The Method Acting of Robert De Niro

Posted on 18 July 2016

Method acting Robert De Niro


Robert De Niro is one of the best-known actors working today with a career spanning more than 50 years. He has won 2 Academy Awards, taking home the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for The Godfather Part II and Best Actor for Raging Bull. De Niro has also picked up a further 5 Oscar nominations, including most recently for 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook.

The secret to De Niro’s success is his reliance on the Method. As a younger man he studied acting with the highly respected acting coach Stella Adler and with legendary method acting teacher Lee Strasberg. This early grounding in method acting has helped to shape De Niro’s career allowing him to become one of the most successful and respected actors of his generation.


Acting instinctively

De Niro is a big believer in acting instinctively. Speaking to Esquire, he said:


“I always tell actors when they go in for an audition: Don’t be afraid to do what your instincts tell you.”


When auditioning, you’re not just selling your vision of that character, you’re selling what you can do uniquely as an actor. By following your instincts, you are showing a casting director what you have to offer them. Even if your audition doesn’t match the casting person’s and the director’s vision for that part, if your performance is good, they will remember. The examples of actors going for one part and ending up being offered another are too many to recount.

Acting instinctively might sound like the opposite of method acting or like something you could do without training. Nothing could be further from the truth. Learning method acting techniques is about training your acting instincts so that when you come to perform, you are capable of allowing those instincts to take over. This leads to totally authentic, unmannered performances. Method actors do their thinking and planning beforehand so that they don’t have to work out what to do next in the middle of a performance; they just know. This is what De Niro means about following your instincts.


Master of subtlety

Although De Niro has given some big, bold performances in his career, one of the reasons he is so respected is for his range. An important thing to understand about method acting is, it doesn’t always mean giving big, demonstrative displays of emotion. De Niro is capable of exhibiting great subtlety in his acting and method acting is often at its most powerful when used in a more restrained fashion. As De Niro once said:


“It’s important not to indicate. People don’t try to show their feelings, they try to hide them.”


This is a key lesson to learn: just because you are using affective memory and other techniques to generate real emotions on stage or in front of a camera, that does not mean you have to let all of those feelings out. With camera work in particular, feeling an emotion and then working to repress it can create a layered and deeply real performance unachievable by other means.


Committed to preparation

Method acting is all about grounding your performance in the real. This is something Robert De Niro understands deeply, which is why he has gone to exceptional lengths over the years to prepare for his roles by finding real experiences to anchor them in.

For his starring role in Martin Scorsese’s 1976 classic Taxi Driver, De Niro wanted to really understand what it was like to live the lifestyle of a New York cabbie. To achieve this, he went out and worked 12-hours shifts driving a real cab in New York. To play real-life boxer Jake LaMotta, De Niro spent hundreds of hours sparring with La Motta and even fought in 3 real boxing matches.

This kind of preparation is not strictly necessary for method acting as the Method teaches actors to use memories of experiences they already have. This means that you can produce an authentic performance based on a scenario you have never encountered by working out its emotional core and relating this to experiences that brought out similar emotions in yourself.

However, if you can more directly experience situations similar to the ones you are being asked to simulate, this can add an extra layer of verisimilitude. It’s also worth bearing in mind that, even if you can’t match the exact circumstances your character will be going through, you can still work out what emotions they are likely to be feeling and then look at what experiences you can seek out to stimulate the same ones.


No room for ego

People often remark that Robert De Niro is surprisingly humble for such a successful actor and many consider him to be quite shy. He once said:


“I’ve never been one of those actors who has touted myself as a fascinating human being. I had to decide early on whether I was to be an actor or a personality.”


This lack of ego is crucial to the method actor. Great acting involves truly becoming someone else and to do that you have to be willing to sacrifice your own ego. You can’t be thinking about whether you will look foolish or cast yourself in an unflattering light. You have to totally commit to the character and do what is right for them, not been constrained by your own self-image.

Putting your ego aside is also crucial for working effectively with the rest of the cast and crew on a production. De Niro is clear that acting is about being open to what others have to say:


“As an actor, it is important to be a good listener. You need to listen to what others have to say, the director, the producer, your co-actor… everyone. I try to listen to everyone and take their inputs on what I have to do.”


De Niro also offers really good advice about getting into acting for the right reasons:


“Don’t expect to be famous – do it because you really love doing it and have fun doing it.”

Learn method acting like Robert De Niro

If you aspire to be a truly great actor like Robert De Niro, you have to study method acting. The Method has been used by 80% of Oscar-winning actors this century and offers an unrivalled ability to bring emotional truth and an enviable level of professionalism to every role you play.

We offer both 3-Day Method Acting Boot Camps for those wanting to explore the world of method acting and a comprehensive 1-Year Ultimate Acting Programme. This year-long course of study covers everything needed to become a professional actor, including a full understanding of the Method and a practical insight into the business of acting, giving you the skills to start getting paid acting work right away.

To find out more, please take a look around the rest of the website and, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.


Yes, I’m over 18 years of age