'The Tragedy of Macbeth' Cast on How Diversity and Variety of Accents Made it 'Universal'

The works of William Shakespeare are classics, and rightly so, but the language used by the playwright can sometimes feel like quite difficult to understand.

Given the archaic language used and the accents that actors sometimes use, Scottish for Macbeth for example, this can detract from its appeal to viewers.

In his adaptation of the tragedy for Apple TV+ one thing director Joel Coen chose to do was to do away with a set accent for the cast, instead giving them the freedom to perform with their natural voices.

Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand both use their American accents as leads Lord and Lady Macbeth, for example, while Brendan Gleeson keeps his Irish accent, and Harry Melling and Alex Hassell continue to use their English accents.

The result makes The Tragedy of Macbeth feel like a veritable melting pot of diversity, which Hassell, Melling, co-star Kathryn Hunter, and cinematographer Bruno Delbonell tell Newsweek made it more "universal."

How a variety of accents make The Tragedy of Macbeth more universal compared to other Shakespeare adaptations

Melling, who portrays Malcolm in the on-screen adaptation, said: "I think everyone kept their accent, more or less. I think we maybe leant towards... maybe I had a slightly more regal version of my London accent, but we all kind of kept in territory that was familiar to us, which I think was a really nice idea.

"There was a point in which we all played with having the same accents and I think we all went, 'Oh, maybe we're missing the point here.' The language is universal, we're not somewhere specific, we should just embrace that."

When asked about the film's stripped-back nature in comparison to other adaptations of Shakespeare's work, he went on to say: "I have done Shakespeare before, but I agree it was very stripped back and I kind of think — I'm thinking as I speak on this one a bit because it's a good question— but I think maybe that was a response to certainly the language and the theatricality of it actually, in that you couldn't do too much, you know, it would have been overkill.

"I mean, the language is tough enough as it is in some points in the play, so I think you have to be very economic with what the world was, and the choices you make.

"I think you have to make [choices] very boldly. and firmly and I think that's what Joel did. I think the things he needed it to be was 100% [classic Shakespeare] and then you just strip away, strip away, strip away so the world of it is very much, you know, we're not in Scotland, we're in this very grandiose set.

"It wasn't really a proper world, there was an artifice, it was abstract to a degree where the language and the performances, which I feel was slightly turned up in terms of their theatricality, it could live in that world.

"So, yeah, I think that's what the whole stripped back maybe allowed an audience to come to it a bit more rather than maybe throwing too much at you guys."

The Tragedy of Macbeth
Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand as Lord and Lady Macbeth in "The Tragedy of Macbeth", which is out on Apple TV+ now. Apple TV+

Hassell also spoke on the subject, adding: "We're not Scottish that's one thing but we actually rehearsed one time we turned up there and they said 'right, let's do a read-through where you all just do American accents, go!'

"So we did that and then they quite quickly [changed their minds], apparently our accents were okay but they decided they wanted to hear our voices.

"You know, of course, if you do an accent and you can get good at it, you can, you know, speak from a place of truth.

"But I think they wanted the mellifluousness of our unique individual voices, but, also, if you're always being American then why are you being Scottish? Like, people know that Denzel is American, people know Frances is American, right? They know that Brendan Gleeson is Irish, for example.

"I think it would take you out to this, I think actually, you just watch the story rather than think about accents, which I think is good."

Kathryn Hunter is a veteran of the playwrights' work as she was part of The Royal Shakespeare Company for many years, and she takes on the role of all three witches in the film.

Reflecting on Coen's take on the play, she said: "It's hard to make the language as powerful as it needs to be, and yet pull back a bit, it's not pushing it out there like one would in the Globe [theatre] or in a big theatre.

"And yet, all over the years with the Royal Shakespeare Company we had to find the language through the vowels and the consonants, and the meter.

"All that pertains [in Coen's film], you know, about how to play it more subtly, and I think the mixture of American and British conquest is brilliant, you know, I hope it'll be hugely inviting for an audience that might not necessarily go see Shakespeare."

She added: "I think putting a mixed class together in this climate now where young people are texting away, I guess bringing it to the screen means that the beauty of Shakespeare's language gets shared.

"I've always been passionate about Shakespeare and I think you're a poorer person if you don't know Shakespeare's language, and it just takes that little bridge to go 'No, it's not something antique and old-worldly, and fuddy-duddy, it's actually alive and well.'

"So Joel's approach to the film, Frances and Denzel, and that mixture of cast who then audiences who will have seen them doing contemporary things will go 'Yeah, that's for me too.'"

Delbonnel also reflected on the cast for the Apple TV+ film, saying Coen's approach was a "unique take" on the source material.

The French cinematographer explained: "I think that's what makes this movie really interesting because it's a different thing, there is no set, and then you have African American actors, and all the actors speak with their own accents.

"Brendan has an Irish accent, and Alex has an English accent, even Denzel has an American accent, it's as if we were saying, you know, what this play is, is universal.

"Whether you're African-American or Irish, or you've got black skin or white skin, it's because you're fantastic actors that you're here, and it's not about the color of your skin. The story is not about Scotland, it's universal. And I think that's what's unique about this film and the story is universal."

The Tragedy of Macbeth is available to watch on Apple TV+ now.