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The Craft and Controversy of Method Acting

The method may be unorthodox, but it serves a purpose. However, the dangers associated with the practice have attracted many detractors.

For years, the controversial practice of method acting has been the subject of ceaseless debate. Many familiar with the world of cinema know this concept all too well. For those who are not film buffs, method acting involves rehearsal techniques that fully immerse an actor in the role they’re playing. Method actors bring out the full extent of their talents to deliver what they believe to be the most authentic version of a character. In the past, many actors have transformed their physical appearances and altered their personality to “stay in character.”

Numerous celebrities have shown their dedication to their craft by using method acting to perfect their roles. This practice stems from their commitment to mastering a role. However, there is plenty of discourse surrounding the potentially harmful effects of the method acting. Some actors have resorted to dangerous techniques for shaping their performance or remaining in character. Others change their physical appearance for a role by adopting unhealthy diets and using other extreme weight loss tricks.

Heath Ledger became one of the most well-known method actors after the practice led to his death. Before his passing, Ledger often prepared for his roles in films like “Brokeback Mountain” by remaining in character for several months without budging. But many believe that his role as the Joker in “The Dark Knight” affected the rest of his life.

Ledger’s impactful performance as the Joker inspired many disputes over whether method acting is entirely bad. The actor, who was only 28 years old at the time, took many measures to portray the character as a psychotic gangster clown, some of which could be deemed questionable and definitely harmful. For instance, the actor isolated himself in a hotel room with only a diary, where he wrote entries in character. Despite his reputation for method acting in previous roles, Ledger took it up a couple notches for his performance as the Joker. This resulted in physical and mental health complications that many believe were caused by his rigorous preparation for the role.

Similarly, Christian Bale has been known to be an extreme shapeshifter when it comes to mastering a character’s physique or persona. He’s prepared for numerous roles by either losing an extreme amount of weight or increasing his muscle mass. His devotion to embodying characters is uncanny, but some view this as potentially harmful. In preparation for “The Machinist,” Bale lost around 173 lbs., leaving him weighing a mere 110 lbs. He was visibly underweight and resembled an insomniac, unhealthy individual for the purpose of the film. It left people wondering, “How important is an acting role?”

Joaquin Phoenix also lost over 50 lbs. in 2019 for his role as Arthur Fleck in “Joker,” leaving him with an extremely skinny and unhealthy appearance. In the months before shooting, the actor followed eating habits that led to his rapid weight loss. Although Phoenix revealed that his diet was moderated by medical professionals, there were definitely many skeptics doubting its safety. Of course, given that proper regulations were implemented to ensure that Phoenix safely achieved his goals, this particular example refutes the claim that method acting is always harmful.

One of the most notable actresses to follow this rigorous practice is Natalie Portman. To prepare for her role in “Black Swan,” Portman used method acting to perfect her portrayal of a career-driven ballerina who struggles with insecurities and strives for perfectionism — but at what cost? Much like Bale and Phoenix, Portman overworked herself by practicing ballet for five hours daily for six months straight. Her determination to not only act the part, but completely immerse herself in the role was obvious. As a result of her extensive practice, Portman lost 20 pounds.

The tendency for method actors to mistreat their bodies is part of the reason why the practice has raised so much concern. However, the arguments in favor of method acting raise the question of whether certain iconic movie roles would be as memorable without their actors’ behavioral extremities.

Among the actors who have taken part in method acting, there are obviously many celebrities that support these techniques. Their precision and dedication to their craft drives them to accomplish their goals. However, this is not representative of all celebrities, as there are many who oppose method acting and have gone as far as calling out the practice. Actors like Sebastian Stan, Charlize Theron and Toni Collette have actively spoken out against these methods. Many who have vocalized their opinions on the matter have described it as selfish and self-destructive.

In more recent years, method acting has become a recurring topic among film buffs. As a person who loves films, it’s difficult to decide whether method acting should be used to enhance a role. This also begs the question as to whether there are any other ways to go about making a role as excellent and enjoyable as possible. The craft behind method acting has become a prominent part of cinema, regardless of whether the audience approves of its conventions or not. However, the jury is still out on if it’s something actors should actively pursuing. At the end of the day, it’s truly up to the artist on how they choose to approach a role and if they’re willing to take extreme risks for their performance.

Ally Najera, California State University, Northridge


Ally Najera

California State University, Northridge
Broadcast Journalism, Minor in Marketing

I am currently studying broadcast journalism and minoring in marketing. I read religiously and love watching films. I am very passionate about words. I live and breathe pop culture – and love to share my thoughts.

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