21 Actors Who Have Used Method Acting To Prepare For Roles

Credit: The Hollywood Reporter


Although the academy-award-nominated movie Elvis wrapped filming in March 2021, two years later, spectators are insisting that protagonist Austin Butler’s voice still sounds like Elvis Presley. Even on The Graham Norton Show, a British late-night television program, the host, Norton, mentions this pop-culture controversy on how the actor isn’t able to lose his deep tone and “southern twang.”

In conversation with Variety Magazine, Austin Butler recounts the immense, all-encompassing preparation for Elvis which summed up to be a three-year-long process in which the actor did not even visit his family. During a television appearance, the actor describes how he listened to recordings of Elvis’ voice every day, while attentively trying to memorize his laugh. Having worked with dialect, singing, movement, and karate coaches, he tried to “experience” Elvis, both in spirit and in surroundings. For instance, he wallpapered his entire apartment with pictures of Elvis during the summer of 2020, to fully immerse himself in this role. This process of complete character embodiment can be described as method acting. 

Method acting, a concept developed by Lee Strasberg and based on the work of Konstantin Stanislawski, describes the process used by actors of fully taking on the role of the character portrayed by utilizing their personal experiences on and sometimes even off set. The goal of this method is for the actor to undergo a genuine, even deeply psychological transformation, used to captivate audiences. Described as naturalism in acting, it blurs the borders between reality and performance. It commonly entails living as your given role, even when the character might stray far from your identity and value system. 

While Strasberg saw method acting as “what all actors have always done whenever they acted well,“ others have criticized the technique by saying it oversteps the scope of the acceptable, even being dangerous. Robert Pattinson, who played the protagonist in Batman (and Twilight, but we don’t talk about that) believes “actors only use method acting when they are playing an asshole.” Hence, method acting might justify behavior outside of social boundaries, often harming the actors’ environment and themselves. It can make them lose control and perpetuate lasting trauma by mixing emotions on both sides of the screen. 

Furthermore, critics have perceived a general difficulty to return to normalcy, in the behavior and lifestyle of actors. Austin Butler claims that method acting psychologically and physically impacted him to the extent of needing a dialogue coach to stop sounding like Elvis in his new series Masters of the Air. In another example, Natalie Portman told Entertainment Weekly that her preparation for Black Swan “almost destroyed“ her. And while many movies in which actors did use method acting were nominated for Oscars and Golden Globe awards, such as Elvis and Black Swan, some actors have still decided to never transform themselves in such a way again. For example, Meryl Streep, after her performance in The Devil Wears Prada, opened up about abandoning this practice as she viewed her method acting-induced transformation on set as insufferable. She’s not alone; increasingly more actors have been opposing method acting and its ramifications on actors.

But why is Method Acting still so popular, especially in the American sphere? Can method acting be viewed as the key to success? Multiple successful actors such as Joaquin Phoenix in Joker, Al Pacino, Lady Gaga, Johnny Depp, Jared Leto, and Robert de Niro have used this method and have created iconic acting performances, gaining Academy and public appreciation. The technique has left a strong legacy in the acting industry, which is carried on by universities, such as the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute, by teaching method acting classes to young and upcoming actors. Still, there is more than one way to act, and staying away from this approach doesn’t imply immediate failure. Movie plots, set layout, and individual actor temperaments are all important factors that play a role in assessing the applicability of method acting in a harmless way. In an alleged quote by Laurence Olivier, the director asked method actor Dustin Hoffman on the set of Marathon Man: “My dear boy, why don’t you just try acting? It is so much easier!

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