What People Who Worked With Method Actors Said About Them

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Vote up the most interesting stories about what it was like to work with method actors.

Method acting is when actors immerse themselves fully, emotionally and physically, in a role. Behind-the-scenes stories about method actors reveal that many have stayed in character off-camera as well. Like when Tom Hanks decided not to bathe for weeks to look the part in Castaway. Or when Nicolas Cage had his teeth pulled out, minus anesthesia, to feel the pain his Vietnam vet character endured in the movie Birdy

Those who have worked closely with method actors on a film set offer different reactions to their character-focused colleagues, ranging from awe to puzzlement. Stories that reveal what directors and co-stars say about method actors, and what it's like to work with them, might surprise you.

  • Matthew Rhys Said Tom Hanks Channeled Mr. Rogers Without Impersonation
    Photo: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood / Sony Pictures Releasing

    In A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Tom Hanks plays the beloved Fred Rogers, AKA Mister Rogers from the children's show Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. However, the movie focuses on Matthew Rhys’ character, Lloyd Vogel, an Esquire journalist who has to interview Rogers.

    Rhys was impressed that Hanks could channel Rogers without trying to copy him exactly:

    He [Hanks] really captured something. He was so shrewd in what he did. He got the incredible essence of Fred, without impersonation... But there's just this one moment where he does the walk, and he did this thing with his hand. Having watched a lot of Fred, I was like, "He just did that thing that Fred used to do with his hand." So without being too obvious he nods to the physicality. It's just enough. But I think the essence of Fred he caught beautifully.

  • Christian Bale Said Heath Ledger Embraced Being The Joker So Completely That He Broke Tiles
    Photo: The Dark Knight / Warner Bros. Pictures

    The late Heath Ledger was fully committed to playing Joker against Christian Bale’s Batman in The Dark Knight. Bale, in author Joseph McCabe's book 100 Things Batman Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die, described the actor's intensity during the first scene they filmed together: 

    Batman starts beating the Joker and realizes that this is not your ordinary foe. Because the more I beat him the more he enjoys it. The more I’m giving him satisfaction. Heath was behaving in a very similar fashion. He was kinda egging me on. I was saying, “You know what, I really don’t need to actually hit you. It’s going to look just as good if I don’t.” And he’s going, “Go on. Go on. Go on...” He was slamming himself around, and there were tiled walls inside of that set which was cracked and dented from him hurling himself into them. His commitment was total.

  • In Million Dollar Baby, Hilary Swank is Maggie, an amateur boxer trained by Frankie, played by Clint Eastwood, who also directed the film.

    Eastwood said he was impressed with how Swank channeled her own personality into playing Maggie:

    She came out of very poor beginnings and wanted to be an actress, so she understood this girl completely. She's a very determined person. She worked incessantly, training four hours a day for four months and we got her very muscular and about 18 pounds heavier. She became that person.

  • When Jodie Foster was cast as an underage sex worker in Taxi Driver, she was only 12. Because she had worked with Martin Scorsese before, in Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, she assumed things were going to be the same.

    But they weren’t, not with a “socially awkward” Robert De Niro, who stayed in character when he took Foster out to various diners. Foster recalled:

    After the first time, I was completely bored. Robert was pretty socially awkward then and was pretty much in character, which was his process. I think I rolled my eyes at times because he really was awkward. But in those few outings, he really helped me understand improvisation and building a character in a way that was almost nonverbal.