Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Expanse's Dominique Tipper Delves Into The Belter Accent - Exclusive

At its heart, The Expanse is the story of an outer-space power struggle between three very, very different factions. Over on Earth, you have the group led by the UN, who take full advantage of humanity's native planet and all of its resources, much to the chagrin of the rest of the solar system. On Mars, you'll find a former Earth colony that's transformed into a military powerhouse. Out in the asteroid belt that separates Mars from the solar system's outer planets, you'll run across the poor, exploited Belters, who have to claw and scratch for everything they have — and still find that it's rarely enough.

It's a volatile and endlessly fascinating set-up for a TV show, helped along by some best-in-class worldbuilding, especially on the Belters' side. On The Expanse, not only do the Belters have their own customs and traditions, but they also speak with a unique accent that's unlike anything heard on present-day Earth.

That doesn't mean that it comes from nowhere, however. As The Expanse executive producer Daniel Abraham, who co-created the series under the pen name James S. A. Corey, explains, the Belters' accent was created by a professional linguist. Abraham told Looper how it came to be during our recent exclusive interview.

"We've got a guy named Nick Farmer, who's a polyglot and a linguist, and he built this whole vocabulary and grammar and talked about how the words and language and vocabulary we have now would change and shift," Abraham explains. "It's one of the most scientifically accurate parts of the show."

It's also one of the most complicated, and no one knows that better than Dominique Tipper, who stars on The Expanse as Naomi Nagata. As the only Belter on the Rocinante, the spaceship that drives much of the show's action, Tipper is intimately familiar with the Belters' accent — and as she told Looper, she found a clever way to use the patois to bridge her real-life experiences and Naomi's.

How Dominique Tipper's real-life experiences informed Naomi's accent on The Expanse

On The Expanse, Naomi doesn't just speak with other Belters — her travels across the solar system (and beyond) bring her into contact with people from all backgrounds, and her voice changes accordingly. When she's conversing with her own people, her Belter accent is loud and clear. When she's talking with someone from Earth or Mars, however, Tipper dials the Belter-specific ticks back, letting more of her natural English accent come through.

As Tipper tells Looper, that's a small detail she incorporated from her own life. "I'm from East London, and I'm mixed-race Black, and the white side of my family is really Cockney. So, I noticed that, when I've had a Guinness and I'm with my family, I'm in the pub, I start to get a lot more Cockney," Tipper says. "Equally, when I'm with Black people, my vernacular changes a bit to where I grew up in East London."

It's a small detail, but Tipper says dialing Naomi's accent up and down tells us a lot about the character. For one, it shows us how savvy she is. "It's a survival instinct for her to not sound like a hardcore Belter, because across the universe, again, I almost feel like sometimes it's being like a Black person," Tipper says. "You don't want to show you're too 'hood' in certain spaces, because somebody may not give you credit."

How the Belter accent became part of Dominique Tipper's everyday routine

The character's shifting accent has also been, up until this point, a bit of a hint as to what's to come. While Naomi's shady past wasn't fully revealed until season four, setting up a major storyline in the currently-running season five, there have been hints that Naomi isn't entirely who she seems to be seeded throughout the whole run. This includes the way she switches up her accent. "That she's good at it, I think, really speaks to who she is as a bit of a chameleon," Tipper says.

Of course, after five seasons, this is all largely instinctual for the actress. "It was difficult at first, but now I find myself just slipping in and out of it," Tipper says, calling out a moment from season 4 as an example. In the scene, Naomi begins yelling at Enola Homes star Burn Gorman's Adolphus Murtry, an Earth-based security chief who becomes increasingly violent while dealing with a colony of Belter settlers.

"I wasn't planning to do that in a Belter accent, but when I got angry and did the scene and him being this representation of the oppressor, I slipped into my Belter thing," Tipper says. That surprised her. "Like, this has got so deep in me now that I kind of find myself just doing it."

"It's weird," she says, "but yeah, I think I have fun with that."

New episodes of The Expanse, which is currently in its fifth season, debut on Amazon Prime every Wednesday.