12 Times Method Acting Nearly Destroyed Actors' Lives

Voting Rules
Vote up the actors you believe took their roles a bit too seriously.

Method acting, which was born within the philosophy of the Stanislavski system and popularized by the Strasberg Institute, has many famous adherents: from Marlon Brando to Marilyn Monroe. The past 40 years, though, have ushered in a rise of brilliant actors who took method acting way too far. While some of the best overall acting can come from the practice, these stories will leave you wondering if it was really worth the risk. 

"Too far," of course, is a subjective term. For many, the insane commitment simply comes with the territory. But as is the case with almost any experiment, things can backfire. Heath Ledger - who may have actually sacrificed his life for his unforgettable turn as the Joker - tops the list of actors whose lives were destroyed by method acting. Or so the legend goes, anyway.

The business abounds with method acting consequences that were as extreme as they were short-lived. Consider Christian Bale, who almost starved himself to death for his role in The Machinist. Or Divine, who famously upstaged everyone by actually eating a piece of real dog sh*t for the sake of art.

While consuming dog sh*t may not be one of the worst manifestations of method acting, it's surely the most repulsive (even though Nicolas Cage did eat a live cockroach for Vampire's Kiss). But there's a lot more where that came from, so read on to inquire further - and vote up the actors who went above and beyond for their craft. 

Photo: flickr / CC0

  • Christian Bale, who made his feature debut in 1987's Mio in the Land of Faraway, has always been known as an actor unafraid to take his craft to the extreme. But in 2004's The Machinist, he went way beyond the pale - and almost beyond mortality, itself. 

    According to sources, Bale dined on just a can of tuna and an apple each day for weeks leading up to the beginning of production. As Bale's co-star Michael Ironside remembers it:

    I came to work one day... and I heard 'pssst...Michael!' from behind one of the cabanas. And I went over, and it was Chris. And he said, 'Can you look at this?' And he turned and dropped his overalls, which he was naked under... and the muscles in his ass had literally dropped out of the sockets of his hips... I said, 'You've gone beyond body fat, and now you're into actual muscle tissue and things are being affected.

    Nevertheless, Bale persevered, and garnered widespread critical acclaim for his performance.

    26,533 votes
  • Since his beginnings as a Disney kid, Shia LaBeouf has evolved into something of a spectacularly dedicated Method actor. He may have had real, onscreen sex for Lars von Trier's Nymphomaniac, but that pales in comparison to what he did for 2014's Fury. 

    As LaBeouf told Dazed Digital, "I pulled my tooth out, knifed my face up and spent days watching horses die. I didn’t bathe for four months."

    18,759 votes
  • 3
    17,503 VOTES

    Malcolm McDowell Temporarily Blinded Himself For 'A Clockwork Orange'

    Actor Malcolm McDowell was almost as much of a perfectionist as director Stanley Kubrick. When it came to doing multiple takes of potentially physically damaging scenes, though, said dedication sometimes backfired.

    During the famous "forced viewing" sequence in A Clockwork Orange, real eye doctors were used. But McDowell still suffered harrowing damage in the form of a scratched cornea and, worse yet, temporary blindness - all as a result of having his "eyes propped open for too long." 

    17,503 votes
  • In 1975, Pier Paolo Pasolini shook the cinematic world with Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, which featured a banquet of sh*t. However, said feast was just chocolate. And that's why the scene doesn't have anything on what Divine did in 1972's Pink Flamingos: literally eat dog poop... fresh from the canine's bowels... right off the street.

    As Divine, the stage name of Harris Glenn Milstead, once revealed, "I followed that dog around for three hours just zooming in on its assh*le." After the act, however, Milstead became paranoid, and apparently called a Baltimore emergency room to ask about the potentially "harmful effects" of ingesting dog waste. A shocking stroke of method acting, but not one likely to ever be repeated. 

    19,641 votes
  • 5
    12,864 VOTES

    Klaus Kinski Went To Extremes In Pretty Much Everything

    Klaus Kinski Went To Extremes In Pretty Much Everything
    Photo: BFI

    Relegating Klaus Kinski to the ranks of "mere" Method acting seems almost quaint. Kinski - whose onscreen insanity is legendary - drove himself to extremes for veritably every part he played. He was so crazed in his Fitzcarraldo role that a couple of the Peruvian natives (and extras) on the set allegedly offered to kill him for director Werner Herzog. According to Herzog, he declined, but only because he needed Kinski in order to finish the movie. 

    And during the filming of Crawlspace, he got so far into his role as a deranged former Nazi he started multiple fights on set, and almost got fired outright.

    12,864 votes
  • Christian Bale isn't the only actor to have nearly starved himself to oblivion for a role. He had a notable inspiration and predecessor: the 6'1" Adrien Brody, who dropped down to a dangerous 130 pounds for Roman Polanski's award-winning 2002 film The Pianist.

    The movie, which chronicles the concentration camp days of pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman, was a personal and a professional commitment for Brody. As he told the SF Gate:

    [Szpilman] survived this and made (his experiences) available to the world... playing a real person, you have the obligation to do it the right way. During the time I was starving myself, the thing I was most comforted by was playing the music. It calmed me and allowed me to some degree to distract myself from my own loneliness at that time.

    13,200 votes