Method acting is the process some actor undergo of creating thoughts and feelings by immersing themselves in the experience of the character they’re playing as genuinely as possible. Essentially recreating the character’s experience in real life, the actors access their own true feelings and emotions and thereby portray their story in a completely natural and realistic way. The method acting craft was first developed by Constantin Stanislavski in the late 1800’s and has been refined into different variations since the its inception. It’s so effective in encouraging empathetic and touching performances that it’s unsurprising that many famous, well-respected actors that we know and love employ method acting in their roles.
There are several actors that perhaps even take the art of method acting a bit too far. Some will become their characters and literally forget their own identities during their time on a film. Broadway and television actor, Mandy Patinkin (you might remember him best as Íñigo Montoya from “The Princess Bride”) has been known to dive into the character at such serious lengths that even fellow actors find it difficult to work with him. Before taking on the role of Fantine in the film adaptation of the musical, “Les Miserables”, Anne Hathaway undertook an extreme diet so that she would look and feel emaciated, and she also had her hair cut on camera and did extensive study to understand the desperate mother. Remember Joaquin Phoenix’s well-publicised bearded phase when he was acting strangely and erratically in interviews? Well, it was for a film. Heath Ledger kept a diary and became increasingly withdrawn while he was taking on the role of The Joker. And most recently, Shia LeBeouf has been making news due to actually having intercourse on screen with his costar in the movie, “Nymphomaniac”. And then we have Christian Bale, who became skeletal for the film “The Machinist” and made himself overweight for his role in “American Hustle”.
These 10 actors are some of the most successful artists who have genuinely lived the lives of their characters, with both artistic and financial success.
10. Daniel Day-Lewis – $40 Million
Daniel Day-Lewis is probably the most famous actor who adopts the method acting technique to the extreme. Don’t believe it? Well, while he was filming “My Left Foot”, he refused to walk from his wheelchair (he had to be carried) and was spoon-fed his meals during meal breaks. He also only ate the food that he killed while filming “The Last of the Mohicans” and he didn’t bathe during the entirety of filming “The Crucible” so he could experience hygiene at 17th century standards. And finally, while he was getting into character for “Lincoln”, Day-Lewis insisted on signing his text messages as the President who freed the slaves.
9. Adrien Brody – $40 Million
Adrien Brody received huge critical acclaim and an Oscar for his role in the film, “The Pianist” where he played concert pianist and Holocaust survivor Wladyslaw Szpilman. To prepare for the role, a skinny Brody lost an additional 30 lbs., gave away many of his personal possessions, and adapted a life of seclusion. Brody did this so that he could feel what it was like to lose everything and really become acquainted with the feeling of loneliness that his character experienced.
8. Edward Norton – $50 Million
Edward Norton is well known as a dedicated method actor across all of his projects. The most notable project in which he immersed himself was “American History X”, where he worked out for three solid months and gained an astonishing 30 pounds of muscle in that short span of time. He is a practitioner of a variation of method acting that was developed by Lee Strasberg. Norton’s practices are effective, it seems, since his acting earned him an Oscar nomination for his first ever role in a movie. Not too shabby.
7. Dustin Hoffman – $50 Million
Dustin Hoffman’s role in “Marathon Man” required him to play a man who hadn’t slept in three days. So Hoffman decided to actually stay awake for three nights in order to pull off a convincing character. When he showed up on set, his co star, the celebrated Laurence Olivier, asked him why he looked the way he did. When Hoffman told him what he did to prepare for the role, Olivier famously replied with, “Try acting, dear boy. It’s much easier.”
6. Sally Field – $55 Million
It wasn’t until Sally Field co starred in “Lincoln” with Daniel Day-Lewis that her method acting practices were exposed. To properly portray Mary Todd Lincoln, Field gained 30 pounds and refused to go out of character for the duration of filming. Field claims that she and Daniel Day-Lewis work in the same way, so we can only imagine what filming was like while “Lincoln” was in production. However, Field did make a note that she is a bit more self-conscious about her method acting ways and tends to not tell people what she’s doing, as opposed to Day-Lewis who embraces it fully.
5. Kate Winslet – $90 Million
When Kate Winslet took on her role in “The Reader”, she didn’t realize just how deep she actually went until she went out of character when filming ended. She had adapted to her character so much that she says it took her months to bounce back, return back to normal and feel like “herself” again. In the film, she played a former Nazi concentration camp guard, which was one of Winslet’s more intense roles at the time. In her work in Roman Polanski’s film, “Carnage”, during the scene where she had to throw up, Winslet actually made herself sick.
4. Marlon Brando – $100 Million
When one thinks of method acting, it is likely that they will think of Marlon Brando. Over the course of his career from 1952 to 1990, Brando received eight Oscar nominations for his work. While he has been deceased for quite some time, the legacy that he left behind for method acting remains. One of his most notable preparations was for his role in his debut film, “The Men” where he spent a full month confined in a veteran’s hospital. From “The Godfather” and many films before, Brando immersed himself in his characters and made cinematic history with his performances.
3. Jim Carrey – $150 Million
While Jim Carrey was filming, “Man On the Moon”, he refused to break character as Andy Kaufman. This lasted for the entire production of the film, and Carrey actually began to develop tics and mannerisms that Kaufman had he was alive, but weren’t included in the script. So uncanny was Carrey’s transformation that some of the crew and those who knew Kaufman believed that perhaps he was living a second live through Jim Carrey. Ironically enough, when Kaufman was alive and working, he would dive into his characters in the same way and never broke character until the project was over.
2. Robert De Niro – $185 Million
Robert De Niro’s most famous stints with method acting was during production of the film, “Raging Bull” when he was portraying Jake La Motta. While he was filming, De Niro lost 50 pounds and took boxing lessons so that he could become a trim athlete. But because the film’s story spanned over 23 years, De Niro then gained a ton of weight so he could properly play La Motta as a washed up sports star in later life. De Niro also interviewed La Motta’s ex-wife so he could learn more about the man he would play in front of the camera.
1. Leonardo DiCaprio – $200 Million
“Django Unchained” really exposed some of Leo’s practices in the realm of method acting. His co star in the film, Jamie Foxx, told Oprah that DiCaprio would actually go days without speaking to him to emulate the relationship between the two characters. Also, famously enough, during a scene, DiCaprio became so heated that he slammed his hand on glass, which started to bleed. Instead of stopping, he kept going and used the moment to his advantage, even smearing his blood on Kerry Washington’s face.
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