What is it that makes an actor’s performance iconic in a movie? Why have some actors time and again bedazzled their audiences with their characters on screen while others have struggled? Experts may chalk it up to an actor’s ability to master method acting. More and more actors are getting drawn by the pull of method acting. But what is it?
Method acting is a technique which was originally described by Konstantin Stanislavsky, a Russian actor and theatre director in his books which came to be known as the “system”, although he did not call it that.
Later, Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler, and Sanford Meisner took a derivative of Konstantin’s system and extended it with their interpretations and substance which we now know as “method acting”.
It is a technique where the actor is required to discover the character with emotional depth. Where they breathe life into their performance by immersing themselves in the role they are playing.
The actor’s ability to empathize and put themselves in the character’s shoes by drawing upon their experiences is what makes it come alive. They try to seek justifications for their character’s actions, the inner forces governing them.
Simulation of what the actor would have done if they were in the character’s place is how the method can be perceived by a layperson.
But before method acting blossomed on the horizon, popular cinema was based on the classical technique of acting which was based on character archetypes and was quite exaggerated. Method acting truly revolutionized acting as people knew it and they wanted to taste the “realism” that only it could serve.
Audiences started to identify with the actors as theatre got progressively realistic. Characters were given traits, tics, and habits of a normal human being and actors had to embody a person as flawed as someone sitting in the audience.
Theatre became obsessed with portraying the world as it is and not some hyperbolic version of it. Some of the pioneering method actors were Marlon Brando, Marilyn Monroe, and James Dean in the west and Dilip Kumar in the east.
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 really performing in the sense that they were not putting something on as much as they were being.
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.
Heath Ledger’s tragic death before the movie’s release was romanticized since 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.
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 Padmavat:
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 Padmavat? 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 from Manoj Bajpayee:
Speaking of method actors in the Bollywood industry, a renowned name to that list is that of Manoj Bajpayee. Do you want to learn acting from the man himself? Sign up for his unluclass and learn all that goes on behind his truly iconic performances.