“Acting is not about being someone different. It’s finding the similarity in what is apparently different, then finding myself in there.” – Meryl Streep
For aspiring film actors, winning an Academy Award (more commonly known as an ‘Oscar’) is the ultimate accolade. It shows that you are capable of performing at a level few other actors are able to achieve and is the ultimate seal of approval from the film industry. But what makes an Oscar-winning actor? What skills do they have in common that makes them first among their peers? Well, for many of them, it comes down to their familiarity with ‘The Method’.
Over 80% of Best Actor Academy Awards this century have been won by method actors who use The Method to take their performance skills to a level beyond what most non-method actors can achieve. There are many aspects to mastering The Method, but there are several key characteristics that we see time and time again in Oscar-winning method actors that are well worth emulating on your road to success.
Over 80% of Best Actor Academy Awards this century have been won by method actors
Dedication to character
Method actors will often go to great lengths to create an authentic performance. In preparation for his Oscar-nominated leading role in Taxi Driver, Robert De Niro actually worked as a cab driver, reportedly putting in 12-hour shifts driving fares around New York City to get into character.
Another common technique is to look to the animal kingdom for inspiration. Many followers of The Method base their physical approach to a role on different animals to give their characters unique and arresting ways of moving. For Taxi Driver De Niro based his performance on a crab as he felt his character was indirect and tended to shift from side to side. As Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire, Marlon Brando imitated an ape, while Dustin Hoffman referenced a weasel in Midnight Cowboy. Method Acting training includes specific classes focusing on animal work to help actors master this important dramatic tool.
Using genuine emotions
Affective memory is a technique method actors learn, which allows them to tap into their own memories to create real emotional responses during a performance. This is achieved by working out the emotion they need to portray and then using experiences in their own life that triggered similar feelings in order to produce a genuine emotional response that recreates those feelings.
To do this, actors need to really know themselves, their own psyche, and how to explore this for dramatic effect. Learning to be a method actor involves learning to better know yourself and your own emotions and how to use your life experiences to create truly raw, engaging performances.
Tapping into their own life experiences
Of course, most actors will be called upon to act in scenes that have no direct analogue in their own lives. The trick is to understand how to successfully relate the emotions you need to convey with a relevant experience in your own life, even if the connection is not immediately obvious.
When filming the famous Russian Roulette scene for the film Deer Hunter, Christopher Walken said he was recalling being sent to summer camp by his parents, which he hated. He was able to use those feelings of being betrayed, ostracised, and alone to inform his performance in a totally different scenario because it required the same feelings from his character.
All of this focus on emotions might make it sound like method actors are likely to be volatile or in danger of going out of control at the drop of a curtain. In fact, successful method acting requires serious self-discipline. Learning The Method involves a great deal of time, effort and concentration in order to be able to call up the right emotions at the right moment. Through this learning process, method actors become truly in control of themselves and their emotions in a way most regular actors will never achieve, giving them an advantage both as performers and in their overall work ethic.
Willingness to sacrifice their ego
Actors can have a reputation for being egotistical, but the truly great performers don’t worry about how they are perceived, only about the best way to play their characters with absolute truth. To lose yourself in a character like this, you have to be willing to put aside your own ego, no longer thinking about yourself and your self-image, but focusing purely on becoming your character.
Robert De Niro offers another great example here, with the extreme physical transformation he underwent for his role in Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear. De Niro completely changed his appearance, including building an impressively muscular physique, covering himself in tattoos and even having a dentist grind down his teeth. This level of dedication to really becoming his character resulted in an incredible performance that shows just what a dedicated method actor can achieve with the right training and attitude.
Are you ready to unlock your hidden acting potential? Register your interest in one of our industry-leading method acting classes today and find out how to make your ambitions of a rewarding professional acting career a reality. We are always happy to hear from prospective students, so if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
At long last Mr Jeff Bridges has finally won an Oscar! Congratulations to him. Well deserved.
He also takes the percentage up again. What percentage I hear you ask…?
The percentage of Best Actor Oscar winners since 2000 who are method actors. It’s now at over 80%. Coincidence? I think not.
I like to call this percentage the ‘hidden message’. Most people never know about it.
Mr Bridges appeared on The Jonathan Ross Show recently, and he revealed one of his method acting secrets. When Jonathan Ross asked him if he got drunk to play his role so convincingly in The Big Lebowski (his character is high a lot of the time), Jeff replied “Absolutely not”. In fact, he completely abstained from any such substances, including alcohol, as he had to remain completely focused and alert. Instead, he told Jonathan, he relied on Sense Memory.
In The Method we have a tool called Sense Memory, which is about recalling life events through your senses in order to recreate the correct emotional content.
This is easier said than done, and method actors go through a progression of work and training to do this at its optimum.
But one thing is for certain. It works. That’s why people like Jeff Bridges, Sean Penn, Daniel Day- Lewis, Forest Whitaker, and a very long list of outstanding actors use it.
But here is the funny thing about The Method. Most people never learn it. Either they never get to hear about it or they just don’t think they need to learn it.
Well, you don’t have to learn it, but the top actors do because they want to be the best.
Please, for your own acting sake, start learning The Method. Jeff has just given you another sign, please don’t ignore it.
Yes, it’s true that you can learn The Method with me, but even if you don’t choose me, please go to someone else. I want to see more acting of Jeff Bridges’ standard. In fact, I would like to see all acting at that standard, and that means more people have to learn the technique which produces this type of outstanding acting.
Leading Method Actors Robert De Niro and Eli Wallach are to receive industry recognition this year for their lifetime contribution to cinema, and boy have they contributed!
De Niro is to receive a lifetime achievement award at the golden globes. Kevin Spacey announced this by saying that De Niro, 67, was ‘universally acknowledged as one of the greatest actors of all time’.
Eli Wallach will receive an Honorary Award at the Oscars this year. He has appeared in everything from ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ to ‘ The Godfather 3’. He goes way back to the first wave of method actors and was a good friend of to the writer Tennessee Williams.
These guys typify the amazing power of the technique they hold dear – method acting.
This post raises a very important point within acting that you need to know, so I would recommend reading it the whole way through.
At the weekend I went to see the critically acclaimed film ‘Black Swan’.
It was a very interesting film and I recommend you see it. Not only is it a great film but it also highlights a particular acting challenge all actors face.
If you haven’t seen it yet, let me fill you in. It centers on a ballet dancer (Natalie Portman) who has worked very hard at her craft but has failed to land a leading role. Why? Well, she is technically brilliant but lacks artistic flare.
An opportunity arises when the Artistic Director (Vincent Cassel) decides to stage ‘Swan Lake’ and needs someone who can play the white and black swan. As you would imagine the white swan character is angelic and fragile while the black swan is, well, a bit naughty. A bit of a simplification but you get the picture.
Portman’s character is great at the white swan. Her character type fits the white swan. But when she dances the part of the black swan she just can’t crack it. It’s too controlled and analytical. Her character hasn’t fully lived yet and is a goody two shoes who struggles to relate to the darkness of the black swan. (It’s worth noting how her real life affected her dancing life, which is very often the case with actors too.)
There is however another dancer in the troop of ballet dancers (Mila Kunis) who is very good at doing the black swan. She comes across as a mischievous and sensual person who can identify with the black swan.
But here is the Directors problem he needs someone who can play both. In ‘Swan Lake’ one dancer plays both roles.
He opts for Portman and tries to educate her on how to play the black swan.
I won’t ruin the film for you so I will stop there, but this raises a crucial acting issue.
Sometimes actors are not aware of how they come across and how much they need to change in order to play a role.
The casting of the film itself highlights this. Portman plays the ‘nice’ girl beautifully and manages to pull off the bad girl routine as well, but not quite as well as Kunis who was cast as the bad girl of the film. You can see that she is very comfortable with that kind of role.
In order to play a range of roles you need to transform because if you don’t someone will walk into the casting room who is exactly like the character.
Here is my pivotal question.
Can you do that now?
Do you have the skill and technique to pull off a performance at the highest level and completely transform?
If you can’t then there is someone out there who can, I can assure you.
If you want to develop this sort of skill and achieve this sort of level of performance then you need to start training.
Natalie Portman employed some hallmark method acting techniques. She also trained in ballet dancing for 10 months before the acting process began showing true commitment to the role.
I predict an Oscar for her performance. Bravo!
Well the results of the 2011 Academy Awards are in and I guess there were no great surprises.
Colin Firth won Best Actor. Although Colin puts in a great performance I would argue that method actor Javier Bardem’s performance in ‘Biutiful’ was far superior. His performance was in another league. He brought great emotional depth and range to the role. The film is very gritty and in Spanish which is probably not as appealing to UK and US audiences as the ‘The King’s Speech’ which is all about the British royalty.
Personally, although ‘The King’s Speech’ is an enjoyable film, I’m a little tired of seeing British films about the monarchy and the old British stiff upper lip. Give me a gritty, real and emotional moving film any day.
Talking of which the film ‘The Fighter’ did well at the Awards. Method actors Christian Bale and Melissa Leo won Best Supporting Actors and Actress Awards and well deserved too.
Also Natalie Portman won Best Actress for her role in ‘Black Swan’. The 10 months of ballet dance training before shooting the film paid off!
Method actress Meryl Streep has just won a Best Actress Award from the New York Film Critics Circle. I think this is a sign of what is to come with the Oscars.
In case you haven’t heard, Meryl has been filming a film about the life of Margaret Thatcher. It is due to be released soon.
The thing about Meryl is that she is a complete chameleon, and when she develops a character she goes the whole nine yards. Apparently, when they were filming, the other actors said it was really like Margaret Thatcher was in the room.
This is what I love about Method actors. They only settle for outstanding. They go the extra mile and they use every tool in their Method toolbox. Well, I guess you need to if you are being paid £15m a movie!
I suggest you watch her performance and dissect it. Look at her emotional range and truthfulness; look at her physicality; listen to her voice. I tell you, she has the whole package going on – which you can learn a lot from.
It’s that time of year again.
It won’t be long before we are watching a top actor blubbing about how they would never have made it without Mum, Dad and Mimi the family cat!
But I have to say, I love the Oscars.
Tears and tantrums to boot!
So, who are the movers and shakers this year?
What I can tell you is that 4 out of the 5 Best Actor nominations are method actors. Coincidence? I think not.
It looks like the statistic of 80% of Best Actor Oscar Winners won by method actors from the year 2000 is set to continue.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Over the coming weeks I will be sending you my views and predictions. Do with them what you will.
So, lets start with an outsider for Best Actor.
Bradley Cooper for Silver Linings Playbook.
Firstly, great film. A quirky, brilliantly acted, little gem.
Bradley is a one of the new wave of method actors. It was great to see him acting along side De Niro who put in a great performance himself. In fact he looks set to pick up Best Supporting Actor.
Watching these two method boys slug it out is great fun. Bradley recently told how in one scene the emotion was so strong they couldn’t use the take.
Well, in this particular scene De Niro has a right go at Bradley who is his son. Bradley was so shaken by the ferocity of De Niro’s rage that he started to cry and wail. The wailing was so loud that they couldn’t use the take.
This is testament not just to De Niro, who without doubt has enough rage to shake the bones of the hardest of men, but also to Bradley who has a very sensitive instrument and is willing to let himself be vulnerable and then to express it.
Long story short, they used a different take which was equally as powerful.
My prediction is that this year is not Bradley’s year. Why? Well, he is up against some very stiff competition… more on that soon.
My long-term prediction is that he will most certainly win an Oscar in his career. He is one of the most promising actors to come on the scene for a long time. He has a marvellous capacity to be vulnerable and to be real.
His time will come, but not this year.
More crystal ball Oscar predictions coming soon.
This email was going to be about another one of the Best Actor nominees but something happened the other day that takes precedence over that for the time being.
De Niro broke down in tears during an interview the other day.
We are used to seeing him playing the hard man, so thinking about him breaking down in tears may shock you.
It didn’t shock me at all.
What many don’t realise is that when you train to become a Method actor, you become more sensitive to the touch. In some cases hypersensitive.
This is a good thing. In fact, it is what you should be striving towards as an actor.
De Niro was talking about his Silver Linings Playbook character’s struggle to deal with his bipolar condition. This touched him so much he cried.
You see, your vulnerability is a strength. So many people think it is a weakness – but that vulnerability connects you to people in a deep way.
The funny thing about this interview is that he was with co-star Bradley Cooper who, as you may recall from my last email, wailed during a scene and they consequently couldn’t use it.
These men have worked hard at making themselves sensitive. This makes them sensitive not just in their acting but in their own lives. In fact, maybe a better word than ‘sensitive’ is ‘connected’: connected to their feelings and emotions.
This is one of the most powerful abilities you can develop as an actor.
The other day I saw the film Flight starring Denzel Washington.
I have a special connection to this film. Victoria Burrows, the US casting director who cast Flight, comes to our studio in LA to visit the students each year.
For the last 18 months, she has been telling us about how great Flight is. It’s taken that long to get it distributed and out in the UK. She also told us the story of how she managed to get Kelly Reilly, a UK actress who appears in the TV programme Above Suspicion, a leading role in the film.
Victoria really believed in Kelly and fought to get her the part. You see, sometimes, if you’re right for the role, you will have casting directors in your corner helping you to get cast.
That aside, Flight is an outstanding film. Denzel deserves his Best Actor nomination, and, in my opinion, is the only true contender to Daniel Day-Lewis for the Oscar.
He plays an alcoholic airline pilot who manages to crash-land a plane but comes under scrutiny for his drinking.
Denzel plays a brilliant drunk and you really feel for him—as you do for all the characters. It’s a great script and cast. You should go and see it.
To be honest, it’s hard to choose between Denzel and Daniel. They are both great Method actors who have put in outstanding performances.
However, I don’t think Denzel will win the Best Actor Oscar this year.
Why not? I hear you scream.
More on that soon.