The Art of Method Acting
If you think acting is just about showing up to the set, memorizing your lines, and reciting them in front of the director, waiting for them to shout “Cut!” it’s high time to think again. There’s more to acting than lines and facial expressions. Most of it falls on getting into character. To become the person you’re playing is where the challenge lies.
Most actors do it by memorizing the lines like it’s their home address. When they stand before the camera, their expressions change, the way they talk changes, they seemingly become another person. But for some actors, preparation for a role does not start the moment the actor arrives on the set; it stretches way back, and by that, we mean, months or years of preparation.
In the industry, they call that method acting. But what is it exactly?
What Is Method Acting?
Method acting is the successor to the system of acting started by theater practitioner Konstantin Stanislavski, a character actor himself. This system encourages actors to explore the inner lives of the character they play and to relive a past memory to create a more emotionally, physically, and verbally realistic performance. There have been a lot of derivatives to Stanislavski-based acting, including that of Stella Adler, which focuses on the sociological aspects of acting; that of Sanford Meisner, which gives emphasis on the behavioral aspects; and the one created by Lee Strasberg, which is more on the psychological aspects and is, safe to say, the most popular.
Strasberg, an American actor who saw plays that utilized the System and was a student at American Laboratory Theater, which taught Stanislavski’s system, created a derivative that has actors fully immersing into the memory and using imagination and physical senses. For Strasberg, the actor should not only play the character, they should become the character. This technique is what is now more known as method acting.
A lot of actors have adopted method acting. Marlon Brando, for one, had always been known for fully immersing into his roles. Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, and Robert DeNiro also used method acting to give iconic performances. How method actors prepare for their roles is often dubbed crazy, with some of them even risking their health just to be the character.
Besides these legendary actors, there are a lot of thespians who chose to utilize method acting and with it gave a performance that is one for the books. Here are some of them.
Method Acting: Actors Who Took Acting ‘Too Far’
From Daniel Day-Lewis to Leonardo DiCaprio, get to know five actors who went to extreme lengths just to perfectly portray a role.
Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot (1989), Last of the Mohicans (1992), In the Name of the Father (1993), Gangs of New York (2002), The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005), and Lincoln (2012)
One of the most popular method actors, Daniel Day-Lewis could thank method acting for his Oscar wins. The actor has always been known for completely disappearing into every role he takes. He takes months and even years to prepare for a role, which is probably why he doesn’t do that much films anymore, taking breaks from acting as long as five years.
Method acting has Day-Lewis learning new languages and certain skills just to play the role better, if not perfectly. In the 1989 biographical film My Left Foot, Day-Lewis plays the real-life writer and painter Christy Brown who was born with cerebral palsy, leaving him with only his left foot to use to do just about everything. To prepare for the role, Day-Lewis spent almost the entire duration of filming in a wheelchair, even after the camera stopped rolling. He would even visit restaurants in it. As a result, the actor broke two ribs. We don’t know if the Oscar win was worth it, but maybe for him, it was.
In the epic drama The Last of the Mohicans, Day-Lewis played the role of British trapper named Hawkeye, so for the role, he learned to build canoe, trap and skin animals, fire and reload a flintlock, and fight with tomahawks. And most impressively, to do all this, he actually lived off the land for six months. For In the Name of the Father, where he played the wrongly convicted man Gerry Conlon, Daniel Day-Lewis spent days and nights in a prison cell without food and water. He also had the film crew verbally abuse him and throw water at him.
Day-Lewis is a gang leader in the 2002 film Gangs of New York, and preparing for the role of Bill the Butcher, he learned how to cut up carcasses and refused to wear modern winter coats even when it was freezing cold. He later caught pneumonia because of it. In 2005, Daniel Day-Lewis starred in The Ballad of Jack and Rose, a film about a father and daughter on an isolated island commune. To better play the role, the actor lived away away from his wife and children for nights. He stayed at a shack miles from the set.
The 2012 film Lincoln earned Daniel Day-Lewis his third Oscar, making him the only actor to achieve such feat. For the film, he adopted a high-pitched voice and talked in such tone the whole time, even off camera. He also had the great Steven Spielberg, the director of the film, and the rest of the crew address him Mr. President. Day-Lewis would also send text messages to co-star Sally Field, who played his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, in character and signed each message with “Yours, A.”
Christian Bale in The Machinist (2004) and Batman Begins (2005)
Christian Bale has done a lot for the films he’s appeared in, but nothing could beat the intense losing and gaining of weight he underwent just for his back-to-back movies between 2004 and 2005. Playing the insomniac machinist in the 2004 film The Machinist, Bale had to lose 62 pounds. The well-built actor looked almost unrecognizable on screen, appearing like a stick-thin man. He went down to 120 pounds after following what was infamously known as the apple tuna diet. The diet consisted of a can of tuna and/or one apple per day.
After filming for The Machinist wrapped up, Bale had to regain the lost weight in six months, as he was set to start filming for Batman Begins. To achieve it, the actor hired a personal trainer.
Leonardo DiCaprio in Django Unchained
Another actor who’s known for his critically acclaimed portrayal of heavily different characters, Leonardo DiCaprio once made headlines for something he did while filming Django Unchained. In a scene, the actor slammed his hand on the table, but he ended up doing it so hard, he broke a glass. DiCaprio injured his hand in the process with blood dripping down. But instead of calling for a cut, he continued filming as if nothing happened. That scene made it into the final edit of the film. It was later revealed that the cut was so big, the actor required stitches. But since it’s Leonardo DiCaprio, every drop of blood was worth it.
Hilary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry
To play a transgender man, Hilary Swank had to do more than what her job as an actress required her. For the role that earned her her first Oscar for Best Actress win, Swank lived as a man for weeks. She did it weeks before the filming commenced. She started losing weight, strapped down her breasts, and talked and walked like a dude.
The preparation was too intense, Hilary Swank shared she started losing her femininity weeks since the filming started. She shared, ”By the third week of filming I had lost every ounce of my femininity. I thought I was never going to be able to find Hilary again. I was totally lost.” Even Hilary Swank’s friends noticed the actress’s total transformation, with one friend sharing that at some point, he felt like he was not sitting next to Hilary while having dinner with her.
Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight
One of the best actors to have ever walked the earth, Heath Ledger was willing to do more than just act.
When he got the chance to play Joker, which earned the 30-year-old actor his first Oscar win, Heath Ledger locked himself inside his apartment not for days but for one long month and couldn’t sleep thinking about the role. Film crew also shared that Ledger refused to speak out of character. If anyone wished to speak to him normally, he would ignore them. Even when he wasn’t needed on the set, he would show up, which freaked everyone out.
The Joker has been portrayed by a lot of actors including Jack Nicholson, Jared Leto, and Mark Hamill, but Ledger’s was probably the most terrifying.
Heath Ledger’s father, Kim Ledger, spoke about his son’s intense preparation for the role, saying, “That was typical of Heath on any movie. He would certainly immerse himself in the upcoming character. I think this was just a whole new level.”
Many would say method acting albeit effective is very dangerous. But perhaps for these actors, going to extreme lengths to play a character, no matter big or small, is the best way they know to give justice to every role they get.The Art of Method Acting by Holly