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A particularly prominent example of a rolled r user is the actor Jeremy Brett, who played "Sherlock Holmes" in the 1980s Granada adaptations. I've noticed that several other actors, especially from the older generation, also use the rolled r. Is this something that actors are or were taught to do at drama school? If so, why?

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    Where? Are you American/English/Scottish/…? (BTW, Jeremy Brett apparently overcame a speech impediment and overcompensated by rolling r's, according to random internet sources.) Commented Aug 6, 2010 at 2:21
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    Yes...but any voice training would depend on nationality/ dialect.
    – kitukwfyer
    Commented Aug 6, 2010 at 2:56
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    @Kinopiko: It doesn't matter where you are, but it matters where the actors you're talking about are, and what you consider "prominent". There's not enough context to answer the question ("what are actors taught and why") without it. Presumably if you were in Scotland you wouldn't find rolled r's uncommon. Commented Aug 6, 2010 at 3:00
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    Which "rolled r?" In this case, we would benefit from a standard phonetic orthography.
    – Charlie
    Commented Aug 6, 2010 at 3:14
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    An interesting question, but ultimately about acting, not English usage. Voting to close.
    – Pops
    Commented Aug 6, 2010 at 5:31

3 Answers 3

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Many actors are taught to enunciate clearly, perhaps to ensure their lines are heard above a snuffling coughing audience, or to counter unpredictable acoustics in some theatres.

I'm sure that some actors who had trained for the stage would have then applied stage techniques to the screen, where close mics and sound stages would have made those old tricks unnecessary.
It's possible that the rolling "r" would be one of those tricks.

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    <insert Singin' in the Rain reference here>
    – mmyers
    Commented Aug 12, 2010 at 22:40
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It really depends where the actors are from. Some drama schools would teach it, others would not. But a great many people in England roll their r's since birth, and I am not sure about Warwick, but it is possible that Jeremy knew how to roll his r's a long time ago.

As for me, I can easily roll an 'r' as can most of my Kiwi friends. So, no need to learn it in drama school.

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The rolled or trilled R in question is a form of classical English pronunciation.

Before Queen Elizabeth II modernised her pronunciation, the trilled R was quite commonly spoken. In Britain, even to this day, dramas schools teach the trilled R as part of their voice exercises, and some choirs will not admit someone if they cannot rolled their Rs. Mr Brett's trilled R was very much in keeping with the character and period of SH.

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  • Do you have any references which backup your claim, re Elizabethan pronunciation? A link would be great, thank you.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 23, 2014 at 16:38
  • The modernised pronunciation I refer to is that of our present queen, not the 16th century monarch. Actors who have had classical training will have learned the trilled R. Some of us English still speak with the trilled R, but it is considered old fashion.
    – Bessie
    Commented Aug 24, 2014 at 12:49
  • My bad, I mistaken Elizabeth II for Elizabeth I, coincides with Shakespeare and the rise of theatrical plays. It would be good to learn what years are considered to be "classical training", I'm btw totally ignorant in this field.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 24, 2014 at 13:01
  • Classical training in Britain encompasses anything from Greek tragedies to Shakespeare and realist / expressionist in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
    – Bessie
    Commented Aug 24, 2014 at 13:28

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