What is Method Acting?
“Method acting” was originally coined by the famous Lee Strasberg, who originated the idea that in order to develop and portray the realistic emotional understanding of a character, an actor should use their own experiences to help identify with the character. Actors use forms of recall from their own personal lives to understand and develop backstories of their characters. Method acting or substitution acting requires actors to relate their own experiences to a characters experience, recall the emotional and physical state they were in when undergoing this experience and then transition this state to capture that sense memory to replay this out in theater, TV or film.
While this concept of acting is still used by a number of well-known stars today, the recall and substitution method does not go without its flaws and dangers.
When “method acting,” actors tend to blend real life with their character’s life, and the mentality can create an emotional and physical destructive environment, because the actor is relying on their environmental conditions in order to recreate their call and response mentality. In order to understand their character’s mentality and physical conditions, many method actors will take on their same eating habits and behaviors. This has led many to starvation, mental exhaustion and the need for psychological help, they believe is necessary in order to achieve the level of performance they desire to reach.
One major example we can use to help explain this technique is the Oscar-winning actor, Jared Leto and his performance as The Joker in the upcoming Warner Brother’s film, Suicide Squad.
Jared has stated in a number of interviews that he never broke character while on set. The Joker, being a very controversial role whose character played psychological and disturbing games to his cast and crew on set and never once went back to just being Jared when shooting the film. Jared made the entire cast and crew call him Mr. J and fellow co-star Viola Davis has been quoted saying he would give “horrific gifts,” on set like a dead pig and just walk out of the room.
Charles Roven, one of the producer on Suicide Squad, told Collider Videos that Leto isolated himself in many ways and it fueled a lot of good laughs and it helped to bond the squad together.
Stanislavski was one of the only actors to have ever worked with Strasberg and he found the downsides to the method acting technique from the early beginning of his study. From his findings of the possible mental harm the recall and simulation can create within an actor, he created a method that actors could use to transition their focus from relying on their real personal experiences to live out on screen, and to instead rely on imagination they created. This style is similar to the teachings of Stella Adler and Sandy Meisner.
It really comes down to an actor’s preference of how they will break down their scripts and characters to create the best possible performance. However, when it comes to method acting, actors who choose to participate in this technique, must take precaution. This could affect their professional and personal lives and it is essential to be aware of the sides effects of taking on a character’s identity on AND off screen.
You have to analyze and think about the various ways and techniques that will help you get to where you need to be to take on a character, and if you do choose to go the method route, be ready for what’s to come.
If your goal is to have a long-lasting career as a working actor, consider the potential harm that can come from method acting to yourself and the people around you and proceed with precaution. Think about what will be best for your work, but also yourself and the people around you. With proper guidance and counseling, you can absolutely give incredible performances through this technique, but you may have to ask yourself… at what cost?
Before taking on these techniques, you may also want to chat with your director and/or cast and give them a heads up, so they have a clear understand that it is best for you to live and breathe your particular character for the duration of the shoot. Being open and honest about your approach will release any tension on set and will allow those around you to help in creating the best possible work environment for each and every individual to obtain their optimum level of success.