Method Acting — What Is It and Can I Do It?

Ever heard the story about Marlon Brando and how he prepared for his role in The Men? In the movie Brando plays a paralysed war veteran who is in hospital after losing both of his legs. To prepare for the role, Brando spent a month in a hospital bed so he could really get inside the mind of his character.

This is just one of the many stories that show the incredible lengths that some actors will go to so they can elevate their performance. It’s also a perfect example of method acting in play.

Interestingly though, method acting isn’t for everyone and even big name stars like Laurence Olivier enjoyed successful careers without ever using this technique.

However, it has become much more prevalent in recent years with the likes of Leonardo Dicaprio and Daniel Day Lewis swearing by it as the best prep for a role.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at this often misunderstood acting technique and what it entails.

What is method acting?

Method acting is a technique where actors prepare for roles by trying to achieve a sincere performance through the understanding of their character’s mental state, emotions, and in some cases, skills or abilities.

In a nutshell, it’s learning what it’s like to be a character by putting yourself in that character’s position. In other words, you live their life.

The technique isn’t a new one. It was actually invented by Russian actor and theatre director,
Konstantin Stanislavski, in the early 1900s. Though it wasn’t called method acting back then,
his technique helped actors understand their characters, empowering them to deliver realistic performances with genuine emotions. The technique was then refined in American cinema during the 1930s by Lee Strasberg and Elia Kazan.

Can anyone do it?

That’s a difficult question to answer as it depends on the circumstances and how deeply into a character’s psyche an actor wants to get.

For example, one form of method acting might be to adopt some of your character’s physical traits and use them in your everyday life to remain ‘in character’. This could be as simple as walking a certain way or using specific gestures when speaking or it could be much more intensive such as Brando’s month in a hospital bed.

So it really does depend on the role and whether or not it’s actually plausible that an actor can use the technique in the months or weeks before shooting starts.

One thing we will say though, is that method acting takes a lot of time and effort and no small amount of dedication to your craft. Take a look at the examples we’ve listed below and decide for yourself if this is something that you could envisage yourself doing.

Famous actors that use method acting techniques

Robert De Niro

De Niro has used method acting on several occasions to prepare for a role. Prior to taking on his role in Taxi Driver, De Niro actually spent a month working as a cab driver. He was a relatively unknown actor back then so we don’t think he could manage that right now. 

He also used the technique when gaining serious weight for his role as an aging Jake LaMotta in the final scenes of Raging Bull. Production on the movie actually shut down while De Niro gained almost 30kg. It worked very well and brought a real sense of authenticity to the movie that would have been impossible to achieve with prosthetics. 

Heath Ledger

Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight saw him posthumously win an Oscar for best supporting actor. And by all accounts, his dedication to his role was nothing short of incredible. According to those who worked with him during shooting, he was an unnerving figure on set as he remained in character all the time.

In preparation for the role, he locked himself in his apartment for a full month practising his laugh and jotting down random thoughts and scribbles in his notebook. Once he got on set he would refuse to answer to anyone who didn’t address him as the Joker.

Halle Berry

Berry once appeared in a movie called Jungle Fever in 1991 and her preparation for her role as Vivian is what you might call unorthodox. Vivian was a crack addict and to really get inside the mind of her character, Berry actually visited a crack den and took notes on her experience there. She also opted not to bathe for a few weeks prior to the shoot. 

Natalie Portman

Natalie Portman put in an Oscar-winning performance as Nina Sayers in Black Swan and she has method acting to thank for it. Portman wanted the audience to believe that she really was a ballet dancer and so she lost 9kg and trained for eight hours a day. She later said that her minimal diet and intensive training left her a shell and she felt like she was going to die.

She even suffered a concussion during filming and dislocated a rib. She also suffered a series of minor injuries throughout shooting as she tried to stay in character.

One name you may have expected to see on this list is Christian Bale. He has gone through some pretty intense physical changes for several of his roles, but the actor himself has said that he is not a method actor. He maintains that these were just physical changes and not the type of techniques used by the likes of Ledger and Berry to get into the minds of their characters.

So, can you see yourself doing any of the above? Even if you can’t imagine going to such extreme lengths, you still may be able to use some method acting techniques to master an accent or some physical mannerisms of your character. All you really need is the time and the will to succeed, and maybe a very understanding boss if you’re still working while acting! But then again, maybe your colleagues don’t want to hear you butcher the Scottish accent all day at work.

Whatever your acting techniques are, and no matter how experienced or inexperienced you are, if you’re interested in acting, then we want to hear from you. We’re always on the lookout for fresh talent so get in touch today or fill out our application form online.