On the first episode of Mare of Easttown, HBO’s new series premiering Sunday, Kate Winslet takes us on a journey—into the blue-collar boroughs of southeastern Pennsylvania and, more specifically, onto the rollercoaster of the Delaware County dialect. The ride begins when Winslet’s character, a detective named Mare Sheehan, makes a meal out of the word “overdose” early in the first episode—drawing it out to sound something like “aye-oh-ver-dough-se”—and careens through unexpected loops and valleys of unfamiliar sounds through the show’s seven episodes.
After hearing this head-scratching dialect, Vanity Fair took its burning questions about Mare’s accent to Winslet, Winslet’s longtime dialect coach Susan Hegarty, and Mare of Easttown creator Brad Ingelsby (who was raised in southeastern Pennsylvania himself). Ahead, a comprehensive debrief of the dialect lovingly known as “Delco” by locals.
Why does this dialect sound so strange?
If Mare’s accent sounds strange, it’s likely because you aren’t as familiar with the Philadelphia area dialect as you are with more recognizable regional variations, like southern or Bronx. “It’s not really in the American imagination if you’re not from that state or that region,” Hagerty told Vanity Fair on Thursday afternoon. “You didn’t grow up hearing it. You didn’t grow up hearing parodies of it. What’s strange to people who aren’t familiar with it is that it sounds like New York and it’s not like New York at all,” he explained. “And then it sounds Southern, and it’s not Southern at all.”
The dialect is so little-known (much like Pittsburgh’s, on the western side of Pennsylvania) that many Philly-set projects—think Rocky, Silver Linings Playbook—opt to forgo accent authenticity entirely. Speaking to Vanity Fair, Hagerty referenced a colleague from Philadelphia who “has a resume as long as your arm” but “never once in her entire career has had the opportunity to coach a Philadelphia accent. She’s even talked to producers about projects that she knew were going to be based in Philadelphia. And they said, ‘Oh, nobody cares. We’re just going to do New York.’ It’s kind of a shame.” HBO and Winslet, by contrast, were so intent on setting Mare of Easttown in Southern Pennsylvania, specifically Delaware County, that Hagerty said that she was the second person hired, after Winslet, for the production.
Hagerty is prepared for some viewers to be surprised by the Delco sound.
“I remember the first time I met somebody from Pennsylvania,” Hagerty said. “It was with a friend from Pittsburgh, and I thought the accent was the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard.” (In 2014, Pittsburgh was voted the “Ugliest Accent in America” by Gawker.) Said Hagerty, “There probably will be some people who are a little bit distracted by the accent at the beginning.”
Why are certain sounds so noticeable (especially the “o”), while others aren’t?
Hagerty isn’t sure. In fact, “the inconsistency” of the Delco accent is part of what makes it such an intimidating venture for an actor. “The inconsistency of it is very strange. . . .your brain looks for patterns, things it can find comfort in. But with this you are constantly being challenged.”
The inconsistency worried Winslet so much that the actor “worried that I wasn’t going to be able to do it.” Speaking to Vanity Fair, she said, “Whenever that happens then I just practice it more.”
Who else has attempted the Delco dialect in film and television?
Sienna Miller, for the film American Woman—which was also written by Ingelsby:
Philadelphia native Bradley Cooper broke out his Delco on a local news segment in 2011, but notably not for Silver Linings Playbook:
Nick Kroll on a 2014 sketch of his Kroll Show:
Philadelphia native Tina Fey, also on a local news segment, in 2019:
How did Kate Winslet go Delco?
After Winslet signed onto the project, Ingelsby began sending Winslet and Hagerty voice memos that he recorded of his wife, who speaks with a subtle Delco accent. “He started sending me candid recordings of his family,” said Hagerty. “He would just turn the recorder on when they were in the car, driving the kids home—and I would hear his wife and maybe her sister or her parents would be in the car, and the kids would they be playing charades at home.”
A local dialect coach, Susanne Sulby, also collected samples of Delaware County locals doing interviews. “She wandered through the counties interviewing people—all different backgrounds, all different ages,” said Hagerty. The interviews were used as dialect models for the cast. Hagerty pinpointed two “dialect models” for Winslet whose age and vocal resonance matched the actor. One was a teacher named Trish Lauria.
“I had a ritual,” Winslet told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “I’d get in the car. I’d put my coffee in the cup holder. The AirPods would go in, and I would have Trish Lauria from Drexel Hill in my ear to and from set every day. That was the voice that kind of resonated with me the most. She was brilliant.”
Which accent came the close to breaking Winslet?
“I love doing accents, but this one did drive me crazy,” admitted Winslet to Vanity Fair. “I did a sort of Polish Armenian American for the Steve Jobs movie that was quite difficult. That was actually extremely difficult. I had been American in Titanic, but doing Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind was kind of a Long Island dialect. I had to get very good at that so I could improvise a lot. . .With your dialogue, when you’re suddenly making stuff up and ad libbing, it’s a whole other host of scariness. Eternal Sunshine was really quite hard because I had to truly like just be very proficient at it. But the Delco was pretty tricky.”
“I had to work on it every single day,” said Winslet. “I didn’t learn it and then just go and do the show. Every single day I was working on the dialect on the way to work, when I got in the hair and makeup trailer, as soon as I could find someone to run lines with. . . .It was just constant.”
Said Hagerty, “It’s an accent, not a costume. You don’t just go in for a fitting, put it on, and then you’re done. It has to be maintained. It’s a living thing and has to be renewed every day.”
What were the dangers of going Delco?
“There’s always the danger that as an actor, you can sound like you’re doing a voice,” said Winslet. “There was a police woman named Christine Bleiler, who’s a detective. I worked alongside as a large part of the preparation too. She was my go-to. I mean, I’d call her at five in the morning and go, ‘I’m on my way to work. And I’ve just realized, I don’t think this dialogue quite adds up in in real police wording, and she helped me. But her dialect was very strong.”
Winslet said that she consciously took the dialect down a few notches, so it would be less distracting to viewers. “[Audiences] don’t notice the costumes or the hair. I’m wearing a wig in the show, but you’d never know. The accent had to be the same.”
Why does Evan Peters’s dialect sound so different?
While Winslet worked with Hagerty, and Sulby helped other actors, Evan Peters decided to specifically imitate a Delco native while playing Detective Zabel. Said Ingelsby, “We had a tech advisor on the show, Pete Baylor, who is a local cop. He and his brothers have this heavy Delco accent. Evan noticed that in Pete and then we had Pete and his brothers record [dialogue]. He was always saying, ‘I got the Delco accent from the Baylor brothers.’ He just leaned into that.”
If you really want to get deep into dialect comparisons, Hagerty pointed out that another Mare of Easttown actor—James McArdle (who plays Deacon Mark Burton)—is from Delaware County and uses his native accent in the series.
What do the locals seem to think of Winslet’s accent?
After the trailer premiered this February, the Philly Voice declared that Winslet “nails it—at least so far.” In fact, the outlet pointed out four specific moments in the trailer that show Winslet masters the accent—“the crowning achievement comes at 1:41, when she says, ‘Doing something great is overrated.’ It doesn’t get much better than that.”
The outlet even used Winslet’s work as an example of an actor delivering “a good, convincing Philly accent—versus one, infamous to Philly, that was attempted by actor Michael C. Hall in Shadow of the Moon, and goes “wildly over the top.”
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