BySean Gallen, writer at
The pen is mightier than the sword but is ultimately useless in the event of a zombie apocalypse. Filmmaker, filmlover, MP staff writer.
Sean Gallen

Love it or hate it, Suicide Squad attracted a lot of attention due to Jared Leto's take on the most beloved villain. Incapable of topping Heath Ledger's performance, which has arguably become the definitive Joker, Leto was interested in pursuing a more stylish, hyperactive version. He claimed to have adopted Method techniques to get into the Joker's mindset, which involved keeping the cast and crew on their toes with pranks that pushed the boundaries of good, wholesome fun. Whether or not Leto's hijinks improved the performance or not is hard to say as nearly half of it was edited out of the film, but negative reviews from fans and critics alike go to show that there is little method to his madness.

What Is Method Acting?

The Method technique is based on the studies of seminal Russian theater director Konstantin Stanislavsky and consists of building your performance on truth instead of artificially creating a character. Actors should use their own memories and experiences to bring a sense of reality to their performance. The actor needs to live as the character on set, at home, on and off the camera to really slip into their skin. They need to learn how to be the character by actually experiencing what they'd experience. For instance, if your character is a surfer, you should spend a summer on the waves. First made popular by actors such as Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro, the technique has become a standard of authenticity and toughness amongst male actors.

Here we'll take a look at five examples and try to find out if Method is still relevant for modern actors.

1. Daniel Day-Lewis

Daniel Day-Lewis as The Butcher in 'Gangs of NY'
Daniel Day-Lewis as The Butcher in 'Gangs of NY'

Day-Lewis is probably the biggest ambassador for Method acting today, famous for never breaking character on and off camera. In My Left Foot, he played disabled protagonist Christy Brown to a tee by insisting on being pushed around and spoon-fed by costars and crew. In Lincoln, Lewis wore his outfit at all times, spoke like Abe and insisting on being called by his character's name.

In preparation for The Crucible, Lewis spent months sleeping on the set of a 17th century village and even built himself a house using only the tools of the era. Much like Leto, Lewis's on-set behavior keeps the cast and crew he's working with on their toes, but his dedication to his roles has been recognized by the best directors, critics and the Academy and has set the bar high for actors today.

Check out Lewis's performance in Lincoln below:

2. Christian Bale

Christian Bale in 'The Machinist'
Christian Bale in 'The Machinist'

Known for taking challenging roles, Bale went above and beyond in his performance for The Machinist, a film that depicts the dark descent of a troubled man suffering from insomnia and self-inflicted isolation. Bale barely survived on a minimal diet for four months in order to drop 62 lbs., leaving him at 120 lbs. for filming.

Watch Bale lose his mind below:

The marketing for the film relied on tales of Bale's diet and Method, which generated a lot of buzz for the film and helped provide a hearty critical reception. This is one of the early examples of Method as marketing, which we can see continued in films such as Suicide Squad, The Revenant and Fury. The preparation for the role overshadows the actual performance and everything else in the film, proving sometimes the Method is more about ego than anything else.

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3. Gena Rowlands

Gena warding off bad acting
Gena warding off bad acting

Method acting is a definite example of Hollywood as a boys' club, as in recent years it seems to be more about losing weight, pulling out your teeth and proving your mettle than creating an actual character. Gena Rowlands is a perfect example of how to use the Method technique in a much more subtle way.

In the indie classic A Woman Under the Influence, Rowlands masterfully embodies a mentally unstable woman desperately trying to fit into her role as mother, wife, and normal human. She did so without losing or trapping herself in an attic for four months but merely spent time with women with mental health issues and drew from her history of experience with mental health problems in her family. The result is a complex, provocative and poignant portrayal of mental health issues that still shocks audience today.

4. Johnny Depp

Johnny Depp in 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas'
Johnny Depp in 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas'

Long before Mortdecai, Johnny Depp had the reputation of being a serious actor dedicated to the craft and an occasional dabbler in the Method techniques. For Terry Gilliam's Fear and Loathing, Depp was cast to play the legendary Gonzo writer Hunter S. Thompson. Depp was so concerned about capturing his hero's spirit accurately that he lived in his basement for months, shadowing him and mirroring his every move.

Getting into character, one follicle at a time.
Getting into character, one follicle at a time.

The transformation was a success as Depp is completely unrecognizable in the film, and he perfectly captures the demented wit of the hyperactive writer. Thompson spent his days taking every kind of drug and writing feverishly, and chances are Depp followed him down that rabbit hole. Fear and Loathing is a good example of an actor using the Method techniques to break lose from his own Hollywood persona to shape-shift into someone else's body.

5. Adrien Brody

Adrien Brody in 'The Pianist'
Adrien Brody in 'The Pianist'

Brody's Oscar-winning performance in Polanski's The Pianist was credited by how far the actor pushed himself to match the experience of his character. He abandoned his apartment, his car and his life in LA for a room in Poland with no internet or phone connection. His days consisted of playing piano for four hours, fasting and recording his experience.

The Pianist tells the story of Holocaust survivor Władysław Szpilman and Brody was desperate to bring authenticity to the character. However, it is slightly worrying to think that you can lose weight and play piano all day and understand what goes through the mind of someone who experienced concentration camps.

Check out the trailer below:

Whether actors are losing weight, pulling out teeth, putting themselves through intense experiences or using their own personal history for a role, it seems that the Method technique pushes the limits of what is acting and what is marketing. It can be a powerful tool for creating poignant performances or allowing Hollywood actors to shed their celebrity personae but recently it seems that audiences are more obsessed with the toughness or the sheer craziness of the actor than the performance itself.

Do you think Method acting is just a marketing tool or can it still deliver powerful performances?


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