The Pioneers of Method Acting: An art that begs Insanity

When we break away from most of the common misconceptions, we see that method acting is in reality, a technique to develop an emotional and cognitive understanding between an actor and their character. The personal life experiences of the artist are used to identify personally with characters. Emotions are expected to be evoked from the actor’s personal encounters in life.

This approach was framed by Lee Strasberg, who is known as the father of method acting. Contrary to the notion that this is taken from Stanislavsky’s ‘system’, Strasberg’s method acting wasn’t exploring both the inside out and outside of character and action, it was more cognitive in nature. It has been proven to be dangerous as well, which was initially predicted by Stanislavsky; actors abstain from basic needs such as food and socialization. Many of the contemporary method actors seek help from psychologists. But it has an irresistible prize that every actor craves and that is the Academy Award for Best Actor.

Constantin Stanislavski
Constantin Stanislavski

The “system” as is encouraged as being the precursor to the creation of method acting by Lee Strasburg, was based off a technique created by Constantin Stanislavski. This technique mainly involved the representation of the “truth” in both an external as well as an internal way. This involved the exploration of an actors deepest and most intimate physical and mental states, mindsets and frames which are usually unknown yet faintly and horrifyingly familiar to people. This technique usually involved the actors delving deep into their own psyche and understanding the fundamental ways in which our mental wirings are strewn and arranged in random patterns. This is what helps one to connect with states of other characters, owing to the complex way in which we relate to them, on a psychological level where the primal nature of man is dominant.

Lee Strasberg was more of a director and a teacher, but he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, for his role of the gangster Hyman Roth in The Godfather II. Strasburg urged actors to explore mental states, but instead of going into themselves, their psyche and who they were internally, he urged to look at the intricate ways in which our own personal life experiences could be related to the emotional and psychological states of being of their characters. He was a huge influence on the coming generations. He left behind a legacy in the form of the Actors Studio West in Los Angeles.

Lee Strasberg
Lee Strasberg

As a result of adopting the technique, over 100 Method Actors have won Oscars over the years.

Tripped Out Fact: Over 80% of ‘Best Actor’ Academy Awards have been won by Method Actors in the last decade!

Marlon Brando, a student of Strasberg, was the first method actor to win an academy award.

Tripped Out Fact: Marlon Brando confined himself to a bed in the Birmingham Army Hospital at Van Nuys, California for a month, so that he can give his best shot when he acted as a paraplegic veteran in 1950′s The Men – the actor’s first film role.

download (2)
Marlon Brando in “The Men.”

Pamela Wojcik writes,

“In short, Lee Strasberg transformed a socialistic, egalitarian theory of acting into a celebrity-making machine…. It does not matter who ‘invented’ Marlon Brando or how regularly or faithfully he, Dean, or Clift attended the Studio or studied the Method at the feet of Lee Strasberg. In their signature roles – the most influential performances in the history of American films – these three performers revealed new kinds of body language and new ways of delivering dialogue. In the pauses between words, in the language ‘spoken’ by their eyes and faces, they gave psychological realism an unprecedented charge. Verbally inarticulate, they were eloquent ‘speakers’ of emotion. Far less protective of their masculinity than earlier film actors, they enacted emotionally wounded, and vulnerable outsiders struggling for self-understanding, and their work shimmered with a mercurial neuroticism… The Method-trained performers in films of the fifties added an enhanced verbal and gesture naturalism and a more vivid inner life.”

Brando eventually became regarded as something of a joke for his exorbitant demands and prima donna behavior on film sets, which put many directors at odds with him. He went into a self-imposed seclusion, from which he emerged only to appear in films far below his demonstrated talent.

The directors of the time created a separate genre for Marlon Brando, where he embodied a one-man show type of incidental performance, where the sheer spontaneity and ferocity of his acting could take the attention off of everyone else on the screen. The improvisation as well as the dedication that he showed towards his role is something that influenced other actors to delve deeper into themselves and understand the art of method acting in a better way to ensure that they could carry the persona of their character in a better way.

He was voted in the UK’s Empire Magazine in 1997 as one of the five greatest living actors. He passed away in 2004.

Even today, the practice of method acting is evident, and the reward is historical and noteworthy. But is the sacrifice worth it?

Image Sources: [1], [2], [3]

Further tripping…

About Mariyam Saigal

Check Also

A Fangirl Review of The Cursed Child

The last time I completed a book within a day, I was sixteen – then …

Leave a Reply