Method acting, a style of acting made popular by notable actors like Marlon Brando and Daniel Day-Lewis has received what can only be called a bum rep. The most prominent reason for method acting’s at times questionable reputation really has more to do with what actors have done with their abilities and not what the actual attributes of the this style of acting promote. However, method acting has been the style of many successful actors who, because of what it demands, have stayed in character off-stage to maintain the integrity of their performance, and often to great and unusual lengths. Acting itself is a gamble, just like a game of slots or blackjack, in that you don’t know if you’re going to be seen by an agent or get a break and eventually garner success. Many of the big names and I mean the legends have used method acting to expose their on-screen characters, and it’s with this idea in mind that I’d like to discuss those actors who simply took the art just a little too far. So join me now as we discuss a little piece I like to call When Good Actors Go Too Far.
Why save one of the bests for last? I like Daniel Day-Lewis. I think the man is an exceptional actor. In every movie I’ve watched him in, I’ve enjoyed his performance and that’s one of the signs of a really good actor. Even if the film itself is rubbish, the performance handed in by the actor is what you remember; and that’s always the case with Daniel Day-Lewis. But I’ll be honest, this man is hard-core. He’s the Bear Grylls of acting and movie-making. Don’t believe me? When he made 1996’s The Crucible, a film that took place during the Salem witchcraft trials, he decided to live on the film’s lot. This lot was a replica of a colonial village which meant no electricity and no water. He got by on the tools used by the settlers of those days and went as far as building himself a 17th century dwelling.
When he won an Oscar for 2012’s Lincoln in which he played the great American president, he didn’t drop character for months. His colleague, Sally Field said she never actually met the man. I heard that he lived out in the wild and refused to sleep without his rifle when he starred in Michael Mann’s 1992 adaptation of The Last of the Mohicans.
Another good actor who in my opinion pushed the envelope just too much. The movie? 2016’s Suicide Squad in which he won the coveted role of The Joker. What transpired on the set of this incredibly average film was nothing short of bizarre. Apparently Leto stayed in character so much so that his co-star Will Smith claims to have never met the actual man behind the green, white and red. Part of this actor’s methodology included sending condoms to his co-stars, a rat in a box with a love letter to co-start Margot Robbie, a dead pig to the rest of the cast and he scared the crap out of the director. According to David Ayer, Leto would come on set and things would just change. The vibe would alter and one could see the pain of the actor’s performance. I for one think that Leto’s work was undercut by his minimal inclusion in the end-product and this undermined the man’s work. But I’m also prone to believe that there are other ways to do the job. Whatever happened to being professional?
Now this guy is something! Labeouf’s antics around Hollywood are well-documented and so is his battle with the bottle. I wonder to what extent his acting has played into his life? Anyway, in 2014 he starred alongside Brad Pitt in World War II drama called Fury. To effectively play the part of Boyd “Bible” Swan, Labeouf signed up with the National Guard, accepted Christ in his heart and got baptised, had the fact tattooed and spent one month living at an operating base. In addition to what could be called a radical approach, he pulled one of his teeth, did a bit of work on his face with a knife, spent days watching horses croak and didn’t wash for four months. Where do you draw the line?
It’s a well-publicised fact that Christian Bale is dedicated to the craft and that if his concentration is broken by some yodel, he won’t take kindly to it. His well-known rant on the set of 2009’s Terminator Salvation did the rounds so much that someone made a music track out of it. But Bale is incredible and while his methods have at times been extreme, his end-product has always been exceptional. The Fighter, The Machinist and American Hustle are prime examples of the actor physically, emotionally and mentally transforming himself to deliver something that only resembles the man in name. For 2004’s The Machinist Bale dropped over 28 kilograms to portray a man suffering from insomnia. His diet consisted of water, an apple and the occasional whiskey a day. But what about long-term sustainability Mr Bale?
When Director Oliver Stone opted to make a bio on The Doors with the main focus on its lead singer, Jim Morrison, Val Kilmer knew that he was the man for the job. Kilmer transformed himself into the Lizard King by spending his own money to produce an 8 minute video in which he looked like and sang just like Morrison at various segments of his life. He learnt to sing 50 songs of the band of which 15 made it into the movie – songs that were sung by the actor himself. He lost weight for the role and became so engrossed in his subject matter that in the end original band members found it hard to discern if they were listening to Val or Jim.
Robert De Niro
Bobby De Niro! What a powerhouse of an actor. Mean Streets, Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, The Godfather Part II, Cape Fear, Heat; the list is a lot longer and almost always impressive. I’ll say this much though and that’s that I’m under no illusions. I understand that as one gets older the quality of the work can and will diminish, and Robert De Niro is no exception. Little Fockers, Dirty Grandpa, The Grudge Match and Last Vegas are serious low points in the man’s career. However, the greater body of work speaks for itself and the lengths to which he has gone are intense. When he played Travis the cab driver in 1976’s Taxi Driver, he applied for an actual taxi-driver license and worked 12 hour shifts carting passengers around New York, and when he played the murdering sociopath Max Cady in 1991’s Cape Fear, he bulked up and had his teeth grinded by a dentist. In Raging Bull, to portray Jake LaMotta at two stages of his life, De Niro got into boxing shape and got ripped and thereafter put on 27 kilograms to portray the boxer in his later years. Apparently he went to Italy on holiday and ate everything in sight.
Another good actor who simply pushed things to the limits would be the legendary Dustin Hoffman. Hoffman would often place himself or co –stars under physical duress to coax the best possible and I suppose, the most authentic and believable performance possible. When he starred alongside Laurence Olivier in The Marathon Man, one of the scenes required that he appear exhausted, really exhausted, as in no sleep for three days exhausted. So, to bring about the most realistic portrayal he could muster, Hoffman didn’t sleep for 3 days. When Olivier got wind of Hoffman’s dedication he asked a very simple question: “Why don’t you just try acting?” Apparently Hoffman was enduring a tough divorce, was actually partying hard at the time and Olivier was actually advising him on is lifestyle. Then there was the time he was making Kramer v Kramer with Meryl Streep which, if the stories are to be believed, he smacked her to force a more real depiction from her and often mentioned her then recently deceased lover to bring about some real tears.
The world of the movies is littered with bizarre rituals and/or things that actors did to achieve their desired outcomes. Meryl Streep kept Maggie Thatcher’s accent throughout the making of The Iron Lady and provided very believable reasoning. Leonardo DiCaprio slept inside the skin of an animal carcass when he played Hugh Glass in The Revenant and Halle Berry went to a crack den and didn’t wash for 2 weeks to effectively play a drug addict. Sylvester Stallone while making Rocky IV had himself punched into the next century when he insisted that Dolph Lundgren hit him for real. Dolph, a skilled student in karate hit the puny Italian Stallion so hard that his heart reverberated inside his chest sending him straight to the emergency ward. I know what style of karate Dolph practices and it’s one of the most revered. It’s called Kyokushin and it’s a knockdown style. Dolph knew about it and Stallone found out about it.