The term "Method Acting" is used very loosely these days. Wikipedia describes it as "a group of techniques actors use to create in themselves the thoughts and feelings of their character so as to create lifelike performances." This "method" was originated by the great acting coach Constantin Stanislavski.
Seems pretty logical right? Think of the feelings as your own, and, hey, you'll feel them, and (even better yet) you seem even more real in feeling them. Well, years later, Lee Strasberg adapted some of Stanislavski's method for American actors, emphasizing the practice of tying the characters' memories to the actor's own memories so as to further align their emotions with those of the character. These exercises are known as using Sense Memory and Affective Memory.
Notice that part about never leaving character? About keeping up an accent or impediment between takes? Or being incredibly hard to deal with on set because you're "method" and in character? Yeah, none of that was ever part of the deal.
Method acting got a bad name throughout the years for the liberal use of its terminology. Stanislavski and Strasberg were both BRILLIANT minds who yielded some of the best acting guidance to date. While it's practically a curse word in many circles, method acting can be an amazing tool to get an actor in the right mindset.Below is a list of some of the most intense uses of the method (a term used here very loosely, as some of these actors - Heath Ledger, for example - only utilized a principle or two of the concept) with astounding results.
Heath Ledger's turn as the Joker in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight is not technically method acting, as he did not (as some mistakenly reported) stay in character between takes (he was joking and talking about his daughter, etc.). What does make the perfect performance stand out is the unique prep it required.
To become the clown prince of crime, Ledger locked himself away in a hotel room for about a month to work on the distinct voice, laugh, slouch, and movements. He also kept a Joker diary with acting notes and ideas and imagery. There was also a section of things the Joker would find funny, so Heath could directly dive into different parts of the character's mind with the flip of a page. There is no trace of the actor in the performance, and that is awe-inspiring.
Without a doubt, this performance would have launched an amazing new chapter in an incredible actor's career.
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A noted method actor (having studied directly with some of the legendary teachers that brought it to the mainstream), Robert De Niro put in the work to play the incredibly iconic Travis Bickle in Scorsese's "Taxi Driver."
In the film, Travis Bickle has some great dialogue about not being able to sleep, so he works extra shifts/extra long hours. To portray an unhinged, overworked insomniac taxi driver, De Niro became an unhinged overworked insomniac taxi driver. While prepping this film, finalizing work on another in Rome, AND studying the mentally ill (for this film), he trained, took the test, and got his cabbie license. De Niro then proceeded to work 12-plus-hour shifts as a cabbie actually driving people around NYC.
During filming, he was so in character that he was able to tweak the script and actually ad lib many of his lines, including one of the most famous lines in cinema history, "You talking to me?"
Imagine hopping in a cab with De Niro at the wheel?
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To play Jake LaMotta in Scorsese's Raging Bull, Robert De Niro began researching months and months prior to shooting. The biggest hurdle was actually getting Scorsese to agree to direct it.
People saw it as just another boxing flick - or, worse yet, just another biopic - and with a protagonist who wasn't all that likable. Still, De Niro insisted and eventually got the film made.
While immersing himself in the role, De Niro had complete supervision of the scriptwriting process, often rewriting most of his dialogue, as he knew exactly how Jake LaMotta would speak. He also trained as a middleweight boxer, but not just any boxer... he trained to block, punch and move exactly like LaMotta. He poured over and conducted interviews with nearly all of LaMotta's friends and family and even had a hand in the makeup and wardrobe design. De Niro became La Motta and then shaped the entire film around his newly acquired persona.
De Niro even gained 63 lbs. in a matter of weeks to portray the older, washed-up boxer.
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After a long break from acting, Daniel Day-Lewis returned to the silver screen, at Martin Scorsese's personal request, to play Bill "The butcher" Cutting. He had reportedly been living a simple life as a cobbler in Florence, Italy, for years.
To prep for the role, Day-Lewis learned everything there is to know from Peckham Rye's W Head and Co. Butchers, who were flown in for a few weeks for his tutelage. He also became an expert marksman with knives and meat cleavers. MEAT CLEAVER MARKSMAN!
During filming he would, as is tradition, only answer to Bill or the Butcher, and would spend all of his off time glowering and threatening his onscreen antagonist Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo Dicaprio).
He went so far to stay authentic that when temperatures reached below freezing, he refused to wear the onset winter jackets, because the materials they were made from didn't exist in that time period. He would, however, use an iPod...blasting Eminem between takes to rile himself up. Daniel Day Lewis: The real Slim Shady.
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