Joaquin Phoenix’s preparation to play the Joker is enough to make you wince. Between the physical mannerisms and hours of studying people with Pathological Laughter or Crying disorder, he also dropped nearly 24kg to play the character. Method acting at its crazy finest on the forefront right there, folks.
But at what point does method acting go from useful preparation for a movie to nothing more than stupidity and an unashamed attempt at winning an Oscar sprinkled with a dash of ego stroking?
There are countless infamous stories of actors going to extreme lengths in order to “get into character” for a film. Some make sense, like losing or gaining weight (within reason), Michelle Williams wearing a belt around her knees in order to get Marilyn Monroe’s trademark walk right, learning a couple of accents or training getting all trained up with guns in order to play an assassin, like Keanu Reeves for John Wick.
But then there are those preparation stories that make you wonder whether it was worth the effort just to get a “performance.” Folks like Joaquin Phoenix, Christian Bale, Kate Winslet and Daniel Day-Lewis all put themselves through mental and physical hell for every single movie part they do.
Sure they put on a great show but do things like inhabiting the mentality of a Nazi or learning how to build a house from scratch using only period accurate tools actually add anything to the final performance that pretending doesn’t offer? Isn’t pretending the whole point of acting?
Perhaps the worst case of method acting really going off the rails was what Aaron Eckhart did to prepare for Rabbit Hole. In order to really capture the grief of a father who lost his young son to an accident, he crashed support groups and masqueraded around as a depressed parent.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, Eckhart said he ultimately had a fake emotional breakdown and ended up telling a made up story about losing a child to people who actually lost their children.
Dude, that’s not method acting. That’s just rude, cruel, and all that “work” was ultimately for a movie that hardly anyone saw.
Listen actors, we understand you want to give a good performance and most people can tell when something is feeling “phony.” But no one is really going to notice the difference between you wearing a fat suit and actually putting on 20kg, all the work you’ve put into trying to be a Nazi guard, or whether you’re a grieving parent or just pretending to be one.
Dustin Hoffman once stayed up for 72 hours straight in order to get into character for a film and his co-star, the legendary Laurence Olivier, told him, “My dear boy, why don’t you just try acting?”
Perhaps actors should take Olivier’s advice to stop “acting” and start acting. Most people won’t notice the difference and no Oscar win or nomination is worth the physical and mental pain.