Almost everyone I know thinks that Marlon Brando was a Method™ actor. Throughout his career people referred to him as a Method™ actor, regardless of how many times he contradicted them. And so this morning, I went over to Vox and read, Why the Oscars Love Method Actors. The subtitle was, “From Marlon Brando to Daniel Day-Lewis, Hollywood’s infatuation continues.” Other than the part about Brando, that’s quite true.
The thesis of the article is that the Oscars love method actors because the Academy’s members are a bunch of pretentious idiots. But how do you know that an actor is using The Method™?! By going on talk shows and telling the world. There’s no doubt that Robert De Niro one the Oscar because of all the publicity generated by his putting on 60 pounds for Raging Bull. Personally, I think John Hurt as Joseph Merrick in The Elephant Man is one of the greatest acting achievements on film. But Hurt wasn’t even a trained actor, much less one trained in The Method™. So he lost.
The Method™ Is Not Just Bad But Dangerous
I’m well on record as being very much against The Method™. Every actor has a method. The Method™ is trite. The idea is to act by not acting. Well, that’s just nonsense. And so now we hear stories of all the horrible things that Leonardo DiCaprio did to prepare for his role in The Revenant. It’s these things and not the performance on screen that got him the Oscar.
Marlon Brando Was Not a Method™ Actor
Marlon Brando was not not not a method actor. This is the man who, remember, was supposed to show up on the set of Apocalypse Now skinny, but showed up way overweight, such that the script had to be changed. That’s hardly the behavior of an actor who is “becoming the character.”
Another thing about Brando was that he was very good at accents. This is something that is almost never mentioned about him. Followers of The Method™ are generally useless with accents because they aren’t trained to the way, say, British actors are. I’ve heard people talk about how De Niro is great with accents. This is from Zimbo, Masters of Accents:
Um, no. Not that different. Also: not that hard to pick up. Rent an apartment in the Bronx for a month and you’ll probably come out with the accent, especially if you study with a vocal coach. After 17 years as a professional actor, worth millions of dollars, doing a working class Bronx accent is not even worthy of a party trick. No master of accents he.
Great Actors Don’t Need The Method™
Don’t get me wrong, Brando was a great actor. But he did not use The Method™. Of course, the video that goes with the article hedges. It says that since 1951, there have been 132 Best Actor and Actress Oscars. But it says that “59 have gone to actors with Method™ acting training.” Well, it’s actually pretty hard to be a professional actor and not get at least some Method™ acting training. Certainly Brando had some. But that doesn’t make him a Method™ actor.
The Academy Members Are Pretentious Idiots
Let’s just lay it bare. The members of the Academy are pretentious idiots. In general, they don’t give out Oscars for great acting; they give it out for great characters. They’ve given Dustin Hoffman Academy Awards for two of his least memorable performances: Kramer vs Kramer (Ha!) and Rain Man. Hollywood gives out awards for what happens behind the scenes because the truth is, they don’t know what a great performance is. The truth is that no one knows. What you can do is look at an actor’s career and say, “Yes, that was good.” If we were honest, we would admit that any given performance has more than enough room to make the case that it was good or bad.
The article and video want to have it both ways. They want to say that The Method™ is just a marketing gimmick and that it makes for better performances. It’s not. I don’t like Leonardo DiCaprio, regardless. But I don’t see him being substantially better now than he was in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. Yes, he is better, just as anyone gets better in the performance of their jobs as time goes on. The Method™ hasn’t done anything for his acting, but it’s done loads for his reputation.
We’d Be Better Off Without The Method™
You can be a great actor who uses The Method™ (although I’ve never thought much of Lee Strasberg’s acting). But it isn’t necessary at all. And I think it hurts actors because it draws them away from learning basic acting skills — like accents.
Afterword: Tom Cruise
The video also takes a potshot at Tom Cruise. It said he was always Tom Cruise up there on the screen. Well, maybe in the 4 movies they mentioned. But Cruise is a decent actor. There are a number of roles I could mention, but I’ll just mention Interview With a Vampire where he puts Brad Pitt to shame.
 I’ve never understood what is supposed to be so great about De Niro’s performance. He was up against Robert Duvall in The Great Santini too! Was there anything incredibly subtle about De Niro’s performance? Not that I’ve ever noticed. And when people bring up the performance, they always mention the same two things. First, he gained 60 pounds for the role. I do think that’s amazing, but I don’t think it has anything to do with acting. Second, they bring up his ad libbing with Joe Pesci.
People who know nothing of filmmaking tend to idolize ad libbing. The director Alan Parker once spoke about a scene between De Niro and Mickey Rourke in Angel Heart. These two Method™ actors didn’t think a particular scene was going very well. Parker is an excellent director and writer. Like most writers, he’s not too keen on ad libbing. He spent a lot of time coming up with just the right words. The idea that actors just messing around will improve on it is absurd. But The Method™ makes actors think that they can come up with better action and dialog because they are the characters.
But Parker had two stars, so he went along with it. And they shot hundreds of feet of film of these two ad libbing. They went in many directions, and ended up back to almost exactly what was written in the script. And don’t even get me started with Robin Williams. I recently re-viewed Good Morning, Vietnam. I was amazed that the film had aged pretty well, but not William’s ad libbing. In fact, his ad libbing was never very funny. It was based most often on very offensive stereotypes. And it was funny simply in its absurdity. It went by too quickly to really appreciate. I wish people would get over this. At best, ad libbing is simply writing fast. And there is rarely a time where writing fast is an important skill to have.