In January 2009, I posted a video on YouTube called Ten Reasons I Hate Method Acting (But Not Method Actors). In the meantime, almost 44,000 people have watched it. As we speak there are over 500 comments, many of which claim that I am ignorant, arrogant, misguided, uneducated or just plain crazy. A few have the common sense to see my video as a provocation to dialogue, but most are just crazy hating. Well, I haven’t changed my mind…
ONE: The technique still promotes the idea that the core of acting is emotion. This is an idea that was promoted by proponents of Method acting and when we challenge it, they get very very angry. Furthermore, society has bought into the myth that performance is about emotion and so it has become the accepted norm. That doesn’t however make it right.
TWO: All the best Method actors are dead or stopped using it, or aren’t actually Method actors. What do I mean? Robert de Niro? Nope, he trained with Stella Adler, that’s a form of Method, but she hated Lee Strasberg, the leading teacher of Method acting. Al Pacino? Sure, but where exactly has his career gone recently? Have you seen his latest movies? He may have had something special back in the day, but if you compare the script to what he’s doing, you’ll see he exists entirely independently from it. If you like that, it’s fine, but it certainly isn’t helping him in his recent movies. Daniel Day Lewis never trained a day in the Method, Christian Bale never trained a day in the Method. Brando was trained primarily by Stella Adler. The best Method actors are dead, and anyone using them to add credibility to their school is kidding themselves.
THREE: There’s a lovely myth going around that most of the Best Actor Oscar Winners are Method actors. But the truth is that lots of them talk about using some kind of Method-like approach. But it certainly isn’t the Method taught by Lee Strasberg. Doing character research isn’t Method, it’s what’s expected. Also, actors wax on about their preparation for film roles because they think that’s what people want to hear. ‘Yeah, I learned my lines, show up and acted’ wouldn’t make for much of an interview. They talk about Oscar winner Adrien Brody as ‘method’ because he gained and loses weight. In that case Oprah Winfrey has been Method most of her career. They often called Brody a ‘hardcore method actor’. That’s because Method has become a word associated with taking extreme measures.
FOUR: The word Method means nothing any more. What does it mean? It used to mean being part of the Group Theatre. It used to mean being someone trained by Adler, Meisner or Strasberg. It used to mean being part of the Actors Studio, it used to mean being training at the Lee Strasberg Institute. It used to mean a lot of things. What does it mean now? The media use it to describe any masochistic endeavours done in the name of art.
FIVE: The Method is popular because it allows actors to wallow in emotion and think they’re acting. I’ve had girlfriends who could cry on command and that doesn’t make them good actors, or good girlfriends for that matter. Method got the emotion element of performance the wrong way around, it steals the tears from the audience in order for the actors to shed them. Let the audience cry instead, that’s why they’re there, they want the catharsis, they don’t want to watch you cry and shout and ‘be emotional’.
SIX: Method acting has become a credential and as such it is meaningless. Method was a badge you flashed to say how serious you were about your craft, you take classes in Method, you grow a moustache, you lose weight, you hang around cops, you read all the books about the subject. It’s a credential that says ‘I am serious about my job’ But it’s meaningless. I am serious about my job too, but I don’t ram my credentials in your face. The same thing is happening with the Meisner method right now too, things change.
SEVEN: It isn’t a technique that can be learned. Oh, there’s a lot of bullshit exercises that can be taught, but it can’t be put to use in the creation of a performance. I know many actors believe they are doing it, but they aren’t. And many years later it’s easy to see why most of the so-called Method actors stop using the technique. When Don Richardson asked Harold Clurman the director of the Group Theatre why the good actors stayed good and the bad actors didn’t get any better, Clurman admitted he had wondered how long it would take for someone to figure it out.
EIGHT: Method acting suits those self-indulgent, highly strung people that want to turn their neuroses into performance. I have a better word for you: THERAPY.
NINE: These days most Method teachers are snake-oil salesmen using fancy marketing techniques, promising whole-potatoes and delivering only fries. And just like the fake psychic that has convinced themselves that they are helping people, they collect their fat pay check, cashing in on the dreams of aspirational people, without ever actually helping them.
TEN: I hate Method acting because people believe its the only way. The technique that we use at the studio is called Practical Aesthetics, it’s a no-nonsense bullshit free way that helps you unleash your best acting, whilst removing the shackles of self-consciousness, the useless need to ‘create character’ and start enjoying being an actor again.
Mark Westbrook is the Senior Acting Coach at Acting Coach Scotland, a writer, director and artistic associate with Delirium Productions, Glasgow, Scotland and Little Spoon Theatre Company, Sydney, Australia.