Actors all over the world employ many different techniques to help bring their characters to life. One famous technique is method acting. Fans might be familiar with the term as it has been mentioned often in TV shows and movies. But what exactly is method acting and which Hollywood actors utilize it?
The history of method acting
Method acting, also called The Method, refers to a system of training and rehearsals that allow actors to connect with their characters sincerely. It involves an actor analyzing a character’s psychological world and sometimes living as the character in their everyday real life. As a result, this can help actors produce powerfully expressive performances.
According to Studio Binder, the method acting system was developed in the early 1900s by Konstantin Stanislavski, a Russian actor and director. At the time, Stanislavski did not call it by this name. But Stanislavski encouraged actors to use their own personal experiences to connect with their characters. This later developed into what we now know as method acting.
Method acting became popular in American acting studios thanks to acting coach Lee Strasberg. According to the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute, he was impressed when Stanislavski’s theatre group visited New York City in 1923. Afterward, Strasberg began training actors using a system of exercises inspired by Stanislavski. Strasberg’s training spread through the acting world thanks to people like director Elia Kazan and actor/teacher Stella Adler.
Actors who have famously used method acting
Since the mid-20th century, method acting has become a popular technique in Hollywood. One of the earliest American actors who employed method acting was Marlon Brando, who studied under Kazan and Adler.
According to Collider, when Brando was acting in the 1946 Broadway show Truckline Cafe, he famously ran up and down a flight of stairs and had a bucket of icy water dumped on his head in order to stimulate the feeling of his character emerging from a lake. When he played an injured ex-GI in the 1950 movie The Men, he stayed in a veteran’s hospital for an entire month.
Another method actor example is Christian Bale, who has gained and lost weight based on his characters. For example, when playing Batman in Batman Begins, Bale gained 100 pounds of muscle. When acting in The Machinist, he lost 62 pounds. Bale has since admitted he may have gone a little too far for some of his roles.
Jared Leto has also employed method acting for his various roles. When Leto played the Joker in the 2016 movie Suicide Squad, he pranked his co-stars in various ways, including gifting Margot Robbie a rat and sending Will Smith an envelope full of bullets. Leto has received criticism for this behavior.
Other method actors in Hollywood include Daniel Day-Lewis, Kate Winslet, Dustin Hoffman, and Charlize Theron.
Criticism of method acting
Although method actors have received a lot of praise, not everyone is a fan of this technique. For example, Mads Mikkelsen once called it “pretentious.” He told GQ UK, “What if it’s a s–t film — what do you think you achieved? Am I impressed that you didn’t drop character? You should have dropped it from the beginning! How do you prepare for a serial killer? You gonna spend two years checking it out?”
Meanwhile, Sebastian Stan does not agree with actors who “create sort of chaos on set or chaos in the other people they’re working with.” He told the podcast In the Envelope: Inside the Actors Studio that this is “very irresponsible” and “narcissistic.”
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