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  • Writer's picturehenryfarleyjohnson

The British Invasion (A Term I Just Coined)

Faithful reader N. writes that she recently watched the British miniseries Safe and was alarmed to see Michael C. Hall, an American actor (of Dexter fame), in the leading role donning an English accent. This was super interesting! I'm not a huge British TV viewer, but I couldn't think of a single time that I saw an actor from the US pop up on a British show.

British actors, meanwhile, seem to appear all the time on American TV shows! The list is so long that it feels silly to mention examples, but Bridgerton, Game of Thrones, and Succession come to mind. So why shouldn't there be loads of American actors on British TV? Maybe there are! Let's see what the numbers have to say!

Boring details: Using rvest and IMDB, I pulled data on TV shows from 2010 to present. I also grabbed birthplace data on each show's five leading stars. On some shows, this is more than the main cast, and on others, five doesn't cover all the leads. What can ya do? Also, yeah yeah, birthplace isn't always a representative place of origin. (Fun fact for readers/identity thieves: I was born in Denver, a city I haven't spent more than a few hours in since I was a baby.)

OK, enough fooling around! First, let's look at the birth countries of actors on American TV shows:

Obviously there are other countries, but for the sake of readability, I've limited the graph to the top 5 listed birth countries. OK, now let's look at British TV shows:

So there's our answer: while 6.15% of American roles are filled by actors from the UK, only 2.25% of British roles are filled by actors from the US! Let's also look at shows that IMDB lists as being co-produced by both countries:

British actors win again! For what it's worth, the British shows with the highest number of American actors are Chimerica (3) and Traitors (2). The most British American shows, meanwhile, are: Carnival Row; Pennyworth; Da Vinci's Demons; and Once Upon a Time in Wonderland. For each of these shows, all 5 leads are British.

According to the IMDB data, only six American actors have appeared in more than one British show. They are Gillian Anderson, Waleed Zuaiter, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Rhashan Stone, Arabella Weir, and Andrew Shim. But here's the kicker: all six of these actors spent much of their upbringings outside the United States, most often in England.

There's one other striking trend, and it's that British actors are especially likely to appear on miniseries:

Some of this has to do with the fact that British TV shows are disproportionately miniseries, but even if you control for this, the trend holds: miniseries are flooded with British actors.

Happy Sunday, friends!


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