Method Acting

With the latest Oscar full-court press, a lot of studios are trying to put as much behind the scenes stuff out there in order to make their movies more impressive. I am a fan of it. As a former theater geek, I love hearing how things were done after I have seen the movie. For example, through director’s commentary, I have learned so many movie magic secrets that have made me love those movies even more. However, recent news has irked me. I was not interested in seeing The Joker and the more I hear, the less I want to see it. People are welcome to see and like the movie but I have a problem with the star Joaquin Phoenix. It has come out lately that he injured himself on set putting his knee into a trash can. This was not an accident, it was stupidity.

Phoenix is a method actor. Method acting is a school of acting formalized by Stanislavsky and his students, Elia Kazan and Lee Strasberg. The point of it is that actors try to establish a complete emotional link with a character, trying to actually embody that character for a while. Method actors try to live their character’s lives in order to deliver a more “authentic” performance. For example, in a scene where he was supposed to freak out, Phoenix actually freaked out and ended up injuring himself. He also starved himself and did his best to live in mental illness in order to basically become the Joker on and off set. It is a horribly dangerous mindset and if he wins an award from it, it will send the wrong signal to impressionable young actors.

Of course, the role of Joker is no stranger to method actors. Famously, Heath Ledger fell into the role of the Joker leading up to the filming of The Dark Knight. He spent days alone in a motel room trying out makeup styles and coming up with his take on the character. He let the role affect his mindset and it is hard not to speculate on how the experience may have contributed to his decline and death. He put forward an absolutely brilliant take on the role but at what cost? Unfortunately, this seems to have cursed the role of the Joker because next came Jared Leto in Suicide Squad. Stories came from the set of Leto delivering disgusting “presents” to his castmates and never breaking character. While it was an interesting new take on the character, it just made him look like an asshole.

They all should have taken a cue from the majority of actors who have played the Joker and have remained sane throughout. Caesar Romero, the first major on-screen Joker, had a lot of fun with the role but it was just a job to him. He famously even refused to shave his mustache and instead painted over it. Jack Nicholson had a famous on set freak out as Joker but he was otherwise extremely professional. That’s not to even mention the legendary voice actors who have played the character over time like Mark Hammill, Zack Galifianakis, and Troy Baker (just to name a few). They all survived the role because they were able to turn it off and on at will. They could leave it at work and go out and live their lives.

They could do this because of the opposite school to Method Acting which was created by Sanford Meisner and it is the school from which I was taught at Rutgers. Meisner taught that you could “live truthfully under imagined circumstances.” You could flip the switch and be that character but then flip the switch again and be you as soon as you were out of the stage lights. It is a much more impressive style of acting because it requires more skill and actual acting. A lot of the work is done through mental and emotional gymnastics but it is psychologically safer than method acting, at least from my point of view. The actors who engaged in method acting were never fun to be around while those who studied something closer to Meisner were a lot of fun and easy to work with. If anyone should win an award, it is the makeup, costume, and continuity departments that apparently had a hellish time attending to Phoenix.

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One Response to “Method Acting”

  1. rolandclarke Says:

    Years ago, I followed a few Method actors and was impressed by their work. However, I will agree that Method can make an actor tough to live with. I had an actor friend who almost went that way, but I suspect the repercussions made him change. Meisner makes for better actors.

    Liked by 1 person

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