Madness in the method?

William Leng takes a look at the most extreme examples of method acting and whether it can be detrimental to actors health

29th February 2016

Recently, you might have heard that Jared Leto, the man taking on the impossible task of inheriting the role of the Joker, sent his Suicide Squad cast-mates a dead pig. He had it hand delivered by his henchman. Prior to this he had sent co-star Margot Robbie a live rat. Will Smith went on to state publicly that he has never met Leto, explaining that the Oscar-winner was in character as the ‘Clown Prince of Crime’ throughout the entirety of filming. Out of context, this might seem like an absurdly pretentious thing to say. To suggest that your film is boasting an actor of such magnitude that he literally became his character is some claim. 

The current climate, though, is growing more and more accustomed to these kinds of things. It is all part of the marketing revolution that cinema is experiencing. The ‘method actor’ is just one of several channels through which films are striving for a social resonance which predates the release of the film and keeps people talking long after. Star Wars: The Force Awakens saw virtual reality trailers which allowed a level of interactivity, Deadpool had Ryan Reynolds prancing around in costume to emphasise the character’s fourth-wall-breaking tendencies and The Revenant didn’t hit cinemas before the entire world had caught a whiff of DiCaprio’s bear rape rumour.

"The ‘method actor’ is just one of several channels through which films are striving for a social resonance which predates the release of the film and keeps people talking long after"

‘Method acting’ is more than just a gimmick or a rumour though, it is a legitimate form of practice for actors which sees them confront their own personal demons to familiarise themselves with the emotions of their characters. The practice was born primarily from the work of acting coach Lee Strasberg, who trained the likes of Paul Newman and Al Pacino. Plenty of modern thespians have since been known to adopt the method approach, from Marisa Tomei to Christian Bale to Daniel Day Lewis. A common misconception is that an actor is method just because he or she makes a drastic change to their aesthetic to get into character, or because they stay in character on set. It is more the case that method actors spend almost all of their time battling with themselves to maintain an emotionally precarious position that has potential to be dangerous.

The most famous case of method acting is undoubtedly Heath Ledger’s role as the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. As you will likely know, Ledger died from an overdose on prescription drugs prior to the films release. While Ledger had cited the role as making it difficult for him to sleep, his peers firmly denied playing the Joker had a hand directly in his passing. According to various sources, Ledger spent a month alone in a hotel room preparing for the role, totally immersing himself in the character. He went on to win only the second posthumous acting Oscar ever. It is a legacy that Jared Leto now will have to contend with, one that I sincerely hope he is not trying to surpass by delivering dead animals to co-stars.

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