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Robert Easton, 81, actor, Hollywood dialect coach

suzanne dechillo/new york times/file 1997

Robert Easton enjoyed the catering while working on a movie.

LOS ANGELES - Character actor and Hollywood dialect coach Robert Easton, whose successes include teaching Forest Whitaker to speak like Idi Amin in the 2006 movie “The Last King of Scotland,’’ has died in Los Angeles. He was 81.

His daughter, Heather Woodruff Perry, said that Mr. Easton died of natural causes Monday at his home in the San Fernando Valley.

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Born Robert Easton Burke in Milwaukee, he developed an awareness of speech as a child struggling to tame a stutter. When he was 7, his parents split up and he moved with his mother to San Antonio.

Noticing how Texans tend to draw out their speech, he trained himself to talk more slowly, which enabled him to control his stammer.

His movie credits include “Paint Your Wagon,’’ “Pete’s Dragon,’’ “Pet Sematary II,’’ and “Primary Colors.’’ He played a Klingon judge in ”Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” (1991).

When he was younger, he mainly played country bumpkins on television shows because of his Southern drawl.

Mr. Easton feared being typecast so he worked on different accents and learned that he could mimic regional speech patterns.

As a dialect coach, he worked with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Charlton Heston, Liam Neeson, and Anne Hathaway.

When Robert Duvall signed on to play Confederate commander Robert E. Lee in the movie “Gods and Generals,’’ he wanted Mr. Easton to help him sound authentically Virginian. The affable coach quickly became popular with the rest of the cast. “They said, ‘We want Virginia accents,’ ’’ Duvall recalled Wednesday. “Bob said, ‘Which one? There are 12 distinct accents, from the Piedmont to the ocean.’ He knew them all.’’

He also worked with noncelebrities, such as the New York lawyer who was losing cases in California because juries, hearing his nasal, rapid speech, judged him slick and impatient. After he learned to speak more slowly and improve his tonal quality, he started winning cases, according to Mr. Easton.

Material from the Los Angeles Times was used in this obituary.
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