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Robert Voets, CBS
Aussie Hugh Jackman, left, and Brit Lloyd Owen, star in "Viva Laughlin."

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Quick! Somebody call CNN's Lou Dobbs! Foreigners are invading the United States and taking jobs away from Americans!

Rather high-paying jobs, too. People who star in TV series make a nice chunk of change.

And it's not like the foreign-born actors are just cast in supporting roles — perhaps the butler pouring a spot of tea. They're playing the leads in eight of the new dramas premiering on the broadcast networks this fall.

And, yes, they're there in lots of supporting roles, too.

NBC ought to change its letters to IBC: International instead of National Broadcasting Company. Three of the four dramas the network is premiering in the fall feature non-American actors in the lead roles — Scotsman Kevin McKidd in "Journeyman"; Brit Damian Lewis in "Life"; and Brit Michelle Ryan in the title role of "Bionic Woman."

Ryan is not the only Brit in a quintessentially American role. Lena Headey stars in Fox's midseason series, "The Sarah Connor Chronicles," assuming the role created by Linda Hamilton in the "Terminator" movies.

Fox even has a series lead for whom English was not his first language — Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who stars in the midseason series "New Amsterdam," is Danish.

At CBS, two of the three new dramas have non-American leads — Aussie Alex O'Laughlin in "Moonlight" and Briton Lloyd Owen in "Viva Laughlin." And Brit Jack Davenport stars in the midseason series "Swingtown."

Two stars of ABC's "Cash-mere Mafia" are not American — Frances O'Connor hails from the U.K. and Miranda Otto from Australia.

And there are plenty of non-Americans in supporting roles, including Colombian Paola Turbay and Brit Polly Walker in CBS's "Cane"; Brit Zuleikha Robinson in "New Amsterdam"; Aussie Yvonne Strzechowski in NBC's "Chuck"; and Aussie Hugh Jackman has a recurring role in "Viva Laughlin."

The phenomenon extends to cable. Brit Natascha McElhone co-stars in Showtime's "Californication" (as well as co-starring in TNT's miniseries "The Company"); most of the regulars in the Sci Fi Channel's new series "Flash Gordon" are Canadian.

This is by no means a new phenomenon. Brit Hugh Laurie stars in "House"; Australian Anthony LaPaglia stars in "Without a Trace" (where he's joined by fellow Aussie Poppy Montgomery and Brit Marianne Jean-Baptiste); yet another Aussie, Dominic Purcell, is one of the stars of "Prison Break."

Why so many right now? Some suggest the success that Laurie has had on "House" has opened some sort of floodgate allowing Brits to flow into the American TV industry.

"I think he got a deal on visas," joked "Sarah Conner" star Lena Headey, who turned to her executive producer to explain why she'd been cast.

"Because you're good," said Josh Friedman.

"Or cheap," Headey interjected.

(But that's not necessarily true. Hugh Laurie is one of the highest-paid actors on TV, pulling down $300,000 per "House" episode.)

Just a coincidence?

The fact that there are so many foreign actors in so many American TV series this fall has to be more than a coincidence — or does it?

"There isn't a pattern. We have to go and knock on the door like everybody," said "Journeyman" star Kevin McKidd. "There's not suddenly this season some fast-track portal that all these British actors are flying through to LAX. You know what? I think it was purely a coincidental thing."

His executive producer/director agreed.

"You're just trying to find the best people for the role," said Alex Graves. "And it's really coincidence that it's ended up being a lot of Europeans this year.

"They're well-trained and they're great actors. There are well-trained, great actors in New York and L.A. too. It just has sort of gone down this way."

"Flash Gordon" executive producer Peter Hume said that before casting so many Canadians, "We looked at everyone in town, and a lot of Americans. It turned out that it just happened the people we picked were Canadians, but there was no design."

Fresh faces

Producers insist there's not some sort of anti-American actor bias — that the influx of foreign actors is just part of a search for new stars.

"It has become kind of all of the rage in the last couple of years," said "Bionic Woman" executive producer David Eick. "Everyone is looking for new faces. Everyone is looking for people they haven't seen."

"We are casting a wider net," said "Bionic Woman" executive producer Jason Smilovic. In addition to New York and Los Angeles, it's become standard practice to have casting directors working at various sites around the world — the U.K., Vancouver, Toronto, Sydney, etc.

And they found their star on a piece of tape sent from England.

"It was like that old Hollywood story where you're finding someone who no one knows," Eick said. "You're making a discovery, and it really felt like that from the very beginning. And even though Michelle's well-known in the U.K., we didn't know her here."

American accents

All the non-American actors are playing Americans — affecting accents so well that, unless you know they're not American, you'd never be able to tell.

"I think that British performers have really nailed the craft of an American accent, and they are sounding effortlessly American," said "Bionic Woman" executive producer David Eick. "And ... I think that's made it easier for American casting directors and producers to take that leap of faith."

Some actors have to work at it.

"The step into the American dialect is a hard one, but it just takes work and perseverance," said "Journeyman" star McKidd.

And "New Amsterdam" star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau "studied a lot" to get accents right and did a lot of homework.

"When I moved to London, I stayed with my sister, and ... I didn't allow her to speak Danish to me because I wanted to perfect the English," Coster-Waldau said.

But it's easier for others.

"I like to have a couple of dialect lessons just before I start, but after that, I find it's very easy," said "Life" star Damian Lewis.

It's become so commonplace for non-American actors to play Americans that producers barely give it a thought anymore.

"It seems like the actors from Britain and Australia just kind of effortlessly do these American accents to the point where you're like, 'Well, who can't?"' said "Cashmere Mafia" executive producer Darren Star. "They fall into it so naturally that it doesn't present an issue."

"I was working on an American accent a few years ago because I always hoped I would have an opportunity over here," said "Bionic Woman" star Michelle Ryan.

Film industry

Making it in Hollywood, which exports TV shows around the world, is like winning the lottery for any actor. Sophia Myles was thrilled to be cast in "Moonlight."

"It was like finding a golden ticket in a Wonka Bar. I couldn't believe it," she said. "And I'm just in a kind of haze."

The chance to play on the world's biggest stage is why so many non-American actors come to America.

"Why are there a lot of Brits over here? Because you keep asking us. Thank you very much," Lewis said. "And it's the center of the world's film industry."

"And a lot of Australians are coming here for that reason because Australia is dying a little bit," said "Chuck" co-star Yvonne Strzechowski.

It's the same in the U.K., Myles said.

"The thing is in England at the moment our government isn't putting any money into the film (industry). We don't really have an industry in England anymore," she said.

Quality of American TV

According to the actors, it's not just the quantity of work in America, it's the quality.

"American television, especially in the last few years, it's on a par, if not better than, a lot of movies that are out there at the moment," Myles said. "And you have to, as an actor, you have to travel where the work is."

"American television at the moment is so interesting, and particularly the characters for women are so fantastic, that that's drawing a lot of us over into it," said "Cash-mere Mafia" star Miranda Otto. "I've been looking at film roles, and I couldn't find the things I wanted to do. And then I started looking at pilots, and there's just fantastic material."

CBS Entertainment president Nina Tassler said she hears that kind of comment with some frequency.

"As we've spent this past year meeting different actors from Australia, from England, from Ireland, what I began to hear over and over again is — as American shows are playing overseas, you've got actors who are watching our shows and are really, really impressed with the quality of the writing, the production values, and were really intrigued about throwing their hats in the ring," Tassler said.

Same old, same old

For Lewis, the issue of foreig n-born actors starring in American TV series is a "non-story."

"You've had foreigners infiltrating, I'm afraid, ever since (the movie business) started a hundred years ago," he said. "It's where you can come and do very good work. It's where the most talented people come, and it's where they're rewarded well for what they do.

"Whether you're Brit, French, Swedish ... it doesn't matter. And that's why it's exciting to be here and to work here."


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