Good Omens, the new Amazon Prime Video and BBC adaptation of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s cult novel of the same name, boasts quite a cast including David Tennant, Michael Sheen, Jon Hamm, Frances McDormand, Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Mays, Derek Jacobi and Anna Maxwell Martin – to name but a few.
But perhaps the actor with the biggest challenge facing him was Better Call Saul star Michael McKean, who plays a Scottish character called Sergeant Shadwell with… shall we say… an unusual accent.
“There are a lot of Scotsmen on the set who are helping me out, Tennant of course and Douglas MacKinnon, who’s our director,” McKean told RadioTimes.com on set.
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“They’re keeping me honest, you know, and every now and then I have to just run it by them.”
Despite this, Shadwell’s delivery is not quite like any Scottish accent we’ve heard before – but perhaps that’s the point.
You see, while it’s easy to assume Shadwell’s unusual manner of speaking is due to American actor McKean struggling with an impersonation, in fact the character’s “roaming dialect” is a key part of the original 1990 novel, with Shadwell’s voice in the book randomly shifting between all sorts of different accents from around Britain during the story.
Some have speculated that the character was (rather ironically) intended as a riposte to American actors who tried and failed to master specific UK dialects, or as a parody of sitcom character Alf Garnett, as played by Warren Mitchell in Till Death Do Us Part and In Sickness and In Health.
But whatever the truth, Good Omens showrunner Neil Gaiman (who co-wrote the novel with the late Pratchett) was more than happy with what McKean delivered.
“David [Tennant] wasn’t using his Scottish accent, but that left us with one spare Scottish accent floating around, so we’ve put it to Michael McKean, bless him, who is of course absolutely not Scottish,” Gaiman told RadioTimes.com on the Good Omens set.
“But then he was kind of English in Spinal Tap, so he gets to be kind of Scottish in this. And he’s just marvellous.”
“It’s excellent! Absolutely excellent,” real-life Scotsman David Tennant added.
“No, it’s great. He’s very funny; I’ve admired him for so many years. His Shadwell is a thing of great joy to behold, and yes, he does have a Scottish accent. I commend it. I commend it to the roof.”
“You know, it’s getting better,” McKean said.
“The trick is to learn all the rules and then forget them, and I’ve got an OK ear – but it needs a little trimming.”
Good Omens is streaming on Amazon Prime Video