the show’s second season.
7. David Harewood
David Harewood began acting back in 1990, but many American audiences didn’t come to know him until he played David Estes, Director of Counterterrorism at the CIA, on the Showtime series Homeland. However, his character was killed off after just two seasons, which paved the way for Harewood to join the main cast of Supergirl. He plays Hank Henshaw, AKA J’onn J’onzz, AKA Martian Manhunter, which was revealed in the first season of the show.
Harewood pulls off an impressive and commanding American accent, but the actor was actually born and raised in Birmingham, England by his parents who immigrated there from Barbados. Harewood even studied acting at one of the oldest drama schools in the United Kingdom, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, where he was accepted for admission at the age of 18. In addition to recurring in season two of Supergirl, Harwood continues to act in British television series, including the BBC miniseries The Night Manager, which was released earlier this year and featured fellow English actors Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie.
6. Michael J. Fox
Marty McFly may be one of the most American characters to ever grace the silver screen. He shreds on guitar, whips around town on his skateboard, knows how to throw a solid punch, and his trademark wardrobe almost exclusively consist of red, white, and blue. Despite being the descendant of a family of working class Irish immigrants, Marty McFly is played by Michael J. Fox, who just so happens to hail from Canadian.
Fox was born on June 9, 1961 in Edmonton, Canada. He lived in different towns across the country throughout his youth, before relocating to Los Angeles at the age of 18 to pursue a career in acting. When he registered in the Screen Actors Guild, Fox found that there was already an actor registered under the name “Michael Fox.”
After being diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s disease in 1991, Fox has become a premier advocate for Parkinson’s research and development. He holds dual citizenship in Canada and the United States, and currently resides in Manhattan, New York.
5. Andrew Lincoln
Andrew Lincoln not only nails an American accent as Rick Grimes on The Walking Dead, he also aces a Southern accent without falling into the usually vocal cliches and exaggerations that come with impersonating someone from the South. With the aid of a vocal coach, Lincoln has said that Rick Grimes’s voice was one of the first aspects of the character he developed. Since Lincoln is a method actor who often avoids TV interviews, it’s easy to assume that he’s an American, when in fact he was born and raised in London, England.
Lincoln was born Andrew James Clutterbuck on September 14, 1973 to an English father and a South African mother. He spent his adolescence living in Hull and Bath, England before attending the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, where he adopted his stage name. Lincoln starred in a number of lesser-known British TV and film projects before appearing in the 2003 romantic comedy Love Actually alongside the unmistakably British Kiera Knightley.
4. Mila Kunis
Mila Kunis was born Milena Markovna Kunis in Soviet Ukraine on August 14, 1983. Kunis lived with her parents and brother in Chernivtsi, Ukraine before moving to Los Angeles when she was seven. Despite coming from a family that was financially stable, Kunis’ parents decided to relocate to the States as they experienced antisemitism in the Soviet Union and they did not think their children would have a bright future there.
Following the culture shock and not being able to speak a word of English after arriving, Kunis was eventually cast as Jackie Burkhart on the hit sitcom That ’70s Show despite being only 14 years old at the time. Ten years later she starred in her breakthrough film Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and she’s has been acting in Hollywood steadily ever since. Kunis continues to voice Meg Griffin on Family Guy and she starred in Bad Moms alongside Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn earlier this year.
3. Charlie Hunnam
On the FX hit series Sons of Anarchy, actor Charlie Hunnam played Jax Teller, a leading member of an outlaw motorcycle club in Central California. The character’s slicked back blond hair, scruffy beard, and gang tattoos made Hunnam look like a true California hoodlum, when in fact the actor was born and raised in England. Hunnam has continued to use an American accent in a number of his films, including Pacific Rim and Crimson Peak.
Though Hunnam may pull off an impressive American accent, not even his English upbringing could help him produce a convincing Cockney accent for his role in Green Street, and many critics have called Hunnam’s attempt one of the worst accents in movie history! Admittedly, a Cockney accent is among one of the hardest to pull off (and sounds like gibberish to most people anyway).
Hunnam will return to his roots in next year’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, where the actor will portray the famed British monarch in Guy Richie’s latest film.
2. Natalie Portman
Natalie Portman was born Neta-Lee Hershlag in Jerusalem, Israel on June 9, 1981. She was born to an Israeli father and American mother, and even though Portman relocated to the East Coast at the age of three she continues to hold a dual American-Israeli citizenship. Portman has said that, although she loves the United States, she continues to feel most at home in Jerusalem. For her directorial debut, Portman even adapted the Hebrew novel A Tale of Love and Darkness, which is the autobiography of famous Israeli author Amos Oz.
After marrying Benjamin Millepied, a French dance choreographer who worked with Portman on Black Swan, the actress also expressed interested in relocating to Paris and becoming a French citizen. However, Portman continues to live and work out of Los Angeles. Portman most recently portrayed First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in Jackie, which was released earlier this month and is expected to earn the actress her third Academy Award nomination.
1. Ryan Gosling
Just like Rachel McAdams, his Notebook co-star and former girlfriend mentioned above, Ryan Gosling is yet another member of the Canadian invasion. Gosling was born on November 12, 1980 in London, Ontario, Canada–which just so happens to be the exact same town McAdams was born in two years earlier.
After beating out 17,000 children during an open audition in Montreal, Gosling became a member of The All New Mickey Mouse Club at the age of 12. For six months, Gosling lived with fellow “Mousketeer” Justin Timberlake and his mother in Orlando, Florida while they filmed the series. As a child, Gosling didn’t want to develop a strong Canadian accent, so he spent time mimicking Marlon Brando. While hosting SNL, fellow Canadian Mike Meyers helped Gosling hone his natural accent by pronouncing about “a-boot” while having him embrace his Canadian heritage, which obviously includes guzzling Molsons and clubbing baby seals.
He recently paired up with actress Emma Stone once again for the musical La La Land, which is out this month.
So who’s your favorite non-American actor? Let us know in the comments!