Top 10 Undercover Brits on US TV

They're in Battlestar Galactica, Lost, The Wire, House, Pushing Daisies and a whole lot more. For the Brits have secretly invaded American telly...

Hugh Laurie as Dr House

Go on, admit it. Like everyone else in the UK, when you first watched Hugh Laurie in House you were secretly praying for him to yank the sheets from a dying boy’s hospital bed and yell, “Tally ho, my fine, saucy young trollop! Woof woof!”

It’s only natural. We know a side to Laurie that the Americans don’t (most of them probably don’t even know he’s English – Bryan Singer allegedly didn’t when he hired him), and there’s no doubt this has helped him establish himself as a TV star over there. And since he made it okay for a Brit to play a Yank, others have followed.

This list rounds up the Brits who’ve gone into battle for us, who’ve done us proudest; the Brits who’ve crossed the Atlantic, sneaked behind enemy lines and stolen jobs meant for the locals. Ten brave Brits beating the Yanks at their own game.10: Mark Addy – Bill Miller, Still StandingLet’s get the worst out of the way first – if you’ve seen it you’ll know what I mean. The accent’s appalling, the comedy is sub-My Family yet the audiences were, bafflingly, large enough to prolong the pain for three entire seasons.

Congratulations to the Full Monty star for his success, but I’ll be honest – he’s only on here because so few Brits even know he “made it” in the US.

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9: Michelle Ryan – Jaime Sommers, Bionic WomanA shame this one. Far than the mockney Eastenders irritant we all knew, in the Bionic Woman promotional interviews a well-spoken Ryan came across as an intelligent and brave choice of actress for the role. Then the first few episodes stumbled a little, lacking humour and unpredictability, and they made the unforgivable error of pitting the inexperienced Ryan against a screen-chewing Katee Sackhoff (basically playing…well, Starbuck) from the very beginning – an audience rooting for the bad guy probably wasn’t what the producers intended. Then the writer’s strike halted it before it really had a chance to get going.

8: Eddie Izzard – Wayne Malloy, The Riches

Wow. Who’d ever have thought that Eddie “le singe et dans l’arbre” Izzard could actually act? And not be a bit irritating while he does it? The Riches ran in the UK as the headline launch show for Virgin’s 1 channel, and while it didn’t really take off, in the States the con artist double-team of Izzard and Minnie Driver (am I the only one who finds her repellent?) picked up Golden Globe and Emmy nominations in its first run. The fact it got a second must surely be down to Izzard’s on-screen presence – we can only assume FX bosses were fortunate enough to miss his cameos in the last two Ocean’s films.

7: Joely Richardson – Julia McNamara, Nip/Tuck

Only this low on the list because I don’t watch Nip/Tuck (I can put her wherever I like, you can’t stop me), Richardson was actually on US TV before Hugh Laurie took his career-changing role in House. Always reliable and with an apparently convincing whiny accent, after taking a break to look after her sick daughter she renegotiated a $100,000-an-episode contract for the fifth season of the show, putting her far beyond most on this list in terms of bankability.

6: Anna Friel – Charlotte “Chuck” Charles, Pushing Daisies

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Oh Anna. Lovely, lovely Anna. Why did you agree to make Goal! and Goal! 2? And why did you do a silly Geordie accent in both that no Americans would possibly understand? Not that it seemed to matter – last year she won the lead role in the beautifully kooky Pushing Daisies. Her American accent isn’t perfect but it sure is cute, and when combined with memories of the Brookside kiss it’s hard not to hope she gets a long run. Again, though, the writer’s strike got in the way, and ITV showed its faith in the show in the UK by buying up the nine-episode run and shoving it in an eight-episode slot on ITV2. So if you watched it and thought you were missing something, you were: the whole of episode two.

5: Lena Headey – Sarah Connor, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

A show that I really didn’t think would work, and an actress I really didn’t think was Sarah Connor. And she isn’t. Well, not the same Sarah Connor, but she’s made it her own. A sleeker, more caring and natural mother to the son who’s destined to save mankind (and who she may or may not know was once one of those freaky blonde mind-control kids in Village of the Damned). The show is entertaining rather than gripping, and suffers a bit from the whole bad-Terminator-comes-after-John-but gets stopped-by-good-Terminator-over-and-over-again routine. But it did more than enough to earn a second season after the writer’s strike, and you’d be hard pushed to notice a flaw in Headey’s accent.

4: Ian McShane – Al Swearengen, Deadwood

If only they knew. When the aptly-named Al Swearengen cursed and spat onto our screens in HBOs Deadwood, American audiences thought they’d unearthed a gem. A raw, grizzled, manipulative beast of a character, McShane’s appearance couldn’t have been more shocking to UK audiences. Sure, we’d seen McShane play a fairly dodgy character a few years back in Sexy Beast (although even Ray Winstone seemed tame next to Ben Kingsley in that one), and if I’m honest I’ve always found something a bit wrong about him. But this is Lovejoy! And he’s playing an absolutely foul-mouthed bastard! If only they’d found Tinker and Lady Jane roles we could have all died happy. And when it finished he probably nicked half the set for antiques…

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3: Dominic West – Jimmy McNulty, The Wire

The best show on TV just wouldn’t be what it is without the electrifying performances of its relatively unknown Brits. The first may be trying to branch out with roles in 300 and Hannibal Rising, but Dominic West may as well just give up – he’ll forever be potty-mouthed Poh-leese womaniser McNulty. His double-act with Bunk Moreland is one of this decade’s real TV treats; when a drunk Bunk cries out for his old “pussaaai” partner in season 4, we’re with him – the settled down McNulty just wasn’t the same. If you don’t want to spoil your love for Jimmy and his superb Bal’more accent, avoid the DVD commentaries – West’s not just English, he’s disappointingly English. But once you know he’s a Londoner you can sit back and enjoy the season 2 in-joke: his deliciously bad “fake” English accent during the brothel sting – obviously while taking advantages of the services on offer, in true McNulty style. “Spot on!”

2: Idris Elba – Russell “Stringer” Bell, The Wire

It comes as a surprise to a lot of people that McNulty’s nemesis in the early seasons is a Brit too. Not only does Idris Elba have both the coolest real name and character name on TV, but he also plays the intelligent, economics-studying drugs baron Stringer Bell with more brooding menace than any of the brash real-life street thugs running his corners. He combines the nous of a businessman with the discipline of Poh-leese and the ruthlessness of a gangster, and the result is a depth of character not often seen in this sort of role. And he does it all with a street twang so convincing it’s hard to believe he was once in Family Affairs. If he can add to his recent roles in American Gangster and 28 Weeks Later, while avoiding more turds like The Reaping and Prom Night (Idris, Idris, Idris! You’re better than that!) he’ll surely rise through the Hollywood ranks. Next stop: Guy Ritchie’s RocknRolla. Will he finally be playing a Brit, I wonder?

1: Jamie Bamber – Lee “Appollo” Adama, Battlestar Galactica

Did anyone know? Seriously? In the entirety of all four seasons has there been one moment where he’s said something – anything at all, even the slightest slip-up – that’s made you think: “hang on a second, that guy’s not American”? Like all but the keenest fanboys, I’ve been completely and utterly fooled for the entirety of the three and a half seasons that have so far aired. He even looks American, for frak’s sake! In actual fact, Lee “Appollo” Adama, one half of the father-son core of the Battlestar Galactica story, is a good London boy with a first class honours degree from Cambridge and a CV that previously stretched to a few episodes of Hornblower, Peak Practice and Ultimate Force. Big breaks don’t come much bigger than that. Now one question remains: will they dare make an undercover Brit the final Cylon?

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Honourable mentions: Eamonn Walker (Kareem Said, Oz); Kevin McKidd (Dan Vasser, Journeyman); Jaime Murray (Lila West, Dexter); Ian Hart (Don Konkey, Dirt); Mariann Jean-Baptiste (Vivian Johnson, Without A Trace); Angela Lansbury (Jessica Fletcher, Murder She Wrote)Honourable mentions to Brits disguised as non-Americans: Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Mr Eko, Lost/Simon Adebisi, Oz); Naveen Andrews (Sayid Jarrah, Lost

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