5. Joaquin Phoenix
From someone who started out as just River Phoenix’s brother, Joaquin Phoenix has gone on to become an extremely credible actor in his own right. When he played Johnny Cash in “Walk the Line”, he learnt to play guitar from scratch and insisted on being called “J.R.” on set (for John R. Cash). He also improvised the scene in which he pulled a sink off a wall, by actually just pulling a sink off a wall – it wasn’t scripted, he was just in the moment and it happened like that.
But that’s all minor, compared to the weird hoax that was “I’m Still Here“. Phoenix announced he was retiring from acting and starting a music career, and it was all filmed as a documentary, as he grew his transitional beard and struggled to make it as a musician. After the film was released, Phoenix made another announcement – he wasn’t retiring after all, the film had just been a publicity stunt. Clearly someone who struggles to separate film from reality…
4. Heath Ledger
Ever wonder how the late Heath Ledger got his Joker to be so compelling? It was by living the unhinged character, day and night, while shooting. He had some high expectations to live up to – following the legendary Jack Nicholson – and the initial fan response to his casting was dismay. But Ledger threw himself into the role, shutting himself away and meditating on the role while reading comic books. As he put it: “I sat around in a hotel room in London for about a month and I just locked myself away and formed a little diary and experimented with voices. I ended up landing more with in the realm of like a psychopath, someone with no empathy.” The result was a terrifying, astounding performance but it was to be one of Ledger’s last, sadly, as he died shortly after filming wrapped.
3. Marlon Brando
And now onto one of the giants of Method Acting, Marlon Brando. Famous for such films as “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “The Wild One”, Brando was one of the first actors to employ this technique. His method was known as Stanislavski’s System, and relied on actors drawing on their own experiences to flesh out their roles. The logical conclusion of this is that if you don’t already have the experience needed for that role, you go and get it. So Brando did, with his very first film “The Men”, shot in 1950. In it, he played a paraplegic veteran and to get into character, he spent two weeks in hospital receiving therapy and learning to use a wheelchair. Apparently, producers were impressed by his dedication but also panicked at his lacklustre performance in rehearsals, mumbling his lines and failed to interact with his co-stars. But the minute the cameras were rolling, the Brando magic emerged and he delivered a flawless scene, earning a standing ovation from the crew. An exceptionally controlled actor.
2. Daniel Day-Lewis
And now an actor who is keeping Brando’s legacy alive and proving that Method Acting is not just restricted to the past. For his award-winning role as Abraham Lincoln, Day-Lewis fully immersed himself in the President’s life. He signed text messages as “The Commander in Chief” or “A” and crew members said it felt as if Abraham Lincoln was sitting in front of them. Lucky really, as he insisted on being addressed as “Mr President” at all times during shooting. He showed similar commitment to other roles, getting an apprenticeship in butchery for “Gangs of New York” and using a wheelchair throughout the shoot of “My Left Foot” in which he played Christy Brown, an artist with cerebral palsy. He even allowed himself to be spoon-fed in order to stay in character and says he find it easier than “jumping in and out” of roles. That’s commitment!
1. Robert DeNiro
No list of Method Actors would be complete without DeNiro, widely considered to be one of the finest actors of all time. His numerous intensive preparations include learning to box for “Raging Bull”, working as a cab driver for “Taxi Driver” and living in Sicily for “The Godfather:Part II”. He even threw anti-Semitic insults at Jerry Lewis during filming of “The King of Comedy“, in order to inspire wrath in his co-star. He truly is an inspirational actor, though you have to wonder just what kind of mental torture preparation he did for his role as psychotic father-in-law-to-be in “Meet The Parents”. You wouldn’t want to date any child of his, would you?