There are broadly two kinds of actors: One, who have made their mark upon the industry, and second, those who are still struggling. Have you ever wondered what makes an actor’s performance iconic in a movie? Why some actors can bedazzle their audiences with the characters they play on screen while others simply struggle to do so? Well, the answer is simple: method acting.
If you are an aspiring actor or already in the industry, you already have or are likely to come across the term “method acting” every now and then. But what is method acting?
In this article, we are going to discuss everything there is to know about method acting.
What is Method Acting?
Method acting is an acting technique that dates back to the 19th century. This acting technique was developed in Russia by a theatre practitioner called Konstantin Stanislavski.
Method acting was originally proposed with the thought of introducing the concept of realism into acting. This approach was redefined by Lee Strasberg and Elia Kazan in the 1930s because the performer fully inhabiting the role of the character.
Stanislavski believed that actors must use their personal experiences if they need to deliver natural performances. This approach revolved around actors using their own memories and emotions to portray their characters.
Let us just say an actor is given a personality of a psychopath. Now the actor may be opposite to the given character. The simplest approach the actor would follow is drawing from their own experiences of feeling angry or absolutely anything and everything associated with their given character.
Adaption of characters:
The actor will not only inhabit the mind of the character but will start living their life as their character even off-screen. This may enable the actor to completely adapt to the given character and give an exceptional performance.
In other words, Method acting requires actors to live the life of their characters even when they are not on set or in front of the camera. Many method actors discover their characters with emotional depth. They breathe life into their performance by immersing themselves in the role they are playing. Actors often refuse to break their character during the filming process. Method actors become obsessed with the character they are portraying by undergoing major changes to match up with their respective character. like losing weight, for instance.
It is the actors’ ability to empathise and put themselves in their character’s shoes by drawing upon their experiences that make method acting come alive. Actors try to seek justifications for their character’s actions and the inner forces governing them.
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What are the different method acting techniques?
Method acting has five key techniques that were developed by Stanislavski.
This technique involves using personal experiences to understand the elements in the life of one’s character.
For instance, If a character just got heartbroken, the method actors would think of a time when they got heartbroken for the very first time.
By doing so, the actor would be able to generate the required emotions to give an outstanding portrayal of their character.
#2. As if
This technique revolves around the actor’s personal life. This technique relies completely on the method actor’s imagination rather than real events.
- As if – As if my significant other left me a day before our wedding. What would happen?
- This technique sparks the actor’s memory and involves the actor in the scene.
- This technique allows the actor get an escape from the fiction and find the truth.
#3. Sense memory
Sense memory is a method acting technique used to recall the physical sensations surrounding a personal and an emotional experience. The actor then uses these sensations to trigger the emotional responses in their characters. The emotional responses could be triggered with all five senses.
- Sound: The sound of dogs barking on the street can bring a sensation of fear as you will think about a time in your life when you were chased by dogs on the street.
- Smell: The smell of perfume can bring back memories you have with someone and takes you back to the time you were with them.
- Taste: The taste of apple pie can remind you of the times you have spent with your mother baking an apple pie for your entire family.
- Touch: The touch of a stuffed toy can remind you of your childhood when you used to play with stuffed toys with your siblings.
- Sight: The sight of a water body can trigger fear in you as it reminds you of a time you almost drowned in the water while learning to swim.
#4. Affective memory
One of the most popular methods of acting techniques is affective memory. In this technique, the actor creates a detailed, sensory, and imagined memory for the given character. This helps them draw an immediate rush of real emotions for the scene.
#5. Animal work
Animal work involves the study of animal’s characteristics. The actors learn to free themselves from physical affections when they imitate the bodies and movements of a specific animal.
An actor can study how an animal moves and use these moments of the animal while preparing to capture the physicality of their given character.
Method acting caught on like wildfire and actors increasingly took to it to elevate their craft and transcend the experience of theatre.
Celebrated actors attained recognition because when they performed, it looked as genuine as something happening in real life. They were not performing in the sense that they were not putting something on as much as they were being.
Some examples of Method Acting:
The actor Heath Ledger locking himself up in a hotel room for a month and scribbling his dark thoughts in a notebook as his character Joker would have done for the movie The Dark Knight is a famous example of method acting.
His tragic death before the movie’s release was romanticised as people thought it was the repercussions of going method for Joker that plagued him with suicidal notions leading up to his eventual death by overdose.
The idea of a tortured artist who died for his craft was something the audiences appreciated. Marilyn Monroe and James Dean suffered a similar fate.
But nowhere in their technique did Strasberg or Adler suggest the need to go through hell and back to nail their acting roles and staying in character all the time. They were just required to emotionally merge with their on-screen characters for a seamless depiction.
Some of the method-acting techniques are tough, while others can be extremely traumatic or even severe. Method acting involves tackling craft in a controlled way with a proper structure rather than a system that says all others are less committed and inferior.
The need to put yourself through agony so as to look convincing is something actors inferred on their own. They flirted with people’s fascination for a good off-screen story as much as an on-screen one.
So Leonardo DiCaprio eating raw bison liver as a part of training for The Revenant or Christian Bale losing a whopping 62 pounds of weight for The Machinist are just examples of an almost contorted, skewed understanding of the method technique.
Did Leonardo receive an Oscar because people knew he had torn into a raw liver with his canines? Would his performance still have been construed as phenomenal if people didn’t know what went on behind the scenes?
Some examples of Bollywood actors who might have stretched the boundaries of method acting are:
Ranveer Singh in Padmaavat
Ranveer Singh always seems to grip his spectators in a trance-like state with his performances. Be it his imperial role in Bajirao Mastani or his bellicose role in Ram Leela, he appears to understand the assignment and he eats it up.
But did he take it too far with his portrayal of Alauddin Khilji in Padmaavat? He was reported to have been so much under its daze that he had to seek professional intervention after playing the obsessional and whimsical Alauddin.
Rajkummar Rao in Trapped
Rajkummar Rao has given many iconic performances which have earned him recognition from the critics. One such role is his part in Trapped where he plays a starving man locked in a high-rise building. Rao went three weeks without eating anything except carrots and coffee to look his part.
A weight loss of this degree could have serious ramifications on his health but he abandoned all care for himself and immersed himself in the role.
Randeep Hooda in Sarbjit
For the movie Sarbjit, Hooda had to embody a starving prisoner in a Pakistani jail. He lost 18 kilos in 28 days to do justice to his part in the film. Although it garnered him a lot of praise for doing an impressive job, it took a toll on his health.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui in Raman Raghav 2.0
Siddiqui plays a serial killer in this film. He took it far and holed himself up in a sketchy motel room in Lonavla for a month, so much that he frightened himself. This impacted his mental health too.
Actors need to reflect on how far they have deviated from the original method technique model. Is it really necessary to put yourself through so much discomfort to play a part? Or is it all a game of one-upping your colleagues?
Learn Acting Online with the Method Acting Guru Manoj Bajpayee
Speaking of iconic method actors in the Bollywood industry, a renowned name on that list is that of Manoj Bajpayee.
Do you want to learn acting from the man himself? Sign up for his online acting classes and learn all that goes on behind his truly iconic performances. Check our website for more information on this exclusive online acting course by unluclass.
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