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Monday, March 3, 2008

Amy Walker’s Accents Video

Actress Amy Walker posted a YouTube video of herself doing a large variety of accents. This video ended up copied on, hitting the Digg frontpage and accumulating 450,000 views. I asked Amy a couple of questions via email.

Did you originally upload your videos to YouTube? I noticed your YouTube accents video received 4,100 views, whereas the same video posted on received, so far, 247,926 views (according to

Yes, I originally uploaded it to YouTube. I’d never even heard of until some guy posted it there a day and a half ago and I started getting emails.

How many takes were there for this video? How did you prepare? Was the speech improvised or scripted?

I’m not sure how many takes it was. The idea to do an accent video was floating around my head for a few weeks. I was never really sure how many I could do – I’ve never tried to count – but the number 21 popped into my head, so I did a little run down to see which ones I might use and they kind of fell into order. I’ve long enjoyed being “from” wherever I happen to be, so the “and I’m from...” outline just came naturally, and I expanded from there through a few improvisations. I warmed up Really Well (essential for such mouth gymnastics to flow naturally), jotted down the order on a slip of paper, and set up the camera. I did probably 10 takes, which were all thwarted by ambient noise from my dear neighbors’ children, so I gave it a rest for the day. The next day, I warmed up, set up, and did probably 12-15 takes, which felt like 70. I think the one I picked was somewhere around the 9th or 10th take.

You got the European accents pretty spot on, did you learn them by traveling, or ...?

Thank you! I’ve been to France and Switzerland for 10 or 12 days, though that was 9 years ago, and before I’d studied any languages. That’s it for Europe so far, but the UK is in me. Some form of “Standard” English (British) is most often the spontaneous voice of my thoughts when I speak to myself. Don’t know why. It just makes sense to me. But if a thought makes more sense in Northern Irish, it comes out in Northern Irish, etc. – when I’m alone and not censoring myself for fear of being thought mentle. :-) (...) I did study Acting and Singing in Australia, and then moved to New Zealand, so I’ve lived abroad.

Have you ever been trying your accents cloning skill in real life to prank people – or perhaps influence them?

Hmmm. Never to prank people, but since I was a kid I’ve employed the deliciously fun advantage of a posh British accent while shopping for clothing, shoes, etc. I find I get treated very well in the US when I do. Mostly, I find it’s easiest for my brain if I sound like what I’m hearing – what the other person’s accent is. To me, it’s like singing in the same key as the other person. If it’s an accent I know, and I let myself drop into it, my brain is free to think of what I’m thinking and not worry about what I sound like. Otherwise, I’m working very hard to remember how to create my standard American sounds which clash horribly with the other person’s and it feels unnatural in my mouth. So, when I lived in Australia, I was an honorary Aussie. I had directors who didn’t know I wasn’t born there. Same in NZ. One of my best friends on the planet is Aussie, and whenever we talk, I have the Aussie voice Shelley knows as me – because it IS me! I’m not impersonating anyone; it’s my voice, it’s just a different sound. Like a different outfit. I don’t wear jeans to the opera and I don’t talk street to my Grandma, but I’m not “acting” by wearing a gown to the opera. It’s all me. We all do this to some extent. We even use different words with different people – friends, siblings, parents, students, police officers...

Why did you post the video on YouTube – to land a new acting role, perhaps? (If so, did it work so far?)

The first things I posted on YouTube were clips from my one-woman show “Amy Walker: Inside Out”, which I performed last November. It was a sold out show, so I wanted people who couldn’t come to be able to see bits of it. And then one day, the idea for the accents video popped up. I’m very intuitive, and follow my heart, so I thought, “Okay, if you say so, Dear, it sounds like fun!” A few “what if"s flitted to mind, wondering who might happen across it, but I’d had maybe 100 hits on my other videos, almost all from family and friends, so I honestly had no idea it could be so widely well-received. No idea. I still don’t! :-) I was conscious of wanting to get my work “out there,” and this was just one of the myriad ways I’ve been going about that. Yes, it has suddenly generated some interest in people for potential work, which is very exciting. :-)

You posted the video on YouTube on January 16. When and how did the interest in the video take off, do you know? Did you do anything to help the video take off...?

It gathered views pretty steadily on YouTube, which was thrilling enough. I remember breaking 250 views and thinking, “WOW! That’s a lot of people! How wonderful!” and then it broke 1,000. The other day, I was astonished to see 4,000, but then someone put it on where it’s had something like 450,000 in two days. Completely blew my mind. And then people say they saw it on other random sites, which is incredible. All I ever did was post it to YouTube on the 16th of January. And reply to some wonderful comments people sent. :-)

What kind of roles would you love to play – would you be [interested] in doing, say, a grand-scale Hollywood movie?

I love to play roles with JUICE. Something compelling and human, challenging and electric, complex and inspiring, even if inadvertently. Well-written roles in projects that I feel have some importance to be shared – not limited by genre or drama/comedy. Of course Eliza Doolittle has been a goal of mine practically since the womb. I do love theatre and plan to perform live at different times for the rest of my life, but I’m most interested in film work right now. They’re such different crafts, and equally unique and challenging. But I love the subtlety that can be achieved in film. You need only think and feel as the character and the camera will absorb and capture it. And film reaches more people. I’ve been so inspired by great performances and incredible stories and I would love to be a part of projects that have that effect on other people on such a wide scale.

Were you surprised by the reactions so far? What were the most interesting reactions so far?

Yes, it’s been a surprise! The most gratifying reactions have been from people who saw the accents video and went looking for my other work, which is very different – acting and singing and pieces I’ve written. After the Accents video, I recorded and posted a monologue as Joan of Arc from “St. Joan” by George Bernard Shaw, the “Poor Unfortunate Souls” scene as Ursula from “The Little Mermaid,” and me singing the traditional ballad “Danny Boy.” Some people have written the most heart-felt messages and emails about my work and my writings from earlier videos and how profoundly they were moved by the pieces. It’s immensely affirming to hear that the work resonates with other people. It means I’ve done my job!

Who would you say are your biggest influences in acting?

My biggest influences in acting? As far as actors, there are hundreds. The ones who presently pop into mind are: Meryl Streep (whom I must put first, as she’s an accent guru), Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Dame Judy Dench, Dame Maggie Smith (who I saw live doing “Talking Heads” in Sydney. – blew my MIND!), Gael Garcia Bernal, Javier Bardem, Al Pacino (esp. in Dog Day Afternoon!), Brenda Blethyn, Imelda Staunton, Daniel Craig (another accent aficionado!), Juliette Binoche (stunning and astounding – can even do accents in English!) I could go on forever, but as I must end, I’ll sum up with Jude Law. Must add Steven Spielberg, who has inspired much of the Globe. And Richard Taylor, who is a DearHeart and a wonderful artist. He invited me to Weta Workshop for a couple days when I lived in NZ. Über-inspirational wonderland! And since I relate all aspects of my life to my arts, I can add my gratitude for the most potent influences of all, my incredible family, Claudia, Tom, Ben and Adam, and truly all friends and family, who are a source of constant inspiration.

Can you tell me one or two sentences about yourself?

I’m an open, loving, passionately dedicated actress, writer, singer, artist... I am insatiably interested in life and the unique Juice that fuels the hearts of humans. My career goals are to continue working on inspiring material with artists as vibrantly driven as I am to create meaningful work.


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