If you’ve enjoyed performances in a critically acclaimed piece of film or theatre recently, then it’s more than likely that you’ve seen method acting in action. The vast majority of successful actors are very good at applying the method to their performances, in fact, since the year the year 2000, more than 80% of winners of the ‘Best Actor’ Academy Award have won for roles in which they utilised method techniques.
The actors who have taken home the Oscar, as well as the films they starred in, are all incredibly diverse and varied. However, one thing they all have in common is they are some of the highest regarded actors of this, and any other, generation. Anyone who takes their long term goal to be a successful actor seriously will, of course, aim to become a part of the acting elite. So, if you’re aspiring to be the best actor that you can possibly be, you need to look at and emulate what the top 5% of actors are doing. This is exactly why you should be studying and applying the method if you want to become a better actor than you ever have been or even imagined you could be.
What is Method Acting?
If you’re not 100% sure what method acting entails or how to get started, then don’t worry, you’re not alone. Many people look at the top 5% of actors with every intention of following their lead, but don’t know how to get started. Fortunately, though, the answer is much simpler than you might have thought.
The most basic explanation of the method is that it is the “ability to find inspiration on cue.” This means that you immerse yourself in preparation for your role, so that each and every time you arrive on set you are confident and fully knowledgeable about your character. After all, there are very few professions which would allow you to show up on the job with no training or preparation, right?
By creating an in-depth life and fully rounded personality for their character, actors who apply the Method are able to develop a believable, multi-dimensional persona on screen or on stage and portray stunningly realistic performances time and time again.
Applying The Method
Applying the method is nowhere near as scary as some stories would have you believe. One valuable secret that could save you years of painstaking, uphill work is this; the Method has already been cultivated and created for you, it is there for the taking. You don’t need to ‘reinvent the wheel’ by coming up with a brand new concept for acting techniques. You can become a truly groundbreaking performer by using a tried and tested formula.
Get Inspired by the Greats
Three of the most famous examples of Oscar winning actors who have proven just how effective the method can be are Robert De Niro, Jack Nicholson and Daniel Day Lewis.
Of course we’re not suggesting that anyone who sticks steadfastly to method acting is in with a shot of becoming the next Nicholson! But no matter what field you’re in, it makes sense to look at the most successful and highly regarded players in that industry and do exactly what they do.
The 1977 musical drama, New York, New York is a perfect display of method acting by Robert De Niro. Despite never having played or even so much as picked up a saxophone in his life, De Niro was dedicated enough to hire a teacher and learn to play the instrument for his role as musician, Jimmy Doyle. The saxophone teacher was, admittedly, put through his paces by De Niro’s commitment, but this ultimately paid off and he was met with critical acclaim.
Perhaps more famously, Robert De Niro studied every single piece of film footage there was of Marlon Brando, from the 1950s onwards, for hours every day. This allowed him to take on even the most subtle of Brando’s mannerisms for his role as the young Don Corleone in The Godfather II. He portrayed his predecessor realistically without it ever coming across as an impersonation.
Similarly, Jack Nicholson has described his take on method acting:
“You gotta make it come from the inside. It’s all about who you are. That’s all you can really contribute. I feel autobiographical about whatever I do.”
He even famously spent three months living inside a mental institution to prepare for his iconic role as Randle McMurphy in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Then there is Daniel Day Lewis. Often held up as an example of method acting at its finest; There Will Be Blood is a wonderful starting point for actors to watch and learn exactly what lengths the great British actor goes to in order to delve deeply into a role.
The Method Can Improve Any Performance
These examples are, of course, serious actors in extremely serious pieces of film, but that doesn’t mean that The Method should be reserved for heavyweight roles. The idea that method actors are constantly delving into deep, dark emotional territory is a popular misconception. If you have a light hearted or even comedic part to play, using the method will still allow you to get into character to the best of your ability. Applying The Method can improve comic timing and make your performance as natural as possible.
Critically acclaimed comic actors such as Sacha Baron Cohen, Rowan Atkinson and Robin Williams show just how much of a difference the Method can make when applied to the funniest roles around.
Focus on Character
To become a member of the exclusive group of excellent actors there are a few things you will need to focus on when applying the Method. The first, and perhaps most important element for you to consider is character development. What does it mean and what is it all about?
Two of the actors mentioned earlier are perfect examples of just how important commitment to character development is to creating a sense of realism. You might think that De Niro and Nicholson took things to the extreme, but in fact, evidence has consistently shown that the more ‘obsessive compulsive’ you are in researching and rehearsing your role, the better the results will be.
This doesn’t have to be anything huge and grandiose, such as learning a whole new instrument or moving into a mental health institution. You could do small tasks which help you to feel as though you’re living a day in the life of your character; speak in their accent, make your morning cup of coffee the way they would or spend some time in the places they would go.
It’s All in the Details
As you learn more about the Method, you discover how to do detailed research into your character so you too can achieve this level of authenticity. A whole lot of research and practice will eventually lead to the next level of method acting, which is getting under your character’s skin. Soon you’ll find that you are so immersed in the role you are playing, that you will no longer have to think long and hard about character nuances such as facial expressions, tone of voice or hand gestures – all of these things will become second nature to you and make your performance completely real.
It is essential to keep in mind how important character detail is before taking on any role. After all, you wouldn’t expect a chef to turn up for their first day on the job without any culinary training, or a bus driver to get behind the wheel without a full knowledge of the roads. The exact same thing can be said of acting. If you want to achieve acting excellence, do the detailed research and apply the Method.
Keeping it Real
Although the Method is a technical skill, don’t make the mistake of thinking that only the most highly trained are capable of getting themselves under the skin of their character. One of the most important things to remember when studying and utilising method techniques is to understand how emotions work and learn how to access them at any time by identifying with experiences and memories from your own life. This is something to keep in mind and consistently refer back to while you are learning how to master the method.
One true test of your method acting ability is to try your character out on the general public. Again, this could be speaking in a certain voice or accent, or it could even be behaving in an outlandish way if you are inhibiting a particularly ‘out there’ personality.
Running your method by the public works on a few different levels. Firstly, it is yet another way to delve into the mind of your character. Getting out there into situations which are totally unscripted will test your ability to react naturally as your character would to different situations. Thinking on your feet like this is the ultimate test of your ability. This sort of improvisation is also a good way to judge your believability and see whether a completely unprepared and unbiased audience of people buy into whoever you are portraying.
Become a Method Actor
With all of this in mind, it’s clear that learning to apply The Method is an absolutely essential skill for anyone who is serious about achieving acting excellence.