On the first episode of Mare of Easttown, HBO’s new series premiering Sunday, Kate Winslet takes us on a journey—into the blue-collar boroughs of southeastern Pennsylvania and, more specifically, onto the rollercoaster of the Delaware County dialect. The ride begins when Winslet’s character, a detective named Mare Sheehan, makes a meal out of the word “overdose” early in the first episode—drawing it out to sound something like “aye-oh-ver-dough-se”—and careens through unexpected loops and valleys of unfamiliar sounds through the show’s seven episodes.
After hearing this head-scratching dialect, Vanity Fair took its burning questions about Mare’s accent to Winslet, Winslet’s longtime dialect coach Susan Hegarty, and Mare of Easttown creator Brad Ingelsby (who was raised in southeastern Pennsylvania himself). Ahead, a comprehensive debrief of the dialect lovingly known as “Delco” by locals.
Why does this dialect sound so strange?
If Mare’s accent sounds strange, it’s likely because you aren’t as familiar with the Philadelphia area dialect as you are with more recognizable regional variations, like southern or Bronx. “It’s not really in the American imagination if you’re not from that state or that region,” Hagerty told Vanity Fair on Thursday afternoon. “You didn’t grow up hearing it. You didn’t grow up hearing parodies of it. What’s strange to people who aren’t familiar with it is that it sounds like New York and it’s not like New York at all,” he explained. “And then it sounds Southern, and it’s not Southern at all.”
The dialect is so little-known (much like Pittsburgh’s, on the western side of Pennsylvania) that many Philly-set projects—think Rocky, Silver Linings Playbook—opt to forgo accent authenticity entirely. Speaking to Vanity Fair, Hagerty referenced a colleague from Philadelphia who “has a resume as long as your arm” but “never once in her entire career has had the opportunity to coach a Philadelphia accent. She’s even talked to producers about projects that she knew were going to be based in Philadelphia. And they said, ‘Oh, nobody cares. We’re just going to do New York.’ It’s kind of a shame.” HBO and Winslet, by contrast, were so intent on setting Mare of Easttown in Southern Pennsylvania, specifically Delaware County, that Hagerty said that she was the second person hired, after Winslet, for the production.
Hagerty is prepared for some viewers to be surprised by the Delco sound.
“I remember the first time I met somebody from Pennsylvania,” Hagerty said. “It was with a friend from Pittsburgh, and I thought the accent was the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard.” (In 2014, Pittsburgh was voted the “Ugliest Accent in America” by Gawker.) Said Hagerty, “There probably will be some people who are a little bit distracted by the accent at the beginning.”
Why are certain sounds so noticeable (especially the “o”), while others aren’t?
Hagerty isn’t sure. In fact, “the inconsistency” of the Delco accent is part of what makes it such an intimidating venture for an actor. “The inconsistency of it is very strange. . . .your brain looks for patterns, things it can find comfort in. But with this you are constantly being challenged.”
The inconsistency worried Winslet so much that the actor “worried that I wasn’t going to be able to do it.” Speaking to Vanity Fair, she said, “Whenever that happens then I just practice it more.”
Who else has attempted the Delco dialect in film and television?
Sienna Miller, for the film American Woman—which was also written by Ingelsby:
Philadelphia native Bradley Cooper broke out his Delco on a local news segment in 2011, but notably not for Silver Linings Playbook:
Nick Kroll on a 2014 sketch of his Kroll Show:
Philadelphia native Tina Fey, also on a local news segment, in 2019:
How did Kate Winslet go Delco?