While most actors immerse themselves into the characters they are playing, some take it the next level and totally alter themselves physically and mentally to take on the role. This extreme preparation and immersion is known as method acting. As cinema has continued to evolve, certain Hollywood figures have adopted this approach to acting, and have often taken it to a level that many would consider too far.
Some of the greatest actors out there have forayed into method acting at some point in their career, whereas others have steered clear and referred to it as cheating. Sebastian Stan received heaps of praise for his performance as the Motley Crue drummer, Tommy Lee, in Pam & Tommy. However, he said that method acting had nothing to do with his transformation. He then criticized performers that use this technique to the point of chaos, telling the In the Envelope podcast that he finds it an “irresponsible, narcissistic, kind of self-indulgent thing.” Of course, there are many other actors who agree with Stan, but there is also a significant amount of rising talent in the industry who look up to established method actors. Here’s a list of some of the most notable method actors today.
1. Jared Leto
Jared Leto is perhaps the first actor that comes to many people’s minds when method acting is brought up. Leto splits his time between acting and leading his rock band, Thirty Seconds to Mars. So, this means he picks his projects wisely, and because of his busy schedule, often takes years out between movies. But when he agrees to star in a film, he goes all in and fully immerses himself.
When playing The Joker in Suicide Squad, Leto had some big shoes to fill, following on from Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger‘s critically acclaimed renditions. Leto shocked his co-stars when he showed up on set completely in character and separated himself from everyone. His only interaction was when he sent strange gifts to each of his castmates’ dressing rooms. When asked about his intense methods, Leto told EW: ”I’m an artist at the end of the day. If I do something risky and you don’t like it, basically, you can kiss my a**.”
Suicide Squad is only one of many immersive performances Leto has given over the course of his career. He won an Oscar for his role in Dallas Buyers Club in 2014, losing a dangerous amount of weight to play a trans-woman who has been diagnosed with AIDS. On top of this, he also gained 65 pounds to play the infamous Mark David Chapman in Chapter 27. He did so by gorging on pizza and burgers, and drinking pints of microwaved chocolate. This dramatic weight gain saw Leto temporarily bound to a wheelchair, and his cholesterol spiked to dangerous levels.
2. Christian Bale
Christian Bale first showcased his dramatic abilities at the tender age of 13 when he forefronted Steven Spielberg‘s war drama, Empire of the Sun. His performance was showered with critical praise and set him on a path to later become one of Hollywood’s greatest leading men. Bale is renowned for tackling any role he takes on with a brooding intensity. His straight forward, no-nonsense approach on-set has even caused him some serious flack over the years. Yet he is still one of the most desirable actors to work with, and this is largely down to his dedication to method acting.
Without a doubt, Bale’s most shocking transformation lays with his performance in The Machinist. Bale played Trevor Reznik, an industrial worker who starts to question his sanity after going years without sleeping. To prepare for the role, Bale shed 62 pounds of weight to deliver a malnourished, frail frame. His diet consisted of a tin of tuna and one apple a day. He also took up chain smoking to curb his appetite and lose more weight.
While The Machinist is Christian Bale‘s craziest body transformation, he has transformed his body for many other projects. To portray Batman in Christopher Nolan‘s Dark Knight trilogy, Bale bulked up his frame by lifting weights and following a high-protein diet. Soon after, he shifted a tremendous amount of weight to play drug addict Dicky Eklund in The Fighter, a role that would see him take home his first Oscar.
3. Daniel Day Lewis
Daniel Day Lewis is truly on the finest thespians of all time. With only 30 acting credits under his belt across a four-decade long career, he picks his projects extremely carefully and intricately. He is known for fully saturating himself in the roles he plays, often staying in character even when the cameras aren’t rolling.
Lewis has been known to learn new skills, languages, and accents to fully embody his characters. For example, he learned how to speak Czech fluently for his role in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and spent months living in the wilderness and learning to hunt for his role in The Last of the Mohicans. His dedication to his craft has earned him numerous awards and accolades, including three Academy Awards for Best Actor. Daniel Day Lewis retired from acting in 2018. However, his timeless movies will cement his stature as one of the finest actors of all time.
4. Jim Carrey
Jim Carrey burst into Hollywood in the early 90s with his wacky, over-the-top demeanor that captivated comedy fanatics world wide. He very quickly became a massive star and one of the most well-paid actors in the world. Despite building a reputation as Hollywood’s biggest goofball, it didn’t take long for Carrey to branch out and prove himself dramatically.
Carrey’s first dramatic role came with Peter Weir‘s The Truman Show. Although the movie offered some comedic relief, Carrey shined in a gut-wrenching performance of a man trapped in a mundane and empty cycle. After being snubbed by the Oscars, Carrey returned the next year with another dramatic recital. Man on the Moon saw Carrey take on the role of famed comedian, Andy Kaufman.
Carrey’s performance was revered by critics and saw him win his second Golden Globe award. However, Netflix’s documentary, Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond, showcased the lengths he went to, to prepare for such a role. Carrey fully adopted the persona of the unpredictable Kaufman when shooting the movie. He went as far as to stay in character even when the cameras weren’t rolling, and demanded to be addressed only as Andy. This reportedly caused great tensions on set, with some of the crew members feeling uncomfortable or frustrated with Carrey’s behavior.
5. Joaquin Phoenix
2019’s Joker saw Joaquin Phoenix win his first Academy Award. With so many acclaimed renditions of the character existing before him, Phoenix set out on a path to stand out above his predecessors. He reportedly lost 52 pounds to fully embody the character of Arthur Fleck, the man who becomes the Joker. He also worked with a choreographer to develop the character’s distinctive dance moves and reportedly studied personality disorders and other mental health issues to better understand the character’s motivations.
Phoenix has been known for his dedication to his craft and his willingness to fully engross himself in his roles, and his performance in Joker was no exception. Joker co-star, Leigh Gill, praised Phoenix’s talent while talking on the Happy Hour Podcast. But he also revealed how his on-set intensity was intense and scary.