If you are an actor, aspiring to be one or just a movie buff, you are expected to come across the term “Method Acting” time and again. While every great acting performance is brushed off as ‘method acting’ by the layman, not every actor is a method actor and not every phenomenal performance is delivered by method acting.
In this article, we will go through the history of Method Acting and what method actors undergo to deliver remarkable and critically acclaimed performances that remain memorable for a lifetime.
The acting technique commonly known as Method Acting dates back to the early 19th century and originated in Russia by the theatre practitioner, Konstantin Stanislavski. Originally proposed as the idea of bringing realism into acting, the Stanislavski approach was refined by Lee Strasberg and Elia Kazan in the 1930s encouraging sincere and emotionally expressive performances by fully inhabiting the role of the character.
In layman terms, Method Acting demands the performer to live their character even when not on stage or in front of the camera. Many method actors refuse to break their characters throughout the entire course of filming and undergo extreme emotional and physical toil. In order to live the character off-screen, popular method actors become obsessive to embody the role and often experience serious weight loss, change in sleeping habits and dietary norms, among others.
The Dark Side
While the majority of method actors get critical acclaimation for their astonishing performances on screen, they are often surrounded by madness during the film shoot and it gets often frightening for the rest of the crew. One such example is of the popular English actor, Christian Bale, who underwent extreme weight loss for the thriller, The Mechanist. Bale had to play the character of an insomniac industry worker and he shed over 25kg from his every-day stature in four months.
Christian Bale lived on black coffee, a solitary apple and a tin of tuna every day to reach a weight of 54 kilograms. However, the actor was so obsessed to embody the character that he wanted to shed another 10 kilograms which could have killed him. The producers of the movie had to intervene and stop him from shedding weight any further. “I’m older and I feel like if I keep doing what I’ve done in the past I’m going to die. So, I’d prefer not to die,” the actor said in a recent interview.
Another method actor, Adrian Body, won the prestigious Oscar award for his performance in The Pianist, however, the actor earned the recognition by losing a portion of his life. Adrian not only lost considerable amount of weight to play the character of Holocaust survivor but also spent hours to learn piano everyday. However, the madness to embody his character didn’t let him stop and he left to Europe leaving behind his apartment, car and even phone to disconnect himself from the society, which also cost him his relationship with his girlfriend.
Other method actors are known to torture themselves mentally to get into the feel of their characters and spend months in isolation.
Is Method Acting Worth It?
When Dustin Hoffman kept himself awake for days before filming scenes for Marathon Man, his co-actor Laurence Olivier allegedly asked him, “Why not try acting? It’s much easier.” However, his performance in the movie indeed earned him critical acclaim.
Robert De Niro, who is known as one of the best method actors, reportedly paid $20,000 for dental work during the filming of Cape Fear. Robert had his teeth grounded down in order to make his character look more terrifying. Christian Bale has time and again underwent extreme unhealthy body transformations for movies by gaining and loosing 10s of kilos of his body weight in mere months.
Late Australian actor Heath Ledger isolated himself in a room for an entire month to play the iconic character of Joker and it is widely speculated that the mental trauma caused him his life before the release of The Dark Knight featuring him as Joker against Christian Bale as Batman. Although no great performance can justify the death of an actor, his embodiment of Joker remains as one of the greatest portrayal of a character in the history.
Whether the method acting is worth the effort or not, remains up for debate. However, the dedication and skill set of the method actors, who risk their lives to give memorable performances that transports the audience in the worlds of their character, cannot be disregarded as madness or just obsession. While reaching to an unhealthy stage to master any profession is not encouraged, method actors have time and again proved that acting is more than just ‘acting’.