As anyone who’s made a historical film will tell you, creating an accurate period experience can be difficult, if not totally impossible. When making In The Heart Of The Sea, there was one historical detail that while perfected as much as possible, still required a lot of guesswork. Naturally, we’re talking about Chris Hemsworth’s Nantucket accent, albeit not for the reasons you’d think.
While speaking with Hemsworth on the press day for his role in the Ron Howard film being released this Friday, I asked him about how he effectively transformed his native Australian accent into that of a sailor out of the port that was home to the whale-ship Essex. As it turns out, it was a little harder than the usual sessions with one’s dialect coach, as there were some challenges that prevent 100% authenticity. Hemsworth described the intent, as well as the pitfalls of his accent, as follows:
It was a nod [a more modern Nantucket accent], and it needed to feel familiar and represent what we thought it might have [sounded like] 200 years ago. Obviously, there’s no recordings from 200 years ago that we could reference, so it was sort of [working] with a bunch of professionals in that field, who were listening to it.
So how does an actor like Chris Hemsworth, teamed with a director like Ron Howard, figure out an accent that’s 200 years old - without audio records to back them up? Apparently, if you have numerous historical experts, and three dialect coaches, you can do anything. Hemsworth explained that with such an expert team of knowledgeable historians and professionals, his Nantucket accent was honed into what you hear in the finished film. You can get a taste of it in the following clip from In The Heart Of The Sea.
Ask any Shakespearean scholar and they'll tell you that they can sympathize with the task in Hemsworth and Howard's court, as the debate between modern English pronunciation and what's known as "original pronunciation" still rages on. While it's easy to craft an accent that merely sounds like a stereotypical view of old Shakespearean prose, or in the case of In The Heart Of The Sea old time Nantucket, some are not satisfied with the mere appearance of antiquity. Seeing as the actors in the film were put through rigorous standards for their appearance, as well as there seamanship, their accents seem like a logical step to creating a film that's so authentic you could show it in a history class.
It also helps that In The Heart Of The Sea is an entertaining sea epic, since all of the authenticity in the world doesn't make up for a film as appetizing as hardtack. You can see for yourself the fruits of Chris Hemsworth and company's labors when the film opens this Friday.