Hollywood has given the world incredible performances over the decades, many of which have been given by actors who use Method Acting. But what is what style of performance?
In short, the actors of the method become the character: they live it, breathe it, eat it, sleep it on and off the set, from casting to the end of production. It takes a lot of energy and commitment for a truly exceptional method game.
Marlon Brando in The GodfatherDaniel Day Lewis in my left footDustin Hoffman in rain manand Jack Nicholson in both Flight over a cuckoo’s nest and the brilliant are all classic examples of a method that works when used successfully.
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More recently, Lady Gaga pointed out to British vogue that she used method acting in her role as Patrizia Reggiani in Gucci House. She said: “It’s been three years since I started working on it, and I’ll be completely honest and transparent: I lived like her for a year and a half.”
Lady Gaga is gone all-in on her Gucci House role, going so far as not to contact family and friends to keep her in Reggiani’s character. Gaga’s co-star Jared Leto is, of course, infamous for his commitment to method acting, often to his own detriment, if some reports are to be believed.
That said, there is a certain purity in the performances of method actors. It’s a thrill for audiences to see a character so fully captured and conveyed. And for method actors, the practice can be like therapy, evoking demons from the past and forcing them to confront them in their roles.
But who are the actors most attached to the methodical game? And is it really dangerous?
What is Method Acting and why do some actors use it?
The method game is not a fad or a passing fancy in the world of cinema. It has been around for a very long time. In fact, it’s taught in acting schools and presented as a way for actors to get into character. Method action is a process that focuses on really to live in this character and the period that he or she exists during their performance. In this way the actor does not act, it is something more intense.
The late Lee Strasberg is a revered acting coach and is considered the father of method acting. He taught the practice from the 1920s until his death in 1982. He was the theater teacher of a who is who big names in cinema, including Dustin Hoffman, Jane Fonda, Paul Newman, Marilyn Monroe, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, James Dean and Ellyn Burstyn.
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Stella Adler, Stanford Meisner and Robert Lewis also developed and taught their own versions of the method game. If you’ve ever spent time with actors, you know they can philosophize about the ins and outs of different methods, which they prefer and why.
When method acting is taught, students should not “simulate” what the character is experiencing in the scene, but rather truly embody those feelings and internalize or personalize them; in doing so, the audience sees a clearer and more real representation of what the character feels on screen.
Actors who use the acting method essentially transform their personality for the role into someone else, rather than just “pretending” to be them. Because of that, there’s a very fine line between playing and feeling a certain way on film, and then bringing those emotions and personality home. Method actors don’t just turn it on and off, and that can be dangerous.
The Why largely comes down to personal choice. Actors who regularly choose the acting method usually find that it suits their particular skill set. Actors who dabble in methodical acting find this to be the best process for a particular role.
Jarod Leto and ‘Extreme’ Method Acting
Consider the recent case of Jared Leto in the critical superhero movie, Morbius. In an interview with the film’s director Daniel Espinosa on Uproxx, he recounted some of Leto’s more bizarre antics.
Espinosa confirmed that Leto was so attached to the character of Michael Morbius that when he had to go to the bathroom, he took his character’s crutches and limped to get there. It was taking too long, so instead a crew member would meet him with a wheelchair and walk him to the bathroom.
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When Leto filmed his Oscar-winning performance as the transgender character Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club, he also remained famous in character for the duration of filming. In fact, the New York Times revealed that the crew members on Dallas Buyers Club in fact, they never met Leto until months after production wrapped and they were premiering and promoting the film. He was in character for the entire 25 day shoot.
Jared Leto is the best modern example of a method actor who takes it to extremes…or worse, depending on your opinion of his… shenanigans.
Other Actors who use the method
The list of actors and actresses who use the acting method as their process is long. It includes the late Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, Daniel Day-Lewis, Jared Leto, Christian Bale, Charlize Theron, Eddie Redmayne, Hilary Swank, Forest Whitaker, Jim Carey, Michelle Williams, Adrien Brody and Natalie Portman.
In Black Swan, Natalie Portman went all out. For six months before filming, she trained in ballet, swimming and cross-training for five hours a day. She barely ate, lost 20 pounds and worked 16 hour days to prepare for her intense role, for which she won the Best Actress Oscar.
For his role as composer Wladyslaw Szpilman in The pianist, Adrien Brody spent four hours a day practicing the piano so he could credibly play Chopin pieces on screen. He also dieted down to 130 pounds, which was skeletal on his 6-foot-1 frame, but an accurate portrayal of what someone in the Warsaw ghetto would look like during World War II. He also moved to Europe, disconnected his cell phone, and sold his car to take on his role. Adrien Brody also won the Best Actor Oscar for his role.
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For his role as a transgender boy in Boys don’t cry Hilary Swank dressed and lived like a man for a month before filming. She wrapped her breasts, put socks on the front of her pants and reduced her body fat to make her face appear more angular and masculine. Hilary Swank won the Best Actress Oscar for her role.
In The last king of Scotland, Forest Whitaker took a look at the hard-to-play dictator Idi Amin. He learned Swahili and mastered Amin’s accent and dialect. He fully inhabited the character 24 hours a day, even in his dreams, according to an interview with The Independent.
At the end of the film, he decided he had to give up the character, saying, “The first thing I did was take a shower because I figured I could wash it off by scrubbing. I was alone in a room, so I started screaming to get his voice out of me and find my own voice. Forest Whitaker won the Best Actor Oscar for his role.
Is the method dangerous?
Whether or not Method Acting is dangerous depends on the individual actor. Do they have a support system in place when they get back to being themselves? Do they get so lost in their role that they engage in risky behaviors they wouldn’t otherwise participate in? Are they reopening old wounds and traumas with their performance?
The method of action is intense and rigorous. It’s not about going to work, playing a character, and then going home with your spouse and kids. It is an intense period where the true personality of the actor is suppressed in favor of the character he embodies.
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Daniel Day-Lewis is one of the most revered actors of his generation. He retired from acting, citing the consequences of his method of preparing for roles. During the filming of 2017 ghost yarnDay-Lewis found himself depressed and realized his heart wasn’t in it.
In an interview with W Magazine, he said. “I need to believe in the value of what I do. Work can seem vital. Irresistible, even. And if an audience believes it, that should be enough for me. But, lately, that is not the case.
If the actor or actress is psychologically sound and can distance themselves from the role in a healthy way, there is really no problem with the acting method. But that’s a question only the actor and his family can answer.