Non-American actors dominate top roles in TV series


In 2010 I posted that foreign (English-speaking) actors increasingly dominate Hollywood. I thought I would be more thorough and analyse all the best TV series of the last 20 years and see what proportion of the main roles were taken by non-American actors and actresses. I have listed them by IMDB rating. I will first have a look at series where the story takes place in the United States, as the presence of foreign actors is least expected there. It's obvious that British series have mostly British actors, French series have French actors, and so on. So in all logic American series should be dominated by American actors.

Series set in the USA (including period drama)

I was surprised to see that even when a story is set in the US, the lead actor(s) are often British or Canadian rather than American. Here are some examples.

- House M.D. (IMDB : 8.7/10) : The lead actor, Hugh Laurie (Dr. Gregory House), is British Flag-UK. Among the other main characters, Jesse Spencer (Dr. Robert Chase) is Australian. Flag-Australia

- Deadwood (IMDB : 8.6/10) : A mostly American cast for this Western period drama set in Dakota. However three of the main actors are not American: Ian McShane (Al Swearengen) is British Flag-UK; Molly Parker (Alma Garret) is Canadian Flag-Canada; Paula Malcomson (Trixie) is Northern Irish Flag-North_Ireland.

- Silicon Valley (IMDB : 8.5/10) : Of the 11 main actors, 5 are not American, including the lead actor, Thomas Middleditch (Richard Hendricks), who is is Canadian Flag-Canada . Amanda Crew (Monica Hall) and Chris Diamantopoulos (Russ Hanneman) are also Canadian, Flag-Canada while Kumail Nanjiani (Dinesh Chugtai) is Pakistani, and Jimmy O. Yang (Jian Yang) is from Hong Kong. Flag-China

- The Queen's Gambit (IMDB : 8.5/10) : Out of the 10 main actors, only 3 of them are American, while 5 are British (including the lead actress): Anya Taylor-Joy (Beth Harmon), Isla Johnston (Young Beth Harmon), Chloe Pirrie (Alice Harmon), Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Benny Watts) and Harry Melling (Harry Beltik) are all British Flag-UK; Marcin Dorocinski (Vasily Borgov) is Polish Flag-Poland; and Janina Elkin (Borgov's Wife) is British-German.

- 24 (IMDB : 8.4/10) : the lead actor Kiefer Sutherland (Jack Bauer) is Canadian Flag-Canada, and so are Elisha Cuthbert (Kim Bauer) and Leslie Hope (Teri Bauer). Roger Cross (Curtis Manning) is Jamaican.

- The Good Wife (IMDB : 8.4/10) : Of the 18 main actors, 4 of them are British Flag-UK: Archie Panjabi (Kalinda Sharma), Alan Cumming (Eli Gold), Matthew Goode (Finn Polmar) and Cush Jumbo (Lucca Quinn). And of course Michael J. Fox (Louis Canning) is Canadian. Flag-Canada

- Homeland (IMDB : 8.3/10) : Damian Lewis (Nicholas Brody), Rupert Friend (Peter Quinn), and David Harewood (David Estes) are all British Flag-UK; Morena Baccarin (Jessica Brody) is Brazilian Flag-Brazil; and Diego Klattenhoff (Mike Faber) is Canadian. Flag-Canada

- Prison Break (IMDB : 8.3/10) : Neither of the two lead actors is American: Wentworth Miller (Michael Scofield) is British Flag-UK while Dominic Purcell (Lincoln Burrows) is Australian. Flag-Australia

- Californication (IMDB : 8.3/10) : The second main role is played by Natascha McElhone (Karen), who is British Flag-UK One of the recurring characters, Lew Ashby, is played by Callum Keith Rennie who is also British.

- Chuck (IMDB : 8.2/10) : A very American series with an almost completely American cast. However, the second main character, CIA agent Sarah Walker, is played by Yvonne Strahovski, who is Australian. Flag-Australia

- The Mentalist (IMDB : 8.2/10) : The lead actor, Simon Baker (Patrick Jane), is Australian. Flag-Australia One of the few other main actors, Owain Yeoman (Wayne Rigsby), is British. Flag-UK

- Damages (IMDB : 8.1/10) : The lead actress Rose Byrne (Ellen Parsons) is Australian. Flag-Australia Other non-American actors include Anastasia Griffith (Katie Connor), who is British Flag-UK, and Zeljko Ivanek (Ray Fiske) who is Slovenian Flag-Slovenia. Note that Martin Short (Leonard Winstone) is Canadian Flag-Canada, but was naturalised American and has dual citizenship.

- The Blacklist (IMDB : 8.0/10) : Diego Klattenhoff (Donald Ressler) is Canadian. Flag-Canada He is one of the three actors present in all 218 episodes of the series.

- The Good Doctor (IMDB : 8.0/10) : The lead actor Freddie Highmore (Dr. Shaun Murphy) is English Flag-UK. One of the few characters found in all season is Dr. Audrey Lim, played by Christina Chang, who is Chinese-Filipino born in Taiwan.

- Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan (IMDB : 8.0/10) : The main actor is American, but most of the recurring characters are not. Abbie Cornish (Cathy Mueller) is Australian Flag-Australia; Adam Bernett (Patrick Klinghoffer) is Canadian Flag-Canada; Nina Hoss (Alena Kovac) is German Flag-Germany; Noomi Rapace (Harriet Baumann) and Alexej Manvelov (Alexei Petrov) are Swedish Flag-Sweden; Peter Guinness (Petr) and James Cosmo (Luka) are British Flag-UK; Jordi Mollà (Nicolás Reyes) is Spanish Flag-Spain; Ali Suliman (Suleiman) is Palestinian; Dina (Shihabi Hanin) is Saudi Arabian; Francisco Denis (Miguel Ubarri) is Venezuelan; and Cristina Umaña (Gloria Bonalde) is Colombian. Of the 20 main actors, 13 are not American.

- Revenge (IMDB : 7.9/10) : The lead actress Emily VanCamp (Emily Thorne) is Canadian, as are Henry Czerny (Conrad Grayson), James Tupper (David Clarke) and Karine Vanasse (Margaux LeMarchal). Flag-Canada Josh Bowman (Daniel Grayson), Ashley Madekwe (Ashley Davenport), and Barry Sloane (Aiden Mathis) are all British. Flag-UK So of the 12 main actors, only 5 are American.

- The Alienist (IMDB : 7.7/10) : The two lead actors are not American. Daniel Brühl (Laszlo Kreizler) is German-Spanish Flag-GermanyFlag-Spain, while Luke Evans (John Moore) is Welsh. Flag-UK One of the four other actors playing in all episodes, Douglas Smith (Marcus Isaacson), is Canadian. Flag-Canada

- NCIS (IMDB : 7.7/10) : The lead actor, David McCallum (Donald Mallard) is British. Flag-UK

- The Lincoln Lawyer (IMDB : 7.7/10) : The lead actor, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo (Mickey Haller), is Mexican Flag-Mexico. Other main actors who aren't American include Angus Sampson (Dennis 'Cisco' Wojciechowski) who is Australian Flag-Australia, and Neve Campbell (Maggie McPherson) who is Canadian. Flag-Canada

- You (IMDB : 7.7/10) : The central character is played by Penn Badgley who is American, but there are three British actresses among the main characters: Charlotte Ritchie (Kate Galvin), Saffron Burrows (Dottie Quinn), and Tilly Keeper (Lady Phoebe). Flag-UK

- Grey's Anatomy (IMDB : 7.6/10) : Of the 14 main actors who played in over 200 episodes, 5 are not American. Kevin McKidd (Dr. Owen Hunt) and Camilla Luddington (Dr. Jo Wilson) are British Flag-UK; Sara Ramirez (Dr. Callie Torres) is Mexican Flag-Mexico; Sandra Oh (Dr. Cristina Yang) and Caterina Scorsone (Dr. Amelia Shepherd) are Canadian. Flag-Canada

- Designated Survivor (IMDB : 7.5/10) : Hard to find a more American series than one centred on the POTUS and the White House, and yet the lead actor Kiefer Sutherland (President Tom Kirkman) is Canadian Flag-Canada. The president's wife is played by Natascha McElhone who is British Flag-UK. Among the other main actors we find Italia Ricci (Emily Rhodes) and Paulo Costanzo (Lyor Boone) who are also Canadian Flag-Canada, and Adan Canto (Aaron Shore) who is Mexican Flag-Mexico. They make the three top advisors to the president. So none of the five top people in White House are played by American actors!

- Chesapeake Shores (IMDB : 7.5/10) : Although the story is supposedly set in Virginia, it was actually shot near Vancouver in Canada. Of the 9 main actors, only two are American. Six of them are Canadian Flag-Canada: Meghan Ory (Abby O'Brien-Winters), Laci J Mailey (Jess O'Brien), Brendan Penny (Kevin O'Brien), Andrew Francis (Connor O'Brien), Jessica Sipos (Sarah Mercer), and Carlo Marks (David Peck). The non-Canadians are Treat Williams (Mick O'Brien) and Jesse Metcalfe (Trace Riley) who are American Flag-USA, and Emilie Ullerup (Bree O'Brien), who is Danish. Flag-Denmark

- Ginny & Georgia (IMDB : 7.5/10) : Even though the story takes places in a small town in Massachussetts, of the 14 main actors, 12 are not American! Felix Mallard (Marcus Baker) and Diesel La Torraca (Austin Miller) are Australian Flag-NZ, while Sara Waisglass (Maxine Baker), Katie Douglas (Abby Littman), Chelsea Clark (Norah), Mason Temple (Hunter Chen), Jennifer Robertson (Ellen Baker), Raymond Ablack (Joe), Dan Beirne (Nick), Sabrina Grdevich (Cynthia Fuller), and Nikki Roumel (Young Georgia Miller) are all Canadian. Flag-Canada

- The O.C. (IMDB : 7.5/10) : Of the 10 main actors, 3 are not American, including the lead actress Mischa Barton (Marissa Cooper), who is British Flag-UK. The others are Kelly Rowan (Kirsten Cohen) who is Canadian Flag-Canada and Alan Dale (Caleb Nichol) who is New Zealander. Flag-NZ

- Brothers & Sisters (IMDB : 7.4/10) : Rachel Griffiths (Sarah Walker) is Australian Flag-NZ; Matthew Rhys (Kevin Walker) is British Flag-UK; Luke Macfarlane (Scotty Wandell) and Emily VanCamp (Rebecca Harper) are Canadian. Flag-Canada

- The Recruit (IMDB : 7.4/10) : Of the 12 main actors, 5 are not American. Laura Haddock (Max Meladze) and Daniel Quincy Annoh (Terence) are British Flag-UK; Kaylah Zander (Amelia), Kristian Bruun (Janus Ferber), and Jake Lewis (Phantom) are Canadian. Flag-Canada

American Sitcoms

American sitcoms typically have a limited set of characters, usually between 5 and 8. Yet, most of them have at least one non-American actor among them.

- Friends (IMDB : 8.9/10) : Matthew Perry (Chandler Bing) is Canadian. Flag-Canada

- Arrested Development : (IMDB : 8.7/10) : Of the four main actors, three are not American: Portia de Rossi (Lindsay Bluth Fünke) is Australian Flag-Australia, while Michael Cera (George-Michael Bluth) and Will Arnett (Gob Bluth) are Canadian. Flag-Canada

- Modern Family (IMDB : 8.5/10) : Sofía Vergara (Gloria Delgado-Pritchett) is Colombian.

- How I Met Your Mother (IMDB : 8.4/10) : Cobie Smulders (Robin Scherbatsky) is Canadian Flag-Canada, but she also plays a Canadian character in the series.

- The Big Bang Theory (IMDB : 8.2/10) : Kunal Nayyar (Raj Koothrappali) is British Flag-UK (though he moved to the US when he was 18). Simon Helberg (Howard Wolowitz) has the dual French and American citizenship (he was naturalised French, so he must have lived in France and be fluent in French) Flag-FranceFlag-USA. Johnny Galecki (Leonard Hofstadter) is American, but he was born in Belgium (that doesn't really count, but I wanted to mention it).

- Young Sheldon (IMDB : 7.6/10) : The story is set in rural Texas in the 1980s and yet the main actor, Iain Armitage, is half-Scottish, half-American. Flag-ScotlandFlag-USA He is the son of Scottish actor and singer Euan Morton.

Historical series

In historical series most of the time there are practically no American actors. I first thought that maybe it was because of their accent, which would clash with those of British actors. But there are plenty of Canadians who speak with a North American accent, so that must not be it. There are also plenty of non-native speakers of English, so I am really at a loss as to why Americans hardly ever feature in this genre.

- Pride and Prejudice (IMDB : 8.8/10) : Flag-UK All British cast, except for Jennifer Ehle who is half British half American.

- Rome (IMDB : 8.7/10) : All British cast. Flag-UK

- Downton Abbey (IMDB : 8.7/10) : All British cast Flag-UK, except Elizabeth McGovern (Cora Crawley) who is American Flag-USA and Allen Leech (Tom Branson who) is Irish Flag-Ireland, like their characters in the series.

- The Crown (IMDB : 8.6/10) : All British cast. Flag-UK

- Spartacus (IMDB : 8.5/10) : International cast. Andy Whitfield (Spartacus), Peter Mensah (Doctore), and Cynthia Addai-Robinson (Naevia) are British Flag-UK; Liam McIntyre (Spartacus), Viva Bianca (Ilithyia), and Daniel Feuerriegel (Agron) are Australian Flag-Australia; Lucy Lawless (Lucretia), Manu Bennett (Crixus) and Pana Hema Taylor (Nasir) are New Zealanders Flag-NZ; Nick E. Tarabay (Ashur) is Lebanese-American...

- The Last Kingdom (IMDB : 8.5/10) : The whole cast is European. Alexander Dreymon (Uhtred, the main character) is German Flag-Germany; Emily Cox (Brida) is Austrian Flag-Austria; Arnas Fedaravicius (Sihtric) is Lithuanian Flag-Lithuania, but all the others are British Flag-UK.

- Vikings (IMDB : 8.5/10) : Very international cast, but no Americans. Travis Fimmel (Ragnar Lothbrok) and Alyssa Sutherland (Queen Aslaug) are Australian Flag-Australia; Katheryn Winnick (Lagertha) and Alexander Ludwig (Bjorn Lothbrok) are Canadian Flag-Canada; George Blagden (Athelstan), Linus Roache (King Ecbert), Maude Hirst (Helga) and Georgia Hirst (Torvi) are English Flag-England; Jordan Patrick Smith (Ubbe) is Scottish Flag-Scotland; Clive Standen (Rollo) is Northern Irish Flag-North_Ireland; Moe Dunford (Aethelwulf) is Irish Flag-Ireland; Marco Ilsø (Hvitserk) and Alex Høgh Andersen (Ivar) are Danish Flag-Denmark; Gustaf Skarsgård (Floki) is Swedish Flag-Sweden; and Peter Franzén (King Harald Finehair) is Finnish. Flag-Finland

- Outlander (IMDB : 8.4/10) : The story is set in Britain and in the USA during the Revolutionary War, yet most of the cast is British (mostly Scottish) Flag-UK, except the lead actress, Caitríona Balfe (Claire Randall), who is Irish Flag-Ireland, and César Domboy (Fergus), who is French. Flag-France

- Poldark (IMDB : 8.3/10) : The story is set in the USA during the American Revolution, then in Britain. Most of the cast is British Flag-UK, except the lead actor, Aidan Turner (Ross Poldark), who is Irish Flag-Ireland, and Heida Reed (Elizabeth Warleggan), who is Icelandic.

- Black Sails (IMDB : 8.2/10) : Even though the story is set in the Americas (mostly Bahamas) and the cast is very international, there is only one American actor (Zach McGowan playing Captain Charles Vane) Flag-USA. Toby Stephens (Captain Flint), Hannah New (Eleanor Guthrie), Clara Paget (Anne Bonny) and Tom Hopper (Billy Bones) are English Flag-UK; Jessica Parker Kennedy (Max) is Canadian Flag-Canada; Luke Arnold (John Silver) and Toby Schmitz (Rackham) are Australian Flag-Australia; Andre Jacobs (De Groot) is South African Flag-South-Africa; Hakeem Kae-Kazim (Mr. Scott) is Nigerian-British...

- The Tudors (IMDB : 8.1/10) : Mixed British and Irish cast Flag-UK Flag-Ireland. The Irish actors are Jonathan Rhys Meyers (King Henry VIII), Sarah Bolger (Mary Tudor), and Anthony Brophy (Ambassador Bishop Chapuys).

- Marco Polo (IMDB : 8.0/10) : International cast. The lead actor Lorenzo Richelmy (Marco Polo) is Italian Flag-Italy; Benedict Wong (Kublai Khan) is British Flag-UK; Remy Hii (Prince Jingim) is Malaysian-Australian; Mahesh Jadu (Ahmad) and Uli Latukefu (Byamba) are Australian Flag-Australia; Olivia Cheng (Mei Lin) is Canadian Flag-Canada; Joan Chen (Empress Chabi), Zhu Zhu (Kokachin), and Tom Wu (Hundred Eyes) are Chinese Flag-China; Claudia Kim (Khutulun) is South Korean Flag-South_Korea; Chin Han (Jia Sidao) is Singaporean; Rick Yune (Kaidu) is American Flag-USA.

- The Borgias (IMDB : 7.9/10) : Mostly British cast Flag-UK apart from François Arnaud (Cesare Borgia) and Colm Feore (Giuliano Della Rovere) who are Canadian Flag-Canada, Lotte Verbeek (Giulia Farnese) who is Dutch Flag-Netherlands, and Bosco Hogan (Cardinal Piccolomini) who is Irish Flag-Ireland.

- Medici (IMDB : 7.9/10) : Mixed European cast. Most actors are British Flag-UK: Richard Madden (Cosimo de' Medici), Daniel Sharman (Lorenzo de' Medici), Bradley James (Giuliano de' Medici), Annabel Scholey (Contessina), Sarah Parish (Lucrezia de' Medici), Sebastian De Souza (Sandro Botticelli), but there are also a few Italians like Aurora Ruffino (Bianca de' Medici), Alessandra Mastronardi (Lucrezia Donati) and Francesco Montanari (Girolamo Savonarola) Flag-Italy. Synnove Karlsen (Clarice) is Norwegian-Scottish. Flag-Norway The only American actor is Dustin Hoffman Flag-USA whom we only briefly see in the some episodes.

- Versailles (IMDB : 7.9/10) : Mostly British cast Flag-UK. Evan Williams and Steve Cumyn are Canadian Flag-Canada, Catherine Walker is Irish Flag-Ireland, Elisa Lasowski and Lizzie Brocheré are French Flag-France, and Noémie Schmidt is Swiss. Flag-Switzerland

- Reign (IMDB : 7.5/10) : International cast. Adelaide Kane (Mary Stuart) and Caitlin Stasey (Kenna de Poitiers) are Australian Flag-Australia, Craig Parker is New Zealander, Toby Regbo (Francis de Valois), Celina Sinden (Greer Castleroy), Anna Popplewell (Lola) and Rose Williams (Claude de Valois) are British Flag-UK, Megan Follows (Catherine de' Medici), Torrance Coombs (Sebastian 'Bash' de Poitiers), Rachel Skarsten (Elizabeth Tudor), Spencer Macpherson (Charles de Valois) and Alan Van Sprang (Henry de Valois) are Canadian Flag-Canada, and Jonathan Keltz (Leith Bayard) is American. Flag-USA

Other British series

- Game of Thrones (IMDB : 9.2/10) : Almost completely British cast Flag-UK apart from Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister) who is American Flag-USA, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister) who is Danish Flag-Denmark, and Liam Cunningham (Davos Seaworth) and Aidan Gillen (Petyr 'Littlefinger' Baelish) who are Irish. Flag-Ireland

- Sherlock (IMDB : 9.2/10) : All the main actors are British Flag-UK except Andrew Scott (Jim Moriarty) who is Irish. Flag-Ireland

- Doctor Who (IMDB : 8.6/10) : All British cast. Flag-UK

- Bodyguard (IMDB : 8.1/10) : All British cast. Flag-UK

- The Night Manager (IMDB : 7.7/10) : The story is set in Egypt, yet the two lead actors (Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie) are British, as are most of the main recurring actors Flag-UK. The two notable exceptions are Elizabeth Debicki (Jed Marshall), who is Australian Flag-Australia, and Hovik Keuchkerian (Tabby) who is Spanish (or Lebanese origin). Flag-Spain

- Anatomy of a Scandal (IMDB : 7.0/10) : All British cast. Flag-UK

Spanish-speaking series

Over the last few years there has been a surge in high-quality series from Spain, and to a lower extent also Mexico, on Netflix and Prime Video. Here are some examples.

- Merlí (IMDB : 8.6/10) : Spanish
- Gran Hotel (IMDB : 8.3/10) : Spanish
- Money Heist (La casa de papel) (IMDB : 8.2/10) : Spanish
- Vis a vis (IMDB : 8.2/10) : Spanish
- The Boarding School (El internado) (IMDB : 8.1/10) : Spanish
- Velvet (IMDB : 8.1/10) : Spanish
- La Reina del Sur (IMDB : 7.9/10) : Mexican
- Monarca (IMDB : 7.8/10) : Mexican
- Cable Girls (IMDB : 7.5/10) : Spanish
- Cathedral of the Sea (IMDB : 7.5/10) : Spanish
- Morocco: Love in Times of War (IMDB : 7.5/10) : Spanish
- The Cook of Castamar (IMDB : 7.4/10) : Spanish
- The Five Juanas (IMDB : 6.9/10) : Mexican
- El Cid (IMDB : 6.8/10) : Spanish
- High Seas (IMDB : 6.8/10) : Spanish

100% American series

It's becoming increasingly hard to find good American series. It's getting "too much of the same". Americans are specialised in action with car chases and crashes (I only liked that genre when I was a child), crime and investigations (which I rarely find interesting), drug cartels (no interest), superheroes (no interest at all) and sitcoms. Indeed, with the hindsight I realise now that most of the series that I started watching but stopped after a few episodes or after one season were all American (e.g. Dynasty, Outer Banks, The Office, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Ozark, The Sopranos...).

Here are some of the few very good American series that do not have any non-American actors among the main cast:

- Boston Legal (IMDB : 8.5/10)
- Suits (IMDB : 8.4/10)
- Maid (IMDB : 8.4/10)
- Gilmore Girls (IMDB : 8.2/10) - note that the series was shot in Canada, though.
- Grace and Frankie (IMDB : 8.2/10)
- Weeds (IMDB : 7.9/10)
- Two and a Half Men (IMDB : 7.1/10)


I have listed 33 top-rated series of the last 15 years set in the USA (+ 7 sit-coms => see below). Among these 33, only six had a full American cast, which is only 18% of the total. 17 of the 33 series (51% of them) had non-American lead actors (7 British, 5 Canadians, 3 Australians, 1 Mexican and 1 German-Spanish). 18 series (54%) had at least one third of non-American actors among their main cast.

Among the seven sit-coms, only one (14%) had a full American cast, namely Two and a Half Men, which was also the worst rated of the seven shows on IMDB.

Of the 16 historical series not set predominantly in the USA, out of the hundreds of actors I listed for the top cast, there were only five American actors and none in main roles (the biggest role was Elizabeth McGovern playing Cora Crawley in Downton Abbey, but her character was American in the story). Even Outlander and Poldark, which take place in the United States and Britain, don't have a single American actor in the main cast!

It shows that the English-speaking cinema industry is not just American, but is truly international. With Netflix there is also an increasing number of non-English-speaking series, particularly in Spanish, that are dubbed into English and are just as popular as Hollywood productions, even if still less numerous.
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I have just updated the article. The list is getting long.

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