If you’ve ever watched an actor disappear into their role, shedding genuine tears or adopting mannerisms that aren’t their own, then you’ve seen method acting techniques in action. Most people think of this approach as “becoming a character,” and some actors do take that literally, pretending to actually be the person they’re playing.
Method acting is taught everywhere from Hollywood to Broadway. But a few notable actors are well-known for taking it to award-winning extremes, making enormous physical and mental sacrifices in order to give realistic performances.
1. Daniel Day-Lewis – My Left Foot
Daniel Day-Lewis is well-known for his extreme and hyper-realistic performances, but the most famous example of his method acting techniques is the role that won him the first of three Academy Awards. For My Left Foot, in which he portrayed a paralyzed artist, Day-Lewis lived in a cerebral palsy ward for eight weeks. He also spent the entirety of the film in a wheelchair; crew members had to carry him to each scene and spoon-feed him. According to The Telegraph, the Oscar wasn’t his only takeaway; he also ended up with two broken ribs as a result of all the time he spent slumped over in a chair.
2. Marlon Brando – The Men
Today, the name Marlon Brando is synonymous with great acting. However, when Brando was preparing for his very first film role, he was desperate to give a realistic performance. His task: getting into character as a veteran who lost the use of his legs. Brando himself had a bad knee, but he was also rejected from military service in real life. To better understand the life of a paraplegic war hero, he stayed in a military hospital, just as the film’s screenwriter did. There, Brando spent two weeks using a wheelchair as he attended classes and therapy sessions with patients.
3. Adrien Brody – The Pianist
When Adrien Brody won an Oscar in 2003, it was a pleasant shock. Not only was he the youngest Best Actor in history at age 29, everyone expected fellow method actor Daniel Day-Lewis to win for Gangs of New York. However, if you knew what Brody did to prepare for the part, his win wouldn’t come as a surprise at all. As he later detailed to the BBC, he fully committed to his transformation into Holocaust survivor Władysław Szpilman. Brody sold his apartment and car, did away with telephones, and even stopped eating, which helped him finally understand the “desperation” of hunger. He also became an actual pianist, practicing Chopin for four hours every day.
4. Jim Carrey – Man on the Moon
Jim Carrey built a career out of uncanny imitations on the sketch show In Living Color. However, when he was cast in the biopic Man on the Moon, he shed his comic exaggerations to focus on a realistic portrayal of a man with larger-than-life quirks. Carrey took on the dramatic role of comedian Andy Kaufman, adopting his tics and erratic movements both on- and off-set. According to Entertainment Weekly, producers collected more than 200 hours’ worth of footage of Carrey living as Kaufman. He even befriended Kaufman’s real-life romantic partner, who filmed his behind-the-scenes antics.
5. Joaquin Phoenix – I’m Still Here
Like Jim Carrey, Joaquin Phoenix is known for diving into roles. When he was filming Walk the Line, he insisted on being treated like Johnny Cash himself. However, his most iconic foray into method acting wasn’t related to a real-life character. For his friend Casey Affleck’s “mockumentary” I’m Still Here, Joaquin turned himself into an intriguing character. The actor bewildered his fans, critics, and the occasional talk show host by pretending to give up acting while cameras followed his “reinvention” as a less-than-talented rapper.
No matter what type of actor or actress you want to become, working with a private acting instructor is the best way to tweak your techniques and tap into your emotions. In order to truly master method acting techniques, you must demonstrate an ability to dedicate yourself fully to the art of acting, and nothing is more intensive than private lessons. Good luck!