Method acting, also known as the Method, is a technique as revered as it is infamous nowadays. In broad terms, it’s a system that some actors use when approaching a role where they try to “become” their character and inhabit their psyche. To achieve this, they may do all sorts of wild things, from eating a live cockroach (like Nicolas Cage for Vampire’s Kiss) to smoking tens of thousands of dollars worth of cigars (like Gary Oldman for Darkest Hour).
The Method is undoubtedly an effective technique, as proved by artists of the stature of Daniel Day-Lewis and Marlon Brando, but not all actors in the industry hold it in such high esteem. Some, like Mads Mikkelsen and Robert Pattinson, haven’t been hesitant to share their disregard for the system and how it is often taken too far.
“A Narcissistic, Kind of Self-Indulgent Thing” — Sebastian Stan
Sebastian Stan, known most commonly for playing the Winter Soldier in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, recently gained notoriety for his transformation into Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee in Hulu’s Pam & Tommy. The Method had nothing to do with that transformation, though, as Stan has expressed his rejection of it.
“I don’t believe in creating chaos for the purposes of [acting],” Stan told the In the Envelope podcast. He criticized performers who used this chaos to artificially create tension in scenes, calling that an “irresponsible, narcissistic, kind of self-indulgent thing.”
“It’s Just Pretentious” — Mads Mikkelsen
Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen has had a lot on his plate lately, appearing in films like Doctor Strange, Rogue One, and more recently, Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore. When asked by GQ Magazine about his thoughts on method acting, Mikkelsen made his opinion clear right off the bat: “It’s bull***t,” he said.
The actor expressed his disapproval of performers who never broke character, implying that their system is pointless and unimpressive. He diligently prepares for his roles but doesn’t believe that taking it any further is necessary.
“Everyone Has Their Own Method” — Laurence Olivier
Laurence Olivier was one of the most acclaimed actors of the 20th century, best known for his memorable takes on Shakespearean roles and his work in films like Marathon Man and Rebecca. His technique was as refined as you’d expect, and he considered the Method as nothing more than that — just another method.
A funny story purports that, while working on Marathon Man, Dustin Hoffman (a method actor) stayed up for three full days to play a sleep-deprived character. Upon learning of this, Olivier is said to have responded, “My dear boy, why don’t you just try acting?”.
“I Was Just Exhausted” — Charlize Theron
Charlize Theron had tried the Method before, in films like The Devil’s Advocate and Monster (the latter of which earned her an Academy Award), but she told the Los Angeles Times that she just found it exhausting.
Instead, Theron reports that discovering that method acting was not for her was great because she can now spend more time and energy on her characters, “living and breathing in the moment” with them. She found that the Method was so tiresome that it didn’t allow her to go deep into the heart of her roles.
“They Only Use It When They’re Playing An A-Hole” — Robert Pattinson
Talking to Jennifer Lopez for Variety‘s Actors on Actors series about his wild performance in The Lighthouse, Robert Pattinson playfully criticized the Method, claiming that actors only use it “when they’re playing an a-hole.”
Pattinson, making it abundantly clear that method acting isn’t something he would ever be interested in trying, talked about why he finds the technique so unappealing. “I need to know it ends,” he told Lopez, referring to actors who stay in character and talking about how he would go crazy if he had to take a role like the one he played in The Lighthouse home.
“I’m Too Talented to Care” — Spencer Tracy
Spencer Tracy, renowned for his versatility and naturalistic style, was a highly praised American actor. He was the first to win two back-to-back acting Oscars (for Captains Courageous in 1938 and Boys Town in 1939), an achievement that has since only been reached by Tom Hanks.
He is quoted as having said, “The kids keep telling me I should try this new ‘method acting’ but I’m too old, I’m too tired, and I’m too talented to care.” He certainly earned the right to say that, as his career was one of the most prolific of any actor of his generation.
“An Excuse for Inappropriate Behavior” — Will Poulter
Will Poulter, best known for his roles in films such as The Maze Runner and Midsommar, recently talked to The Independent UK about his preparation for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, which includes a rigorous diet and a lot of gym work. During the interview, he expressed his disapproval of the Method.
Poulter mentioned how every actor’s process is valid as long as it doesn’t harm other people. “Method acting shouldn’t be used as an excuse for inappropriate behavior,” he said, “and it definitely has.” He spoke about the importance of having a pleasant, hospitable work environment when working on any film.
“More A Form of Psychotherapy Than of Acting” — John Cassavetes
John Cassavetes, known for his phenomenal work as an actor in films like The Dirty Dozen and a director of films like A Woman Under the Influence, was highly vocal about his contempt for method acting.
The artist accused the Method in the book Cassavetes on Cassavetes of being lazy, narcissistic, and insipid, even going so far as to say that it produced bad performances. From Cassavetes’s point of view, acting could be more playful and zany instead of taking itself so seriously. For him, acting should be an expression of cheerfulness.
“No Longer A Craft and A Job” — Martin Freeman
Known for his work in shows like Sherlock and films like The Hobbit trilogy, British actor Martin Freeman doesn’t approve of method actors either. Talking on the Off Menu podcast, he briefly touched on the topic.
Freeman thinks that method acting is much more amateurish and “academic” than practical because an actor losing themselves in a role detracts from the value of acting as a craft. He condemned performances like Jim Carrey’s in Man on the Moon, calling them “aggrandizing, selfish, [and] narcissistic.”
“It’s Utter Wankery” — Toni Collette
In conversation with David Poland, famed Australian actress Toni Collette talked about her more instinctive style of preparing for roles and used the opportunity to voice her thoughts on method acting. They were not positive.
“I think that is actually total bulls***t,” she said when asked whether she carries her characters throughout the production of her films. She believes that it’s inevitable for actors to take parts of their characters with them as they dive deep into their psyche, but she thinks that doing so in an overt way is tasteless.
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