The Evolution of Method-Acting
Reality is like the shore of a beach, you walk for hours discovering new shells, rocks and sea creatures but once you’ve already explored the entire shore, you gaze upon the ocean. The ocean is like our wildest fantasies because the possibilities are endless as to what it contains. One can spend a lifetime exploring the ocean; we may even lose ourselves in its mysteries. We tread on the line of fantasy and reality. Actors and philosophers make a living on testing those boundaries. Method acting is the strongest way to test those boundaries. There is no set process for how to become a successful method actor but there are many actors that we can study such as Daniel Day-Lewis, Philip Seymour-Hoffman Heath Ledger and Marlon Brando. With some of these names the dark side of method acting rises to the surface. Because of the emotional toll of method acting, many actors struggle emotionally. These two sides of method acting provide a tension within the art that is both fascinating and dangerous.
Constantin Stanislavski was the first person to explain the concept of method acting. During 1911 to 1916, Stanislavski explored the internal relationship between an actor’s emotions and the character’s emotions. He explored the idea of emotional memory, which means portraying a character through experiences that an actor has already had. Later on from 1934-1938, Stanislavski connected physical actions to the emotions each actor is feeling along with the character they’re playing. Stanislavski named this the Stanislavski System. Stanislavski is a Russian actor/direction who lived from 1863-1938 and he was the theatre administrator at the Moscow Art Theatre. Stanislavski did not believe in recording his teachings. One of his students named Sonia Moore took the liberty to write a book on his teachings since he never wanted to. Stanislavski was one of the first people to explore the inspiration and emotion behind human behavior and imitate it.
A world-renowned actor named Daniel-Day Lewis portrays the light side of method acting. Daniel Day-Lewis becomes a method actor by studying his specimen for days, weeks, months and sometimes years. He briefly explained his process to prepare for the movie Lincoln that was released in 2012 by Steven Spielberg. Daniel explained that he read books on President Lincoln, read speeches and even lost weight and grew a beard for months to imitate his appearance. There was a lot of controversy behind why his decision was such a high pitch voice to use for Lincoln but he explained that’s what Lincoln’s voice came out as in his head. Daniel Day-Lewis’ psychological state is different than Philip Seymour-Hoffman’s and not only because of the drug use but also because Daniel Day-Lewis was able to separate acting from his actual life.
Another world-renowned actor is Philip Seymour-Hoffman yet he portrays a darker side to method acting. There have always been rumors about drugs being used in the entertainment industry. Some actors will openly express their drug addictions or usage. Method actors are sometimes linked with drug usage due to the mindset they must attain. Philip Seymour-Hoffman cannot be blamed for his drug use because sometimes, when anyone is in that type of mindset, one must find some way to stay grounded. There has been sustainable evidence that Philip Seymour-Hoffman passed away due to a heroine overdose. Philip Seymour-Hoffman may have lost his grip with reality, which is why he led to drug usage. Drug addicts have be known to use drugs to help them stay grounded in their reality. Philip Seymour-Hoffman has done many projects in which he method acted in and it is not unusual for him to lose himself in the process. In method acting, if you are always acting as someone else, how will you remember who you are?
Another world-renowned actor that went all the way to the darker side of method acting is named Heath Ledger. Heath Ledger became more known as an actor during the period he started using drugs. His most famous performance was his performance as the joker in The Dark Knight by Christopher Nolan. In order to prepare for this monumental performance, Heath Ledger locked himself in a hotel room for a few weeks prior to the filming date. Heath Ledger did so because he explained that he wanted to get into character. Heath Ledger said he got two hours of sleep on average each knight and he gave himself little to no food. He wrote in a journal he named The Joker Diary where he had pictures of the joker and he wrote of the joker’s many stories and also just his own experiences playing the joker. At the last day of the filming the diary read, “BYE, BYE, BYE” on the last page. Heath Ledger played numerous roles where he studied the character and would get into character but he never went to the extent that he did with the joker. Heath explained that the joker was a role he was truly excited to play. Heath Ledger also died of a drug overdose before the movie was released. Heath Ledger put his own health at risk in order to present us with such an amazing film.
Another well-known method actor is Marlon Brando. Marlon Brando is well respected in the movie business and theatrical business. Marlon Brando is an extreme method actor but he has not been accused of drug usage in order to attain this mindset. Marlon Brando has won two Academy Awards for Best Actor in The Waterfront and The Godfather. But Marlon Brando is such an extreme method actor that he spent an entire month confined to a bed at the Birmingham Army Hospital in Van Nuys, California and this was for a film role played a veteran in the 1950’s in a movie called The Men. The Men was Marlon’s first film role. Even though Marlon is an extreme method actor, he is still considered to be on the light side of method acting.
As you can see there are light and dark sides to method acting, both coming with their successes and hardships. The light side of method acting was demonstrated by Daniel Day-Lewis and through his methods; method acting becomes safe as well as efficient. Daniel Day-Lewis demonstrates that one can tread on the line of reality and fantasy without completely losing yourself in either direction. Marlon Brando also demonstrated how to keep a leveled head in method acting. Even though he is an extreme method actor like Heath Ledger, he is able to balance it out. Marlon Brando is able to separate fantasy from reality no matter how deep he may go in his subconscious. That skill cannot be taught but only learned from your inner connections. Both Daniel Day-Lewis and Marlon Brando are able to stay on the light side of method acting due to their psychological mindsets and discipline. Philip Seymour-Hoffman and Heath Ledger both lost themselves to the dark side of method acting. This does not mean they are bad people, it only means that they were not disciplined enough mentally. They lost themselves in their work and they were not able to decipher fantasy from reality without drug usage. Some of their drug usage also helped them play certain characters but their drug usage got out of hand. Stanislavski did not explore this method of acting for anyone to lose himself or herself in acting but to only explore possibilities. “Acting is behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances” said by Sanford Meisner.
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Ledger, Heath. The Joker Diary. N.p.: Heath Ledger, 2007. Print.
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"7 Method Actors Who Make the Technique Look Crazy." Wall St. Cheat Sheet. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2014.