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Michele Deradune

CLOSE SHOTS: A Russian Accents is Fun to Do!
by Michele Deradune

May 2003

"Who makes it happen?"
"I do."
"Who?"
"I do. I make it happen."
"That's right. Only then do we get what we deserve."

Above is a conversation between the characters played by Melanie Griffith and Sigourney Weaver in the movie WORKING GIRL. As I watched this film for the nth time the other day on the HBO reruns, it struck me and I enjoyed hearing it. Because it rings true, doesn't it?

For instance Russian dialect. Er, I mean Russian accent. I have to remember to change that on my acting resume. Someone told me that I should substitute the word "dialect" for "accent" on my resume. Can't remember who it was, but s/he seemed so certain of it, I did it. But then I looked up "dialect" in the dictionary because I figured that word must have a meaning I didn't know about. Turns out my instincts were right: dialect does not mean accent but rather refers to a specific language from a specific area or locale. I don't speak the Russian language but can speak English with a Russian accent, so it's not a dialect; it's an accent.

Instincts and intuition. Such wonderful things to follow, and so wonderfully right-brained, aren't they?! The mind says, "It is not logical to follow instincts or intuition. It is fantasy." But then when I follow those things, every time it is just so right. Bottom line, it works. Hey, I may not be logical but I'm a pragmatist - i.e., if it works, I'm impressed. Not to say that the "ends justifies the means." I don't go for that one at all. I figure that one is an excuse to go AGAINST instincts and intuition - or at least, against the heart. How would you like to be one of the men that worked on and deployed the bombs on Nagasaki or Hiroshima? I have run into it more than a couple times (in my work doing oral histories of prominent scientists). They are still haunted by it.

My feeling is that it is their heart that is haunting them. And the heart, it's a good thing. It's where we feel the love and peace and the really best things, not the mind. The mind is a great tool, but a terrible master. The mind will tell a person that the ends justifies the means; the heart won't. There is a DIFFERENCE between the heart and the mind. It's a very, very good (and somewhat rare) thing to know it. For all of you who are saying, "But we had to bomb them to win World War II," I have news for you. That is not true. The Japanese were already negotiating total surrender BEFORE the bombs went down. The only thing holding up negotiations was Japan's insistence that they keep their emperor as a figurehead. And even after the bombs, they did keep their emperor. That saying that the bombs are what ended World War II, it's what Leon Trotsky would call "history as viewed by the victors."

A cool example of the beginning quote above and intuition merging happened to me recently. I like doing accents but hadn't really done much with it except for one film with a Southern dialect (okay, well, since I do speak the actual language that goes with a Southern accent I CAN say dialect here, just not with the Russian - now I get it!). I have hankered for a long time to do something with a Russian accent, just because I find Russian accents so very much fun to listen to and to do. Only problem was that I hadn't really honed my ability to do that and didn't have any acting role on the horizon that would require it. In fact, if my mind thought about, "What are the probabilities that I might have an opportunity to speak with a Russian accent in a film in the next five years?" the logical answer seemed to be, "Not extremely likely. You'll get that opportunity in your dreams!"

But heck, I just wanted to do it, so I researched around a bit to find out what films I could rent that would give good examples of Russian accents and went about renting them. One in particular was good. I think it was called THE SAINT with Val Kilmer. What I particularly liked about the accents there was that the villain in the film is an actual Russian - meaning he has an accent I can trust to be authentic. Using his accent as a measuring stick, I judged Kilmer's Russian accent to be very good also. I listened and studied and practiced with lines from this film.

Then - kismet I guess - I got some tapes to transcribe (meaning I listen to the tape and type what I hear) for a scientific oral history. Four hours of a Russian-born and Russian college-educated scientist with a wonderful accent. While I transcribed his English words spoken with authentic accent, I took many notes on the intricacies of how he sounded. For instance the letter t in the middle of words or names come out with a decidedly d sound, so that "letter" sounds like "ledder." Here are a few of my other notes - to me this is very fun stuff!

English

Sounds like

 

 

assume:

ass-yoom'

barrier:

berry-year'

black holes:

blood koals

book:

a ghost saying, "boo" ending with the hard k sound

bound:

bounded

changed:

chain-jed

collapse:

koal'-ups

consequences:

kon-sek'-winces

considered:

consider-ed (sounds almost like considerate)

continue:

con-teen-you

could:

cooed (like a bird coos plus the hard d sound at end)

detail:

detailll (the "l" at the end rolls into the next word spoken)

different:

dee-firent

discussed:

dees-gussed

doing:

doingkh

explained to everybody:

explained everybody (leaving out the "to")

first:

firrrst

get permission:

get-a-permission

him:

hihm, heehm

importance:

impohtence (r sound not audible)

introduced:

intrrrodu-ced (intrrrodu-sid)

letters:

ledders (where the d sound is very soft with that "gobbled up" kind of muffling sound)

lot:

lod (hard d, and almost like "load")

materialized:

materialize-ed

matter:

matterrr (rolled r = rrr)

months:

monthuhs, mun-thuhs

Moscow:

Mos'koe (not Mos'-cow), rhymes with Bosco

obliged:

oblie'-jed

of:

ovfe (sounds much like the word "oaf")

options:

ope'-shuns

noticed:

no-tees-ed

papers:

paperrrs

prepared:

prepare-ed

produce:

prrrod-youse (like in youse guys)

push:

poosh

pursue:

pur-syou (or purse-you) as opposed to pur-sue

pumping:

pump-ink

push:

poosh

realize:

(very Translyvanian Boris Karloff-like) re-ulll-ize'

refer:

reff'-er (rhymes with heifer)

remnants:

reem-nants'

said/says:

told/tells (he told, "thus and such" or "the father of that science tells such nasty things"

Sergei:

sir-gay' (from Greta Garbo's Anna Karenina)

shortened:

shor'-ten-ned

starting:

start-teengk

still:

steelll

Steinhardt:

Stain'-hart

subsequent:

sub-seek'-quent

the:

thee

these:

this

this:

theese; sometimes thiz

top:

"taupe," tope

tricks:

trrreeks

tricky:

trrree'-key or trrree'-kay, in between the two (saying tricky with Russian accent is trrreee'-kay!)

typed:

tie'-ped

undetermined:

un-dee-ter'-min-ned

until:

un-teell' (with an extra half-beat of the L sound at the end)

until the end of the eighties:

until the end of eighties (leaving out the word "the")

vacuum:

vok'-uum

wavelengths:

waveleng-thez

written:

wreet'-en

wrong:

wrrrong

yesterday I read something:

yesterday I reed something

Conversational sample: Where an American might say, "He said I should go there," a Russian would say, "He told I should go there."

Hmm...yes, maybe that's one reason Russian accents are so fun to me. They kinda remind me of Boris Karloff's Dracula. But that was a Hungarian accent, wasn't it? One day perhaps I'll get to transcribe a Hungarian scientist and make notes on the subtleties and differences. The two accents sound much alike to the American ear!

But getting back to the kismet thing and making things happen and intuition/instinct and all that, what's so cool (for me) is that just a matter of months after I did this work to hone my skills with speaking with a Russian accent I got to audition for a film that called for it - and I got the role. Yep, I got to be Mrs. Trotsky in a film version of the wonderfully funny and brilliant play by David Ives, VARIATIONS ON THE DEATH OF TROTSKY. Leon Trotsky was a major historical political figure who fought for the proletariat, fought Stalin and was murdered in 1940. In several variations within this film, I got to use my newfound Russian accent in the following lines,

"On August 20th, 1940, a Spanish Communist named Ramon Mercader smashed a mountain-climber's axe into Trotsky's skull in Coyoacan, a suburb of Mexico City. Trotsky died the next day."

Actually the murderer in real life went by another name - Frank something - but he was a Spanish Communist. And to get technical, Leon Trotsky was not Leon Trotsky's real name either. But Leon Trotsky is the name he is known by (in real life) whereas the Ramon Mercader name is just totally fictionalized. But I digress...

But isn't that cool how that happened? I wanted to do a Russian accent in film, did some research and work on it, and then for the first time ever I got to audition for a role that required a Russian accent. I had the confidence to do it, and I got the role. How cool is that? No, this was not a paying job. I enjoyed doing it for the art.

Until next time,

Cheers,
Michele

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