Sedgwick perfects Southern accent

'The Closer' lead character breaks stereotypes

Southern accents, like the Georgia twang that New York-raised Kyra Sedgwick drawls on “The Closer,” are rare for lead characters on TV. Critics and fans have been vocal about their love-it-or-hate-it relationship with Sedgwick’s thick delivery, but series creator James Duff says neither he nor TNT execs ever considered losing the accent.

“There was never any question at all, because the character of Brenda Johnson was complete with that accent,” Duff says. “TNT was interested in a complete character, and I think the accent was the finishing touch. I always felt like, ‘If people hear her authenticity, they’ll hang out more with the show.'”

Hang out they have, with improved ratings, according to Nielsen, over the course of four seasons. Not that Duff doesn’t still read accent bashing online.

“Most of the people who say it’s not quite right are definitely from the North,” says Duff, who sports his own distinctive Texas twang. “I’m like, ‘Really?’ Listen to Kyra now: You hear Texas and Georgia. You hear the actual mix — she’s gotten that specific. It’s hard!”

It’s the official ratings, of course, and not online gossip, that put ad money where Brenda’s mouth is. And a quick ratings review by region of the first four seasons reveals that Northerners are almost as supportive as Southerners, despite any misgivings about speech.

Auds in the Southeastern and East-Central U.S. screen “The Closer” most consistently.

In season four, 3.2 million East-Central and 3.2 million Southeastern viewers on average tuned in, while the Northeastern region came in third with 2.9 million. Average viewers in the Southwest: 2.5 million.

Sedgwick, who works regularly with a dialect coach, knows her accent so well, she sometimes dreams in Southern. She’s proud of her mastery of the accent. Furthermore, she considers it a vital part of her character’s power persona.

“Brenda’s accent is part of what she does to throw people off guard. You hear a Southern accent, and sometimes you underestimate somebody,” Sedgwick says. “She uses it and clings to it on purpose.”

Duff admires the accent for similar story-value reasons and personal ones as well.

“I grew up in the South with really smart people who had that accent, and every time I saw them on television, they seemed like the stupidest people on the face of the earth. Like the accent was a badge of inferiority,” he explains. “I thought, as long as we’re doing something different, how about if the woman lead with the Southern accent is the smartest person in the room instead of the most ignorant?”

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  1. Amanda says:

    I grew up in Macon, Georgia. Most attempts at Southern accents by well-known actors and actresses are so obviously inaccurate and inconsistent that they annoy me to the point that I find their performances almost unendurable.

    My mother grew up in south Fulton County. Atlanta, which I believe is supposed to be the character Brenda’s hometown, is also in Fulton County. Unlike the three other commenters, I have always thought that Kyra Sedgwick’s attempt at a southern accent is one the best I have ever heard by a prominent American actor or actress. To me, her accent sounds authentic. She sounds not just Southern, not just Georgian, but as if she could actually be a woman from that particular part of the state. The character of Brenda sounds to me a good bit like my mother and other women of similar background and personality I have known. (And just to be clear, I’m not saying everyone from Atlanta sounds just like this character.)

    Yes, the accent is pretty thick and over-the-top, but that seems consistent to me with the character’s temperament and professional agenda. My mother is a very well-educated person with a flamboyant and domineering personality. She is also a the product of a Southern culture that placed enormous pressure on white women of a particular social class to present themselves as extremely warm, very concerned with others, hyper-feminine, and non-threatening. For an ambitious, driven woman of this same background who is comfortable taking up a lot of social and psychological space, the accent is believable.

  2. Kim says:

    The show came on tonight while I was wrapping presents. I’ve lived in Georgia my entire life and I’ve never heard an accent anything like hers. At first I thought it had to be a joke. How in the world can anyone watch this show!? I hope everyone in the US doesn’t really think anyone from Georgia talks like that.

  3. histoneguy says:

    I’m from Mississippi, born and bred and love our accent. I’ve never heard any accent this overpronounced. It’s atrocious. It’s lake a bad parody, but without any humor.

  4. Mike bryan says:

    Kyra’s ” Southern accent ” is way overdone. If you were from Georgia you would say where the hell is She from? It’s sure as hell not Georgia or Texas. It’s an over done attempt at a Southern accent by a New Yorker. It can’t be done. I liked the show except for the overcooked attempt at Southern. She supposedly went to college ( her character ) there’s not a college graduate here in the South who speaks like that.

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