Method Acting is a controversial practice in the field of performance. The core gist of it is this: an actor tries to replicate the life circumstances, mannerisms and emotional feelings of the character he portrays, so as to give realism, legitimacy and dramatic strength to his performance. An actor playing a character from history might research the character, look for media featuring him, and try to live in the same conditions that that character lived, provided that doing so would not be detrimental to his mental or physical health. A character in a deep depression might make him reflect on his own moments of sadness and bring those feelings forth. He might gain or lose weight to fit a character who is morphologically different from him, but this is generally frowned upon (despite what Robert De Niro would have you believe).
Though Method Acting has produced powerful and affecting performances, it is increasingly finding itself coming under fire for its inherent limitations. Method actors are pretty notorious as being hard to work with because of their involvement with their roles. When all's said and done, method acting is a search for perfection in performance, so method actors sometimes have confrontations with cast and crew over the direction his character takes. Also, well, it's hard to give directions to an actor when he's in-character even off-camera (note that not all Method Actors do this, although they do have a reputation for it). Nonetheless, many of the greatest performances in movie history have resulted from an actor who completely immersed himself in the role. Method acting is, above all, not easy. It takes its toll on the actors, both physically and emotionally, and as mentioned earlier, can result in friction between the actor and the rest of the production staff. But when a performance was well method acted, it shows.
For the involuntary version of this, see Enforced Method Acting. For when a writer/director casts an actor for his natural fit into a role(natural method acting, if you may), see Write Who You Know. If the character falls too deep into their role, they may become Lost in Character.
Technically speaking, Method Acting refers to Constantin Stanislavski's technique as developed and popularized by Lee Strasberg, but it is used for generally in common speech. Stanislavski's own method, further developed after Strasberg's contact with the Russian's theories, is known as "The System."
- Probably no actor has been associated with method acting quite as prominently as Daniel Day-Lewis. He simply is his character for the duration of his role. For his Academy Award-winning performance in My Left Foot, he did not leave his wheelchair, speak coherently, or even feed himself for the entire duration of filming. For The Last of the Mohicans he became a survivalist living of the land. For his role in In the Name of the Father, he lived in a prison cell, basically starved himself and asked the cast and crew to constantly verbally abuse him. This has made him one of the most notoriously picky and difficult actors to work with in all of Hollywood, but it has also made him one of the most admired and critically acclaimed.
- Christian Bale is the most recent big actor to be known for method acting. Specifically, his physical transformations for roles are very jarring. He was literally anorexic for the filming of The Machinist, only to bulk up to a practically bodybuilder-like physique for Batman Begins. Bale is also, like Daniel Day Lewis, notorious for being someone hard to work with.
- Marlon Brando is arguably the first great method actor.
- Forest Whitaker's method acting finally earned him the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in Last King Of Scotland.
- Especially at the beginning of his career, Robert De Niro was a prolific method actor. His roles in Raging Bull and Taxi Driver are notable examples. In The Untouchables, he insisted upon wearing the same clothes made by Al Capone's tailor, even the underwear.
- Adrian Brody practically starved himself and gave away his car and home as part of his preparation for his role in Roman Polanski's The Pianist.
- Method acting might have been what killed Heath Ledger. For his performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight, Ledger, for all purposes, basically became mentally ill, suffering from insomnia, paranoia and panic attacks. This may have led to the ill-fated drug overdose that took his life, but it also led to one of the most powerful performances in film history, as well as a posthumous Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
- It should be noted that Ledger was far from his role when his life was lost. He had finished all of his post production (dubbing) work on The Dark Knight, and had nearly completed his final film, a much less demanding role.
- It should also be noted that this is heavily contested by those who worked with Ledger on the film. Micheal Cain in particular insists that Ledger was quite friendly and gregarious between takes who enjoyed swapping stories with the cast and crew about their children (or grandchildren) and entertained them with skateboarding tricks on long shoots.
- Interestingly, military fiction is an entire genre that pretty much demands method acting from performers. Actors getting actual military training for their roles is pretty much a given in any proper military work.
- An interesting double-twist: for Saving Private Ryan, all the actors except Matt Damon had training, which subconciously gave the other actors contempt for him being a rookie, reflecting the characters. Clever move, Spielberg.
- James Dean was a method actor.
- To the extreme, although it often worked: he kept everyone waiting while he brooded in his dressing room on the set of Rebel Without a Cause, but then pulled off the police station scene in one take. He also ad-libbed the very effective moment in East of Eden when Cal breaks down and tearfully embraces his father when he refuses to accept the money he is offering (much to Raymond Massey's obvious shock). Not everyone was a fan of his style, though; he annoyed Rock Hudson to no end with his extensive preparation on Giant.
- In-Universe, Kirk Lazarus from Tropic Thunder, who underwent plastic surgery to play a black man and always stays in character 24/7 until after the recording of the DVD Commentary.
- This may be a nod to Christian Bale, who kept his American accent in promotional appearances for Batman Begins before it was released so the Fan Dumb wouldn't complain about a Welsh Batman.
- In the actual DVD Commentary for Tropic Thunder Robert Downey, Jr. did it as Kirk Lazarus as his character Osiris.
- Dustin Hoffman is another Method actor. (There's a famous anecdote about classical actor Laurence Olivier's reaction to his method when they worked together on Marathon Man, but it turns out the anecdote isn't actually true.)
- In the webcomic Superosity, one actor acting Jar Jar Binks went for this to an extreme point: having his brain moved to an actual bioengineered body of Jar Jar Binks.
- Jim Carrey pretended to be Andy Kaufman for the entire duration of filming Man on the Moon, which drove most of his coworkers nuts.
- It actually became strange as Jim Carrey began developing strange tics and specific movements that Kaufman himself would do, but which weren't actually in the script. Andy Kaufman's old friends who were working on the movie just decided to let it ride and figured "hey, Andy's back with us for a few months".
- John Simm received Stanislavskian training at drama school. He's been known to starve himself, consuming only coffee and cigarettes in order to play Van Gogh and to refuse hospital treatment after breaking some ribs while playing Raskolnikov because the fever and the pain "added to his performance". He also experimented with drugs when preparing for Human Traffic. When he was preparing to play Bernard Sumner in 24 Hour Party People, he was constantly listening to tapes of Sumner's interviews on his Walkman in order to get his voice right.
- Andy Serkis met his wife while they were playing a couple on stage. They went on a date in character to prepare for the role, and then started seeing each other in real life.
- In Skip Beat!, method acting is the bread and butter of Kyoko, to the extreme of sometimes dressing and acting off-set like the character she is filming now.
- Johnny Depp would never call himself a Method actor, but appears to have shades of it nonetheless—he does extensive research and background reading on nearly all of his roles, especially when portraying real people. He even lived with friend Hunter S. Thompson when portraying him in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, saying he had to "steal a bit of his soul." (He also let Hunter, who was wearing a mining hat at that time, shave his head. On Edward Scissorhands, his commitment nearly became Fatal Method Acting: he passed out from heat exhaustion while filming the scene when Edward flees down the street back to his castle.
- Michael Fassbender dropped a terrifying amount of weight to accurately portray activist Bobby Sands in Hunger—and he doesn't have a lot of weight available to lose in the first place. He also did extensive interviews with real-life sex addicts for Shame.
- Similarly, Ellen Page dropped weight over the course of filming An American Crime, in which she portrayed Sylvia Likens, a real-life young woman who was tortured and starved and eventually died in her neighbor's basement. When asked if she was eating normally, she said "No, because Sylvia wasn't being fed."
- Ed Harris is famous for his method acting bringing intensity and sometimes scaryness.
- Helen Hayes, in her memoir On Reflection, commented on how shocked her fellow actors were by her stage performance as Mary Queen of Scots—particularly when she was enraged at the murder of Mary's lover Rizzio. "I was Mary that night."
- Cracked.com's "The 5 Craziest Ways Famous Actors Got into Character" mentions Adrien Brody, Tom Cruise, and more.