The dark and murky side of method acting

Posted on 8 December 2015


I got this email the other day.

Now, it was a long (but interesting) email, so I have cherry picked the nub of the issue:

“Many of your emails celebrate the genius and greatness of actors such as Brando and McQueen and how by learning the Method and studying hard any actor could potentially reach those heady heights. Which may be true, although it seems that many of these ‘greats’ became good at acting and utilising the Method not only through practice but also the intensity of their emotional past.

(Then there was a bit about how Brando and other method actors seem to have tortured souls and continues…)

I was wondering if you ever go into detail discussing this more murky and dark side of acting in ‘Your Ultimate Acting Course’ and if you believe that the best Method actors are indeed people who have suffered great trauma, can more ‘together’ individuals ever be as great?” Tom

So, where to begin?

First off, it’s important to realise we all have an emotional past. Some are more traumatic than others, but this doesn’t matter.

When you are creating a character you are trying to inject them with correct emotion. As humans, we all experience all the major emotions. Intensity may vary but we experience them all.

The trick therefore is to use your experience to generate the correct emotion and fuse it with the character.

Now, you may be thinking that method actors are always using big traumatic events to fuel emotion. Not so. Sometimes we use simple, innocuous experiences to create an illusion.

For example, there was an actress friend of mine who was appearing in a West End show and needed to create the illusion that she wanted and desired her co-star, to the point where she rips his clothes off. Now, she wasn’t on the best of terms with this guy, but she managed to do it.

Guess what she thought of?

Eating a huge bowl of cornflakes. She said she loved them and devoured them every night after the show, so she used this to devour him on stage.

For me as an actor, I know that if I need to create a hysterical reaction then all I need to do is think of swimming in a cold lake. Don’t ask me why, it just does.

As you learn the technique you discover all kinds of experiences, many of which are simple, that cause particular reactions in you.

So, you see, you don’t need to delve into dark and murky areas to be a great method actor.

That said, I do believe that method actors become very sensitive and expressive due to the training. This can mean that they are impacted more by life events than others.

I actually think this is a good thing. It means you experience more of life – the good and the bad.

Here endith today’s lesson.



Yes, I’m over 18 years of age