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. However, the past 40 years or so 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, the forces that be can backfire. Heath Ledger, for example - who may have actually sacrificed his life for his final, unforgettable turn as the Joker - tops the list of actors whose lives were destroyed by method acting, quite literally. 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). Nevertheless, there's a lot more where that came from. Read on to inquire further... and to vote up the actors who went beyond even above and beyond for their craft.
Christian Bale, who made his debut in 1987's Empire of the Sun, has always been known, even as a child, as an actor who's not afraid to take his craft to the extreme. But in 2004's The Machinist, he went way beyond the pale... and almost way beyond mortality, itself. According to sources, Bale dined on "only an apple and a can of tuna a day" for weeks leading up to the beginning of production. Finally, medical professionals entreated him to stop, warning him that he would likely "die if his weight got down any lower."
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.
#70 on The Coolest Actors Ever
#13 on The Hottest Men Over 40
Malcolm McDowell Temporarily Blinded Himself For 'A Clockwork Orange'
Actor Malcolm McDowell was almost as much of a perfectionist as director Stanley Kubrick himself was. But when it came to doing multiple takes of potentially physically damaging scenes, said dedication could sometimes backfire.
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 scratched corneas and, worse yet, temporary blindness – all as a result of having his "eyes propped open for too long."
Since his filmic beginnings as a Disney kid, Shia LaBeouf has evolved into something of a spectacularly dedicated method actor. He may or may not have had real onscreen sex for Lars von Trier's Nymphomaniac, but that pales in comparison to what he did for 2014's Fury.
According to Screen Rant, LaBeouf "cut his own face with an actual knife – and kept it from closing up throughout shooting." He also allegedly had his own tooth yanked out, sans painkillers. He refused to bathe for a full month, and is said to have spent a good amount of time "watching horses die,” though that may just be a euphemism... for something.
In 1975, Pier Paolo Pasolini shook the cinematic world with Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, which featured a literal banquet of sh*t. However, said feast was still just chocolate and marmalade. And that's why that scene ain't got nothing on what Divine did in 1972's Pink Flamingos, which is literally eat dog poop... fresh from the canine in question's bowels... right off the street.
As Divine (nee Glenn Milstead) once told a journalist,"I followed that dog around for three hours just zooming in on its assh*le." After the act, however, s/he 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. As director John Waters put it, "I'll never be able to do a sequel to Pink Flamingos because it would have to end with Divine taking a sh#t and the dog eating it."