Method of Madness: Why Do Actors Insist on Method Acting?
by Marco Cerritos
September 13, 2010
In 1976, a young Dustin Hoffman was shooting one of the biggest movies of his career - Marathon Man. The role called for Hoffman to play a man at the end of his physical and psychological rope since most of the film involved double crosses and shady killers out to get him. To put himself in the mindset of a man losing control Hoffman didn't sleep for days at a time and let his body become disheveled and unhealthy. Finally, after all this work Hoffman notices his co-star Sir Lawrence Olivier sitting comfortably on a stage chair without a care in the world. Surprised that he is the only one on set who has gone to such rigorous lengths, he asks Olivier how he's able to make his performance look so real. The confused Olivier stops, takes a breath and calmly responds, "Dear boy, it's called acting."
Method acting is nothing new and it's debate among thespians still continues in acting circles today. The latest example of this practice is Joaquin Phoenix and his new film I'm Still Here. According to the film's narrative, we're led to believe that Phoenix has had enough of the Hollywood scene and would rather quit his acting career to become a rapper. Many didn't take him seriously when it was first announced and many don't take him seriously now.
It's not meant to sound cynical by choosing to not believe Phoenix, it's just a lose-lose situation. On one hand let's say he's serious, he wants out of Hollywood and only to be left alone while he concentrates on his rap career. Fine, so then why are you making a movie about the entire process and doing crazy stunts on the David Letterman show (see YouTube)? These things will only enhance your movie profile, not diminish it. Gene Hackman quietly quit acting several years ago and became a novelist, but you didn't see him hold a press conference, right? By the way, I really miss Gene Hackman. Phoenix, while talented, has not earned that level of respect yet.
On top of all this there's the sanity argument. Should we be concerned that Phoenix has lost his mind and is spiraling out of control? His new movie would lead you to think so but the evidence points to the contrary. This points to the opposite end of the coin, what if this is all a hoax? This makes the most sense for several reasons but the most obvious one is this: is he really going to quit a lucrative movie career at the top of his game and start all over as a rapper? Also, his rapping sucks! In the film he's pooling all his resources to get a record deal but conveniently forgets that his lyrics suck ass.
While doing the press rounds for Walk the Line, Phoenix boasted about how he had never picked up a guitar and immediately mastered the instrument for his Oscar nominated performance. So then he's saying he can be self-taught on the guitar, yet has no clue how to put a few decent rhymes together?
Another red flag are things he's said over the years about actors and the acting profession as a whole. After speaking to Phoenix on more than one occasion I can safely say he truly doesn't care what anyone thinks about him. He'll go into an interview and chew out reporters, actors, directors, you name it. One of the biggest things he's stated is his dislike for actors who take themselves too seriously. Not method acting, per se, but just self-important actors who take themselves way too seriously. That's what I believe his grandiose stunt is all about, a commentary on actors who are a little more Dustin Hoffman and less Lawrence Olivier. This makes the most sense and would serve as a big fuck you to the Hollywood community, putting a huge grin on Phoenix's face.
Jim Carrey went ballistic and ordered everyone on the set of Man on the Moon to refer to him only as Andy or Tony while he got into Andy Kaufman's skin. Kate Winslet lost herself for months at a time while shooting The Reader and took several more months to recover. Christian Bale stopped eating and sleeping altogether to lose a ton of weight for The Machinist, something he's done again recently for his new role in The Fighter. And of course Robert Downey Jr. played an insane method actor in Tropic Thunder, which in itself was also a commentary on Hollywood. This is probably the closest to what Phoenix is trying to pull off, except he's doing it for real and it's been well over a year now.
My final word on the Phoenix debacle is this: I think it's a hoax and expect him to come clean soon. He is way too smart and talented for this to all be real. Because if it was real we would've heard about family and friends intervening and trying to get him help. Instead, his own brother-in-law Casey Affleck is directing the movie chronicling his "demise." I think Phoenix is having his fun and laughing at articles like this one that are questioning his methods in the first place. Technically the words "I quit" did come out of his mouth but they were empty promises, like when Paul Newman kept saying he was quitting acting and never did.
Also, Mr. Phoenix, weren't you recently offered the role of The Hulk in The Avengers? (The same role that Mark Ruffalo eventually got.) I know you turned it down but if I was serious about quitting acting I would have my agent completely cut off ties to all film related projects, period. Don't worry, I won't spill the beans on your joke but you better get to the punchline fast, people don't think it's cute anymore and are starting to get angry. To quote Sir Lawrence Olivier, just come out of your shell and ask, "is it safe?"
Follow me on Twitter at @bigdumbmale - more film commentary on FS.net coming soon!