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Method Acting

By Yann, published on 12/01/2019 Blog > Arts and Hobbies > Acting > The Fundamentals of Method Acting

“Study, find all the good teachers and study with them, get involved in acting to act, not to be famous or for the money. Do plays. It’s not worth it of you are just in it for the money. You have to love it.” -Philip Seymour Hoffman

Movie stars are some of the most famous people on the planet. A couple hit movies make the biggest stars a household name, and suddenly the tabloids meet the demands of the people to know every detail about the lives of these famous actors.

However, it is important to note that the majority of actors have stayed in the entertainment business for the love of acting. 

While successful actors draw in multi-million-pound salaries, the sheer pleasure that is experienced when performers dive into a character and tell their story makes all the inconveniences of being famous worth the effort.

The best actors are not those who demand ludicrous paychecks to star in blockbuster hits. Instead, they are the ones who have studied different acting techniques and honed their craft to become a revelation on all mediums; big screen, small screen or stage.

Since there are many different types of acting techniques, thespians can choose which one best suits them. Nonetheless, due to the abundance of information required to grasp a single practice, we will only consider one in our article today, and that is method acting.

Superprof is delighted to share with curious ones the origin or method acting, the characteristics of method acting, the drawbacks of method acting, where to study method acting and, last but not least, who are famous method actors working today. So, without further ado, let’s analyse the deep, dark and twisted details of method acting!

Origin of Method Acting

the best actors Strasberg was impressed by Stanislavski’s use of the nuances of human nature to create realistic performances. (Source: pixabay)

“In method acting, you can’t have preconceived ideas. You have to live in the moment. You have to keep yourself open.” -Dennis Hopper

Method acting is one of the most known acting techniques but also one of the most controversial. Nevertheless, even though many people would argue that the effectiveness of method acting is debatable, an opinion cannot be formed without attaining a further understanding of its context, history and nature.

The origins of method acting are mainly credited to Polish-born actor, and director Lee Strasberg who’s vision has shaped generations of actors. He co-founded the Group Theatre and was the first artistic director of the Actors Studio in New York City.

Notable actors who studied with Strasberg or attended the Actors Studio include Oscar winners Marlon Brandon, Jane Fonda, Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson and Al Pacino. 

Strasberg’s life changed when Konstantin Stanislavski’s Moscow Art Theatre toured the United States in the 1920s. The display of authentic acting and the nuances of human nature that brought characters to life were something very different for Strasberg and fascinated him since the majority of acting in the United States at the time was superficial and over the top.

The classical acting methods of the System, pioneered by Stanislavski, was investigated by curious actors such as Strasberg who was convinced that the System would revolutionise the acting world and cause actors to become more connected with the character they were portraying.

Lee Strasberg became obsessed and began studying more about the System acting techniques with acting teachers who were previously trained by Konstantin Stanislavski. Through his constant study of the System, Strasberg developed his techniques that became known as the Method.

The primary distinction between Strasberg’s Method and Stanislavski’s System is that Stanislavski encourages the raw reliving of experienced emotional events onstage to create emotion whereas Strasberg promotes training to consistently replicate the stimuli that could induce a similar rush of feeling. 

Nevertheless, without complicating the definition of Strasberg’s Method any further, it can be understood as an internal and psychological technique where the actor trains himself vigorously to behave realistically under hypothetical situations.

Characteristics of Method Acting

Every type of acting technique has its characteristics, and the same is accurate with the Method. After becoming familiar with the elements of method acting, viewers can quickly identify the actors who use this technique on the big screen.

The following are the fundamental elements of Method acting that were primarily executed by Lee Strasberg:

  • Blank Slate: to fully embody the emotional pain, personality traits and external motivation of another person, an actor has to get rid of all stress and worries they may have in their own private life. However, to correctly implement this element of method acting, actors need to have a thorough understanding of their own body and identify where they store tension,
  • Focus: after the stress has been removed from the performer’s body, the actor is encouraged to cancel out specific sounds and absorb others. Hyper attention to the senses is a crucial aspect of the Method for actors to replicate believable stimuli in their performances effectively. Exercises are completed with vision, touch, smell and taste to have actors completely focus,
  • Sense Memory: known as the most controversial exercise of the Method, actors studying this technique perform exercises about completing day-to-day activities such as shaving, washing the dishes, cleaning the house or brushing their teeth. All of the events need to be accomplished with realistic detail, and Strasberg took it even further by motivating aspiring performers to pinpoint the sensations and textures of important personal objects. The primary objective of sense memory is to have the actor behave intimately and naturally in which the audience believes every moment and views it as realistic.

All thespians do not necessarily appreciate method acting. Nonetheless, it is highly recommended for actors who are having trouble connecting to their character’s actions and emotional past.

The technique inspires all performers to think in a more detailed way, and it is an essential right of passage for younger actors to help them understand the ongoing mystery of performance. 

Drawbacks of the Method

difficult to work with Method actors are known as being some of the most difficult people to work with on movie sets and stage plays. (Source: pixabay)

Let’s start by saying that since we live in an imperfect world, no perfect acting technique leaves all the others in their dust. There are pitfalls to all of the acting methods. Hence, it is important to have a balanced view as a performer, take many classes and adopt specific characteristics of all techniques.

With that being said, while the elements of the Method contribute to a layered, transformative and awe-inspiring performance, it does have its drawbacks:

  1. Primarily, in today’s world, the showbusiness industry is consumed with box office draws, and studios hire bankable stars with appealing big screen personas. Therefore, even the most experienced actors often convey a character that they think the audiences will enjoy instead of diving deep into the soul of their personage,
  2. Secondly, method actors have the infamous reputation of being difficult to work with because they are always preoccupied with the inner life of their character. Actors using the Method, often forget about their collaborators and work environment making younger performers without a recognisable name in the industry unpopular to hire again for future artistic collaborations,
  3. Without a three-dimensional and well-developed character, the decisions you make using the Method are most likely your own than that of the world of the play,
  4. Like all acting techniques, the Method requires a lot of discipline, awareness and time to master. Years of practice are needed to create stimuli that evoke emotion consistently.

Even though there are certain pitfalls to the Method, it is a highly recommended tool for actors who wish to pursue a television or film career due to the intimacy that a camera’s lens can effectively pick up.

Where to Study Method Acting

Since the Method is a world-renowned acting technique, it can be learnt by aspiring actors in schools across the United Kingdom and all around the world.

Strasberg’s influence has left a lasting impacting at the following institutes located in the UK:

  • City Academy of London: a remarkable performing arts school that offers acting classes in a variety of domains such as beginners acting, improvers acting, comedy acting and method acting. There are two method acting courses, one for beginners to gain confidence and enhance their acting skills and the other one for improvers who want to achieve the building blocks of improvisation. Method acting for beginners is either a 5-week course in the winter or a 6-week training in the summer both priced at £260. The method acting course for improvers is taught during the spring lasts six weeks and costs £228.00,
  • Method Acting London: this institution designed explicitly for aspiring performers who want to learn more about the fundamentals of method acting, offers method acting sessions that run for an intensive four-week period. The month-long session gives actors a stable foundation of the techniques used in method acting. This course has been created to equip actors, at any stage in their career, progress further in the world of acting using the Method. Professional and new actors testimonials are glowing which motivates students to enrol at this school.

If you are a budding British thespian looking to make it big internationally, here are a couple of acclaimed acting schools outside the UK that teach the Method and boast an impressive list of past alumni:

  • The Actors Studio: previously mentioned in a prior subheading, this acting school was founded in New York City in 1947 by Cheryl Crawford, Robert Lewis and Elia Kazan and is known as the official “home of method acting.” Lee Strasberg was the artistic director at this school from 1951 to 1982 and offered courses, workshops and readings for actors who wanted to implement the characteristics of method acting. Want to know the best part? All activities currently offered are free! Check out the website for events going on in NYC and Los Angeles,
  • Actors Conservatory: founded by the late Elaine Aiken who wanted to teach young actors the elements of method acting. Past alumni include actor Alec Baldwin and filmmaker Rebecca Miller. Located in New York City, students will experience professional training from talented educators.

The previously mentioned institutions are just a few of the recommended places in the United Kingdom and internationally to study method acting.

Famous Method Actors

method acting examples Charlize Theron’s performance in the film Monster is a spectacular example of method acting. (Source: Visual Hunt)

Since Lee Strasberg has developed the Method, it has been studied everywhere, and there have been plenty of performers who have applied the critical elements of method acting to immerse themselves into a role completely.

One of the best modern day examples of an actor using the Method is Daniel Day-Lewis. He completely disappears into his roles, and the results often end in Oscar gold. He is a three-time recipient of the Academy Award for Best Actor, more than anyone else. Day-Lewis’ commitment to his roles in The Last of the Mohicans, There Will Be Blood, My Left Foot and Lincoln have paid off.

Nevertheless, Day-Lewis is not the only successful method actor. Other talented performers executing method acting include Christian Bale, Robert De Niro, Anne Hathaway, Angelina Jolie, Sean Penn, Hilary Swank and Forest Whitaker.

We will now examine some of the best method acting performances of all time:

  • Robert De Niro as Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull: De Niro gained a legendary 27 kilograms to portray the washed-up version of boxer Jake LaMotta. This performance in the 1980 film earned De Niro his second Oscar and remains one of the most physical transformative performances of all time,
  • Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos in Monster: her role as a murderous prostitute was hugely transformative and has been hailed as one of the most excellent performances in the history of the cinema. Theron gained 14 kilograms for her role and transformed herself in every intention. Was it all worth it? Hell yes, she won the Best Actress Oscar at the 76th Academy Awards,
  • Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland: Amin’s accent was a very tricky one, and nobody thought that an American actor could master it. However, Whitaker proved them all wrong completely conquering the dialect and learning fluent Swahili for his performance. The Ugandan people praised Whitaker for his dedicated part and so did the Academy when he took home the Best Actor Oscar in 2007.

The previously mentioned examples show us that the gruelling efforts actors go through to apply method acting are entirely worth it.

Method acting is a robust commitment for actors but viewers at home, in the cinema or the theatre greatly favour the performances of method actors than other performers who regularly play different versions of themselves. You heard me, George Clooney, Tom Cruise and Nicolas Cage!

While the Method is highly praised by a majority of thespians, there are many other effective acting techniques such as classical acting and its devices, Stanislavski’s System that has influenced most of the modern-day acting methods, the practices implemented by theatre practitioner Sanford Meisner, Brechtian acting methods, and, last but not least, the practical aesthetics technique implemented by famous actors such as Rose Byrne and William H. Macy.

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