Celebrated actor Daniel Day-Lewis announced his retirement from acting, much to the chagrin of his many fans. The reclusive actor is known for his many feats of method acting, but he isn’t the first actor, nor the last, to tackle this technique. Before diving in, let’s do a little refresher about what exactly method acting is.
Method acting is simply the technique used by actors to immerse themselves into their characters. Day-Lewis has famously perfected this technique for nearly all of his roles, and has occasionally gone a little too far. He isn’t the only one, though. This article points the spotlight at the many actors who, in various stages of their careers, decided to give the technique a try.
Most of these actors have been rewarded greatly for their enthusiasm and struggles– a commonality among most is extreme weight loss, and others have been scrutinized, or worse, and ended up with not as much screen time.
Let’s take a look at these 15 Actors Who Took Method Acting WAY Too Far.
15. Jared Leto — Suicide Squad
Jared Leto’s shenanigans on the set of Suicide Squad are well known to many fans, but, nevertheless, they still deserve attention. As it turns out Leto, who was playing the latest iteration of the Joker, didn’t actually send used condoms to the cast of the DC Extended Universe film.
Director David Ayer said of the incident, “let’s be real here. They’re (the condoms) removed from their packages, but it wasn’t actually used.” Leto also sent the cast a dead hog and he gave a special gift to Margot Robbie: a live rat in a box.
For all of his antics on set, Leto’s Joker only received about 10 minutes of screen time in Suicide Squad and the rest ended up on the cutting room floor. However, many fans hope that they’ll see more of him in upcoming movies.
14. Shia LaBeouf — Nymphomaniac
Did former-Disney kid Shia LaBeouf know what or how to method act when he was a child actor? Probably not. Who knows when his interest in performance art and baring it all for the camera (pun intended) happened, but both certainly helped him in his role for Nymphomaniac.
The Lars von Tier production required porn doubles and prosthetic genitals, but LaBeouf insisted on doing it for real. “I know I’m the only actor who doesn’t have a stunt double, and I know it’s something that I needed,” explained LaBeouf. His co-star, Stacy Martin, told Vice that prosthetics were used for all of her scenes.
Whether or not he performed the scene with his co-star, Stacy Martin, or with one of the porn doubles remains to be seen. Or not seen, because who really wants to see Louis Stevens in such compromising situations?
13. Jamie Foxx — Ray
“Imagine having your eyes glued shut for 14 hours a day,” said Jamie Foxx about his role as celebrated musician Ray Charles in the film Ray. Foxx was 36 years old when he took on one of his biggest roles to date.
Prior to Ray, his career mostly consisted of lesser-known movies such as Booty Call and his successful TV show The Jamie Foxx Show, but in the biographical film he proved his acting worth. Along with gluing his eyes shut, Foxx lost close to 30 pounds to portray Ray, who had a brief bout with heroin addiction. Foxx also asked a cosmetic dentist to chip his front teeth, as he thought his teeth looked unconvincing for the role.
Like most of the other actors on this list, Foxx was nominated for and won an Oscar for Best Actor for his talented performance. That same year he was also nominated for Best Supporting Actor for playing a dorky cab driver in Collateral, although the role required much less method acting.
12. Marlon Brando — The Men
Marlon Brando got his start in theater– the birthplace of method acting. Brando had been in six Broadway plays before he landed the role of Kenneth in the 1950 film The Men.
The movie took place in a military hospital, where Brando’s portrayed a paraplegic former soldier who comes to terms with his predicament. In his role for A Streetcar Named Desire, Brando first showcased his method acting, which enabled him to act more naturally than his co-star Vivien Leigh.
In The Men Brando did much of his preparation before filming even started. He spent a month in a hospital bed at Birmingham Army hospital, where he studied the patients of the hospital. He learned to rely on upper-body strength the same way many of them did.
11. Choi Min-sik — Oldboy
Choi Min-sik’s method acting is extremely impressive. In Oldboy, Choi portrays Oh Dae-Su, a man who was imprisoned in a hotel for 15 years and then, upon his release, seeks out his tormentors.
Before his eventual release Dae-Su uses a hot wire to burn the years of confinement onto his flesh. Choi didn’t think special effects would suffice, so he decided to actually burn himself. Once Dae-Su is released he hungrily eats a live octopus. Although he is a vegetarian, Choi decided that the role needed to look as realistic as possible, and consumed several live octopuses for the scene.
The 2003 film, as well as Choi’s performance, had become a cult-classic by the time a Spike Lee made a U.S. version of Oldboy. The 2013 remake of the same name has been regarded as a watered-down photocopy, and its star, Josh Brolin, didn’t even offer to burn his own skin.
10. Hilary Swank — Boys Don’t Cry
Method acting involves actors getting into the headspace of their character. However, Hollywood has had a longstanding tumultuous relationship with transgender characters. Either played for laughs or for scares, a well-rounded transgender character was hard to come by until the 1999 film Boys Don’t Cry.
When Hilary Swank landed the role to portray the real-life transgender woman Brandon Teena, she had only a few television and theatrical credits. Boys Don’t Cry was about Teena’s life, which was tragically cut short as the result of a hate crime.
Once the movie came around, Swank threw herself into the role, and lived as a man for a month before shooting. Swank bound her breasts, lost weight, and assumed masculine characteristics.
“If you don’t fit into a black-or-white definition of boy or girl you slip between the cracks and it’s a lonely place,” said Swank about her preparation for the role. The harrowing story and Swank’s portrayal led her to win an Academy Award at just 25 years old.
9. Jim Carrey — Man on the Moon
Jim Carrey’s role as eccentric entertainer Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon was only his second dramatic role in his– at that point– nearly 20 year career. Carrey had made his mark in Hollywood by portraying comedic characters, so, unsurprisingly, he put everything into the role of Kaufman in the biopic.
Carrey famously stayed in character throughout filming, and was insistent on experience everything Kaufman did. Former wrestler Jerry Lawler was asked to play himself for scenes that recreated his feud with Kaufman. For insurance reasons Lawler couldn’t, and wouldn’t, recreate the wrestling move that put the real Kaufman in the hospital for several days, but Carrey was persistent.
8. Aaron Eckhart — Rabbit Hole
Using grief to benefit your role is a tried and true practice for a lot of actors, but faking grief is an entirely other story.
During an appearance on The Howard Stern Show, Aaron Eckhart admitted to attending a grief support group to prepare for his role in Rabbit Hole. Eckhart, who doesn’t have children, admitted that his presence there was rude, and he even went so far as to tell a fake story about the loss of his own child in front of couples who had actually went through such a traumatic experience.
“You really believe that you just lost a child. You are as close to reality in that sense as possible,” said Eckhart. If this wasn’t bad enough, he even confessed to breaking down in front of the actually grieving parents.
7. Jamie Dornan — The Fall
It wasn’t Jamie Dornan’s role as Sheriff Graham Humbert on Once Upon A Time that provided him with a wealth of knowledge about playing a psychopath serial killer. However, it is interesting that he chose to follow this up with the role of prime suspect Paul Spector on the BBC Two thriller The Fall.
Before going toe-to-toe with Gillian Anderson’s Detective Stella Gibson, Dornan admitted to actually following a woman. About the unorthodox move Dornan said that “it felt kind of exciting, in a really sort of dirty way.”
Dornan admitted that he wasn’t proud of himself for stalking the stranger, but it probably also helped his role as the kinky and obsessive billionaire Christian Grey of 50 Shades of Grey. Only one of those characters earned him a BAFTA nomination, and it obviously wasn’t the one that had a red room of pain.
6. Chloe Sevigny — Brown Bunny
Years after Chloe Sevigny’s controversial performance in The Brown Bunny, she still gets asked about its infamous scene. “It happened,” she said at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, and she doesn’t regret it. Her real-life oral sex scene in the 2003 film has been scrutinized ever since because of its shocking nature.
A popular rumor after the release of the film was that she was dropped from her U.S. agency because of her role as Daisy, the ex-lover of the film’s protagonist. The rumor proved to be false, however, and it turns out that it was just differences with the agency and coincidental timing that lead to her departure after the movie’s release.
While Sevigny has received the majority of the criticism from the media for one of the most shocking performances ever filmed, her co-star Vincent Gallo has remained mostly unscathed by the controversy.
5. Adrien Brody — The Pianist
Some of the main requirements for an Oscar nomination and win are as follows: weight-loss, seclusion, and portraying a real person. Luckily for Adrien Brody, he fulfilled all three of these requirements for his role as Wladyslaw Szpilman in The Pianist.
“I gave up my New York apartment, sold my car, and turned off my cell phone,” said Brody. Giving up a cell phone in 2001 was probably not as big of a deal as it would be today, though.
However, to better resemble Szpilman during his time in hiding from the Nazis, Brody shed 30 pounds from his 6 foot 1 inch frame. He also took piano lessons to better imitate the Polish radio pianist. Brody went on to become the youngest actor to ever win a Best Actor Oscar at age 29.
4. Dustin Hoffman — Kramer vs. Kramer
Actors usually tap in to their own memories– using their weakest and most vulnerable moments– to propel their acting in an emotional scene even further. Dustin Hoffman, who was already a seasoned actor when filming Kramer vs. Kramer, decided to use this method acting technique known as emotional recall not on himself, but on his younger co-star, Meryl Streep.
Tensions were already fraught between them after Hoffman decided to slap Streep across the face to goad her in to anger and tears before an early scene in the film. Right before a pivotal point in the movie, Hoffman, who was aware of the recent passing of Streep’s then boyfriend, decided to utilize the emotional recall technique on her. He thus made remarks about her boyfriend’s death in order to evoke the performance that he though she should be delivering.
3. Robert De Niro — Cape Fear
By the time of Cape Fear in late 1990, Robert De Niro had already established himself as quite the method actor. He had obtained a NYC cab driver’s license and worked long shifts as a cab driver to prepare for his role in Taxi Driver.
For Cape Fear, though, he actually modified his appearance to bring his character of Max Cady to life. Max was a sociopath who sought revenge on his lawyer and family for his rape and battery conviction.
De Niro gained muscle, adorned his body with fake tattoos, and, instead of using prosthetic teeth, paid a dentist to grind his teeth down. The procedure cost him a pretty penny too; he paid $5,000 before filming and $20,000 for the restoration of his teeth after the film.
Physical transformations often lead to Oscar gold, but unfortunately De Niro’s make-over was no match for Anthony Hopkin’s performance in The Silence of the Lambs.
2. Christian Bale — The Machinist
Of course, a list like this isn’t fully complete without the inclusion of Christian Bale’s massive weight loss for The Machinist. The role of Trevor was originally intended for a much shorter man with a 5 foot 6 inch frame, so that a weight of 120 pounds wouldn’t look too extreme.
Turns out the writer, Scott Kosar, used his own measurements for the character. Bale, who seems too always be up for a weight loss or gain challenge, decided to lose the weight anyway. According to his co-star, Michael Ironside, Bale said “no, don’t change the weights. I want to see if I make them.”
1. Daniel Day-Lewis — My Left Foot
Calling Daniel Day-Lewis a 21st century Marlon Brando is probably too lofty, but his roles, as well as his groundwork for these roles, are almost legendary. Prior to filming the 1989 movie My Left Foot, Day-Lewis spent 8 weeks in a clinic in Dublin specifically for patients with cerebral palsy.
During his time there, he learned to speak and write like Christy Brown– the writer and painter whose life was the basis for the biographical film. Day-Lewis went on to win his first of three Oscars for the film.
Since then he has prepared for roles in big and small ways. He lived in the woods before filming The Last of the Mohicans and he did extensive research on the 16th U.S. president for Lincoln. “Films don’t begin only when the camera starts rolling,” Day-Lewis has said.
Do you know any other actors who have taken method acting way too far? Let us know in the comments section!
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