If you’re interested in the wonderful world of acting, you’ll want to eventually familiarize yourself with the concept of method acting. But what is method acting exactly? It is an acting technique that allows the actor to associate with the character on an emotional level. This often involves the actor fully identifying with the character, feeling, expressing, and evoking thoughts and emotions that resonate with the character’s role. Essentially, the actor “becomes” the character.
Method acting requires you to fully embrace your transformation into your character. To create an authentic experience for your audience, you need to lose the speech inflections, facial expressions, and physical mannerisms that wouldn’t make sense. For example, when an actor plays a depressed man, his cynical speech won’t be convincing if he delivers it with perfect, confident posture.
When Hollywood stars stay in character between takes, or improv comedians wear disguises to interact with unwitting strangers, these actors are employing method acting techniques. You can follow in their footsteps by honing your method muscles with these easy, effective drama games. You’ve probably heard of method acting examples, like when Jim Carrey was preparing for his role in “Man on the Moon,” or when Robert De Niro took on Travis Bickle’s character in “Taxi Driver.”
So now you’re likely wondering how to method act. There are a number of ways actors approach this form of acting, including using method acting games and exercises. To help you master these techniques, we’ve provided a few method acting tips along with a series of method acting drama games. Give these four method acting exercises a whirl when it comes to taking on your next big role.
Exercise Your Animal Instincts
Before you can transform your body to reflect a specific background or personality, you must be fully aware of every inch of it. This method acting exercise helps you do just that.
- Pick an animal (this can be random).
- Watch one closely: observe a pet up close or a zoo animal from afar, or simply watch wildlife documentaries.
- Observe its behavior patterns, and if possible, how it reacts to you and other humans. Does it have a lot of energy? Is it shy and careful, or curious and hungry for attention? See if you can guess what it’s thinking.
- Pay attention to the body parts you both share: hands, feet, eyes, etc. How does the animal use or hold them differently than you do? Do you make similar gestures in private, but not in public?
- Perform as that animal. Show your audience how it would eat, fall asleep, play, etc. Lose social inhibitions; sit in unflattering positions if it’s more accurate. See if they can guess who you are.
- After practicing on your own, portray that animal again. This time, there’s a twist: you have to stand upright and perform an actual monologue (or share a dialogue with someone else) as that animal.
By the final step, you’ll find yourself brainstorming specific ways to mimic the animal you chose. Instead of resorting to the obvious — distinct roars or squawks, crawling on all fours — drama games like this one force you to focus on the details. Stepping into a human character’s skin will feel easy after this!
Affective Memory Technique
The affective memory exercise is another effective method acting technique you can explore. This method acting exercise involves reflecting on a real memory of yours that might align with your character’s past experiences. The goal is to conjure up thoughts and emotions from your own experience that you can apply to the development of your character.
- Begin by sitting in a quiet room and closing your eyes. Think about a specific past event and reflect on your experience.
- Focus on what you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel. Explore all the details of the memory as you paint the scene in your mind. What were you wearing? How do you feel? What are you thinking? Are you happy, scared, or sad?
- To master the affective memory technique, you want to trigger emotions, not simply recreate your reactions.
- Once you can garner these emotions, you can begin processing them through the eyes of your character.
- Because this can be a powerful and sometimes painful experience, depending on the memories you are dealing with, you may want to save this exercise to do in a professional method acting environment.
The Coffee Cup Game
This tried-and-true game, an old favorite among acting coaches, will teach you how to ignore the limitations of your surroundings and adjust your behaviors to accurately represent your character’s reality.
- Sit down in front of a warm mug of coffee or hot chocolate.
- Observe as much as you can without touching it; use your sense of sight and smell to figure out how big it is, how it must taste, and how heavy it will be.
- Pick it up; were you right about the weight? Does it feel as smooth as you expected?
- Switch it between your hands and hold it in different ways, noticing how your fingers, wrists, and arms adjust.
- Sip it and hold it in your mouth, savoring its taste.
- Swallow it, and notice how your body feels and moves as it goes down.
- Put it down.
- Repeat steps 4, 5, and 6 without the cup.
After enjoying the full sensory experience of a coffee mug, you should be able to immediately recreate your own behavior without it. The same thing happens with method acting; there’s just more time between you and the emotions you’re recreating.
To accurately recreate a character’s reality, you have to pretend you’re not performing at all. This isn’t easy, especially when you’re under a bright spotlight and have to exaggerate your voice or behaviors for a big audience. Plenty of drama games coax you into character, but this one actually requires you to be yourself; it’s the first step in adjusting your public behavior to create a private moment.
- Imagine walls between you and your observers (classmates, instructor, friends who volunteer, etc.)
- Think of something you usually do in private. This can be anything at all, as long as you normally stop doing it when someone walks into a room.
- Do it! Dance with abandon, sing off-key, pick your wedgie, etc.
By stepping out of your comfort zone, you’ll be one step closer to stepping outside yourself the next time you perform.
Method actors like Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Day-Lewis have decades of experience filling different characters’ shoes and simulating senses and emotions they may not normally feel. They’re talented because they can successfully pull you into their movies, convincing you that fake knives actually cause them excruciating pain or that a green-screen background is actually a monster they didn’t see coming. Method acting drama games are still part of their arsenal today, in the form of rituals and off-set requests that keep them in character. Over time, you’ll develop your own arsenal of techniques to get into character; start now with these exercises!
Want to take your method acting skills up a notch and create a convincing performance? Sign up for in-person or online acting lessons with us to work with a private teacher one-on-one.
Photo by Alexandre Dulaunoy