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Is Method Acting the "beautiful beast" of Hollywood?

We explore the pros and cons of Method Acting and why it's so controversial

28th Oct 2016

Acting is the art of assumption: assuming the beliefs of a character, assuming their appearance and mannerisms; laying open your heart to the paying public who, for good or ill, will have a large influence on your future employment prospects. Taking into account the time consuming memorisation of a script that may change, desperate shots of hope and bedevilling trepidation, and you’ll have some idea of what your standard actor has to go through.

However, there are some actors who go far and beyond in order to appropriately fabricate and mould themselves into the best representation of a character. Some artists choose to Method Act.

Method acting is a technique used by actors to soak themselves within their portrayal of a character for the works of film or theatre, allowing them to form a complete emotional identification with their part within the film. Sir Daniel Michael Blake Day-Lewis (born 29 April 1957), an English actor is viewed as one of the greatest actors in history or one of the most unreasonable depending on a person’s perspective of his techniques to immerse himself in a role.

This can be seen through his interpretation of Nathaniel Hawkeye in Last of The Mohicans (1992) where he insisted that he was to be left in isolation within the Alabama wilderness where he was forced to track, hunt and skin animals for food. His approach was so radical that the director Michael Mann later told Time magazine: “If he didn't shoot it, he didn't eat it.” Day-Lewis assumed the lifestyle a wild-man for his love of acting.

Although, there are other approaches to method acting that arguably transcend the assumption of a characters lifestyle. This can be seen by looking at actor Christian Bale’s weight fluctuations for his roles. For The Machinist (2005), Bale’s weight dropped an astonishing 63 pounds after receiving virtually no weight loss guidance; after meeting with a doctor only once, he simply took matters into his own hands without the request or demand of the director (Brad Anderson).

In order to achieve his physique Bale reported that he partook in a diet consisted of one can of tuna and one apple per day, thinking that as long as he felt okay he could simply keep going. Even after reaching 120 pounds it's rumoured that Bale wanted to go even further, although producers warned him against it, fearing it would seriously damage his health which would affect his ability to play future roles and while some may argue that his actions are due to him being a Methodist, I still consider his approach appropriate when discussing the topic of method acting in general.

Most memorably, another actor took an approach to method acting while working with Christian Bale in the Batman franchise. Heath Ledger, full crafted his perception of the Batman’s arch-nemesis: The Joker, however this immersion may have played a part in his death as not many delve into madness in order to find inspiration. Within an article from Empire Online it is written that Heath Ledger stated that “[He] sat around in a hotel room in London for about a month…formed a little diary and experimented with voices…to try to find a somewhat iconic voice and laugh…I ended up landing more in the realm of a psychopath.” However, his sleeping suffered enormously and article began reporting his manic behaviour, compulsive ticks and restlessness. Yes. Heath’s twisted and frenzied take on the quintessential Batman villain redefined the character for Nolan’s dark, grounded film and the approach resonated with audiences. Nonetheless, as the shooting began, Ledger told reporters that he "slept an average of two hours a night" while playing "a psychopathic, mass-murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy. I couldn't stop thinking. My body was exhausted, and my mind was still going." Regrettably, this meant that by the time he started his next movie, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Ledger was suffering from chronic insomnia, pneumonia, and exhaustion which is arguably caused him to accidently overdose on prescription sleeping pills six months later.

It’s because of events like this that some actors denounce it as a self-indulgent and superfluous part of the craft some actors swear by it. Conclusively, it can be question how far one should go in regards to method acting, although its usually render moot due to financial restraints or restrictive time constraints. Regardless of whether you’re able to go to that kind of extreme or not, do take the time to factor in those who can be adversely affected by method acting: yourself and those around you. Yes. You could achieve a perfect assumption of the character but would it be worth the sacrifice of your wellbeing.

That all said, the job of an actor is to connect on an empathic level with a character, and method acting can be a useful tool in the actor’s arsenal to achieve this. As such, this is one of those things that should be used as and when it’s needed. Only the actor themself can decide when that is.

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