In "Casa de mi Padre" Will Ferrell plays a Mexican rancher in the middle of one seriously loco drug war. In order to commit fully to the role, the "Anchorman" star spent months brushing up on his language skills for the entirely Spanish-language comedy.
That's a lot of effort for a few laughs. But Ferrell is in good company with the following actors who took their performances to the next level by speaking in a foreign tongue, be it for a couple scenes or an entire film.
Jodie Foster in 'A Very Long Engagement' (2004)
After graduating as valedictorian from her French-language prep school Lycée Français de Los Angeles as a teen, it's no wonder this two-time Oscar winner was able to secure a role with director Jean-Pierre Jeunet ("Amelie"). For the World War I romance "A Very Long Engagement" Foster holds her own as Élodie Gordes, the wife of an infertile man who attempts to get pregnant so her husband won't have to go fight in the trenches. Outside of her role in this entirely French-language movie, she dubs most of her American films for France as well. How do you say "Stop being creepy, Dr. Lecter" in French?
Michael Fassbender in 'Inglourious Basterds' (2009)
Even though he was born in Germany, this Irish-raised star had to hit the books with a vocal coach for his role in Quentin Tarantino's World War II epic. He plays British Lieutenant Archie Hicox, a cineaste who gets caught up in a tense 20-minute conversation with a Nazi Major while incognito behind enemy lines. "I can chat in German and watch a film in German, but my spoken German is rusty," Fassbender told Irish Central. "Certain vowel sounds would be dead giveaways. So I had to tighten all those screws and make sure my rhythms wouldn't be off kilter."
Bradley Cooper in 'Limitless' (2011)
The Coop lives up to the title by having a seemingly unlimited facility en Français after popping pills that make him all smartypants. Though he has a brief, highly memorable bilingual scene in this film, it was really a talk-show appearance on national French TV channel TF1 -- in which Cooper showed off the fluency he gained as an exchange student in France -- that caused a firestorm on the Internet, with even the interviewer remarking how fab Cooper's French is. Many a female was sent into a sweet love hangover.
Viggo Mortensen in 'Eastern Promises' (2007)
Mighty Viggo has some degree of proficiency, from conversational to fluent, in Danish, Spanish, French, Italian, Norwegian and Swedish; but when he took on the role as a member of London's Russian mafia for "Eastern Promises," he didn't speak a lick of Russian. You wouldn't know it from watching him, though, since even Russians could hardly believe how precise Mortensen was as driver-with-a-secret Nikolai Luzhin. "I have an advantage because I speak Spanish; the J sounds and R sounds they have in Russian, so I had an advantage to copy those," the actor told Pop Entertainment. "But they have some vowel sounds that are trickier and particular to Russian and other Slavic languages. I had to work on that."
Benicio del Toro in 'Traffic' (2000)
Del Toro plays Javier Rodríguez, a conflicted Mexican border cop dealing with the harsh realities of corruption, in one of several overlapping stories of this drug trafficking drama. The Puerto Rican actor had to brush up on his Mexican inflections, afraid he might be dubbed in the final cut. "Can you imagine?" he said to Entertainment Weekly. ''You do the whole movie, bust your butt to get it as realistic as possible, and someone dubs your voice? I said, 'No way. Over my dead body.'" What did he get for his trouble? A Best Supporting Actor Oscar, the fourth ever for a non-English-speaking role. Del Toro and Soderbergh would challenge audiences later in the decade with the two-part Spanish-language "Che" biopic in 2008.
Tilda Swinton in 'I Am Love' (2010)
Language: Italian and Russian
For this intricate look at familial relations, Academy Award-winner Tilda Swinton played the lead role in an Italian-language film that took 11 years to develop. On top of having to speak the language, she also had to have smatterings of conversations in Russian, since her character Emma hailed from there. Speaking of her preparations for the art-house hit, the British actress told Collider, "The strange thing about the language question is that I’m very often speaking in a language that’s not my own. When I’m impersonating an American person I’m not actually speaking in a language that’s my own."
Natalie Portman in 'Free Zone' (2005)
Portman plays Rebecca, a part Israeli, part American girl traveling from Jerusalem to the Free Zone at the Jordan-Iraq-Saudi border. Portman, herself born in Jerusalem, speaks fluent Hebrew as seen in several interviews, and like her character holds dual citizenship. Despite her Jewish street cred, she made a lot of yarmulkes spin when filming a kissing scene by the sacred Western Wall with Israeli actor Aki Avni, which caused controversy. Portman earns bonus points playing an orthodox Jew in the segment of "New York, I Love You," which she directed.
Jim Caviezel in 'The Passion of the Christ' (2004)
Language: Aramaic and Latin
If we told you a passion play with no stars done entirely in not one but TWO dead languages was going to be making "Star Wars" grosses, you'd laugh us out of the office; but that's just what went down for Mel Gibson's 2004 Christian torture porn. The director cast angelic "Thin Red Line" star Caviezel as his water-walkin', Aramaic talkin' messiah, and despite delivering a passionate performance, the actor found himself hurting for solid roles even after the landmark blockbuster. The thespian recently found success on the small screen with the CBS series "Person of Interest."
Robert De Niro in 'The Godfather Part II' (1974)
Although he channels Marlon Brando's Vito Corleone from the first "Godfather," a 31-year-old De Niro owned the role during the prequel portions of "Part II," speaking in an authentic Sicilian dialect. The role was his first mainstream triumph after the breakout success of "Mean Streets," helping juxtapose the reign of mobster Vito with his son Michael (Al Pacino). De Niro received his first Academy Award for Best Supporting actor, and became the first actor to win one speaking mostly in a foreign language. He would dip his garlic bread in Italian again for Bernardo Bertolucci's "1900" and the recent comedy "The Ages of Love" ("Manuale d'amore 3").