For those not familiar with method acting, it’s basically a performance style that emphasises drawing on one’s own personal experiences and memories in order to connect with the character one is playing. Typically, method actors will somehow “live as their character” in order to fully inhabit the role.
20th Century Fox
The technique was developed by Lee Strasberg and Elia Kazan in the 1930s, using ideas put forth by Russian theatre practitioner Konstantin Stanislavski 30 years prior. Method acting is known an emotion-based technique, as opposed to traditional theatrical acting which is primarily action-oriented.
Here are some wild examples of times actors went fully “method” in order to better understand their role:
To play the legendary singer-songwriter Ray Charles – who was blind from the age of seven – Jamie Foxx would have his eyes glued shut for 14 hours a day.
It was actually the director of
Ray, Taylor Hackford, who suggested this method approach to Jamie, who would have prosthetic eyelids modelled on Charles’s own attached to him while he was filming. Oftentimes, Jamie’s colleagues would forget he couldn’t see him and leave him alone on set to find his way around.
Tom Holland actually enrolled in a high school in the Bronx in order to better understand the American high school experience for Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Sony Pictures Releasing
To play Peter Parker, a 15-year-old New Yorker who becomes Spider-Man, Tom went to school for three days during which time he used a fake name and a fake accent. He even told people he was Spider-Man but no one believed him. Tom has said he used those real-life interactions to inform his characterisation of Peter.
For her iconic role in The Silence of the Lambs, Jodie Foster actually joined the FBI Academy in Virginia that her character Clarice was attending.
Jodie immersed herself in the daily routines of the trainees at Quantico’s FBI Academy and she also met with senior FBI officers and serial killer experts to learn more about her role. Her co-star, Scott Glenn,
took a different approach and on one occasion listened to a recording of a pair of serial killers torturing and killing a victim, which he later said was probably a step too far.
During filming for The Lighthouse, Robert Pattinson would often drink in excess before his scenes and end up licking puddles of mud, making himself sick, and weeing himself.
A24/Focus Features/Universal Pictures
Twilight actor Robert Pattinson openly dislikes rehearsing and would rather get to grips with his character on set. During filming of The Lighthouse, he would get himself into a “maddened” state in order to play his character – a drunken sailor who is slowly losing his grip on reality.
Also, for his role in Little Ashes, Robert Pattinson masturbated on set to completion and the cut made it into the film!
SOROlla Films/Kaleidoscope Entertainment
Rob played Salvador Dali and was required to do a few sex scenes. In one, he was supposed to simulate masturbating alongside another actor but instead decided to go for it because pretending apparently doesn’t have the same effect. In conversation with Germany’s Interview magazine he said, “my orgasm face is recorded for eternity.”
For The Last King of Scotland, Forest Whitaker learned Swahili, ate nothing but mashed bananas and beans, and remained in character off-set.
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Whitaker played former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, and allegedly drove his wife and children to distraction by staying in character for so long. He learned the languages of Swahili and Kakwa so he could ad-lib on set, and also
consulted with Amin’s friends and relatives as well as some of his victims. His performance won him an Academy Award for Best Actor.
Adrien Brody gave up his apartment, his car, and many of his belongings in order to play a Holocaust victim in The Pianist.
To get inside the head of Polish-Jewish musician Wladyslaw Szpilman, who was confined to the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II, Adrien made the decision to go back to basics. He sold most of his worldly possessions, moved to Europe with only two bags, and began a severe dieting regime so as to experience a fraction of what Szpilman went through during the Holocaust.
For her turn as a prima ballerina in Black Swan, Natalie Portman spent eight hours a day training as a ballet dancer.
Fox Searchlight Pictures
I guess it comes as no surprise that Natalie spent a long time training to become as good a ballerina as her character in the film. Her gruelling schedule, which even saw her dislocate a rib during rehearsals, left her feeling like she was “literally going to die”.
Nick Nolte spent five weeks living as a homeless man to prepare for his role in Down and Out in Beverly Hills.
Buena Vista Distribution
Nick played a sort of philosopher-vagrant, and to research the role spent time living on the streets of Los Angeles. On set, he also ate real dog food twice – once straight out of a bowl, and once from the can!
Jamie Lee Curtis actually learned to play the guitar – and specifically Anna’s guitar solo – for her role in Freaky Friday.
Buena Vista Pictures
At the end of the iconic body-swap flick, Jamie – who is playing her teenage daughter Anna at this point – has to play a face-melting guitar solo. And guess what? She learned how to play the guitar and perform the solo herself to make the moment seem more real! Her shredding wasn’t used on the soundtrack, but Jamie did say she could have recorded it if she’d been asked to.
In the MCU movies, Chadwick Boseman spoke in his character’s accent in between takes so he wouldn’t lose it.
Matt Kennedy/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Boseman’s dedication to T’Challa’s accent was unwavering, and it began wayyy before filming even started! Marvel weren’t sure if T’Challa (Black Panther) should speak with an African intonation, and wanted Boseman to try an American or British accent, but
he strongly believed his character should speak with an accent based in the Xhosa language. Boseman ending up working with a South African dialect coach to get his voice just right.
Marlon Brando spent a month in bed at a veteran’s hospital in order to play an injured WWII lieutenant in The Men.
United Artists / Getty Images
Often considered by many to be a pioneering influence on the art of method acting, Brando would go to extreme lengths in order to prepare for his roles. To play Ken Wilocek, a soldier who is seriously injured in combat, Brando checked himself into the very same hospital in which his character is rehabilitating in the movie – Birmingham General Army Hospital in Van Nuys, California.
Johnny Depp spent years studying gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson and even lived in his basement for a while.
To play the pioneering American author, Depp spent as much time as he could with Thompson. He drank with him, followed Thompson’s unusual sleeping pattern, allowed Thompson to cut his hair, and, for some reason, ending up living in Thompson’s basement where he would obsessively read his writing archive.
Chloë Sevigny gave Vincent Gallo a blowjob for real in the movie The Brown Bunny.
Wellspring/Vincent Gallo Productions
Back in 2003, the Cannes Film Festival went mad after Sevigny was seen to give her co-star and ex-bf Gallo unsimulated fellatio in the final scene of
The Brown Bunny. The scene later caused a media scandal, with public scrutiny aimed at Sevigny but not Gallo – shocker. Sevigny remains unapologetic to this day (QUEEN) saying she just wanted to push the envelope.
Val Kilmer had to go to therapy after he finished filming The Doors because he couldn’t stop thinking like Jim Morrison.
In order to play the legendary frontman of The Doors, Val Kilmer immersed himself completely in Jim’s world, learning how to speak and sing like him, going to his favourite hangouts, even wearing Jim’s clothes. Val developed such an in-depth knowledge of who Jim was and how he acted that at one point his former bandmates
couldn’t even the tell difference between recordings of Jim performing and recordings of Val 80% of the time!
And, of course, the ultimate method actor, Daniel Day Lewis, has gone the extra mile on several occasions – including remaining wheelchair-bound throughout the filming of My Left Foot.
Ferndale Films/Palace Pictures
During the shoot for
My Left Foot, in which Daniel Day Lewis played an artist with cerebral palsy, he would remain in his chair in between takes and even had crew members feed him; he ended up breaking two ribs in the process.
He also lived in the wilderness of North Carolina for a month in order to prepare for his role in The Last of the Mohicans.
20th Century Fox/Warner Bros.
The Last of the Mohicans, Daniel insisted on being taught how to skin animals, throw tomahawks, build canoes, and reload muskets while running. He took his rifle everywhere with him – even to Christmas dinner – and abstained from using modern technology whilst on set. Afterwards, Daniel said he struggled to shake off his part in the movie, and even experienced hallucinations and claustrophobia from no longer being able to spend time indoors.
Did we miss anyone out? Shout them out in the comments!
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