The Most Intense Method Actor Performances In Movie History 

Coy Jandreau
Updated November 21, 2019 4.9k votes 1.2k voters 128.7k views 15 items

List Rules Vote up the actors who had the most intense method acting performances.

The term "method acting" is used loosely these days. According to Oxford Dictionaries, method acting is "a technique of acting in which an actor aspires to complete emotional identification with a part." The great acting coach Constantin Stanislavski popularized the technique in the early 1900s.

Seems logical right? Think of the feelings as your own, and you might feel them - better yet, you seem even more real in feeling them. In the 1930s, Lee Strasberg adapted some of Stanislavski's method for American actors, emphasizing the practice of tying the character's memories to the actor's own memories so as to further align their emotions. 

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 are a method actor in character? None of that was ever supposed to be 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 arguably  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 with astounding results. Keep in mind: the term is used here loosely, as some of these actors - Heath Ledger, for example - only utilized one or two principles of the concept.

The Dark Knight is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Most Intense Method Actor Performances In Movie History
Photo:  Howie Berlin/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 2.0

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. For example, he allegedly would talk and joke about his daughter. What does make his 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, ideas, and imagery. There was also a section of things the Joker might find funny, so Ledger 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, which is awe-inspiring.

Without a doubt, this performance would have launched an amazing new chapter in an incredible actor's career.

Is this intense?

More The Dark Knight 

#9 of 599 The Greatest Epic Movies Ever Made Behind-The-Scenes Stories From The Set Of 'The Dark Knight'listed on Every Oscar Winning Film Ever

Taxi Driver is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Most Intense Method Actor Performances In Movie History
Photo:  David Shankbone/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0

Having studied directly with some of the legendary teachers who brought method acting to the mainstream, Robert De Niro put in the work to play the incredibly iconic Travis Bickle in Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver.

In the film, Travis Bickle has great dialogue about not being able to sleep, so he works extra shifts and long hours. To portray an unhinged, overworked, insomniac taxi driver, De Niro became an unhinged, overworked, insomniac taxi driver. While finalizing work on another flick in Rome and prepping for Taxi Driver, which involved studying people with a mental illness, he trained, took the test, and got his cabbie license. De Niro then proceeded to work overtime during his 12-hour shifts as a cabbie by actually driving people around NYC. Imagine hopping in a cab with De Niro at the wheel.

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?"

Is this intense?

More Taxi Driver 

#522 of 1,699 The Most Rewatchable Movies #95 of 548 The Greatest Movies for Guys 12 Behind-The-Scenes Stories From 'Taxi Driver' That Are As Wild As The Film Itself

Gangs of New York is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Most Intense Method Actor Performances In Movie History
Photo: Jaguar MENA/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0

After a long break from acting, Daniel Day-Lewis returned to the silver screen at Martin Scorsese's personal request to play William "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 the butchers of Peckham Rye's W. Head and Co., who were flown in from the United Kingdom for a few weeks. He also became an expert marksman with knives and meat cleavers. 

During filming he would, as is tradition, only answer to Bill or the Butcher, and would reportedly spend all of his off time glowering and threatening his on-screen antagonist, Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio).

He went so far to stay authentic that when temperatures reached below freezing, he refused to wear winter jackets because they comprised materials that didn't exist in that time period. He would, however, play Eminem's music between takes to rile himself up. Daniel Day Lewis is the real Slim Shady.

Is this intense?

More Gangs of New York 

#348 of 1,699 The Most Rewatchable Movies #89 of 548 The Greatest Movies for Guys

Raging Bull is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Most Intense Method Actor Performances In Movie History
Photo:  David Shankbone/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0

To play Jake LaMotta in Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull, Robert De Niro began researching months prior to shooting. The biggest hurdle was getting Scorsese to agree to direct the film. People saw it as just another boxing flick - or, worse yet, simply another biopic - and with an unlikeable protagonist. 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, preparing to block, punch and move exactly like LaMotta. He pored 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 LaMotta, then shaped the entire film around his newly acquired persona.

De Niro even gained at least 60 pounds in a matter of weeks to portray the older, washed-up boxer.

Is this intense?

More Raging Bull 

#64 of 571 The Greatest Movies Of The 1980s, Ranked Behind The Scenes Of 'Raging Bull,' The Masterpiece Scorsese Never Wanted To Makelisted on Every Oscar Winning Film Ever