The modern idea of method acting was first developed by members of The Group Theatre in the 1930s in New York. It was a technique they adapted from Stanislavski’s system, which Konstantin Stanislavski used in training actors and referred to as “the art of experiencing.”
This immersive acting technique is what many film fans and critics use today to distinguish between actors who simply act out a character and script and those who embody their roles and deliver timeless performances.
The number of men and women who have been able to master this technique and execute it in their roles is limited.
Even amongst this exclusive circle, some men and women deserve special recognition for the dedication they’ve shown to the role of method acting and the sacrifices they made to become their characters.
Check out our top four American method actors and actresses below.
Marlon Brando is one actor whose acting skills cannot be easily described with words. Many refer to him as the Godfather of method acting, and for a good reason— he redefined how actors approach their roles onscreen.
He was devoted to every film performance he made, all the way back to his inaugural performance on Broadway.
The now-late actor launched his Broadway career with the role of a murdered psychopathic, and for a particular scene, he was required to look like he had just emerged from a cold, icy lake.
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To achieve this look perfectly, he would walk up and down the stairs before every performance and have a cast member douse him with ice-cold water. As crazy as it was, it worked, and the realistic appearance and performance enthralled the audience.
Brando didn’t stop there and carried his technique into his subsequent performances in films like “A Streetcar named Desire,” “Rebel without a cause,” “On the Waterfront,” “The Godfather.” One iconic scene of Brando’s was the improvised move in “On the Waterfront,” where he picked up an accidentally dropped hand glove and toyed with it to add effect to his performance.
Brando inspired generations of actors and actresses such as Robert De Niro, Henry Fonda, Dustin Hoffman, Rusell Crowe, and many more. Years after his death, he is still remembered as one of the most iconic method actors of all time.
Hilary Swank was the very picture of method acting in the film “Boys Don’t Cry.” The movie was directed by Kimberly Peirce and was based on the true-life story of Brandon Teena, a trans man that was raped and brutally murdered in Nebraska.
Swank took the role as the perfect opportunity to show that she was more than an ordinary actress, and for her audition at the Tribeca film center, she turned up wearing her husband’s clothing.
Her confidence in the clothing and determination to prove herself impressed Peirce, and she was given the role. Immediately after she was cast, Swank had her hair cut and dyed brown like Teena’s, and when she returned home, her husband barely recognized her.
For the next month of preparation for filming, she lived like a man and went as far as bandaging her chest, losing weight, and making her voice deeper and more baritone.
In the end, all her hard work and effort led to the movie’s success, and she won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe award, both for Best actress.
Throughout his acting career, Heath Ledger was a star in the film industry. One movie that Ledger will forever be remembered for is “The Dark Knight,” in which he played the character of Joker, a psychotic criminal.
Of the many actors who have portrayed Joker, Ledger easily tops the list as his iconic performance made the villain as famous as he is now.
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For his preparation for the movie, he transformed himself into Joker completely by going to extreme lengths. He reportedly locked himself in his hotel room for weeks in a bid to explore the madness that was in Joker’s mind.
He intended to feel the voices and quirks of the character, discover his inner darkness and become oblivious to inner pain. He was very successful and emerged with the spine-chilling evil laugh that became synonymous with Joker, the menacing walk, and facial expressions that portrayed pure evil.
Many have speculated that the extreme lengths were a factor in his accidental overdose and eventual death. When the Academy awards came up, he was posthumously given the Best Supporting Actor award to recognize his unforgettable performance.
One important aspect of method acting is the physical process. When it comes to this area, not many have gone as far as Rooney Mara.
For her role as Lisbeth Salander in “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” Mara cut off her hair, bleached her eyebrows, and pierced her lip, nose, eyebrow, and nipples.
She also learned martial arts, how to ride a motorcycle and how to skateboard.
In another film, “A Ghost Story,” her character had a scene where she sat on the floor and ate a whole chocolate pie before throwing it up immediately after in the bathroom.
Mara executed it perfectly and, in subsequent interviews, stated that it was her first and last experience eating pie.