Method acting

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In the dramatic arts, method acting refers to a constellation of techniques used to train and assist actors in creating characterizations, tracing their origins to Constantin Stanislavski's teachings. Stanislavski's ideas, formulated in the early 20th century, were cited as the inspiration for American teachers such as Stella Adler, Robert Lewis, Sanford Meisner and Lee Strasberg. Their teachings are called "The Method", and adherents of these techniques are commonly referred to as "method actors".

Stanislavski's system[edit]

Main article: Stanislavski's system

"The Method" traces its origins to "system", as formulated by Constantin Stanislavski. Stanislavski's philosophy was based on the idea that great acting is a reflection of "truth" conveyed both internally and externally through the actor. Stanislavski set out to convey "truth" through a more human system of acting, which would encourage an actor to build a cognitive and emotional understanding of their role. He developed his system of acting through his friendships with Russia's leading actors, his collaborations with playwright Anton Chekhov, and his own teaching, writing, and acting at the Moscow Art Theatre (founded in 1897).

The Method[edit]

Strasberg used the term “Method” to describe his philosophy of acting and his techniques of training actors, which built upon (or according to some corrupted) Stanislavski's ideas. The term "Method" is commonly used to describe the training methodologies of other acting teachers using Stanislavski's system, such as Adler and Meisner, though this use is controversial as both vehemently denied any commonalities between their approach to training and that of Strasberg’s. One major distinction between "the System" and most schools of "The Method" is that while both encourage actors to use their personal experiences to empathize with their roles, Method goes to the additional length of encouraging actors to actually experience circumstances of their role first hand[1] — ie, if they are to play a paraplegic, a method actor might sit idly for several weeks, or if they are to play someone exhausted, they might stay awake for several days.

Strasberg's students included many prominent American actors of the latter half of the 20th century, including Paul Newman, Al Pacino, George Peppard, Dustin Hoffman, Marilyn Monroe, Jane Fonda, Jack Nicholson, Mickey Rourke, and many others.[2]

The word "Method Actor", though perhaps most accurately used only to describe students of Strasberg's method, is used to refer to students of other American acting teachers who claimed inspiration from Stanislavski.


Generally, method acting encourages actors to use their own experiences to personally identify with their characters in order to develop an emotional and cognitive understanding of their roles, this often involves a reproduction of the character's emotional state by recalling emotions or sensations from the actor's own life. Among the concepts and techniques of method acting are substitution, "as if", sense memory, affective memory, animal work, and archetype work. Strasberg uses the question, "What would motivate me, the actor, to behave in the way the character does?" Strasberg asks the actor to replace the play's circumstances with his or her own, the substitution.[3]

Sanford Meisner, another Group Theatre pioneer, championed a closely related version of the method, which came to be called the Meisner technique. Meisner broke from Strasberg on sense memory and affective memory—basic techniques espoused by Strasberg through which actors access their own personal experiences to identify with and portray the emotional lives of their characters. Meisner believed this approach made actors focus on themselves and not fully tell the story. He advocated actors fully immersing themselves "in the moment" and concentrating on their partner. Meisner taught actors to achieve spontaneity by understanding the given circumstances of the scene (as did Strasberg). He designed interpersonal exercises to help actors invest emotionally in the scene, freeing them to react "honestly" as the character. Meisner described acting as " truthfully under imaginary circumstances".[4]

Robert Lewis also broke with Strasberg. In his books Method—or Madness? and the more autobiographical Slings and Arrows, Lewis disagreed with the idea that vocal training should be separated from pure emotional training.[5] Lewis felt that more emphasis should be placed on formal voice and body training, such as teaching actors how to speak verse and enunciate clearly, rather than on pure raw emotion, which he felt was the focus of method training.[5]

Stella Adler, an actress and acting teacher whose students include Marlon Brando, Warren Beatty, and Robert De Niro, also broke with Strasberg after she studied with Stanislavski himself, by which time he had modified many of his early ideas. Her version of the method is based on the idea that actors should conjure up emotion not by using their own personal memories, but by using the scene's given circumstances. Like Strasberg's, Adler's technique relies on carrying through tasks, wants, needs, and objectives. It also seeks to stimulate the actor's imagination through the use of "as ifs". Adler often taught that "drawing on personal experience alone was too limited". Therefore, she urged performers to draw on their imaginations and utilize "emotional memory" to the fullest.[6]

Method actors often replicate external conditions of a role to create a better internal characterization. This practice can become so extreme as to be potentially dangerous, and it is not unheard of actors abstaining from food, sleep, or social interaction in an effort to better their performance. Contemporary method actors sometimes seek help from psychologists.[7][8]


Constantin Stanislavski described his acting system in a trilogy of books set in a fictional acting school: An Actor Prepares, Building a Character, and Creating a Role. He also wrote an autobiography, My Life in Art. Acting teachers inspired by Stanislavski include:


The following actors have been noted as practitioners of Method acting.


Method acting has detractors, both in and out of the profession. Many prominent actors and directors cite method practitioners as difficult to work with, requiring long preparation and becoming so self-absorbed in their role as to ignore staging directions and chew the scenery.[52][53] Alfred Hitchcock disdained method acting, describing his work with Montgomery Clift in I Confess as difficult "because you know, he was a method actor". He recalled similar problems with Paul Newman in Torn Curtain. Hitchcock's film Spellbound derides method acting by comparing it negatively to psychosis. Among actors with contempt for the method are Lillian Gish, who quipped "It's ridiculous. How can you portray death if you have to experience it first?", Charles Laughton, "Method actors give you a photograph. Real actors give you an oil painting.”,[54] and Tallulah Bankhead, "If you act on emotion you do it beautifully one night and the next night, it just doesn't come."

A different criticism of method acting altogether is the charge that it distorted Stanislavski's system. This charge has been responsible for a considerable revivalist interest in Stanislavski's "pure" teachings. As the use of the Method has declined considerably from its peak in the mid-20th century, acting teachers claiming to teach Stanislavski's unadulterated system are becoming more numerous.

See also[edit]


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  3. ^ Carnicke, Sharon. Stanislavsky in Focus: An Acting Master for the Twenty-First Century. Routledge Theatre Classics, 2008, p. 221
  4. ^ Meisner, Sanford. Sanford Meisner on Acting, Vintage, 1987
  5. ^ a b Robert Lewis (2003), Slings and Arrows: Theater in My Life, Hal Leonard Corporation, ISBN 1-55783-244-7, p.193.
  6. ^ "Stella Adler". Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 2011. 27 October 2011.
  7. ^ Larina Kase (2011), Clients, Clients, and More Clients!: Create an Endless Stream of New Business with the Power of Psychology, McGraw–Hill, ISBN 0-07-177100-X, p.125.
  8. ^ S. Loraine Hull (1985), Strasberg's method as taught by Lorrie Hull: A practical guide for actors, teachers, and directors, Oxbow Books, ISBN 0-918024-38-2, p.10.
  9. ^ Skolnik, Fred; Berenbaum, Michael (2007). Encyclopaedia Judaica, Volume 1. Granite Hill Publishers. pp. 408–. ISBN 9780028659299. Retrieved 24 September 2014. 
  10. ^ Strasberg, John. Accidentally on Purpose: Reflections on Life, Acting, and the Nine Natural Laws of Creativity. Hal Leonard Corporation (1999) page 65. ISBN 9781557833587 [2]
  11. ^ Jones, Jerene (1983-11-07). "For Baby Doll Carroll Baker, Life Has Been No Nursery Rhyme". People 20 (19). 
  12. ^ Niemi, Robert James (2013-10-17). Inspired by True Events: An Illustrated Guide to More Than 500 History-Based Films: An Illustrated Guide to More Than 500 History-Based Films, Second Edition. ABC-CLIO. pp. 270–. ISBN 9781610691987. Retrieved 24 September 2014. 
  13. ^ a b c Halliwell, Martin (2007-03-10). American Culture in the 1950s. Edinburgh University Press. pp. 87–. ISBN 9780748628902. Retrieved 16 September 2015. 
  14. ^ a b c d Cross, Mary (2013). One Hundred People who Changed 20th-century America. ABC-CLIO. pp. 392–. ISBN 9781610690850. Retrieved 16 September 2015. 
  15. ^ Richardson, Niall; Locks, Adam (2014-07-25). Body Studies The Basics. Routledge. pp. 74–. ISBN 9781317692621. Retrieved 24 September 2014. 
  16. ^ Applebaum, Stephen (2003-01-24). "How playing The Pianist took its toll". BBC News. Retrieved 2015-10-03. 
  17. ^ a b c d e Staggs, Sam (2006-07-25). When Blanche Met Brando: The Scandalous Story of "A Streetcar Named Desire". St. Martin's Press. pp. 87–. ISBN 9780312321666. Retrieved 16 September 2015. 
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  20. ^ a b Kroon, Richard W. (2014-04-30). A/V A to Z: An Encyclopedic Dictionary of Media, Entertainment and Other Audiovisual Terms. McFarland. pp. 415–. ISBN 9780786457403. Retrieved 16 September 2015. 
  21. ^ Davis, Glyn (2011). Far from Heaven. Edinburgh University Press. pp. 29–. ISBN 9780748637799. Retrieved 16 September 2015. 
  22. ^ Gallagher, Danny (2013-12-13). "Method Actors". Retrieved 2014-03-04. 
  23. ^ "The Method Madness of Daniel Day-Lewis". London: 2014-02-08. Retrieved 2014-03-04. 
  24. ^ Graham, Caroline. "I Am Crow... Johnny Depp reveals the inspiration behind his teetotal Tonto character". Daily Mail. 19 May 2012. [4]
  25. ^ "The wolf is back". The Telegraph. 21 May 2006. Retrieved 10 August 2015. 
  26. ^ Eberwein, Robert (2010-05-17). Acting for America: Movie Stars of the 1980s. Rutgers University Press. pp. 184–. ISBN 9780813551135. Retrieved 16 September 2015. 
  27. ^ Tom Brook (3 January 2013). "The president's wife: Sally Field on Spielberg's Lincoln". BBC Online. Retrieved 16 September 2015. 
  28. ^ "Co-Stars Who Hated Each Other: Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams in 'The Notebook' and More". Daily Beast. 2014-07-04. Retrieved 2014-07-04. 
  29. ^ "TY ME UP, TY ME DOWN Tyrese tells us how to spot a cheat and what he likes in a woman". Elle. 2007-06-20. Retrieved 2014-07-04. 
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  31. ^ Pfeiffer, Lee (2006-11-07). The Complete Idiot's Guide to Classic Movies. DK Publishing. pp. 60–. ISBN 9781440696862. Retrieved 16 September 2015. 
  32. ^ Zarrilli, Phillip B. (2010). Theatre Histories: An Introduction. Taylor & Francis. pp. 403–. ISBN 9780415462235. Retrieved 16 September 2015. 
  33. ^ "Walton Goggins 'Justified' Q&A: "I can't believe that this is my life". Digital Spy. 2013-03-11. Retrieved 2013-03-11. 
  34. ^ "Anne Hathaway: Going Method To Create Amelia Brand". Deadline. 2014-12-21. Retrieved 2015-05-31. 
  35. ^ Monaco, Paul (2010-05-05). A History of American Movies: A Film-by-Film Look at the Art, Craft, and Business of Cinema. Scarecrow Press. pp. 136–. ISBN 9780810874398. Retrieved 12 August 2015. 
  36. ^ Kuhnke, Elizabeth E. (2015-05-13). Body Language For Dummies. Wiley. pp. 249–. ISBN 9781119076445. Retrieved 12 August 2015. 
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  38. ^ "The Sunday Tribune – Spectrum". Retrieved 2013-1.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  39. ^ Long, Paul; Wall, Tim (2014-07-10). Media Studies: Texts, Production, Context. Routledge. pp. 135–. ISBN 9781317860785. Retrieved 26 September 2014. 
  40. ^ "Brad Pitt’s Concern Over Shia LaBeouf’s "Method" Odors May Mean the Actor Is Too Extreme for Hollywood". "Vanity Fair". 7 January 2014. Retrieved 10 August 2015. 
  41. ^ "Jared Leto took method acting to the extreme with 'Dallas Buyers Club'". Toronto Sun. 2013-11-01. Retrieved 2014-07-04. 
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  43. ^ "Jack Nicholson Interview - Quotes about the Joker, Movies, and Richard Nixon". Esquire. 2003-12-31. Retrieved 2014-03-04. 
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  45. ^ a b c Zucker, Carole (2013-11-11). Figures of Light: Actors and Directors Illuminate the Art of Film Acting. Springer. pp. 135–. ISBN 9781489961181. Retrieved 16 September 2015. 
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  47. ^ Gates, Anita (January 21, 2008). "Suzanne Pleshette, 70, Newhart Actress, Dies". New York Times. Retrieved 2014-01-03. Because she was a method actress, 'Hitch didn’t know what to do with me,' Ms. Pleshette said in a 1999 Film Quarterly interview with other Hitchcock heroines. 
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  49. ^ "Shelley Winters Outspoken Oscar-winning actress who had a string of famous lovers". Herald Scotland. 2006-01-16. Retrieved 2014-03-04. 
  50. ^ "Reese's base-ic instinct". Daily Mirror. 15 April 2009. Retrieved 20 July 2015. 
  51. ^ Sheridan, Emily (15 April 2009). "Batter up: Reese Witherspoon gets to grip with her ball skills as she practises for softball film role". Daily Mail. Retrieved 20 July 2015. 
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Further reading[edit]


Major books on Method acting[edit]