"Bill Compton's sexy, antiquated Southern drawl comes through loud and clear when he speaks these words: he says "miracle" as "mir-uh-kal," and drops the "r" in "years" and the "g" in "something" when he tells Sookie Stackhouse that he loves her in "True Blood," which just ended its third season.
But that's not how the show's leads Stephen Moyer and Anna Paquin, now married, speak in real life. Paquin comes from New Zealand. Moyer is British. Their speech is nothing like wide-eyed Southern waitress or the vampire of over 170 years from Louisiana.
How do they do it? Behind the scenes of many television shows and movies, dialect coaches are working with actors and actresses to perfect their speech patterns, getting them to sound as close to the director's vision as possible.
"We take the dialect and sing it, whisper it, make it part of the whole process," says Liz Himelstein, dialect coach in Los Angeles, California, who has worked with the cast of "True Blood" and has 20 years of experience in the film and theater industry.
The creative force behind "True Blood," Alan Ball, is from Georgia and writes in a Southern dialect, which also helps the actors get a feel for how things should sound, Himelstein said.
"It's as if we're reading a piece of music and if you follow his rhythm, you're going to be closer than you ever thought," she said.
Blog: From brain to language to accent
To get Moyer's character Bill Compton's accent right, Himelstein used proprietary recordings of older gentlemen from the South. His accent had to be different from other characters because he's lived through more than one century, she said.
Paquin found her voice for the show by listening to a lot of recordings of poetry from the South, which is appropriate because Sookie is "a poet in a funny way," Himelstein said. Both Paquin and Moyer picked up their accents for the show easily, Himelstein said.
Working on the show's pilot, Himelstein was impressed that all the actors seem to know already how to do voice warm-ups and how to pick up a new way of speaking, she said.
"There was such a joy in that room of everybody doing it together, which was so much fun, because everybody had to do an accent. It can be a lot of fun when everyone has to do it," she said.