When it comes to method acting, how far down the rabbit hole can an actor tumble before dedication to a role begins to take its toll?
In a nutshell, the method acting technique requires an actor to aspire to create such a strong emotional connection to the character they're trying to portray that they temporarily become them. It's proven to spawn fantastic results — yet the mental damage created en route can, unfortunately more often than not, create irreparable mental damage.
The following 7 actors were such slaves to their art that they almost (and in one tragic case, successfully) lost their way.
1. Adrien Brody - The Pianist
Winning an Oscar for this role, Adrian Brody literally gave up everything to do justice to holocaust survivor Władysław Szpilman in Roman Polanski's The Pianist. In addition to starving himself and playing piano for four hours per day, he gave up his apartment, sold his car, disconnected his phones and moved to Europe, taking only two bags and his keyboard with him.
"I want to feel that I'm experiencing something, I want to feel the journey, and I felt it.
However, there were times when I was concerned that I might not be able to get out of it sane, because I didn't realize how far it had taken me."
2. Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight
By locking himself away in a hotel room for a prolonged period of time, Heath Ledger created a bubble of isolation in preparation for his role of the Joker in The Dark Knight. While in hiding, he kept a chilling log of his character rituals and started to take prescription pills to get in a deeper Joker-esque mindset. Hauntingly, it was the prescribed medications that ended up killing the much loved actor.
"I sat around in a hotel room in London for about a month, locked myself away, formed a little diary and experimented with voices - it was important to try to find a somewhat iconic voice and laugh.
I ended up landing more in the realm of a psychopath - someone with very little to no conscience towards his acts.
He’s just an absolute sociopath, a cold-blooded, mass-murdering clown, and Chris has given me free rein. Which is fun, because there are no real boundaries to what The Joker would say or do. Nothing intimidates him, and everything is a big joke."
3. Daniel Day Lewis
Known for being a bit of a 'mad bastard,' Daniel Day Lewis is one of the most ubiquitous method actors in town. In 1989's My Left Foot, Lewis was pushed around set in a wheel chair while his crew members were made to spoon feed him and lift him around. He spent so long hunched in the chair that he ended up damaging two ribs. For The Last of the Mohicans, he spent six months camping in a forest, learning to live off the land, including how to fish and skin animals. And, while playing Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York, Lewis caught pneumonia as he refused to wear a coat to become hardened to the cold weather.
"I'm never far away from a sense of potential absurdity of what I am doing, and maybe as I get older I have to work harder and harder to obliterate it. That's maybe why I seem to take it far too seriously."
4. Shia LaBeouf - Fury
Shia LaBeouf did not mess around when it came to getting into character for David Ayer’s World War II drama Fury. He submitted his co-stars to four months of potent BO, refusing to shower for the duration of filming so he could experience the lifestyle of a tank crew member in the 1940s. Delicious.
If that wasn't enough, he also slashed his face in front of the cast, had a dentist pull out one of his teeth, spent a month on an army base, and "spent days watching horses die."
5. Jared Leto - Suicide Squad
The set of Suicide Squad is said to be so dark that the cast members have access to an on-set therapist just in case the content gets too emotionally traumatizing. And, with the amount of prep Jared Leto is putting into his role of the Joker, it's easy to see why. The star has reportedly posted bullets to Will Smith, sent a load of creepy love letters and a live rat to Margot Robbie, and, as if that wasn't enough, sent the entire cast a clip of him with a dead pig.
Seems like a legit way to get into the Clown Prince of Crime's zone.
6. Johnny Depp – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Johnny Depp went to painstaking lengths to pay homage to Hunter S. Thompson in the adaptation of Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. Living in Hunter's basement for an undisclosed period of time, Depp spent his days smoking, sleeping next to barrels of gunpowder and digging through old manuscripts. He would interrogate Hunter for hours and then use said recordings as evidence to beef up his character. He even let Hunter shave his hair off when he deemed the costume department's job unsatisfactory.
I was blessed enough, or cursed enough, to spend a good 3 or 4 months with Hunter Thompson prior to filming. So he was just a wealth of information. He was an incredible source of information. He was generous with his time and his private life. He even let me move into his basement. Become a termite. It was due to Hunter's generosity allowing me to absorb just watching him as I could.... I was living in the basement 5 days, 6 days... You know, I have a tendency to smoke cigarettes. It wasn't until 5 or 6 days passed that I discovered he had a keg of gunpowder about 5 feet away from me. So I stopped smoking in the basement after that.
7. Christian Bale – The Machinist
The Machinist is a brilliantly dark tale of a man losing his mind to insomnia and Christian Bale went to staggering lengths to get into character, lengths that weren't part of the job description at all. Dropping 60lbs to get down to a minuscule 110lbs, the actor reportedly subsisted on black coffee, a can of tuna, and an apple per day and took up smoking to suppress his appetite.
With that kind of diet it's hard to imagine how he had the energy to play the role at all!