What Is Method Acting? (& 10 Best Performances)
“It’s bullshit. But preparation, you can take into insanity. What if it’s a shit film — what do you think you achieved? Am I impressed that you didn’t drop character? You should have dropped it from the beginning! How do you prepare for a serial killer? You gonna spend two years checking it out?” This quote is actually what famed Danish actor, Mads Mikkelsen, said about method acting. So what actually is method acting?
The Method, also called the Stanislavski System, is the name given to the principles of theatrical interpretation invented and implemented by the Russian drama teacher Konstantin Stanislavski. This method was then taken up by Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio (the Strasberg method) for the training of the greatest American theater and cinema actors. In the English-speaking world, the principles are known as “method acting”.
In the rest of this article, we are going to give you a detailed explanation of method acting. You’re going to find out what it is, what it is important, which actors have used it in their careers and, on top of that, we’re going to give you our list of the 10 best method performances in the history of theatre so you can compare them. Let us see whether Mads Mikkelsen was right.
What is method acting?
The Method was born as a result of the acting “system” developed by the Russian theater practitioner Konstantin Stanislavski. In the first three decades of the 20th century, Stanislavski organized his training, preparation, and rehearsal techniques into a coherent and systematic methodology.
The Method was built on (1) the “director-centered” approach of the Meiningen Company, which had a unified and disciplined aesthetic; (2) the “actor-centered” realism of the Maly theatre; and (3) Antoine’s naturalistic staging and independent theater movement. The system cultivates what Stanislavski calls the “art of experiencing” (which he contrasts with the “art of performance”).
It mobilizes the actor’s conscious thought and will to activate other less controllable psychological processes such as emotional experience. and subconscious behavior, sympathetically and indirectly. In rehearsal, the actor looks for internal reasons to justify the action and the definition of what the character seeks to accomplish at a given moment (a “task”).
Later Stanislavski elaborated the “system” with a more physical rehearsal process known as the “physical action method” (“The Method”). Minimizing table discussions, he now encouraged “active analysis”, in which the sequence of dramatic situations is improvised. “The best analysis of a play”, Stanislavski argued, “is to act in the given circumstances”.
In addition to Stanislavski’s early work, the ideas and techniques of Yevgeny Vakhtangov (a Russian-Armenian student who had died in 1922 at the age of 39) were also a major influence on the development of the Method. Vakhtangov’s “object exercises” were developed by Uta Hagen as a means of training actors and maintaining skills.
Strasberg credited Vakhtangov with distinguishing between Stanislavski’s process of “justifying” behavior with the internal driving forces that drive that behavior in the character, and “motivating” behavior with imagined or remembered experiences related to the actor and substituted for those related to the character. character.
After this distinction, the actors ask themselves “What would motivate me, the actor, to behave as the character does?” instead of the more Stanislavskiian question “Given the particular circumstances of the play, how would I behave, what would I do, how would I feel, how would I react?”
Why is method acting important?
Concepts and techniques of the acting method include substitution, “as if,” sensory memory, affective memory, and working with animals (all of which were first developed by Stanislavski). Contemporary method actors sometimes seek psychological help in developing their roles. In Strasberg’s approach, actors make use of their own life experiences to bring them closer to the experience of their characters.
This technique, which Stanislavski came to call “emotional memory” (Strasberg frequently refers to it as “affective memory”), involves the recall of sensations involved in experiences that had a significant emotional impact on the actor. Without faking or forcing, the actors allow these sensations to stimulate a response and try not to inhibit themselves.
Stanislavski’s approach rejected emotional memory except as a last resort and prioritized physical action as a roundabout path to emotional expression. This can be seen in Stanislavski’s notes for Leonid Leonidov in the production plan for Othello and in the Benedetti’s discussion of his training of actors at home and later abroad.
Stanislavski confirmed this emphasis in his conversations with Harold Clurman in late 1935. In training, unlike in the rehearsal process, the recall of sensations to elicit emotional experience and the development of a vividly imagined fictional experience remained a central part of both Stanislavski and the various Method-based approaches that developed later.
A widespread misconception about method acting, particularly in popular media, equates method actors with actors who choose to stay in character even offstage or off-camera for the duration of a project. In his book A Dream of Passion: The Elaboration of Method (1988), Strasberg wrote that Stanislavski, early in his directing career, “required his actors to live in character offstage, but the results were never entirely satisfactory.”
Stanislavski experimented with this approach in his own acting before becoming a professional actor and founding the Moscow Art Theatre, though he soon abandoned it. Some method actors employ this technique, such as Daniel Day-Lewis, but Strasberg did not, at least not as part of his teachings, claiming that it “is not part of the approach of the Method.”
As you can see, method acting had a profound historical role in the development of many famous actors and roles. It is a very determined approach that requires a lot from the actor and even if you don’t like it, you cannot deny its effectiveness and its importance. So, we don’t think that Mikkelsen is right in his opinion; each actor has their own approach to their role and some actors choose shit one, while others prefer different methods. What is important is that the role is, ultimately, great.
Best method acting performances
In this section, we are going to rank the 10 best method acting performances in the history of cinema, ranking them from 10th to 1st place.
10. Christian Bale – The Machinist
Machinist Trevor Reznik has been suffering from insomnia for about a year and has since lost a lot of weight. His work colleagues increasingly avoid him, and he only finds peace in the arms of the prostitute Stevie and in the company of the waitress Maria, whose airport café he frequents at night. One day, during a break at work, he meets Ivan, who claims to be a co-worker.
A little later, Trevor causes an accident at work because he is distracted by Ivan. When Trevor claims to have been distracted by Ivan, his superiors insist that no employee by that name is employed in the entire company. Trevor’s life spirals into disarray.
9. Joaquin Phoenix – Joker
A mentally ill and impoverished comedian disregarded by society, whose history of abuse causes him to become a nihilistic criminal. Phoenix had been interested in a low-budget “character study” of a comic book character, and said that the film “feels unique, it’s its own world in a way, and maybe […] it could be the thing. That scares you more”.
Phoenix lost 55 pounds to play the role, and based his laugh on “videos of people suffering from pathological laughter.”He also tried to portray a character that audiences might not recognize and did not look to previous Joker actors for inspiration. Instead, he read a book on political assassinations so that he could understand the assassins and their motivations.
8. Marlon Brando – The Men
A young war wounded, infantry lieutenant, finds himself in a hospital for paraplegics. Desperate, he decides not to marry his fiancée. She, on the contrary, wants him to regain a taste for life. He actively begins rehabilitation but his doctor tells him that he will not recover the use of his legs.
7. Forest Whitaker – The Last King of Scotland
The film is a broad outline of the life of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. Dr. Garrigan begins his relationship with Idi Amin in the early 1970s, admiring him and believing in his future projects, but he quickly realizes the cruelties for which he is responsible, the dictator’s paranoia and the reigning terror regime. in the country. The core of the film is the close relationship between the two men, barely alluding to the political atrocities of the tyrant.
Amin’s growing paranoia develops throughout the film, moving from the most fraternal “friendship” between patient and doctor to the persecution of the latter for his supposed betrayal. In this way, the director portrays the personality of the Ugandan general and president. This film tries to show the characteristics of a dictator in a neocolonial society.
6. Charlize Theron – Monster
Aileen has been in the area for years and survives as a prostitute. One day, she meets in a bar Selby, a young and somewhat immature lesbian, with whom she quickly falls in love.
The two young girls then try to escape their daily lives: Selby wants to escape from a rigid and intrusive family and Aileen wants to find a job. However, because the financial situation is not easy, Aileen returns to prostitution. One night, she is attacked by a client whom she manages to kill in extremis. A first crime. Others, then, will follow.
5. Adrien Brody – The Pianist
Władysław Szpilman is a Polish pianist of Jewish origin who works at Warsaw Radio when the Nazi invasion of Poland begins on September 1, 1939, as well as the Soviet invasion 26 days after the Nazi invasion. The USSR was allied with Hitler by the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, which ended with Germany’s attack on the USSR on June 22, 1941. After the radio station where he was working is bombed, Szpilman arrives at his home, where he learns that the UK and France have declared war on Germany.
4. Robert De Niro – Raging Bull
Jake LaMotta is a young Italian-American boxer who is training hard to become number one in middleweight. With the help of his brother Joey, he will see this dream come true long after. But fame and success only make things worse. His marriage goes from bad to worse due to his clandestine life with other women, sexual jealousy, and the infidelities of his wife for revenge, and on the other hand, the mafia pressures him so that his fights are arranged.
3. Al Pacino – Serpico
NYPD officer Frank Serpico is rushed to the hospital after being shot in the face. Chief Sidney Green fears Serpico may have been shot by another cop. In a flashback, Serpico graduates from the police academy. In 1959, he joins the New York Police Department and it is not long before he becomes aware of the systematic corruption spread among his colleagues: from small bribes of three hundred dollars a month to larger sums.
The blindness of his superiors and his subordination to that system hinder Serpico’s activity. While on patrol, he confronts three men who are raping a woman and arrests one of the assailants. When the suspect is beaten during the interrogation, Serpico refuses to participate. He later convinces the suspect to turn in the others. Serpico breaks protocol to arrest the suspect himself, but is forced not to take credit.
2. Heath Ledger – The Dark Knight
A maniacal mastermind of crime who describes himself as an “agent of chaos”, he rises to dominant power by terrorizing Gotham and plunging it into chaos. When Ledger saw the first film, he came up with a way for the character to work and be consistent with the overall tone: he described his Joker as a “psychopathic, mass-murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy”.
Throughout the film, the villain shows his desire to alter the social order through crime, and defines himself by his conflict with Batman. To prepare for the role, Ledger lived alone in a hotel room for a month, formulating the character’s posture, voice, and personality, and kept a diary, in which he recorded the Joker’s thoughts and feelings.
1. Daniel Day-Lewis – My Left Foot
It narrates the inspiring life of Christy Brown, an Irish painter, poet, and writer suffering from cerebral palsy, in his case triplegia, born into a poor family. With the support of his willing mother Bridget, a teacher, and his own tenacity, he broke down all barriers to his integration into society by learning to use his left foot to write and paint. Thanks to his mother, he was able to overcome his fears, becoming a fit person for society.