“Method acting is about reality of truth brought into performance.”
As an actor you have the power to make an impact. A common thread in films featuring notable method acting performances is that you believe in the characters and their situation.
“A close-up demands absolute truth. It’s a severe and awesome truth.”
In these, what I believe to be the best five method acting performances ever, tried and tested method acting techniques are perfectly exemplified by some of the greatest actors of all time.
Marlon Brando, On The Waterfront (1954)
Marlon Brando’s nuanced performance in On The Waterfront, the “definitive method film,” set the bar for all method acting since. Written by Budd Schulberg and directed by famed director of the method, Elia Kazan, it was one of the seminal pieces in the birth of the modern method and a revolution in American acting.
I would like to pick out one scene in particular, in which master of the method Brando employed one of the most powerful method acting techniques available, improvisation. Brando and his co-star, Eve Marie Saint, are walking in a park, and she accidentally drops the gloves she is holding. Instead of stopping and re-setting the scene, Brando picks up the glove, plays with it and then puts it on, all the while continuing with the scene. The result is an incredibly believable, authentic performance, with an enhanced sense of intimacy between the characters.
Elia Kazan had the presence of mind to capture this special improvised moment, what is now one of the most famous scenes in cinematic history.
James Dean, Rebel Without A Cause (1955)
An article about great method acting performances simply can’t ignore the great James Dean. In many ways, Dean was the embodiment of the method at this point in history. He showed great inventiveness and creativity in the improvised scenes of Rebel Without a Cause.
Dustin Hoffman, Kramer vs Kramer (1979)
The most memorable moment from Robert Benton’s Kramer vs Kramer is when Dustin Hoffman’s character swipes a wine glass during a meal with Meryl Streep’s character, smashing it against the wall. The moment was completely improvised and unplanned – no one but Hoffman and the cameraman knew it was going to happen. Dustin Hoffman clearly established his method acting credentials in this film.
Al Pacino, Scarface (1983)
“[Pacino] takes in everything that is happening to him in that moment and then allows this to be transformed into natural, free flowing action in his instrument.”
Examine the level of physical and relaxation in Al Pacino’s performance as Tony Montana in Scarface. His instrument is completely free, which allows for a natural and expressive performance.
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln (2012)
Daniel Day-Lewis is one of the best known method actors working today. He is also the only person to have won the Best Actor Academy Award three times. His unique approach to role preparation and ability to bring together the internal and external lives of the character in authentic and captivating performances is well recognised.
In his latest role, for which he won his third Oscar, Day-Lewis portrayed the title character in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. He created a voice and physicality for a character that we only know from photographs, first-hand accounts and history books with a spine tingling authenticity.
One of the best ways to learn your craft as a method actor is to watch the greats at work. So get watching!
To find out more information you can read Brian Timoney’s new book