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 Is Method Acting Out Of Date?

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PostSubject: Is Method Acting Out Of Date?   Wed Feb 18, 2009 4:23 pm


By FIONA MACDONALD - Wednesday, February 18, 2009 t_of_date?&in_article_id=543940&in_page_id=65

The Brits will be out in force on the red carpet on Sunday: with 17 Oscar nominations, including Leading Actress and Best Picture, we have produced a vintage crop. But is home-grown talent set to be forever the bridesmaid at the Academy Awards?

"There's clearly a difference between being nominated and actually winning," says Method acting expert Brian Timoney. "When the Academy vote for the Oscars, they're looking at performance – and it's interesting to see the trend of where those performances are coming from."

More than 100 Oscars have been won by Method actors, including the last two leading actor Oscars, which went to Daniel Day-Lewis and Forest Whitaker.

"Since 2000, around 75 per cent of Oscar winners have been Method actors," says Timoney. "So given that, Kate Winslet (who's been nominated five times before) is unlikely to win this year.

"She puts in a good, solid performance but someone such as Meryl Streep is really in a different class – the training and system they go through in America tends to set them apart." He also predicts a win for Mickey Rourke, "although he's got tough competition against Sean Penn: both are Method actors".

Despite such a good record, surprisingly few actors have adopted the technique.

According to Timoney: "Only about one or two per cent of the acting industry actually use Method acting but if you look at who's in that group, it's usually all the top creative actors in Hollywood." He believes the approach is key to their success – and could be hindering the careers of British actors.

"It creates really in-depth, believable performances, which is exceptional acting. But in Britain they don't embrace it as much, which leaves them on the back foot because the Americans are leading the way with Oscar wins and performances."

The Method, in which actors draw on their own experiences in portraying their characters, is derived from a system created by Konstantin Stanislavski and was popularised by Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio in New York during the 1950s.

The Studio's list of alumni reads like the Hollywood Walk of Fame, including stars such as Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson, Marilyn Monroe and Marlon Brando.

Yet the Method has not been adopted by many British film actors, who tend to come through theatre. Says Timoney: "In Britain, the training tends to be more technical, more about text analysis, voice and movement – not to say they don't do some of the emotional side but it tends to be less of that. The British style leads to a performance that's slightly more technical and acted than the Method approach, which is coming from deep within that individual."

He puts that down to cultural differences. "The reason we don't embrace it as much over here is that it's fairly emotional. It's beginning to change because we're getting more accepting of people delving into their own psyche – for years in Britain we've held emotional stuff at arm's length because we found it uncomfortable. So the other style of acting really suits the British temperament. But I don't believe it produces the same level of performance."

Of course, that's highly subjective. According to casting director Dan Hubbard, who's worked on films such as The Bourne Ultimatum, United 93 and The Lord Of The Rings, Britons have never been more in demand.

"American studios hold British actors in high esteem; they go out of their way to hunt down and recruit the new hot British stars," he says. "It's more than likely that these days, British actors will get a big break in America as opposed to over here, where we need A-list talent to sell our films."

He points to names such as Toby Kebbell, who went from small indie film Dead Man's Shoes to be cast opposite Jake Gyllenhaal in Prince Of Persia, or Gerard Butler, a struggling actor until he moved to LA, who now commands up to £10million a picture. Hubbard denies there's a fundamental difference between the British and US approaches.

'Who creates the rulebook for Method acting? Most decent actors are, to a certain extent, Method actors because they really care about getting it spot on. People such as Ben Whishaw, Paddy Considine, Anne-Marie Duff – they're all incredibly dedicated."

Instead, if there is a divergence, it's one of attitude. "We have a different outlook on the industry," says Hubbard. "British actors probably carry themselves in a different way. There's more of a self-effacing, down-to-earth kind of approach."

Yet Timoney won't be deterred. "Taking the American approach would definitely help British Oscar contenders," he says. "It shouldn't just be a focus on voice and movement and text analysis, and neither should it all be about emotional content – it should be a marriage of those two things. If we embraced that more in this country, we'd start to see a powerful, different level of acting."

Five key traits of Method actors, according to Brian Timoney

# They're dedicated to character. They go into intricate detail and often create unique physicality by mimicking an animal. Robert De Niro played a crab in Taxi Driver – he thought the character was indirect and tended to shift from side to side. As Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire, Marlon Brando played an ape, while Dustin Hoffman played a weasel in Midnight Cowboy.

# They don't fake emotion. Method actors tend to recreate their own feelings by thinking about something from their own life to produce the correct emotional response. They need to know their own psyche, their own conditioning.

# If you're going to play somebody else, the theory goes, you have to understand yourself first.

# They use their own lives to make it personal to them. Christopher Walken says when he did the Russian roulette scene in The Deer Hunter, he was remembering being sent to summer camp by his parents, which he hated. He felt betrayed, ostracised, alone – which he felt the character was experiencing at that point in the film.

# They're highly disciplined. They need a high level of concentration to think about their own experiences and generate the right emotion before the shoot. There's a fallacy that Method actors are out of control but it's actually the exact opposite: they're trained for many years to manipulate their emotions precisely.

# People can go off the deep end but they're either dabbling in it or haven't been taught properly.

# They sacrifice their own ego for the character's. They're not blasé or arrogant; they tend to be humble. De Niro is so shy, it's hard to believe he plays these characters.

# People who have big egos aren't able to suppress their own ego enough to play the character.

# Great actors are not worried about how they're being perceived; it's more about playing the character truthfully.

Last edited by Nay on Wed Feb 18, 2009 4:45 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: Is Method Acting Out Of Date?   Wed Feb 18, 2009 4:43 pm

This is a fascinating article. Let's see if it spins off into several worthy discussions.

  1. Differences between US and UK approaches?
  2. Ego Vs no ego?
  3. Celebrity Vs down-to-earth Actor?

Come on!
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PostSubject: Re: Is Method Acting Out Of Date?   Wed Feb 18, 2009 5:25 pm

Should I even start?

There's definitely a difference between American actors and actors from other countries, and I do prefer actors from out of the area.

I honestly think that you have to have some kind of ego to be an actor, though. Some...

Celebrity is what hollywood makes you. There are Celebrity machines out there.
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PostSubject: Re: Is Method Acting Out Of Date?   Thu Feb 19, 2009 3:00 am

Thanks Alice for jumping in.

I cannot say I have a preference for American actors over non-American actors. I don't even show a preference towards Australian. But I do believe the more credible actor is one who is well-honed and experienced in their speciality, like all employees and I think that experience shines through.

For some actors, that experience comes through a foundation in stage acting and study. For some, it may come naturally. For others, it simply doesn't matter. If you turn the camera and lights on them, they'll give you something resembling a human being.

Ego is imbued in any profession. You want to believe that you do your job/role well and uniquely. Ego is in this situation healthy. But the moment it becomes an all-consuming reason for being, it turns a normal person into Medusa. I've worked with many ego-driven people and it leaves such a sour taste in one's mouth. My top lip does a fair amount of curling!

In the past 20-30 years, I believe the lines between celebrity and stardom have blurred to the point of extinction. Due to the nature of mass communication, the media and interpretation of the truth, people feel they can more easily identify with "stars/celebrities". They feel they "know" who they are, what they think, where they live and in some circumstances, they can even gain access to them through meetings, competitions, signings, premieres etc. In the 40s and 50s, fans were provided with information from a governing studio so in actuality the truth was twisted then too. Consider Rock Hudson. You believed what you were told - Rock was a stud and a star.

But today, people are more canny and can see past the constructions of a PR team. However, the hunger for information isn't easily assuaged and the public is used to access 24/7, at their fingertips. I can't see this need dying away soon.
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