Method acting is a pretty polarizing subject when it comes to acting, and film in general. Some people think it’s a load of waffle – and others love it. But the key question is what is method acting? And where did it originate from?
In today’s article we will reveal all of that – oh, and some interesting examples of method actors that we feel you’ll enjoy.
Let’s dive straight into it!
What is method acting?
Method acting, simply put, is an acting technique where the actor is focused on the living material that they will use in their performance. It’s an approach where they aspire to produce an authentic, and sincere performance.
It’s used to seek authentic, real performances from the actor rather than that of heightened, theatrical performances. The actors, “become” the character in a sense, some take it further and become the character off of the set.
This can sometimes work, and at other times cause friction within the cast.
These “Methods” were built on many acting practitioners throughout time, we will dig a little deeper into the history later on in the article.
Who invented method acting?
Not one person created method acting, it was slowly developed by a collective group of acting teachers throughout the 1900s. We will go into a bit more detail on how this was achieved.
Initially, Stanislavski started what then developed into method acting. Konstantin Stanislavski was a Russian theatre practitioner who was taught acting in the early 1900s.
Stanislavski focused on naturalistic performances which in those times was pretty unique, as there was a huge focus on theatrical, heightened performances. This led the sincere, naturalistic approach to stand out.
As time went on and namely in the 1930s, new acting practitioners added to Stanislavski’s method of acting, and was further developed by members of “The Group Theatre”.
This included Lee Strasberg who also founded the Actors Studio in New York City Bradley Cooper, Marlon Brando, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Julia Roberts to name a few who studied there.
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How method acting works
We touched upon how method acting works earlier, but it’s important to break it down a little further and explain the process.
To break down method acting and simplify its description – method acting is where you bring naturalistic, real performances to a role – they become incredibly real and capture the audience’s attention.
The actor would use their memories and experiences and relate these emotions to their character. This allows the actor to feel the characters’ emotions, hope they feel, and behave in this situation.
An example of this would be if your character were sentenced to prison for 20 years for a crime they hadn’t committed. The likelihood of this happening to the acting is pretty slim, so this is where the method acting kicks in.
You would take feelings you’d expect the character to feel from your situations, like frustration and despair, and channel it into the character.
You inhibit your character’s full physical and mental state from pulling the performance together; it becomes natural and realistic as you feed your emotion into the performance.
You can see why some actors take this to the extreme to embody the character to its fullest.
Here’s a great video by the guys over at Behind The Screen regarding the basics of method acting; check it out below:
Is method acting dangerous?
This is a question we’re asked often.
It is warranted to ask if method acting is dangerous, especially for people who are not too familiar with the style. Why’s that? Well, there have been a couple of well-documented cases, well tragedies – one being that of Heath Ledger.
Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker was incredible; he was insanely good. But he took method acting to the next level. During this time, he locked himself into his apartment for an entire month to experience isolation to the extreme.
During this period, he wrote ramblings in character as The Joker whilst practising his laugh – this was to help him elevate the madness and bring it to the big screen in a naturalistic, terrifying way – and it worked, but to great consequences.
However, he took it a bit too far and bothered some of the crew as he continuously stayed in character off-set.
But to answer your question, “Is method acting dangerous” ultimately, the answer is no. But it can be overwhelming if taken to the extreme lengths some actors do.
If you are starting out as an actor, it’s worth exploring the different acting techniques to see which fits you best.
It’s worth mixing method acting within your acting arsenal and taking bits and pieces from different techniques to grow as an actor and develop.
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A list of famous method actors
Here’s a breakdown of the most famous actors that use the method acting technique, some in this list you’d expect, others not so much!
- Jim Carey
- Marlon Brando
- Robert De Niro
- Michelle Williams
- Val Kilmer
- Shia LeBeouf
- Heath Ledger
- Dustin Hoffman
- Al Pacino
- Hilary Swank
- Angelina Jolie
- Forest Whitaker
- Michelle Williams
- Adrian Brody
- Charlize Theron
- Daniel Day-Lewis
- Kate Winslet
- Jack Nicholson
- Christian Bale
- Rooney Mara
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Great examples of method actors
Here we look at a few examples of incredible performances in films by actors using method acting. Here are our favourites for you to watch and enjoy!
Forest Whitaker is an incredible actor, and he took his role as Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin, in The Last King of Scotland to the next level.
To prepare for his role he only ate beans and bananas. He taught himself Swahili and off-set, he remained in character the whole time.
Forest Whitaker played deposed Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. To prepare for the role he learned Swahili, ate nothing but bananas and beans and remained in character off-set.
A true professional and someone who was dedicated to the method whilst on set.
Daniel Day-Lewis is a unique actor; from his starring role in “The Boxer”, Daniel then essentially hand-picks; these were roles he had a connection to, ones that he could investigate and understand.
And this method proved brilliant; he won three Academy Awards (Oscars) for Best Actor. Something quite unique, he’d go years without appearing on screen.
He noted his first segway into acting was when he moved schools and mimicked accents to fit in. However, it was his role in There Will Be Blood that stood out to us. His character was believable and pretty intense, something that we, as the audience, love. It kept us gripped and was disturbingly unsettling at points, which is a compliment to his acting.
His method acting sometimes took him to the next level, for example, his isolation from his family for the role in the film The Ballad of Jack and Rose.
This was so he could experience the feeling of isolation and loneliness to the next level. Another great example was where he played a man with cerebral palsy and made the crew carry him around the set and spoon feed him whilst he kept in character for the film My Left Foot.
Hilary Swank is an incredible actor; she’s starred in numerous films, from Million Dollar Baby to The Homesman; however, we want to focus on her role in Boys Don’t Cry.
Hilary practised method acting for her role as Brandon Teena in the film Boys Don’t Cry. To prepare for the role, Hilary got into character a month before her audition. This allowed her to understand the mannerisms and behaviour of their character and to portray a naturalistic performance.
When it came to the day of the audition, she wowed the casting team and cemented her place as the front runner for the role. Subsequent auditions, and she secured the role. And the rest is pretty much history. She portrayed the role of Brandon Teena incredibly well and brought the character to life.
Hilary pulled at the heartstrings of the audience with this ever so sad story.
Our final thoughts on method acting.
To round this article up, method acting is an important part of the world of acting and is something you should consider or at least study. You don’t have to take to the extreme and may use bits and pieces from Stanislavski and Strasberg to create a believable character.
Pick and choose the different parts of each of the acting techniques that you prefer. This will help you create your own unique acting style and better you as an actor.
We hope this article on method acting was interesting and useful! Let us know your thoughts down in the comments; also, scroll a little further for some more exciting acting articles.