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BIG FISH

The Sound Of The South
For the unique flavor of the dialogue in Big Fish, says dialect coach Carla Meyer, "We were trying to find a dialect that captures the language of the script, which is very colorful and very poetic. We settled on a sound that was slightly more oldfashioned than a contemporary Southern accent. It doesn't all belong to a specific state. Even though the story is set in Alabama, it takes place in Ashton, which is the author's fictional creation, as is the town of Spectre, which is definitely off-the-map. And Tim was looking for something that was lyrical but not overly pronounced because there's so much narration in the film.

"Also, the characters are from various generations and live in many different time periods. So we had to find a marriage between an authentic dialect and the fictional characters. I played a number of sample dialects for Tim to give him a point of departure. Then I developed practice tools for the actors using, among other things, the writings of Mark Twain, such as his essay ‘How to Tell a Story.'

Meyer had previously worked with Finney in helping him customize American accents for his roles in Washington Square and Erin Brockovich and, briefly, with Ewan McGregor in Night Watch. "Albert is the storyteller, so his language in the script is more lyrical. The dialogue for the younger Edward is more conversational, slightly snappier, more interactive. But when Ewan, as the young Edward presents a prepared speech to Sandra, you can hear an echo of Albert as the older Edward in it. That's the sign of a true ensemble.”

"I like working on accents,” says McGregor. "And what we were doing here was a very subtle, precise, slightly old-fashioned Southern accent that was really beautiful. It tasted very good in my mouth, soft yet powerful and very expressive.”

Lange has done many different Southern accents and quickly developed a voice for Sandra that is echoed in Lohman's inflections as the younger Sandra. Crudup, on the other hand, "was playing a character who wants to separate himself from his roots,” says Meyer, "so he very consciously has almost no accent at all.”

The verbal showmanship of DeVito's ringmaster is charged with Danny's special kind of energy. In addition, when the film travels to Spectre, a town that is magically isolated from the rest of the world, the speech patterns shift gears, so the town mayor, the poet Norther Winslow and the other citizens have a slightly countrified inflection.

"Tim showed great foresight in giving the actors a great deal of time for preparation and a good rehearsal period,” says Meyer. "When you're working with actors on an accent, you want the process to be fun and useful as a way into the character, very much like the right costume. An accent changes you in the same way as a corset changes the way you stand. When the actor is wearing the costume and owns the accent, the fit becomes seamless."

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