British Invasion

U.K. actors swarm the 'telly' this fall

The trend in non-American casting the past few years seemed to be going Australian, but this fall season it’s the Brits who are giving their American accents a workout.

The big networks have tapped a veritable parade of U.K. actors for leads or major roles: Damian Lewis (“Band of Brothers”) heads “Life,” Michelle Ryan stars as the “Bionic Woman,” and Kevin McKidd (“Rome”) plays the “Journeyman,” all for NBC; Anna Friel takes on ABC’s “Pushing Daisies”; Lena Headey drew the title role of Fox’s “The Sarah Connor Chronicles”; Ed Westwick has the CW’s “Gossip Girl”; and Alex O’Loughlin and Sophia Myles take on CBS’ vampire show “Moonlight,” to name just a handful.

To Marc Hirschfeld, executive vice president of casting at NBC Universal Television, this new British invasion isn’t so much a coincidence as a perfect storm of an incredible talent pool and a new openness on the part of formerly commitment-phobic U.K. actors.

“There was a hesitancy in years past to doing a six-year deal because the Brits do six-episode series,” says Hirschfeld, who credits English “House” star Hugh Laurie with flipping the switch in his compatriots’ heads. “They looked at his success on American television and went, ‘A) I can do that, B) the money is darn good, and C) I can have a very successful television career, and it can help propel me to movie stardom.’ ”

And from the network side, one big reason Brits are being tapped for series lead duty has to do with trying out a new paradigm in crafting the next big TV star: fresh to viewers but tested in their home countries.

“They are seasoned actors with lots of credits, a real depth of experience and they’re just under the radar to the American public,” Hirschfeld says. “America wants to discover its own stars, and this gives them the opportunity to do so without us finding someone at the lunch counter at Schwab’s.”

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