Method acting is a phrase usually associated with movie stars such as Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, Al Pacino and Robert De Niro but its origins are very much theatre based. The practicalities of method acting consist of an actor empathising with a character they are trying to portray. Method acting also allows the actor to develop techniques that permits them to “live out” the emotions and experiences of the character they are imitating. It is primarily a naturalistic and realistic style of acting originating from the Russian stage director, Konstantin Stanislavski, who formulated one of the first concise actors approach to training called ‘The System’, which was then later developed by Lee Strasberg.
Lee Strasberg was an actor, director and acting teacher, who co-founded the Group Theatre in 1931 and in 1951, became the director of New York’s prestigious acting school, the Actors Studio. In 1969, Strasberg founded the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute to teach the method acting work he pioneered.
Method acting trains the actor to use their personal memories through their senses to produce real emotional responses. For example, if a character suffers a loss of a family member, actors are expected to remember the emotions of that time and try to use that on stage. This is called affective memory. This was part of Stanislavski’s system and was later developed by Strasberg as the basis of method acting.
Another technique is an actor associating an animal with the character that is closest to them. Once an animal is chosen, the actor is then expected to study its behaviour at the zoo, in elaborate detail, so that they can portray that within their scenes; although reptiles are not allowed because they are cold blooded animals!
Method acting has been described as "revolutionising American Theatre” as classical acting instruction had concentrated on the development of external acting ability, Method acting looked at showing real emotion. Method actors are often seen to immerse themselves in their characters to the extent that they continue to portray them even offstage (or off-camera) for the duration of a project. However, this is a popular misconception. While some actors have employed this approach, it is generally not taught in method acting to be this extreme.
Method acting is meant to create a better, realistic style of acting. It was created to try and resolve an age old issue of how to become inspired on cue - a technique allowing the actor to inspire themselves at will by re-living their own life experiences, so they could channel them through the character. This is meant to produce a high level of believability in an actor’s work and give certain naturalness to the character they are depicting.