April 13, 2023
As a sitcom set in a Philadelphia school, "Abbott Elementary" has showcased many of the city's unique elements, from Flyers mascot Gritty to the local cheesesteak scene. Of course, a show cannot believably be set in the City of Brotherly Love without nailing a crucial detail: the Philly accent.
Lisa Ann Walter, who stars in the hit ABC comedy as second grade teacher Melissa Schemmenti, discussed how she perfected her character's accent during a "Good Morning America" appearance on Wednesday.
GMA host Michael Strahan complimented Walter on the accent she uses when playing the tough Italian-American teacher from South Philly and asked how she was able to mimic the Philly sound so well. Walter, best known for her role in the 1998 film "The Parent Trap," replied that being from Maryland actually helped her slip into the Philly tongue.
"I'm from Maryland so I've got that part of it, right," Walter said, as she rounded her Os to underscore her Maryland accent. "But then with Philly, you just shove it all to the front of your mouth ... Like you just don't ever say a consonant."
As an example, Walter offered "D'jeat?" as the Philly translation of "Did you eat?"
From beefing with her sister who works at a rival school to teaching Quinta Brunson's character Janine how to make an Italian meal, Melissa (who always seems to "know a guy") has had plenty of opportunities to showcase her South Philly spirit throughout two acclaimed seasons of "Abbott Elementary."
And Walter, who has a Sicilian background herself, is happy to report overall positive responses from actual South Philadelphians.
"South Philly, that they have embraced me and that they're like, 'Melissa is one of us,' there's nothing better to hear," Walter said.
By now, Walter seems to have become a bit of an expert on the local lingo. Last month, Walter also taught the Philly accent to Welsh actor Matthew Rhys during an appearance on "The Late Late Show with James Corden."
Melissa's South Philly accent on "Abbott Elementary" is the latest in a string of Philly area accents that have been attempted in the entertainment sphere through the years, for better or worse.
Netflix's "House of Cards," for instance, seemed to mix up the intricacies of Brooklyn and Philly accents. On the other hand, Upper Darby native Tina Fey has properly represented the lingo many times on "Saturday Night Live."
Possibly the best in recent years were the Delco accents heard in the 2021 hit HBO series "Mare of Easttown."
For her role as small-town detective Mare Sheehan, British actress Kate Winslet learned a Delco accent for the series, which she described as: "up there with the hardest accents I’ve ever done." She ended up earning an Emmy for the role.
"Abbott Elementary" has also won multiple Emmys. While Walter hasn't nabbed a solo award for her role on the sitcom yet, the comedy did win the award for Outstanding Casting for a Comedy Series at the 2022 Emmy Awards.
Walter's South Philly twang can be heard on the Season 2 finale of "Abbott Elementary," which airs Wednesday, April 19 at 9 p.m. on ABC. The series is also available to stream through Hulu.
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