Bahstan’s Wicked Pissah of an Accent

Bahstan has a wicked pissah of an accent to nail on the big screen.

And if you have lived in Beantown for any length of time, hearing a bad imitation in movies or on TV is enough to make you want to bahhfff.

Those who have it down pat include Good Will Hunting boys Ben and Casey Affleck and Matt Damon who still easily emulate the accent they grew up hearing. But poor Robin Williams tried to fake it as Damon’s shrink — when he says his wife used to fahhht in bed, it’s like hearing nails on a blackboard.

In Mark and Donnie Wahlberg’s case, it was the accent they owned on the streets of Dorchester, aka Dahchestah, back in the day.

So when you put Wahlberg and Damon together in The Departed, they talk circles around the other fine actors like Nicholson, DiCaprio, Baldwin, and Sheen who throw out an occasional long flat “A” as in “Jordan Mahsh” just to give a little flayvah to their characters. Or they desperately throw out a lot of F bombs to sound like they’re really from Southie.

Poor Leo tried the accent again in Shutter Island, but the minute you hear him say “We are duly appointed Federal Marshals” it comes out “We are doooley appointed Federal Mahhhhhshalls …” There’s even a YouTube video of that embarrassing line on loop!

I took a highly unscientific poll on Facebook to see what my Boston pals thought. Here’s how the voting came out, starting with the very worst:

1. Diane Lane in The Perfect Storm
2. Julianne Moore in 30 Rock
3. Jon Hamm in The Town
4. Kevin Costner in The Company Men and 13 Days
5. Jeff Bridges in Blown Away (my vote for worst)
6. Vera Farmiga in The Departed
7. Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting
8. Laura Linney in Mystic River
9. Tim Robbins in Mystic River (to me it was passable … and he did win the Oscar for best supporting actor.)
8. Leo DiCaprio in Shutter Island and The Departed (my choices … I guess everyone else loved him)

Boston’s iconic Charles Laquidara, the longtime WBCN Morning Mattress host, told me he studied phonetics at the Pasadena Playhouse in California, where Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman launched their acting careers.

According to Laquidara, who can imitate the Boston accent with the best of them:

It’s not about dropping the rrrr’s. It’s more about capturing the correct “aaaaa” sound. … New Yorkers say Bawston. Bostonians have some different versions. There is Bahston or even a Boahston making it three slurring syllables.

Dialect coach Carla Meyer agrees. According to her, the Boston accent is one of the toughest for her actors on movie sets because the “a” is considered the “intermediate a” as in dance, pass, and hat. She said that many of her clients, like Diane Lane in The Perfect Storm, had the accent down pat off camera, but often when the cameras roll, lose the rhythm. Meyer says “Because the Boston accent requires a certain cadence, you can’t emphasize words too much or it sounds stilted and self conscious.”

My vote for the non-Boston bred actors who have sounded authentic in recent years include Amy Adams as Wahlberg’s girlfriend in The Fighter, Amy Ryan as the wayward mother who’s child is kidnapped in Gone Baby Gone, and Blake Lively as Affleck’s former love interest in The Town. Those guhls know how to pahty on screen.

But is the accent in danger of becoming extinct? After all, the hotbed areas for the accent, Charlestown, Southie and Dorchester, have been infiltrated by martini bars, fancy condos, and young professional people moving in from out of town. Having lived in Dorchester for years, hearing the familiar “I’d like a coahfee regulah” at the nearby “Dunkys” was music to my ears at least.

Note: corrections have been made to Amy Ryan’s and Vera Farmiga’s names in the piece. Thanks to commenter Ben for the heads up!

Plus: Hollywood on the Charles: Why the movie industry is crazy about Boston