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What is Method Acting: a Sneak Peek Into the Art Form

November 15, 2020

What is Method Acting: a Sneak Peek Into the Art Form

We’ve all seen that classic TV trope of the actor who goes ‘Method’. They are usually clad from head to toe in black silk, their ensemble finished off with a French beret, choosing to live and breathe their craft. This, of course, is a stereotype. Actors prepare in many different ways, but this trope makes fun of the Method actors in the industry. Marlon Brando, Robert Di Niro, and Dustin Hoffman are three of the most well known Method actors. Still, what does it truly mean to be a Method actor? And how does it differ from other well known and respected techniques?

What Does it Mean to Be a Method Actor?

Method Acting is a series of acting exercises used throughout rehearsals and training.  The goal of these exercises, and The Method in general, is to promote a truly genuine and emotionally intense performance. Created by a number of different theater artists and educators, these techniques are built on Stanislavsky’s teachings. They are captured in his books An Actor Prepares, Building a Character and Creating a Role

Among those who have contributed to the development of the Method Acting approach, three specific teachers are associated with making it more accessible and notable, Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler, and Sanford Meisner.  All three developed their own techniques that were inspired by Stanislavsky’s Method.  The approach was first developed when they worked together at The Group Theater in New York City.  

Let’s Take a Closer Look at Method Acting

So, let’s get into it. What is Method Acting? It is an emotion-oriented technique instead of classical acting which is primarily action-based. Konstantin Stanislavsky, invented the technique in the early 1900s.  The technique was not called Method Acting back then. However, Stanisklovsky’s ideas created a model that has been used by hundreds of thousands of actors since.

If you google ‘Method Actors’, a list several pages long will appear.  This is because Method Acting is something that most actors only choose to experience for specific roles that require absolute and complete focus. People reserve this technique for characters that are so unlike themselves that they choose to actually experience life as the character. This way, they can better understand them and portray them convincingly. 

Stanislavsky’s approach initially was to encourage the actors to draw from personal experiences and memories in order to create real emotions, and to connect with the character. This stood in stark contrast to the more traditional, theatrical and classical acting which was most possible at the time. 

Method Acting has since morphed into a more intense practice of imitating and (in extreme cases) literally living, thinking and acting as the character throughout the rehearsal and performance process.  Actors say that the process is extremely draining emotionally and sometimes physically— actors often alter their bodies to better physically fit the character.  This is why most performers reserve it for only the deepest and most challenging roles. 

How does an actor prepare for this level of performance? For some actors, the performance of their entire life?  The insanity and intensity that surrounds method acting is real and often incredibly frightening. Below are a few examples of actors who prepared so extensively, their performances help define the technique itself.

Robert De Niro

De Niro is one of most well known Method actors, using the technique for almost everything. For Taxi Driver, De Niro actually worked 12-hour taxi driving shifts and picked up passengers during breaks on set.

For Raging Bull, De Niro physically transformed himself. Production on the film shut down while De Niro intentionally gained close to 70 pounds. 

When taking on the terrifying character of Max Cady in 1991 remake, Cape Fear, De Niro allegedly spend thousands of dollars on having his teeth ground down to make him look scarier.

Marlon Brando

Marlon Brando was one of the first actors to show the world what Method Acting actually looks like. In preparation for The Men, Brando stayed in a hospital bed for a month to understand the injured veteran he’d be playing. That’s commitment! 

Dustin Hoffman 

Two-time Academy Award winner Dustin Hoffman’s devotion to The Method arguably is what made him a star. Hoffman studied at the Actor’s Studio in New York. It’s Hoffman’s performance opposite Laurence Olivier in Marathon Man that illustrates his devotion to Method Acting.  The two actors were filming a scene in which Hoffman’s character had been awake for three days straight and in preparation for the scene, Hoffman also stayed up for three days straight. Laurence Olivier then said this infamous line, “Why don’t you just try acting?”

Method Acting Has Been Both Ridiculed & Applauded

Method Acting has long been both ridiculed for its intense nature, and applauded for the level of commitment to the craft of acting that it requires.  Most expert actors will at some point have trained in Method Acting in one form or another. 

I believe it is important to understand and experience all techniques so that you, as the actor, can pick the one that most resonates with you.  There is no right technique, and no two actors are the same.  The key is to learn about all of the techniques, take as many classes as you can, and read books like there is no tomorrow in an effort to add to your lexicon.  

As we already know, acting is simply about human interaction.  Acting should be real and truthful, Method Acting just happens to take it to the most extreme level.  If you are curious and excited, I implore you to dive in— after all, Method Acting ultimately is literally diving into a character, existing as them, becoming them.  And from that, a truthful story can be told. 


Emily Meredith is a professional actress residing in New York City. She is a proud member of the Actor’s Equity Union and has performed in productions all across the country. An experienced acting, voice and dance teacher, Emily has worked with all grade and skill levels. Emily is extensively trained in voice, dance and acting, she attended Walnut Hill School for the Arts in Natick, MA -- where she majored in classical and musical theater and graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Cincinnati-College Conservatory of Music with a BFA in Musical Theater. She has trained at various other prestigious institutions including Festival Ballet (Providence, RI), T. Schreiber Studio (NY,NY), HB Studio (NY,NY), Ballet Prestige (Providence, RI), Steps (NY, NY), and Broadway Dance Center (NY,NY) among many others. As a teacher, Emily strives to create a fun and relaxed learning environment where her students can grow in confidence and ability. In addition to private lessons, Emily currently teaches Theater Arts, Dance and yoga classes virtually for many studios including, Kids HeArt Yoga (Chicago, IL), The Starz Program (NY,NY), Medicine for the Soul Yoga (NY,NY) and Jolie Musique School of the Arts (Monmouth County, NJ) among others. Emily shares her passion for the arts with her students enthusiastically and with love and patience. Please visit for more information.

Emily Meredith