Meryl Streep is often referred to as the best actress of her generation and not without reason. In a career spanning more than four decades, she has received 19 Oscar nominations (more than any other actor or actress in history) and won 3 times, once for Best Supporting Actress and twice for Best Actress. Meryl Streep is one of those rare performers for whom the word “legend” is not an exaggeration.
This level of success did not come about by chance. Streep is a phenomenal performer much praised for her ability to completely transform herself into the characters she plays, offering deep and utterly convincing performances in a wide variety of roles. This kind of acting ability is rare indeed, but there is a method behind it and, by understanding how Meryl Streep approaches her craft, you too can begin to follow in the footsteps of the “the greatest living actress”.
Finding herself in her roles
Meryl Streep once said:
“Acting is not about being someone different. It’s finding the similarity in what is apparently different, then finding myself in there.”
For her Oscar-winning role as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, Streep found herself identifying with Thatcher’s “position as an outsider”. Streep saw parallels between Thatcher, a grocer’s daughter from Grantham and the UK’s first female prime minister, and her own experience being one of the first female students at a previously all-male college.
This idea of finding the similarities between a character and elements in your own life is a core technique of method acting known as ‘affective memory’. Making these kinds of connections can allow you to relate to experiences that are totally different to your own life. In this way it is possible to bring a high level of emotional truth to a role, by calling up the emotions you felt during your own experience that resonate with your character’s situation.
Creating a physical presence
One of the most remarkable things about method actors is how they create such complete characterisations, producing performances that feel completely three-dimensional. A key part of this is developing the physical side of their character, including the way they move, hold themselves and any distinctive habitual actions or ticks they engage in.
For her Oscar-nominated role as Helen in Ironweed, Streep based her idea of the character around the musical sign of the treble clef. Streep said:
“It expressed for me her passion for music and her inner grace, and it gave me the sad, drooping line of her body.”
By visualising the character in this way, Streep was able to take an abstract concept with strong emotional associations for her (Streep is a keen musician) and use it to connect the characters internal and external life. The result is a performance with a physicality that reflects perfectly the inner life of the character, adding depth and a real sense of truth to the performance.
Streep describes herself as being something of an introvert which may seem surprising for someone who performs for a living, but in fact many of the best method actors are quite introverted. Because method acting requires a great deal of reflection and understanding of yourself, people who are naturally inward-looking often make better method actors.
That said, acting does require confidence and this is something Meryl Streep had to learn. She uses her mother for inspiration who Streep considers to have been much more confident than herself. By imaging how her mother could have handled any given situation, Streep is able to boost her own confidence. She says:
“It’s a good thing, to imagine yourself doing something you think you can’t. I do that every day”.
This kind of visualisation technique can be extremely helpful for actors. It can help you get used to the idea of dealing with difficult situations making them easier to handle for real when the time comes.
One of the most important things for any actor is being professional. Method actors are often well-regarded for their high-level of dedication and the strong work-ethic they bring to their roles. This is a result of the rigorous process that method actors go through and the fact the Method allows them to produce amazing acting on cue over and over.
Dustin Hoffman, who co-starred alongside Streep in her first Oscar-winning role praised the actress, saying:
”She’s extraordinarily hardworking…I think that she thinks about nothing else but what she’s doing.”
This gets to the essence of what makes method actors so well-regarded in the industry. They work hard and they have an incredible level of focus about their work. This is why so many actors, writers, directors and casting agents prefer working with method actors.
Streep is also well-regarded for her lack of ego. Her Into the Woods co-star Anna Kendrick, said of Streep:
“She is cool as a cucumber — so smart, so down to earth”
This humbleness is really important for being a successful method actor. Although many people imagine Hollywood stars are all hugely egotistical (and some definitely are!) the best, like Meryl Streep, always keep their egos in check. Not only does this make them easier to work with (the importance of which cannot be overstated) it also makes them better actors.
As an actor, you will often be asked to put yourself in situations which you may find embarrassing or to play characters who are deeply flawed, either physically or psychologically. To do this successfully, you need to be able to detach yourself from thoughts of your own self-image.
As Streep famously once said:
“I think the most liberating thing I did early on was to free myself from any concern with my looks as they pertained to my work.”
Learn the art of method acting like Meryl Streep
Great actors like Meryl Streep are not born with some magical natural talent. They have to study and work at developing their craft. By learning the art of method acting you too can develop the ability to bring real emotional truth to your acting and begin the journey to become a truly exceptional actor, just like Meryl Streep.
Our 3-Day Method Acting Boot Camps are the perfect introduction to the world of the Method while our 1-Year Ultimate Acting Programme teaches you everything you need to know about becoming a professional actor. The Ultimate Acting Programme offers a full understanding of the method acting process used by Meryl Streep as well as the majority of elite Hollywood actors. Not only this, we also teach you how to navigate the business side of the acting world, giving you the knowledge and skills to go out and begin finding paid acting work straight 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.