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The Method Is No Longer Worth the Madness

If you haven't yet caught the latest essay from Angelica Jade Bastién (who has written here a few times) check it out at the Atlantic. It's called "Hollywood Ruined Method Acting" and it goes at the increasingly torturous PR campaigns that surround modern "accomplishments" of screen acting. As as usual Angelica is quite insightful about acting and sexism. Bless her for citing Montgomery Clift's contribution to acting, non-method styles that are just as valuable (see Brad Pitt) and the various incredible female actors (like Gena Rowlands) who are pushed aside due to the obsession with masculinity. Marlon Brando gets all the credit and don't think it's not because of the machismo and swagger.

I'd quote the article but instead I'll quote Jason's reaction which made me giggle:

I was nodding my head in agreement so furiously I was spitting out vertebrae by its end

Same. Same.

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Reader Comments (34)

@ nat

I am so sorry to insert this here, but I want to be sure you READ the blog I wrote after you asked what I meant by "UH1 Strange!!!!! The blog about lions...Please answer.

August 11, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterrick


You're kinda contradictory. You were singing Jake Gyllenhaal's praises for his Southpaw performance last year yet you're praising this article when it's basically an indictment of performances like Jake's.

August 11, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterHuh

Loved that article. Thank you for spotlighting it here in The Film Experience.

August 11, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterBVR

@Nathaniel: Also, maybe this is your cue to finally plug that "A Woman under the Influence" DVD.

August 11, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterBVR

I've always been suspicious of those that rely so heavily on method acting. If you have to live every minute as if you are the character that you're playing, then maybe acting isn't the right art for you. It really shouldn't be that hard to capture someone else's voice without going to such extremes.

August 11, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTommy Marx

Huh -- oh i don't think method acting doesn't produce great performances. It does sometimes. There are just other types of acting styles that are just as valid and "suffering" is not necessary to make great art. I'd argue imagination is 100 x more important for actors than their willingness to put their body through the ringer.

August 11, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I always know me and an actor will get along when they're asked about being Method or not and they respond with a firm no thank you.

In the (possibly apocryphal) words of Sir Laurence Olivier, "Try acting, dear boy."

August 11, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJason

I loved that article. The only good thing produced by the whole Suicide Squad marketing monster was the fact it's highlighting how annoying using method acting as marketing tool is. I don't understand why male actors have to be so histrionic about their work but I think the author put it best - it's to show the work! Female actors seem to be much more low key about their work and to better results most of the time. I never really rooted for Leonardo DiCaprio because he was working waaaaaaaay too hard to be considered a great actor. Just do good work and movie lovers will appreciate! Of course mainstream audiences love to root for some of these actors like it's a sport so it'll probably continue.
Meryl Streep and Cate Blanchett and some other actresses get criticized commonly for delivering calculated performances. But I much prefer that kind of work which is essential to creating layered complex performances than someone shoving their performance down my throat with from-the-depth emotionality!

August 11, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTony T

I love the article, too. I only disagree with the notion that Brando gets all the credit because "he was brash, bold, and brimming with machismo". Not really. Like Dean, there's a clear queer quality to Brando's work, even in his Kowalsky. His onscreen sexuality was fluid and insinuating - it's not like he was a method John Wayne.

And I do thing Franco was right: Brando was revolutionary. Not the first method actor, but there's no way you see a movie like A Streetcar Named Desire or On The Waterfront without realizing that his work was incendiary. Clift was a great actor, of course, but film acting should be regard before and after Brando, yes. Brando was a singularity.

That said, she is absolutely right when she says Gena Rowlands is the best method actor ever. And you can explain that using the same words of Franco on Brando. She doesn't play, she IS. But, to play is wonderful, too.

August 11, 2016 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

There's so much misunderstanding about what method acting is, among critics, audiences and its alleged practitioners. I haven't seen Suicide Squad yet, but Ive never had the impression that Leto's Joker was supposed to be an example of method acting. More like a rock 'n' roll star turn, which is a whole nother animal.

For my method acting performances these days, I look to France: anything Cotillard (whose mom was an actress) does, Eva Green (ditto) in Penny Dreadful, stuff like that.

August 11, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

DiCaprio has never claimed to be a method actor. The Revenant's Oscar campaign was obnoxious and irritating, no doubt, but this article is very misleading and unnecessarily severe towards DiCaprio.

August 11, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNana

For example how exactly has he embodied the idea that acting is an endurance test just because of one movie? Were his performances in Django Unchained, The Great Gatsby, and The Wolf of Wall Street endurance tests as well? She's claiming he only cares about his performances in movies above all else when it's been noted by directors and fellow actors that he's very generous to work with.

August 11, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNana

Where did this narrative that Leonardo Di Caprio was a crazy method actor come from. I don't remember hearing any of this stuff before The Revenant came out and there's nothing particularly tortured or transformative about his work in The Wolf of Wall Street, The Great Gatsby, Inception, or any other number or performances he's given, 80% of the time he's a pretty standard movie star performer not unlike Brad Pitt. I get it, the PR campaign for The Revenant was a bit over the top, but unless you're a film blogger no one is forcing anyone to read every press release that the studios put out and this notion of mocking an actor for challenging themselves with a project like that seems a bit unfair.

August 11, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMJS

MJS, I agree, Leo was never labeled method before The Revenant. I think some journalists misinterpreted the craziness on the set as method, when really it was probably a result of Innaritu's obsessive process. Still, the man gets results.

August 11, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

What someone posted on Facebook a couple of weeks ago:

You know what you never hear about? Method actresses. There are plenty of actresses who utilize those techniques, but when people talk about actresses who 'go Method' it's always weight loss and haircuts and prosthetic noses. You never hear stories about women who stay in character or hole up in hotel rooms for a month or send their castmates DEAD PIGS. Why? Because a woman's reputation would be destroyed for acting that way. What I see in those Viola Davis/Jared Leto interactions is a woman who has had to be completely self-contained and on her best behavior ALL THE TIME in order to get half as far as Jared Leto, watching a white man act like a fucking lunatic and be celebrated for it. Viola Davis has never had the option of self-indulgence like Jaret Leto.

August 11, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTroy H.

I don't really pay enough attention to realize when a performance is "method" or not; all that matters is if a performance is great. I think awards campaigns get obsessed with touting an actor's commitment and signs of it but I could care less if Viggo carries around his sword all the time while shooting TLOTR or if Natalie Portman spent hours to learn to dance in Black Swan or if Bale wants to go thru another extreme weight change. It truly doesn't matter to 99% of awards watchers either IMO - they just use stuff like that to tout a performance they are already fond of.

August 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAnonny

Brad Pitt???

August 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterIsabella Oleans

I frickin hate Jared Leto, his token Oscar win, and that horrendous mess of his Joker.

August 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCraver

Amen. Can't believe he swept that awards seasons for his joke of a performance. Barkhad Abdi should've won.

August 12, 2016 | Unregistered Commenter@Craver

The article is divisive. It simplifies the situation. Method acting doesn't mean that an actor (or an actress) has to do anything besides going method WHILE the cameras are on. You don't have to do crazy things off-set to be a method actor. Of course people think so, because the media has been reflecting it that way. People don't know many female method actors, because they don't want to be viewed as such. You think that if any actress would want to make such a fuss around her 'method performance' (as Leto made), she couldn't do it? Don't make me laugh.
And to be honest, Leo won the Oscar because he had been overdue since his nomination for The Aviator. And he didn't have much competition that year.

August 12, 2016 | Unregistered Commentermoviefilm


Yeah he's the male Julianne Moore. Both won because they were due + had weak competition.

August 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNana

Nana, how on Earth was Leo "due" for an Oscar? Dude's barely in his 40's. The age where most Best Actor winners get started. This Leo is due nonsense that's been going on for years is so ridiculous.

August 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterHarry


I really don't understand why so many people on this site like you had a problem with Leo being considered overdue. Especially since you probably considered Julianne Moore overdue when Leo had to wait even longer to win an Oscar than she did. Or Amy Adams as well. Everyone is rooting for her to win an Oscar this year and considers her overdue yet her nominations don't span two decades like Leo's did. His first nomination was in 1994, he's starred in two Best Picture winners, he's given a lot of acclaimed performances over the years, etc. It wasn't far stretched for people to think he deserved an Oscar, and I don't understand what it is about Leo that causes so many people to be bitter but whatever.

August 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNana

I've always prefered the Laura Linney School of Acting of "Hit Your Mark, Say the Line."

August 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSanty C.

Natalie Portman, Michelle Williams and Brie Larson were all labled as method actresses during their campaign. They made it very clear what they went through for their roles and got more than credit for it.

August 12, 2016 | Unregistered Commentertherealmike

I remember Angela Lansbury talking about working with Warren Beatty in the 60's. In one scene his character had to be out of breath from running, so he actually ran around the studio for a few minutes so that he would literally be out of breath.

She said she didn't really see the point when he could just have acted it.

August 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRobMiles

Hm, where exactly does DiCaprio talk about how he gains weight and never breaks character? Source?

Will Poulter recently talked about how DiCaprio sang show tunes between takes to keep the morale up on The Revenant set. And Winslet (on the film's commentary track) talks about how she almost felt hurt when Leo was horsing around minutes after their love scene in Titanic. There are more stories on that theme.

And for which role did he gain weight? Source?

August 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterGena

Speaking from the perspective of a performer, I don't care what method you use. You do what you need to do and I'll do what I need to do to get ready for a show/film/project. We work together professionally and you respect personal boundaries. Once you start crossing those lines with stunts like mailing dead animals to me, then I care about your chosen school of acting and I will tell you where to shove it.

As a theater educator, I introduce students to all kinds of methods to show them there is no one right answer. I frequently have to do damage control on Method because of the PR campaigns that claim suffering = great performance. No, no it does not. Hurting yourself, hurting others--these are not the signs of a good actor. Embodying the text and presenting it in a way that services the story, your character, and the style of the film is a sign of a good actor.

Any director or actor telling you to hit someone (or be hit) just to prepare for a role is not doing their job. Anyone harassing you, threatening you, treating you poorly in the name of performance outside of the script and the relative safety of rehearsal/set/performance is not doing their job. They're being a bad person. Do not tolerate it. Do not support it. Make it clear the behavior is wrong and needs to stop.

Daniel Day Lewis doesn't hurt anyone when he stays in character all day long. Jared Leto mails used condoms to his costars. There's a world of difference there before you even go into the relative quality of the performances.

August 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRobert G

How about Robert Downey Jr in Tropic Thunder? Weren't they mocking method acting?

August 12, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterremy

I'm fascinated by this article and by how lengthy this comment thread has become! A couple of points for the good of the order:

1. I do not for a second believe that Jared Leto mailed used condoms to his castmates. It's easy to forget that movie-making is a business and a film set is a workplace - the type of behavior Leto has described in interviews is full-fledged sexual harassment, which is both morally repugnant and illegal. There's just no way Leto's people, let alone the movie's producers and studio, would be ok with opening themselves up to lawsuits and other related consequences. As many other comments have noted, this is PR. Someone in the marketing department correctly surmised that these outlandish stories would grab Buzzfeed headlines and a good amount of press for the film. We all realize ~90% of the anecdotes actors share while doing press for a large film are, if not fully fabricated, at the very least highly exaggerated, yes? So, yeah, this seems like once again the method is being invoked for PR purposes more than anything else.

2. It's interesting to me that Mike Leigh and the work he does with actors never seems to enter into these conversations about "method" acting. Having his actors go out into the real world in character and using those interactions with regular people (aka having Sally Hawkins go to the grocery story as Poppy in preparation for Happy-Go-Lucky) to explore and deepen characterization is highly influenced by ideas about the method acting style. But his films aren't grandiose exercises in suffering and perhaps center women too much to be popularly connected with the highly masculinized "method" we mostly hear about.

3. Everything Derek Cianfrance has shared about the making of Blue Valentine screams "method" without officially calling it that. Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling literally lived together while filming some of it, Cianfrance waited for Williams to fall asleep so he could film her actually waking up in a scene, Gosling and Williams would go through exercises of picking fights with each other and then immediately having to take the child actor playing their kid out for ice cream, production shut down for a month so the actors could gain weight for their later/older scenes, etc. Yet the end result is a film that interrogates, rather than reifies, the toxic masculine element of Gosling's character. But that doesn't have the sexy hook of the madly committed actor pushing himself to unrealistic extremes, and being an indie it doesn't have the same press machine behind it.

August 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRJ

Leonardo DiCaprio is so boring. I really hoped we could stop talking about him after he finally won an Oscar.

August 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

@ Suzanne

He started it;-)

August 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterGena

Santy, I also admire the Michael Caine School of Acting, which is built on the dictum "Don't blink."

August 12, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

@ RobMiles- Angela Lansbury did an interview with Robert Osbourne for TCM. She made a movie with Jane Fonda right after Manchurian Candidate and it was shot in Greece (I can't remember the name but even according to Angela it wasn't good) She and Fonda got along well at first but then Fonda wanted to spend time apart because their characters don't like each other. And Angela thought it was just the most foolish thing.

Also, while filming the first Narnia movie, the director didn't want the children to be hanging out with Tilda Swinton while on break. He thought it was affect the performance if they became friendly. Tilda put a stop to that, saying the director was insulting the children's intelligence. I understand that every actor has a process, but it shouldn't be forced on someone- especially children actors.

August 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTom

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