Is Richard Armitage still talking about Method?

In reference to this new Reader’s Digest piece (I know, I know, I thought that, too, but then I remembered this other Reader’s Digest piece from a decade ago, which actually was good, so stupidly I read this mediocre one) with Richard Armitage, I found myself thinking that the interviewer just really had no idea what questions to ask. And when Armitage gets asked the same questions over and over again, he either turns on autopilot or makes frustrated-sounding jokes. I mean: I doubt that there are many trained actors who just show up and say their memorized lines. (Yes, I understand that especially in the US, many actors have no actual training in acting.)

It did, however, put me in mind of a recent kerfuffle in the arts world over Method acting. I don’t watch Succession (I guess everyone else does, as it’s constantly in my feed), but apparently one of the actors — Jeremy Strong, playing Kendall Roy — was recently profiled in The New Yorker. The profile was considered negative enough that the filmerati came out in droves to defend Strong, even to the extent that one press commentator actually asked them to shut up.

Strong is apparently a devoté of Daniel Day-Lewis, Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, etc., who also rejects the term “method,” calling his strategy “identity diffusion”:

“If I have any method at all, it is simply this: to clear away anything—anything—that is not the character and the circumstances of the scene,” he explained. “And usually that means clearing away almost everything around and inside you, so that you can be a more complete vessel for the work at hand.”

[…]

He went on, “I can’t work in a way that feels like I’m making a television show. I need, for whatever reason, to believe that it’s real and commit myself to that sense of belief.”

Comparing this to something Armitage said in 2013 (not the only thing he’s ever said on the topic, but something that stuck in my mind):

QUESTION: Would you describe yourself as a method actor?

RICHARD ARMITAGE: No I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t describe myself as a method actor. I think other people apply that label. I think I’m a concentrating actor. So in order to do my work in the course of a day, particularly with a character like [Thorin] I have to concentrate.  So it’s about staying in the scene, staying with my head in the scene and attempting to keep the character with me.  It doesn’t mean I can’t have a conversation or go and make a cup of coffee. But I actually stay with the character for 18 months.

Armitage also said of the Thorin role:

The moments which are the most real and the most moving were the moments where I just wasn’t acting; I was just inhabiting what was literally another being, a whole body of clothing and a whole new face. All of that thing – you sometimes felt like you were inside of it. But there were times when I absolutely didn’t feel like that, and I was just all him. It’s hard to describe.

Armitage has also had his own moments of weirdness, if I recall correctly, trying not to let people see Thorin unless he was in character as him, etc. And we’ve observed moments in which it wasn’t entirely clear if a journalist was talking to Richard Armitage or the character he was playing.

It seems to me, as an outsider, that a certain amount of imagination must be necessary to be a successful actor. It also seems to me, as an outsider, that the expectation that the external world confirm to your imagination could be an unnecessary or dangerous burden.

Hypothesis: the problem isn’t whatever method anyone uses; it’s the extent to which one’s own method inconveniences or endangers others that’s the problem.

Hypothesis: techniques of “identity diffusion” or “staying with the character” may generate actions which leave one vulnerable to the jeers or objections of observers.

I’m wondering if it’s comforting or disturbing that actors are as ready targets of the “you’re doing it wrong” criticism as their fans are.

[If you’re watching Succession and want to comment about Jeremy Strong / Kendall Roy, that’s fine. If you’re reading the comments, be aware that there might be Succession spoilers in them.]

~ by Servetus on December 16, 2021.

16 Responses to “Is Richard Armitage still talking about Method?”

  1. I don’t see that there is anything wrong with method (or ‘concentrated’) acting or similar (except in the case of Jared Leto’s dire performance in House of Gucci ). Whatever produces the best performance is what matters and yes, as long as it doesn’t harm others. Acting is a profession after all so why shouldn’t actors take their craft seriously? It is interesting that Richard mentions, ‘People who have big personalities and enjoy putting them on film’ in the article. To me this could apply to both Laurence Olivier and Martin Freeman, two actors who have sneered at method acting and neither, in my opinion, show a range other than their own personalities (on film at least, as I haven’t seen either of them on stage).

    (It is boring when people bang on about TV dramas and I resisted Succession for ages but it really is magnificent.)

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    • well, I was dithering about House of Gucci (the last showing here is this afternoon, and there are some good reasons not to go), but you got me to buy a ticket. Honestly, the trailer is a huge turnoff. Hope my car doesn’t get blown off the road. Just kidding.

      I knew what Olivier had said (to Hoffman, re Marathon Man — and I like that film and the better performance is clearly Olivier’s) but I had to look up Freeman’s remarks. Well, it doesn’t surprise me that he’d say something like that (and honestly, why does he give a fuck, using HIS own vernacular) what Jim Carrey is doing? Speaking as an outsider, it makes sense to point out that acting is collaborative and perhaps “Method” makes the experience less collaborative, but the attack on Carrey (and I am no fan of Carrey — an antivaxxer crackpot who hasn’t made a good film since the 1990s) is just weird. Maybe Martin is jealous as he has never won a Golden Globe (and is one of those “frequently nominated, rarely wins” actors). I don’t enjoy Freeman in the movies, although recently I enjoyed “Breeders” (but as you say: you can imagine that show being a one to one reproduction of his own family life); I am not sure I have thought enough about Olivier to have an opinion.

      I’m not opposed to seeing Succession, but it is on HBO, which I don’t have. The other thing is I haven’t been in the mood for watching this kind of machination thing for the last year or so. I started watching “Line of Duty,” finally, which everyone raves about, and I gave up halfway through season 2. I just don’t find it plausible or entertaining that the Scottish police are that corrupt, and lately I’d rather be soothed by TV. The thought of four and half more series of it made me want to disable my TV remote and take up tatting.

      Liked by 1 person

    • So I saw it and I didn’t get blown away by the wind. What did you think of it?

      I’m glad I saw it, so thanks for the nudge. I do not know what Jared Leto or the director thought Leto was doing. Serious weak link in a group of very credible performances, moreso Jeremy Irons than Al Pacino and moreso Lady Gaga than Adam Driver, whom I usually enjoy but who can’t do an Italian accent. Excellent sound track, set design. I feel, though, like it didn’t cohere. The film didn’t really have a trajectory or a climax, and in that regard, as well as the general theme, it also felt a lot like Ridley Scott was reprising “All The Money in the World.” (It was, however, better than “The Last Duel,” which was a serious disappointment.)

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      • I was bemused that you went to see it on my recommendation that Jared Leto was dire! But I was interested to know what you thought ( and glad that you weren’t blown away – in two ways!) My feelings about the film are similar to yours. I enjoyed the film – it was soapy, arch, looked great and I loved the soundtrack – but it lacked structure and background to the family (who I knew nothing about). Leto’s performance was a big jarring minus. I don’t understand why it thought acceptable. It was like Jerry Lewis stumbling into the Seventh Seal – not that HoG can be compared with that. Interesting to hear about the Last Duel, which intrigued me.

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  2. It’s funny that ‘method acting’ seems to have such a bad rap (?) that actors (RA?) continually deny that such is their approach to portraying a character. Or is it a case of being humble and modest, because some of the proponents of method acting are seen as masters of their craft, and therefore RA applies his usual humble denial? With all the things he has disclosed about his way of working, it sounds pretty much like Strasberg et al. – feeling and being the character, creating a back story, exercising private moments, soundscapes… To me that sounds like a logical approach, and his results validate it.
    I was particularly thrown by your observation re. the “you’re doing it wrong” accusation. That is such a good point, and I find it comforting from the POV of a fan (as in: shared experience with OOA). However, on a general level that whole accusation remains disturbing. Why is the “how” always a matter of contention, especially when the results validate the process? Your question then may illuminate the reason for RA’s denial re. “method” method. Maybe he doesn’t want to open himself up to criticism (from his peers?) by openly ascribing to this method?

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    • I’ve now read a number of pieces that suggest that “Method” is a peculiarly American preoccupation (I’m not sure that’s true, but it’s an interesting comment to make. Daniel Day-Lewis is clearly not American, but then again it is sometimes stated that he has never had an exposure to Method classes — which I find doubtful, as I assume most actors’ training would try to expose students to all kinds of approaches).

      In any case, I can very easily hypothesize about a scenario where American actors felt a sort of inferiority complex and tried to come up with some sort of intellectualized training and “Method” as based on the background influence of Stanislavski ended up being what it was — seventy years ago. All of this gets to the definition of what “Method” is and as long as there is no real agreement (even generally) on what that means, anyone can assert anything they want about it. I also think that most observers don’t understand how any method might influence performance. I am aware of various pedagogical methods and use some of them. I have preferences. That doesn’t mean I slavishly implement any of them.

      I also wondered about the “humility” piece, i.e., available evidence suggests that Armitage really likes the ensemble aspects of acting more than the solo moments, and that he’s big on the “reacting to others” pieces of it. It seems like the “focus on self” piece for him might be heavily focused on the physical aspects of the performance.

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  3. I think people feel threatened by the intensity of Method acting, not necessarily by the practice itself. when someone is passionate about something in an intense way, whether that’s acting or collecting or putting their all into a sport, etc. they get derided for it. which doesn’t make sense to me, since they get praised for being so good at it. how do they think you get so good at something other than being passionate about it and putting your all into it?

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  4. Each actor has their own process, their own way of getting to a character and performing it. I never get why that needs to be criticised by other actors, whether they criticize someone for method acting or whether they criticize someone for not method acting. When will people stop bashing each other, accept differences and different processes and just appreciate how good the output is, no matter how that came about?

    And yeah, that was quite a trite interview, made me wonder how long the guy had even spoken with Richard and whether he didn’t just google his way through the rest of his article.

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    • that’s the reputation of Reader’s Digest, at least in the US. Their stock in trade for many years was abridged version of novels that took all the interesting or racy pieces out. The idea was that the middle class should be able to soak up important art and ideas without every being bothered by anything they learned. So you almost assume, if you still open an issue of Reader’s Digest, that you are going to read something that will put you to sleep. But at least you won’t be disturbed in any way.

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