Why do none of the actors in Chernobyl speak with Russian or Ukrainian accents?
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Why do none of the actors in Chernobyl speak with Russian or Ukrainian accents?

CHERNOBYL IS already one of the best-reviewed television shows of recent times and, more importantly, a superb showcase of two of Ireland’s most exciting young talents.

Despite being part of a stellar ensemble cast, rising stars Jessie Buckley and Barry Keoghan have managed to more than hold their own alongside the likes of Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgard and Emily Watson.

Written and directed by Craig Mazin, it’s a bleak and wholly authentic portrait of one of the most horrific disasters of the 20th century.

There’s just one thing that has been bothering fans, just slightly, about proceedings on the miniseries: the accents or rather the lack of them.

The actors, for the most part, have been delivering lines in their native tongue, with a great many adopting an English accent despite the show being set in Soviet-controlled Ukraine.

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Jessie Buckley in Chernobyl

However, the show’s creator, Mazin, has now moved to explain the thinking behind this particular element of the series.

"The decision not to use Russian accents was a big one that we made early on,” he explained on the official Chernobyl miniseries podcast.

“We had an initial thought that we didn't want to do the 'Boris and Natasha' cliched accent because the Russian accent can turn comic very easily. At first, we thought that maybe we would have people do these sort of vaguely Eastern European accents - not really strong but noticeable.

"What we found very quickly is that actors will act accents. They will not act, they will act accents and we were losing everything about these people that we loved. Honestly, I think after maybe one or two auditions we said 'Ok, new rule. We're not doing that anymore," Mazin added.

He went on to cite an example from another HBO miniseries set in Russia, which starred Ireland’s very own Stephen Red.

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"I remembered this old HBO movie called Citizen X with Stephen Rea and Donald Sutherland - it's a true story about a serial killer in Soviet Ukraine,” he said.

“I recall there being accents from all over the place in the film. There were South African, English, American accents - some people were sort of trying, others weren't - and then Max Von Sydow appears and he speaks like his usual self, with his Swedish accent. And do you know what? It all works perfectly because they're not speaking Russian.

"I get the reasons why but this means that there can be no American accents because I think for an American audience, the one thing that will pull you out is an American accent because that sounds silly but beyond that, I think we just ask people to take the edge off (their natural accent)."

Barry Keoghan in Chernobyl.

The decision to use natural accents was also influenced by Game of Thrones, which Mazin cited as an example and clear influence on his thinking.

"For example, in Game of Thrones, anyone from Manchester will be asked to push that a bit so they can clearly be defined as Northerners. We would say 'take the edge off of it' a bit here and there, we'd let someone be Irish or Scottish because they sounded great and there character was good. Also, we're hearing people as they would have heard themselves,” he said.

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"There's no consciousness there. My hope is that the accent thing just fades away in seconds and you stop caring about it. Ultimately, a person's accent is completely irrelevant to what's going on because there are things happening that don't even need an accent to be communicated - panic, fear, excitement, worry, sadness. They're just emotions.”

Chernobyl is currently airing on Sky Atlantic, with the fifth and final part of the miniseries set to be broadcast next week.