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I never get the girl. I always get the country.
—Attributed to Anthony Quinn

Do you know Peter Stormare? Yes, you do. He's that Russian Italian German Swedish actor who is so versatile that he can - and will - play any nationality, even his own, as long as it's non-Anglo-Saxon and therefore foreign. Fake Nationality is his bread and butter but it's not his defining quality as he could perfectly well play a Swede and still fall under this.

This refers to casting practice, and in the case of Trope Codifier Peter Stormare it has even achieved the status of Casting Gag. It refers to "international" or "ethnic" - at any rate not American or British - actors who are considered to somehow look or be able to act so vaguely but conspicuously foreign that they can be used for any nationality. It's As Long as It Sounds Foreign and Gratuitous Foreign Language applied to casting. However, But Not Too Foreign is often in effect because you'll want someone who speaks good English (even though intentionally accented) and rather panders to viewers' expectations than give an accurate portrayal of a specific ethnic identity which also means that the character's background might be very vague as long as it's foreign. Note that Plays Great Ethnics can have the same Unfortunate Implications as Mistaken Nationality.

Often these actors were originally successful abroad before they were discovered by Hollywood. Might result in Classically-Trained Extra. Some have achieved Hey, It's That Guy! status. May be played with by having the character himself be of ambiguous heritage.

Examples of Plays Great Ethnics include:


  • Invoked in The X-Files when one of The Men in Black claims that Saddam Hussein is in fact a character actor with a background in dinner theater who "plays great ethnics."
  • Swedish actor Peter Stormare has played a German "nihilist" in The Big Lebowski, a Russian cosmonaut in Armageddon, an Italian mercenary in The Brothers Grimm, a drunken and violent Frenchman in Chocolat - the list goes on.
  • Mads Mikkelsen is Danish, but only when in Denmark. His perceived indeterminate ethnicity fits his role in Casino Royale as Le Chiffre is stateless according to Ian Fleming and "probably a mixture of Mediterranean with Prussian or Polish strains" and apparently has "some Jewish blood". In the film, MI 6 believes him to be Albanian.
  • Hungarian-born Peter Lorre played Le Chiffre, too. His article in the other wiki has the phrase "frequently typecast as a sinister foreigner" in the first sentence.
  • Born in Casablanca to Spanish parents, Jean Reno is successful in both European cinema and Hollywood, appearing as French, Armenian, Russian, Italian, Polish, German...
  • Croatian actress Mira Furlan plays a Frenchwoman on Lost. Her cute accent was a plus in her role as the Minbari ambassador Delenn.
  • Italian actor Giancarlo Giannini covers all countries where a Romance language is spoken, preferably Mediterranean. And also the Padishah-Emperor.
  • Alfred Molina (Italian, Spanish and English heritage) does all those plus Russian, Middle Eastern and South American - when not portraying Americans or Brits.
  • The Jewish-American-British Andrew Garfield is becoming one of these. He's most well-known for playing the hispaic Eduardo Saverin in The Social Network, but has also played standard-issue brits and Americans in movies like The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus and The Amazing Spider Man. Also, he is slated to star in a biopic of the Spanish war photographer Robert Capa.
  • Tony Shalhoub was born in Wisconsin but has a Lebanese background. Hollywood doesn't need too many Lebanese characters so why not branch out to Italian characters when you have the looks? Often, his characters' ethnic backgrounds are intentionally vague - but definitely somewhat foreign (lampshaded in Galaxy Quest). Adrian Monk is of Welsh ancestry, in case you wondered. For a more complete breakdown of Shalhoub's roles see Hey, It's That Guy!.
  • Italian-American John Turturro is probably more well known for his various portrayals of hispanics (The Big Lebowski, Collateral Damage), Spaniards (Mr. Deeds), and Jews (Barton Fink, Quiz Show, Miller's Crossing) than when he actually plays Italians (mostly in Spike Lee movies).
  • Egyptian Omar Sharif is a classic example. He is so well established as an international actor that nobody questions his ability to play practically any nationality.
  • Sudanese-English actor Siddig El Tahir El Fadil El Siddig Abderrahman Mohammed Ahmed Abdel Karim El Mahdi (better known as Alexander Siddig) is a preferred choice for characters from anywhere in the Arabic world, especially if you don't want a terrorist. He also played the Carthaginian Hannibal.
  • Rade Serbedzija, the actor who played Boris the Blade in Snatch, is Croatian, but he's the go-to guy for characters from anywhere in Eastern Europe, whether they're evil or not.
  • Titos Vandis, Greek, who played (among others) three unrelated characters of varying ethnicities on Barney Miller, none of whom were Greek; there was a Puerto Rican, a Gypsy, and another one.
  • Hey, It's That Guy!-guy Udo Kier is from Germany. Based on Hollywood's use of him, you'd think his passport states "Evil Foreigner" as his nationality.
  • If you need an Asian Mook who can do stunts and martial arts, too, there's Al Leong.
  • Back in the days when Yellowface was still considered apropos, Henry Silva, a man of Spanish and Italian descent whose ethnicity, he jokes, had been "assumed to be everything" made a career playing Yellow Peril characters in movies like The Manchurian Candidate and whatever other ethnic heavy the studios wanted him to.
  • London-born actor Ritchie Coster (whose ethnic origins are Dutch) is dark haired, dark eyed, and has spent his career playing non-English characters of various types. He was The Chechen (a Chechen, naturally) in The Dark Knight, Mister Zoric (a Hungarian) in Let Me In, Simon Matic (a Bulgarian) in Law and Order: Criminal Intent, Joey Sadano (an Italian) in American Gangster, Jorgan Stern (a Pole) in Law and Order, Fazal (a Saudi Arabian) in Traffic, Nicolai Trepov (a Russian) in Hack, and the list goes on and on and on. One can count the number of times he's played English characters on both hands.
  • Indian-born American actor Erick Avari has made a career out of this: he's played British characters, Arab characters (even an alien arab in the original Stargate movie and the follow-up TV show), Egyptians, Russians, Spaniards, and so on. He's even occasionally played the odd American here or there. The Other Wiki, in point of fact, says that he's "portrayed representatives of more than 24 different nationalities".
  • Cliff Curtis, a Maori from New Zealand, has played characters who are Latin American from multiple countries, Egyptian, Saudi Arabian, Iraqi, Spanish and Chechen in addition to Maori.
  • Swedish-born actress Lena Olin has played a Frenchwoman in Chocolat (where, funnily enough, she's married to Peter Stormare's character) and Casanova, a German in The Reader, an Egyptian in Queen of the Damned, a Czech woman in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and Russians in Alias and Romeo Is Bleeding
  • Anthony Quinn played Greeks, Portuguese, Arabs, Ukranians, Jews, Englishmen, Italians, Latin Americans, and just about everything else you could possibly think of. In reality, he was a Mexican with significant Irish ancestry (hence the name).
  • Over his long and illustrious career, the Welsh Anthony Hopkins has portrayed Brits, Spaniards, New Zealanders, Americans, Greeks, Germans, and even a black guy... twice.
  • Taika Waititi is Maori, but has played Indians, Romany, Vietnamese, and Inuit.
  • Naveen Andrews is mostly known for playing an Arab in Lost. Before, he did mostly his actual Indian ethnicity (such as The English Patient), and also an African in Mighty Joe Young.
  • Christopher Lee, though British-born, has played all sorts of foreigners (including Arabs and Chinese). His facility with languages and part-Italian ancestry may be a factor.
  • Boris Karloff's swarthy looks had him playing Indians (both sub-Saharan and American), though less so once the sound era came in.
    • This might not count, since Karloff was part (Asian) Indian.
  • Orson Welles, an American of scots-irish ancestry, played a wide variety of Americans, Brits, Italians, Frenchmen, Slavs, Africans, and Hebrews over his life. This was aided by the fact that he absolutely loved using makeup.
  • Fred Armisen plays characters of nearly every race on Saturday Night Live, most notably Barack Obama.
  • Mark Dacascos. His ancestry is very varied - Filipino, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese and Irish - and apart from all kinds of Asian characters he's also played a Magical Native American.
  • Lou Diamond Philips is of Scots-Irish, Cherokee, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese and Hawaiian descent. As you might expect, he plays characters from a variety of races, though most often Latinos.
  • German/Austrian actor Moritz Bleibtreu, who played e.g. Abdul from Knockin On Heavens Door and Tarek from The Experiment.
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