Photo: Method Acting, Lady Gaga in ‘House of Gucci’
In the upcoming highly anticipated ‘House Of Gucci’ Lady Gaga will star as the real-life Patrizia Reggiani, a woman who married into the famous fashion family but her ambition ultimately leads to the murder of her husband. The Ridley Scott crime drama is based on real events, and the real Reggiani reportedly was upset that Gaga never consulted her about her perspective. In response to this claim, Gaga told British Vogue that she had done other things to get into the role. “It is three years since I started working on it, and I will be fully honest and transparent: I lived as her [Reggiani] for a year and a half.
And I spoke with an accent for nine months of that. Off-camera, [too]. I never broke. I stayed with her,” said Gaga. The commitment to her role did not go without psychological effects, and even distancing from her friends and family as she continued living and speaking as Reggiani. “I remember I went out into Italy one day with a hat on to take a walk. I hadn’t taken a walk in about two months and I panicked. I thought I was on a movie set,” she recalled according to Indie Wire.
Gaga is one of many actors who have dedicated their time on-and-off set to perfecting their performance. In fact, the technique even has a name: Method acting, and it can be damaging for the actor’s mental and physical health although the results of it are often praised.
What Is Method Acting?
First and foremost, in order to understand the dangers of method acting, one first needs to know what it is. Method acting is a technique wherein hopes of creating an authentic performance an actor completely inhabits the character they are portraying. As opposed to other techniques, it’s emotionally oriented and requires actors to fully submerge themselves in the role. Their characters’ emotions become their emotions as the actor transforms. This requires them to stay in character long after the cameras stop rolling in order to truly “become” someone else. According to No Film School, “You are encouraged not to compartmentalize and fake feelings but to get yourself to feel the actual feelings you need in each scene. This can lead to changes in psyche and behavior for as long as they inhabit the role.”
The technique was brought to the United States in the 1930s by Lee Strasberg and Elia Kazan, however, they weren’t the first to come up with this, they simply brought it to American culture. According to Studio Binder, Russian actor and theater director Konstantin Stanislavski invented the technique which method acting drew from nearly 30 years before. “Stanislavski did not call it method acting back then, but his ideas created a model to help actors build believable characters. Stanislavski’s approach was to encourage the actors to draw from personal experiences and memories in order to garner real emotions and to connect with the characters. This stood in stark contrast to the more traditional, theatrical, and classical acting of that time,” said Studio Binder.
Lee Strasberg developed Stanislavski’s idea by suggesting that actors should live in the character even when they are not on stage or camera. The characters that are usually channeled during method acting are, well, unhinged.
Actors Who Went Method For A Role
There are numerous actors who are known for method acting. Often their performances were spectacular and given critically acclaimed responses, but at the expense of the actors’ mental and physical health.
One of the most well-recognized method-acting performances was Heath Ledger’s Joker in ‘The Dark Knight’. In order to live up to the pressure of such an iconic role, Ledger transformed himself at the price of his health. He isolated himself in a hotel in London for six weeks where he practiced various voices and laughs as well as keeping a journal with Joker-like ramblings and character inspirations. However, Ledger who had previously struggled with insomnia was only sleeping about two hours a night as he dedicated himself to his performance. Ledger died tragically in January 2008 at the age of 28 after overdosing on sleeping medication. “In interviews that would be scrutinized exhaustively after his death, the actor admitted that the Joker role had been difficult for him and that he had been using prescription drugs to manage recurring bouts of stress and insomnia,” according to HISTORY.
Featured alongside Ledger in ‘The Dark Knight’ was another famous method actor, Christian Bale. Bale is recognized for his dedication to transform, literally, into his characters. Before his role as a buff superhero in ‘Batman Begins’ he weighed 121 pounds to play emaciated insomniac Trevor Reznik in the 2004 dramatic thriller ‘The Machinist’.
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This wouldn’t be the last time Bale would yo-yo his physique, dramatically changing weight in between roles. While portraying Dick Cheney in ‘Vice’, Bale gained 40 pounds even though it was unnecessary because of prosthetics. In 2018 Bale spoke to Screen Rant about preparing for the role, “Really it was just obsessing. There’s a load of interviews with Mr. Cheney and I got every single one of them on my phone. It’s just jam-packed full of videos of Chaney. And I’m just sitting there watching for hours and hours and hours. And imitating it and then walking around myself and trying to get the body position and all that.”
Daniel Day-Lewis is another iconic actor known for going a bit too far in preparing for jobs. One example of the many times he immersed himself in his character was for the film ‘Last Of The Mohicans’ where he spent six months living in the wild and only eating animals that he killed himself. He also learned how to build a canoe, skin animals, throw a tomahawk and reload a musket while running. According to HBO, “His preparations result in one-of-a-kind executions that seem less like acting and more like intensely realized works of human sculpture.” In another role, Day-Lewis refused to leave a wheelchair even when he was off the set to get into the mindset of paralyzed artist Christy Brown in ‘My Left Foot’.
There are many more esteemed actors who are known for method acting including Robert De Niro, Kate Winslet, Al Pacino, Hilary Swank, Nicolas Cage, Adrien Brody, Charlize Theron, and Dustin Hoffman just to name a few. Many of them were highly praised for their work where their commitment paid off on screen, but how did it affect them as people?
What Are The Dangers?
Due to the intense nature of method acting and becoming someone else, it can often have both physical and mental dangers. New York Film Academy explains the positive results that can be rendered when empathizing with your character, but there are also risks involved. “Method acting can lead you to some very strange and sometimes dark behaviors and thought patterns. It can also be physically destructive (especially when extreme weight loss is concerned, a la Christian Bale in The Machinist.)” said NYFA.
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One theory behind why method acting can be dangerous is because it requires actors to dig deep into their psyche and pull up emotions that are painful and triggering. “As a result, the sudden and often surprising deaths of talented actors sometimes inspire fearful, knowing whispers about the dangers of delving “too deep” into harrowing roles. Many theatergoers have a sense that somewhere in the actor’s psyche lies the potential to forget himself when authentically getting into character,” according to The Atlantic.
There is research from Yale professor Susan Nolen-Hoeksema that shows the effect of ruminating on negative events “consistently predict the onset of depression” in people who engage in it, especially women. This makes sense: digging into memories (whether they are personal or fiction) can be uncomfortable and bring up other issues.
In spite of its dangers, it also commonly has amazing outcomes that are praised by critics and audiences alike. Hopefully, we will be able to see Lady Gaga’s hard work pay off on the screen, and she can reap the benefits of her commitment. But also… was it even worth it?
By Kylie Bolter
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