What is a method actor

Also Sam Donaldson…wig or combover?

Someone else may be able to provide more info, but IIRC a method actor is someone who actually imitates the character as a means of preparing for the role.

For example, if Tim Robbins or Morgan Freeman spent a few days in a Maximum-Security prison to prepare for the roles in “The Shawshank Redemption.”

As for Sam Donaldson, I’m voting for: wig.

And I thought it was something from acting school. Method #39, the bungling twit. #203 the monty python woman etc etc.

To elaborate on Rasta’s point. A method actor tries to make his reality as much like the reality of the character, in order to bring another level to his performance. A method actor, playing someone who is hungry, might skip a meal or two, before playing the scene. Dustin Hoffman, playing an old man in “Little Big Man” closed himself in a closet and screamed himself hoarse, in order to get his voice ‘just so’.

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One of the great legends of the acting world involves Dustin Hoffman and Lawrence Olivier acting together in The Running Man. Hoffman is one of the supreme method actors, and Olivier is perhaps the greatest technical actor who ever lived (the dichotomoy being between those two schools).

Hoffman and Olivier were talking just before shooting a scene in which Hoffman, having been tortured for days, is confronted by his torturer, Olivier. Hoffman tells Olivier that he feels awful: to prepare for the scene, he hadn’t slept in three days; he’d smoked a carton of cigarettes, drunk a case of scotch, and stayed out in the street since 48 hours before. But it was worth it, he said: this was going to be his best scene ever.

Olivier, fresh from a good night’s sleep and a champagne breakfast, replies “my dear boy, why don’t you just… act?”

The difference is roughly that a technical actor views acting as a matter of conveying character through deliberate motions: movement, tone of voice, diction, demeanor, mannerisms, etc. It’s a very reflective, and mainly involves lots of playing to the cameras and rehearsal.

A method actor attempts to portray character “authentically”: that is, by living the role, to some extent. To prepare for a scene in which he’d been imprisoned, beaten and tortured, Hoffman beat the shit out of himself.

Technical actors train by practicing movement and speaking. Method actors train by experiencing emotion (along with classes in movement and such); they go on retreats where they recall painful experiences, and cry a lot about them. By learning to summon and experience raw emotion on demand, they hope to infuse a performance with real emotions and thus give a more powerful portrayal.

One of the hazards method actors run is that they can burn themselves out by using up their stock of trauma. One theatre prof told me that his brother had just returned from such a retreat. He said it was fabulous: it had been years since he cried like that.

The other hazard method actors run is that they lose their own personality, to some extent. Watch Dustin Hoffman in interviews, or Gary Oldman, or Ed Harris. They’re colorless. They have little spark left for themselves because they invest so much in literally becoming their characters.

Never attribute to an -ism anything more easily explained by common, human stupidity.

While I have admired many method actors, I have always felt that Alfred Hitchcock had the right approach when dealing with them:

On the set of Psycho:

In an interview:

And my favorite (Ingrid Bergman complaining that she couldn’t “get into” a part for a scene):

I dont feel like that, I dont think I can give you that kind of emotion.


To which AH replied:


Just to add a little bit to what everyone else said, ‘the method’ of method actors is usually that which was described in Stanislavski’s ‘An Actor Prepares’.

hansel–the movie in question was “Marathon Man”, not “The Running Man.” TRM starred Arnold Swartzenegger, Maria Conchita Alonza, and Richard Dawson.

There’s an interesting followup to that Hoffman/Olivier story. William Goldman tells it in his book “On Film.”

As you might guess, Hoffman was a little put outby the great Olivier’s attittude about method acting. The next day, Hoffman asked Olivier to help him improvise a scene (this is a standard Method acting technique). Olivier at first declined, but Hoffman kept bugging him until Olivier relented.

Since Olivier was not a method actor, he had difficulty improvising. Hoffman kept egging Olivier on, and the session went on for hours. Now, Olivier was in his 70’s at the time, and in very poor health. Goldman said that, as the scene went on, you could see Olivier’s ankles swelling (from fluid retention); he was obviously in pain. Olivier, however, refused to give in, and stuck with it (rather than let Hoffman win, I suppose). The whole cast and crew watched this in horror, until the director finally got Hoffman to call it a day.

Method acting in U.S. was promulgated by Lee Strasburg of the Actors Studio, a very influential acting school in NY City in the 40s and 50s. Marlon Brando was perhaps the best-known method actor. (Strasburg himself was a pretty fine actor – see GODFATHER II). Dustin Hoffman and Robert Di Niro also use the method.

As mentioned, the idea was to immerse yourself totally in the role so you became the person involved. It was parodied often and others – British especially – thought it was silly. It seems to be a bit passe these days.

“East is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does.” – Marx

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I hate being around method actors on the set. it’s so annoying to hear them screaming and cursing in there dressing room just to get a little emotion. Also let it be known, that method acting is a good way to drive yourself insane,literally.

I think the hitchcock reference (unless he said it more than once) was to tippi hedron in The Birds. She asked for her motivation and he said, “It’s just a movie, tippi”

We live in an age that reads to much to be wise, and thinks too much to be beautiful–Oscar Wilde

There are many full definitions above, but I like this snappy way to tell the difference.

If a Method actor gets angry, he may pound the table.

A technical actor pounds the table to portray anger.

If a scene calls for crying, how does a technical actor produce the tears?


Non-method actors have trouble improvising? I’m far from a method actor and have been a part of several successful local improv troupes in my day…

The ability to improvise is just the ability to think quickly on your feet.

Another funny story about method acting:

In the movie “Wild in the Streets”, there’s a scene where Shelley Winters slaps her son, Max (the main character), as a child. Originally, this role was played by Barry Williams (of Brady Bunch fame). He said that to make it authentic in her method-acting mind, she had to really slap him. And hard. Problem was, they shot that scene over and over. He was feeling rather loopy after that day.

Sadly, they noticed that Christopher Jones, who played the adult Max, had different color eyes than Williams. So they cut Williams’s scenes.

I looked in the mirror today/My eyes just didn’t seem so bright
I’ve lost a few more hairs/I think I’m going bald - Rush

I have to disagree with RealityChuck that method acting is passe. You still hear about actors like Sean Penn or Jim Carrey who insist on being addressed by their character’s name even while off the set. And I read that during the filming of Psycho Vince Vaughn decided his acting would be more authentic if he actually masturbated while peeping on Anne Heche in the shower. Of course method acting might have just been his excuse in that particular case.