When Hollywood A-listers need help accentuating the positive, they turn to dialect guru Tim Monich.In the early 1990s, Val Kilmer was preparing for his role as Doc Holliday in the movie Tombstone and, as is his custom, he immersed himself deeply in research, trying to better understand the character of the famous dentist turned Wild West gunman and gambler, who is best known for his involvement in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. One important quandary Kilmer faced was figuring out how Holliday — who was born in Georgia and received a vigorous classical education, studying topics such as Latin, rhetoric and grammar — would have sounded. Fortunately for Kilmer, he knew exactly whom to call to find out: a soft-spoken former Juilliard instructor of his named Tim Monich.
“I called him up one day and said I need a dead dialect. I needed a Southern dialect of an aristocrat, of that part of the culture that is gone,” recalls Kilmer, who recently finished filming Twixt Now and Sunrise, a movie directed by Francis Ford Coppola that is due to come out later this year. “And he understood exactly, immediately. I remember it very clearly, and it was a long, long time ago. Instantly, he replied, ‘I got it.’ And I said, ‘No, let me explain.’ And he said, ‘No, no, I got it,’ and he went right to it.”
The truth is that Monich has received countless calls like this from A-list Hollywood actors and directors seeking his help to teach, say, a Scottish actor to sound like a New Yorker or a Southern Californian to sound Irish. Monich has become the go-to dialect coach for film and theater actors over the past two-plus decades, working on literally hundreds of plays and movies to help some of the world’s most recognizable stars sound, well, unrecognizable. Monich’s movie résumé includes helping Matt Damon, who is famously from Boston, pull off a convincing South African accent in his role as the captain of the World Cup-winning rugby team in Invictus; prepping Hilary Swank for her role as Amelia Earhart in Amelia; and tutoring Leonardo DiCaprio for his turn as Danny Archer, a Zimbabwean-born mercenary, in Blood Diamond.
Not only has Monich worked with just about any name one could think to search for on IMDb.com, he also seems to have generated a deep reservoir of goodwill among those he has worked for or had as pupils.
“If you are in the world of dialects and performance, there is this one king, and that is Tim Monich,” says Mira Nair, who directed Swank in Amelia and has worked with Monich numerous times. “Everyone begins with him, and many actors simply insist on him.”
Kilmer, who tapped Monich to help him sound Irish in The Ghost and the Darkness and to learn around a dozen dialects for his role in The Saint, goes further. “Of anyone I know in the profession, including Francis Coppola and some grand figures, it’s his attention to detail that separates good work from great work and great work from historical work. It’s not too grand a statement to say that Tim pretty much does historical work.”