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Volume 70, Issue 29, Friday, October 1, 2004


UH student lends CBS film a Texas voice

Actor trained 'Madness' cast in the art of Lone Star speech

By Barrett Goldsmith
The Daily Cougar

Pronounce your R's. Give it a round A. Talk slower.

Jimmy Myatt wasn't born in Texas, but he knows how Texans talk and he knows how actors work. So, when a friend approached him and asked if he wanted to be the dialect coach for a television movie about the Clara Harris murder investigation, Myatt jumped at the chance and hasn't regretted it since.

Suburban Madness, which will air at 8 p.m. Sunday on CBS, follows a reporter (The Day After Tomorrow's Sela Ward) in her search for answers in the trial of Clara Harris, the Friendswood woman convicted of murdering her husband by running him over with her car.

"The director wanted someone from Houston, or someone who had lived in Houston long enough to be familiar with the speech patterns and little quirks of the language," Myatt said.

So he flew to Toronto, where the movie was produced, and worked with each of the principal actors to establish his or her own unique voice.

"Nothing bugs me more than movies where everyone sounds the same. The New Yorkers all have Brooklyn accents. People from Chicago all sound the same," Myatt said. "There are 4 or 5 million people in Houston, and they all have a slightly different way of talking. I tried to get that across to the actors."

Myatt, 33, will graduate from UH in December with a double major in theater and print journalism. He nearly completed a degree from Rhodes College in Memphis, but dropped out in his senior year to pursue his acting career in Los Angeles. He worked as a bartender while looking for acting jobs.

"I did what most actors in L.A. do," Myatt said. "Most people who say they're ‘actors' are really auditioners, because that's what you spend most of your time doing."

Though he landed a number of roles in commercials -- and an episode of Unsolved Mysteries in which he played Elvis' brother on the night of the King's death -- he decided to move to Houston with his wife, Shannon, and their 4- and 2-year-old sons.

Myatt said he hasn't done any professional voice acting or dialect coaching before, but he said he always enjoyed doing accents. While in Los Angeles, Myatt was involved with The Groundlings, an improvisational comedy troupe which employed material that often lent to the use of eccentric voices.

"You begin to search for new wrinkles (in characters), and using an accent is a natural choice," Myatt said. "A Scottish panhandler is funnier than an American panhandler, so you try to find out what voices achieve what effects."

Though Myatt doesn't have plans for more dialect coaching in the near future, he said he is proud of his affiliation with Madness.

"It's a nice comment on marriage and infidelity and suburban America in general," Myatt said. "You see the parents taking the kids to soccer practice and having the perfectly mowed lawns, but what's going on behind closed doors?"

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