Does Method Acting Work?

Posted on 19 May 2016

Does Method Acting Work?


Many of the most well-known actors in the 21st century use ‘The Method’ in order to create outstanding and memorable performances.


Only about one or two per cent of the acting industry actually use Method acting but if you look at who’s in that group, it’s usually all the top creative actors in Hollywood.  Brian Timoney


Method acting is a technique that is used to draw upon life experiences and channel them through the part that you’re playing. Typically an actor will carry out various Method processes before, during and after being on-set or stage in order to really become aligned with the role. The result is a superior style of performance that creates in-depth and believable characters and produces electric chemistry between cast members.


Controversy Surrounding The Method

The Method has not been without its fair share of criticism and scepticism over the years. Even though the Method has been responsible for some of the greatest acting of our time, it is sometimes portreyed as being unnecessary or even dangerous.

Some co-stars may become irritated by a method actor’s refusal to break character between takes. Will Smith who is in the upcoming movie ‘Suicide Squad’ recently gave an interview about his method actor co-star Jared Leto who is hugely in-demand at the moment.


I’ve never actually met Jared Leto. We worked together for 6 months and we’ve never exchanged a word outside of ‘Action!’ and ‘Cut!’ We’ve never said ‘Hello’ or ‘Good day.’ I’ve only ever spoken to him with me as Deadshot and him as The Joker. I literally have not met him yet. Not a single word exchanged off-camera. He was all in on the Joker.


Here is Leto talking about the role:


Similarly, three-time Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis is known to take his method acting to an extremely intense level in order to get to grips with the characters that he has played. He is thought not to have broken character for three months whilst filming ‘Lincoln’. He even insisted that the cast, crew and director Steven Spielberg address him as ‘Mr President’. Perhaps he went one step too far when signing off text messages with “Yours A”. Critics have pointed out that Abraham Lincoln wouldn’t have been able to send a text message in the 1860s!

The commitment and devotion that method actors display towards honing their craft can be hard for co-stars, friends and family to understand but it does create some truly fine performances that audiences all over the world can be thankful for.


Taking It Too Far

Of course, there are also well-publicised cases of method actors who have gone too far. Perhaps the most famous in recent times is the late Heath Ledger who became obsessed with his role of the Joker. He is thought to have locked himself in his apartment for up to a month before filming and could only manage a couple of hours sleep per night because he was so absorbed in the character. Unfortunately, Ledger overdosed on prescription drugs before the film was released and many believe that the role was too much of a mental challenge for him.

Yet even with the controversy that surrounds the Method, it is still the most successful acting technique that is practised at the moment. This is because method acting really works!


Oscar-Winning Performances

Does method acting work? Well, over 80% of Oscar winner ‘Best Actor’ awards have been won by method actors. This amounts to over 100 method actors who have taken home this prestigious award. This is far from coincidence and is down to the sheer perseverance and dedication that method actors apply to their work. Method acting is not a gimmick nor a simple trick of the trade. It requires a great deal of discipline and training in order to reach the level of quality performance that audiences expect from Oscar winners.

The Method requires an actor to build the inner life of a character. The technique is not just about trotting out some memorised lines, but involves awareness of a character’s ongoing thoughts, perceptions, emotional responses and sensations. In order to be comfortable doing this, an actor must first be able to master their instrument, which is their own self. By training an actor’s personal senses, it is then possible to combine those feelings with the character and event that are being portrayed.


Method Relaxation To Conquer Stage Fright

The Method requires total relaxation before a performance. This is critical to the success of an Oscar-nominated method actor such as Bradley Cooper. In advance of playing the role of Chris Kyle in ‘American Sniper’, Cooper noted down all of his dreams for a week –


It’s a way to prepare, to relax, to open up.


Stage fright is also a concern for many actors. Laurence Olivier famously said, This is what it must be like to give birth”, whilst Stephen Fry told the Guardian that stage fright was like dying. It can certainly become crippling for some and threatens to entirely overwhelm the skill of an actor. These nerves essentially stem from a fear of getting it wrong – this is because the actor is concentrating on their own needs rather than the feelings of the character. Practising specialist Method relaxation techniques before a performance will ensure that your mind is occupied only with what is important in the mind of the character, rather than being preoccupied by your own ego.


Affective Memory

Perhaps one of the aspects of the Method which is at the very heart of its success is the use of affective memory. This is the ability to recall and use a strong emotional experience from your past in order to recreate a specific emotion on-demand in a scene. It is an extremely effective technique to help actors find a parallel between their own lives and the character arc of the role they are playing. Christopher Walken remembered the feelings of abandonment and betrayal that he had experienced as a child during an unpleasant summer camp trip. He used those negative and frightening memories to play the shocking Russian Roulette scene in ‘Deer Hunter’ for which he won the Best Supporting Actor award at the Oscars in 1978.


Free Your Mind And Body

Method acting also works with actors by allowing them to free up various parts of their physical or mental being in order to become more expressive. Vocal exercises are carried out during method training to develop good diction and learn how to project the voice effectively. Actors who possess a natural accent can learn how to reduce it whilst developing other accents that are essential for a role.

Physical acting is also vital for creating an engaging performance. Movement training will teach method actors how to use their entire body, rather than just their head. One of the ways that method actors have a magnetic stage presence is by using animal exercises throughout their performances. This works by visualising the physical and psychological characteristics of a certain animal and then applying them to your role.

It may be surprising to audiences that animal exercises are not confined to shows such as ‘Cats’. Robert de Niro studied the movement of a crab to offer a unique angle to his portrayal of Travis Bickle in the 1976 movie ‘Taxi Driver’. He felt that the character of Bickle was shifty and indirect. Similarly Marlon Brando mimicked an ape for the role of Stanley Kowalski in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ whilst Dustin Hoffman acted like a weasel with a limp to play Ratso in ‘Midnight Cowboy’.

Method acting has many benefits to offer working actors of today. Aside from the wonderful performances that are promised as a result of following this incredible style of acting, the technique is also a useful toolbox for actors to dip into throughout their career. From gaining inspiration for a character, to the more mundane tasks such as learning lines, the Method offers clear processes through which to support an actor along their journey into character. Actors will become alive during their performances and will be able to summon self-awareness without then tipping into the unwelcome ground of self-consciousness.

Of course, many of the exercises associated with the Method are extremely powerful. Reliving past traumatic experiences through the use of affective memory for instance, can cause some deeply painful emotions to be uncovered. Therefore we consider it to be unwise to practice certain aspects of the Method without undergoing specialist training. Rather than dabbling in the Method to decide if it’s for you, it would be far safer and more effective to practise some of these exercises in the secure environment of a Method acting class.


Our Introduction to Method Acting Boot Camp is a 3 day intensive programme and is the perfect way to discover if you have the drive and determination to kick start your method acting career. You will become completely immersed in the Method during this short course. Want to know more? Apply for our next bootcamp which takes place in Central London from the 15th-17th July.


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