Method acting is a much-revered practice that has received its fair share of attention for producing naturalistic, award-winning acting performances. Not coincidentally, some of the greatest actors of the last century have been ruthlessly committed method actors. In some cases, they are a pain to work with, in other cases their erratic behavior becomes downright unsafe, but one thing is for sure; their performances are something to behold. Check out this list of five actors who took method acting to the next level.
1. Marlon Brando
“Simply put, in film acting, there is before Brando, and there is after Brando. And they are like different worlds.” – The New York Times
Widely regarded as the greatest film actor of all-time, Brando studied acting under Stella Adler and Elia Kazan in New York City. During his Broadway debut in 1946, Brando played a psychopathic murderer in the play Truckline Café. For his climactic scene, he needed to appear as if he had just emerged from an icy lake, so every night, before he went on stage for that scene, Brando would run up and down the stairs until he was out of breath and then he’d have a stagehand dump a bucket of ice water on his head. Audiences were thrilled by his performance. Of the young Brando, Kazan said, “It’s like he’s carrying his own spotlight.” From there, Marlon Brando went on to perfect his craft, ultimately winning two Best Actor Oscars for On the Waterfront and The Godfather.
2. Dustin Hoffman
Think it’s hard to follow Marlon Brando on this list? Then you aren’t two-time Academy Award winner Dustin Hoffman (Kramer vs. Kramer and Rain Man) whose devotion to The Method made him a star. Hoffman studied at the Actor’s Studio in New York during the early 1960’s and made his breakout in the 1967 film The Graduate. But, it’s Hoffman’s performance opposite Laurence Olivier in Marathon Man that illustrates his madness for method acting. As legend has it, Olivier (a classically trained stage actor) and Hoffman had the following exchange during the shoot.
“How did your week go, dear boy,” Olivier said.
Hoffman told him that he had filmed a scene in which his character was supposed to have been up for three days straight.
“So what did you do?” Olivier asked.
“Well, I stayed up for three days and three nights.”
Laurence Olivier then uttered this famous line, “Why don’t you just try acting?”
The exchange is oft-quoted to show the difference in thinking between classical actors and modern film actors. In essence, Hoffman’s method became acting legend.
3. Robert De Niro
Actors who manipulate their body for roles have always been regarded as the most committed and daring. Think Christian Bale who slashed dozens of pounds for The Fighter and gained nearly 100 lbs. for his role as Batman in Batman Begins. Where did this trend come from and why is it all the rage with awards nominators? The answer is Bob De Niro, who got shredded to play the role of young boxer Jake La Motta, only to gain 60 lbs. to portray La Motta later in life. Not surprisingly, De Niro is an alumnus of Stella Adler’s Conservatory and the Actor’s Studio, where he learned to commit himself fully to his roles.
While shooting Raging Bull, De Niro filmed all his boxing and flashback scenes at a weight of 145 lbs. Then, production was shut down for four months while De Niro ate his way through Italy and France, gaining over 60 lbs. in the process. When he returned to the States, production commenced and the remaining scenes were shot at a rapid pace because the extra weight was taking a toll on De Niro’s health.
Still interested in amazingly mad method actors? Try researching Charlize Theron’s transformation for her role in Monster and Daniel Day-Lewis’ unrelenting devotion to his role in My Left Foot. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this list; they are all Academy Award winners. There must be a method to the madness.
Whether you consider The Method madness or genius, there’s no denying it gets results!