Interesting commentary on method acting


~ by Servetus on August 14, 2016.

27 Responses to “Interesting commentary on method acting”

  1. That’s an interesting article, thank you.
    It also made me think about Richard Armitage’s ‘method’. He doesn’t like to be called a method actor, but at the same time seems to sink quite deeply into some of his characters. What to call it then? Is ‘marinating’ in the character, as he called it, really that different from method acting? I’m not sure.

  2. The thing about Armitage is, he doesn’t go on and on about it and make the whole thing seem the focal point. I think he has backed away from calling himself anything like that. In some ways the whole “method” has backfired, in my view. It seems to me that the point of it was for the actor to “become” the character through immersion and personal experience (usually an uncomfortable experience. Interesting that method actors don’t seem to inhabit “happy” or “positive” characters, isn’t it?) The idea was that the viewer would really “believe” the actor “became” the character. This excessive focus on how they got there, with all of those ridiculous stunts, has diverted attention to that process instead of the end product. So, instead of watching Leto and thinking “wow, he IS the Joker!” one will now watch him and say “wow, he did really weird things to prep for this role.” At least that is what I would be thinking. At the end of the day, the actor doesn’t disappear into the role. I believe Armitage has said he admires people like Gary Oldman who are really like chameleons. Sometimes actors like him are not even recognizable, because they have that sort of face which can change so easily. I have often thought that Armitage’s extreme handsomeness might stand in the way of what he really wants as an actor. I think one peek of the fandom illustrates that his looks are a huge distraction. For us, it’s positive. For him, maybe not so much?

    • You may be right about the distraction for him and other actors since a lot of people react to the way they look. For me personally, it’s about more with him. If he was just attractive, I’d think something like ‘good-looking guy’ and not be interested beyond that. What I really enjoy is the depth and subtlety of his acting. The great looks are a wonderful extra, but on their own wouldn’t suffice for me. I see acting at its best as an art form, and he really approaches it like that when given the chance by a good script, director etc. But I must also admit, that someone completely unattractive wouldn’t be the fascination Richard Armitage is, even if that person was a fantastic actor. That may be shallow of me.😉

      You write “the actor doesn’t disappear into the role”. That’s exactly the problem with some of the method actors. I felt that ‘Raging Bull’, for example, wasn’t so much about the film and character, but more about: Wow, what De Niro did to himself for that role! That’s exactly not the purpose originally, but it almost guarantees awards and therefore money and future roles.
      But there are a lot of fine actors who don’t need turn into their character 24/7 in order to give a fine performance. (They’re less likely to get said awards and their benefits, though.) Just yesterday I read about something Laurence Olivier supposedly said to Dustin Hoffman, who appeared extremely exhausted (he hadn’t slept for two days or so) to film a scene in which his character was extremely exhausted. Laurence said something like: ‘Why don’t you try acting?’ I found that quite interesting. I’m sure that building a house like a Puritan is an interesting and helpful experience for an actor playing John Proctor, but in the end, the real art is acting. Armitage once said in the context of The Crucible that playing the end of it when he was in actual physical pain wasn’t really acting. I don’t remember the exact words, but I had the impression that it felt like a kind of cheap short-cut to him. I found that interesting. I’m quite impressed with actors who can behave like normal, sane people between scenes and then turn into the character when the cameras are rolling. And I have a real problem with people risking their health by extreme weight gain / loss, building abnormal muscles etc. for a role. That just shouldn’t be required. But the more often something like that is rewarded, the more likely it is that more actors will do this to ensure their success.

      • I suppose the thing is that it’s hard to portray someone who hasn’t slept in two days if you don’t know what it’s like to stay awake for 48 straight hours. You can’t translate every single category one to one, naturally.

        He’s made similar remarks at least one other time (when he was waterboarded for Spooks, which was widely remarked upon at the time as extreme). And he did do the punishing training for Strike Back — although he said later that was about getting the look right.

    • Interesting problem — I would tend to agree that constitutionally his beauty might have been a problem in terms of some kinds of roles he would find attractive — but then again he’s altered his face to make it looks more beautiful. So who knows ….

  3. there’s Method Acting, and then there’s Jared Leto😛 having said that, I don’t think it’s so crazy or weird to want to understand your character better, to research so that you can portray them in the best way possible; I think articles like this blow things way out of proportion. if you’re practicing an accent, then it would just be easier if you tried to talk that way in your everyday conversations in order to get it down. if you’re portraying a person who is far different from yourself, then an appropriate form of research would be to try some of the things that they did regularly, whether that be hobbies, food choices, etc.(if more of us did this I think it would cut down immensely on the fear and hate in our society, just my opinion). if you’re in the mindset of someone else, some of that will cross over into your personal life, but I don’t see that as abnormal. when I read books or watch movies, some of that mood crosses into my life, as does the influence of certain people, etc. the trick is not to lose yourself in the process.

    just a note about Christian Bale and all the weight he lost for the Machinist: his dad had just died from a brain tumor. people deal with grief and depression in different ways.

    • I guess it’s about how far you go with it. As an actor you need to understand your character and at least physically behave the way they would. (An example would be dwarf boot camp to get the actors to walk like a dwarf for The Hobbit.) But there are actors who had to deal with severe health problems due to what they did to their bodies for some role. And when an actor wants to be adressed by the name of his character 24/7 or starts handing out live rats or dead pigs, I’d say there’s a (mental) problem.

      • I’m irritated that this article started out by making comparisons with Jared Leto. he gives Method Acting a bad name, IMO. actors, like all artists, have methods to their madness. it’s all well and good until the media picks up on it, exploits it, and starts calling it crazy. then what was initially thought of as a talented, dedicated, actor gets turned into someone with control issues who needs mental evaluation. what Christian Bale did with his body was going too far, what Daniel Day-Lewis does by wanting to be addressed/treated like the character is off-putting, but it gets the results that we, as the viewing audience, reward them for. all in all, I think we all have our quirks. and as long as the actors aren’t hurting anyone (or annoying their costars…) then they should be left to do their thing the way that works best for them. I know plenty of “normal” people in regular jobs who could give the Method Actors a run for their money.

        • I guess they picked Leto because what happened during the filming of Suicide Squad is the latest juicy topic. And it’s safe to say that a lot of younger readers are better aquainted with his work than with that of Brando or DeNiro.
          When I first read about what DeNiro did (decades ago), it definitely wasn’t described as crazy but admired by the people writing about it. But I alwas felt that he went too far in some cases. If he wants to be able to play an instrument perfectly because his character can, that’s fine and even admirable. It definitely looks better on film than someone just mimicking that he’s playing an instrument. But if he makes himself sick by first getting extremely fit, then stopping his training abruptly and gaining weight to an unhealthy point, I see a problem. And after he did this, several other actors did the same. These extremes are (too often?) what’s rewarded in the film industry. ‘Just’ being a good actor is often not enough.
          It’s safe to say that most method actors don’t go quite so far and the method works for some of them. But there are lots of fine actors who don’t work that way and who may not be taken as seriously or rewarded with awards and the good those bring to an actor’s career because they work less extremely. I find that regrettable. And to some degree it may not even be called actual acting anymore when you just create circumstances that mean that you’re living something as opposed to acting it (e. g. being in actual physical pain instead of acting as if you’re in pain). I guess that’s what Armitage referred to in the interview I mentioned above.
          But you’re definitely right: I’ve known a lot of people with ‘quirks’ – if you want to put it that mildly – in other jobs. As long as nobody gets hurt (including themselves) I may find them peculiar, but then, who am I to judge. Let’s face it, what we do with regard to Armitage is also seen as quite strange by some.

          • I too find it regrettable that the less intense actors don’t seem to get the same kind of praise, even though they put forth solid performances. if they can turn their character off between takes, instead of retreating to a corner to stay in the zone, then that’s seen as less admirable by some. I think this is one of those instances where knowing what happens behind-the-scenes can cast a shadow on the final product.

            • I think this is one of the article author’s intended points — that the fact of “extreme preparation” justified by reference to the Method distorts what we are willing to consider a “good” performance in the first place. We don’t even look closely at the people who aren’t knocking themselves out for their art — and, of course, that kind of behavior is not possible for most women.

          • I think the problem with being in actual pain is you’re not controlling it. It’s just happening. If it works as a technique, fine, but it’s almost coincidental or you’re lucky. Where as if you’re controlling it, hopefully it works every time.

        • I want to mention that I don’t know who Jared Leto is and I don’t plan to see this movie. However, I think how the article would respond to your point that “they do this to get the results that they are praised for” is that we are more likely to engage in a particular kind of (sexist) praise for this sort of activity than for other sorts that might be equally effective.

          it’s certainly true that actors are not the only odd people on the planet.

  4. Imho Richard has played down any reference to ‘Method acting’ he certainly had his ‘leg pulled’ about it on Robin Hood listening to the commentaries gave us evidence. He has said he is ‘a concentrating actor’ and would like to be able to jump in and out of character more often.

    • Yes, the point of posting this article was not to point fingers at Armitage. That said, he has also said that his acting preparation affected his relationships on RH.

  5. I think Richard is right in not claiming the title of method actor. What he does to prepare is different than that. To carefully choose books to better understand what a character might think or feel, or to visit locations and try activities that the character experiences in order to create a whole picture of who the character is, is just how he finds his way to best portray him. I think a great example is Francis/The Dragon. To use yoga, Pilates… to find a way that he could manipulate his body, particularly his back in order to become The Dragon, and therefore help the viewer to imagine his body in transformation was extremely effective. It created a juxtaposition between the powerful physical body of The Dragon, with the hoping to be invisible Francis. He finds the souls his characters. It allows him to convey the emotions and thoughts of them with the tiniest movement of an eye or mouth or angle of chin, or shift of shoulder. With just one slight gesture, he speaks volumes.

    • trying to understand a character from the inside out, drawing on your own experiences and furthering your understanding of why the character may do the things that they do due to their background and their experiences, etc. is what Method Acting is. staying in character to the extent that you want those around you to call you by the character’s name or continuing to act as if you were the character off set is something that has resulted from some Method Actors own processes, but not technically “Method” itself.

  6. Warning: Another TL:DR comment from me.

    The thing about this article that bugs me is it makes no distinction between what these actors are calling “the method” and what actually IS “The Method”. The Method is basically Lee Strasberg’s techniques (loosely based in Stanislavski). Hollywood has basically misappropriated the phrase “the method” to stand in for a sort of toxic auteurism. This isn’t The Method.

    Sure, The Method can lend itself to a certain amount of special-snowflake-syndrome in actors. They are very protective of their inner lives and their focus on it. It’s all about building a thorough and complete inner world for your character, and then maintaining a certain level of focus and accessibility to it.

    Most actors with classical training – like RA – combine elements of the Method with their training on the text, diction, and character action (this combo is closer to the Meisner technique or the original Stanislavski technique, but is a somewhat different than Strasberg’s Method).

    But what Leto was doing wasn’t building an imaginative world for his character, it wasn’t The Method.

    “The Method” would have asked him to follow a thought-experiment that says, “The Joker is an offensive disruption to his world. It is AS IF I were to send used condoms or dead animals to my cast on set. Let me imagine the process of doing that and internalize where that might come from and what effect it might have. I will then try to replicate that inner world in my performance.” (This is a simplification, but the AS IF is one of the core tenets of modern Method.)

    What Leto did instead was to create ACTUAL havoc among his cast and crew for his own selfish benefit. This is the worst sort of toxic-BS-auteurism. People need to feel pretty safe and comfortable to work 12-14 hour days on a set. Toxic auteurism believes that only one’s self is the author of the work of the performance, ignoring the collaborative efforts of the scriptwriter, the other actors, the director, the crew – all of whom work inter-connectedly in creating a film, play or performance. It also tends to be at its worst among male actors who feel entitled to inconvenience everyone else with their need.

    If an actor is doing their own private moment exercises or doing some hands-on research on farming, log-cabin building, sleep deprivation or whatever, that is one way into the Method. If changing their own bodies to create a sense of being for their character is necessary, that is another (more extreme) way. But as soon as an actor is insisting on crews working in extreme sub-zero weather which is dangerous to them, as soon as they are disrupting other people’s ability to work, as soon as they are making it all about THEM and calling it “the method”, they’ve crossed over into toxic auteurism (or assholery, as I like to call it).

    I’ve known theater actors who want to take real punches to the face on stage in the name of “the method” – so they can actually experience the pain rather than imagine it. I’ve had an actor request to actually finger an actress inappropriately during an assault scene and the actress actually considered it in the name of “the method”. Of course, I have to tell them that’s a deal-breaker. The confusion among people regarding what The Method actually is runs deep and I think it is thanks to Hollywood glorifying this BS and entertainment reporters making hay out of it.

    There is a reason some actors like RA want to distance themselves from the “method actor” label. But it is really too bad because having The Real Method in your toolchest as an actor can be really helpful. Most actors don’t use just one technique, anyway. Most of them draw from various kinds of training to reach for what works. Which is sane.

    • That was a very interesting text, especially with the experiences you described in the theatre.
      In a completely different context (sexual, to be exact) there’s a rule that goes ‘safe, sane and consensual’. That fits to what you wrote and would make a good guideline. And there are quite a few actors who immerse themselves in their characters and still manage this. I had to think of Viggo Mortensen who may have had his sword with him 24/7 but could still interact in a natural manner with his colleagues on Lord of the Rings. Or Armitage who definitely didn’t have an easy role with Francis Dolarhyde and liked to withdraw in order to stay in the right frame of mind for this character, but who nevertheless approached someone who had a really small role for a day to greet him and be friendly between two takes. I guess it’s all about not moving too far into extremes. Just imagine Armitage acting the way Leto did when playing FD in Hannibal. That would have been an event…

      • Richard, I believe knows that the production is what matters. It’s not all about him. I agree with you, I think he wants everyone to be comfortable and enjoy the experience. In RH bts, Lucy Griffiths said her scenes with him were her favorites because he had her rolling on the floor laughing. We see a lot of that in The Hobbit bts as well. I can’t imagine him consciously making anyone he works with uncomfortable.

      • it also leads to a certain kind of fan following for each actor (respectively)

    • To be fair to the author, the article does draw the distinction you refer to — in the second paragraph, the author firmly draws a line between method as acting technique and as manipulative marketing tool: “Method acting is over. Not the technique itself, which has fueled many of cinema’s greatest performances and can be a useful way of approaching difficult roles. But Leto’s stories show how going to great lengths to inhabit a character is now as much a marketing tool as it is an actual technique—one used to lend an air of legitimacy, verisimilitude, and importance to a performance no matter its quality.”

      I thought the article made an excellent point, which is that the marketing “plus” from calling something “method” and then engaging in extreme behaviors rewards a particular kind of performance that potentially distorts the possibilities not just for all other actors, but for the audience as well.

      • Point well taken! I sometimes miss it in my frustration at the misconceptions around acting and actors in general. I also get really annoyed at directors who berate and mistreat their casts and crews but are called “geniuses” and given the excuse “he’s just passionate about the work!”.

        • I don’t understand much about the people commonly regarded as great auteurs, or rather, it’s often the case that I see a film that is widely considered fantastic and I end up shrugging my shoulders. There definitely seems to be a sort of macho aura around the whole enterprise.

  7. Jared Leto – an ACTOR 😨 How frustraiting it must be for a well-trained, hard-working professionals.

    • I wonder sometimes if all of England doesn’t look at the US and think, what do those people think they are doing …

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