What Happened to Donnie Wahlberg’s Accent in Boston’s Finest?

The boy can leave Dorchestah, but Dorchestah doesn’t evah leave the boy.

By | Arts & Entertainment |
Image via Boston's Finest / YouTube

Screenshot via Boston’s Finest/YouTube

Boston’s Finest’s season finale was last Wednesday, and after watching hour-long episodes for eight consecutive weeks, there is just one question left worth posing to its audience: What the hell happened to Donnie Wahlberg’s accent?

As most Boston natives know, the Wahlbergs grew up in Dorchester, Boston’s largest neighborhood, which also borders Southie. Since moving from the East Coast, however, rumor has it Donnie Wahlberg invested in a dialect coach. When the Improper Bostonian asked him how he lost his Boston accent, he responded:

I brought my older brother Jim on tour right after he quit smoking and drinking. He had to be the most angry, obnoxious person I’d been around in my life, and I realized I sounded like that sometimes. So I had to change it. I realized that if I sounded anything like my brother, I was screwed.

So he’s ashamed of Boston accents, which is neither here nor there, but we’ll still take a look at his progress. Prior to the season premiere of Boston’s Finest, Donnie gave fans a behind-the-scenes look at the show while giving a tour of his childhood home in Dorchester. Based on this video and other interviews with Wahlberg on the Internet, Wahlberg’s accent has come a long way since his Massachusetts days:

But, wait, before we start handing out gold stars to Wahlberg for his “improvement,” let’s take a step back. While Wahlberg is Boston’s Finest executive producer, he also lends his voice to the show as its narrator. If we listen to his voiceovers throughout each episode, Wahlberg’s Boston accent has (un)shockingly reappeared.

Let’s look at just the first five minutes of the season premiere:

1. At 0:53, “Jenn Penton served her country in Afghanistan. Now she’s a police officah.”

2. At 1:55, “Even though they’ve only been pahtnahs for a few months, patrol officahs Jenn Penton and Pat Rogahs know each other well.”

3. At 4:50,”The fugitive unit tracks down criminals on the run, oftentimes the worst of the worst. Cold blooded, dangerous and desperate. Today, officahs Greg Dankahs and Winston Deleon will work together as pahtnahs.”

And so on.

Paul Meier, professional dialect coach for theater and film, offered some commentary on Wahlberg’s accent identity crisis. Meier, who coached A-listers like Spiderman’s Tobey Maguire, says that it’s normal for actors to adapt away from their local accents as they become more traveled.

“It’s not to say that he can’t climb back into his own youthful accent when he wants,” Meier also says. “When he’s reading for Boston’s Finest, of course, he’s very conscious that he’s talking about the police force of his hometown. So I’m sure he’s allowing it to come back, but he is still talking to a national audience. So he doesn’t feel the need to compete with the real Boston cops in the show.”

Meier also offered input on a native Boston accent—or perhaps, what a real Boston accent is like: “It’s my experience that [native] Boston speakers are quietly spoken. It’s not an in-your-face accent. It’s often quite subtle, [similar to] most speakers you’ll come across…That lack of r coloration that defines Boston’s sound is more muted.”

This piece of commentary can explain why most viewers overlooked Wahlberg’s shift in accents as Boston’s Finest’s narrator—because it is subtle and he is a native. It can also explain why the Boston accent is one of the most difficult dialects to imitate, making some of Hollywood’s best actors (ahem, Leo DiCaprio) look like amateurs.

But you know what they say: the boy can leave Dorchestah, but Dorchestah doesn’t evah leave the boy.

So what do you think, folks? Is Donnie Wahlberg pulling a fast one on us?

  • http://twitter.com/HiDLine Heidi

    I never thought Donnie had a strong “boston” accent even back in their earlier years of New Kids, Joe Mcintyre, of the group, had and still has the strongest sounding accent, but even his has softened in later years. But When Joe gets tired or a little tipsy, he slides back into it..ha ha.

    • Cindy

      I agree, he never really had the typical strong accent like some others. Joey definitely had a stronger accent, and still has a pretty pronounced one, along with Jon Knight. Obviously, Donnie either grew out of it from not living there anymore, or hired a dialect coach. I did find it funny that his accent came back for some of his reading on this show.. not every word, not all the time, just sometimes. For me, since I am very familiar with him and how he sounds now, this was VERY noticeable – especially because it wasn’t consistent – it almost felt like he was using the accent on purpose, but who knows.

  • Vee

    This is ridiculous. Most actors use dialect coaches. A lot of people, for instance, never knew Reese Witherspoon was from the south until she did Sweet Home Alabama. No, he is not “pulling a fast one”, he is being an actor in the industry. And as far as being “ashamed” of his accent, I didn’t get that at all. He was sharing a personal reason for why he chose to change his voice at the time. I find it commendable that he did what he felt he needed to do at the time to not fall into the same patterns.

  • Cami

    It’s like Mark getting rid of all his tattoos and accent and getting away from his rap roots. Hollywood is harsh like that. But it’s like anyone else that uses different accents in performances, they can still do it on cue. Any accent other than a neutral American or posh british one is often rejected by hollywood unless it is specific to the project the voice is in.

  • M Sinc

    That isn’t even Donnie’s childhood house!! I know this for a fact as my dad & uncle grew up in Dorchester too. He lived on Peverell Street in Dorchester in a much dumpier house!