This week, Neil Calloway argues that method acting is often unnecessary…
This week it was revealed that Jared Leto sent pornography and condoms to his Suicide Squad co-stars in preparation for his role as the Joker. When I did that with my work colleagues I got arrested, but it turns out to be OK if you’re an Oscar winning actor. It does also highlight the issue of when acting crosses the line into living a role.
There is a long and not so proud history of actors going above and beyond to immerse themselves in the character they are playing to ensure a great performance.
Daniel Day-Lewis is currently not looking for acting work as he believes it would be hard to top his performance as the title character in Lincoln, during which he would send his co-stars text messages in character as Abraham Lincoln; I do hope Sally Field or Joseph Gordon-Levitt replied letting him know that the assassinated President didn’t own an iPhone. Day-Lewis is notorious for his method acting – he got his breakout part in My Beautiful Laundrette by writing a letter to director Stephen Frears telling him if he didn’t get the job he’d beat him up. When working on Michael Mann’s Last of the Mohicans, he spent time living in a tent and hunting to get into character. To play Gerry Conlon in In the Name of the Father, he spent time in a prison cell.
During the making of Kramer vs Kramer Dustin Hoffman allegedly abused co-star Meryl Streep about her partner, John Cazale who had recently died and in Marathon Man he considered getting his teeth drilled to prepare for the scene where Nazi dentist, played by Laurence Olivier tortures him. Olivier simply asked “have you tried acting?”.
Hoffman’s Rain Man co-star Tom Cruise, for his role as paraplegic Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic in Born on the Fourth of July, wanted to be injected with local anaesthetic so that he wouldn’t actually be able to use his legs.The idea was dropped when the insurance company wouldn’t let him. This attitude is brilliantly poked fun at in an early Simpsons episode where James Woods works at the Kwik E Mart in preparation for a role, and claims he went back in time to research his part in Chaplin.
While making Platoon, not only did the cast embark on a boot camp in preparation – de rigueur for a war film now, and sublimely skewered in Tropic Thunder – they also got high for a scene that required them to smoke cannabis. Unfortunately, by the time Oliver Stone’s cameras were rolling the effects had worn off and everyone just felt sick.
At the time of making Raging Bull, it was claimed that Robert De Niro was one of the best middleweight boxers in the world, as he had put so much into his preparation. De Niro also got a New York taxi licence for his role as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver.
It’s usually men who do this sort of thing; Sigourney Weaver didn’t demand she was sent into space in preparation for playing Ellen Ripley. Charlize Theron didn’t have a limb removed when she was in Mad Max: Fury Road. Meryl Streep didn’t abuse Hoffman during Kramer vs Kramer.
Some of this preparation is necessary; De Niro needed to bulk up for Raging Bull, Tom Hanks needed to lose weight for Philadelphia and Castaway, but it wasn’t essential for Jared Leto to send things to his fellow Suicide Squad cast members. Actions like that are at best just posturing and publicity for the film, rather than out of necessity. You do wonder if his performance, and that of his co-stars, will be at all enhanced by his actions.
Neil Calloway is a pub quiz extraordinaire and Top Gun obsessive. Check back here every Sunday for future instalments.
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