I am now considered to be the UK‘s Leading Expert on Method Acting and I have been featured on the BBC, in The Sunday Express, The Metro and The Stage, and I run my own acting school in London. The following exercises are commonly explored in method acting courses as a fundamental part of actor training.
Let me take you through key areas of the technique.
It was discovered by psychologists in the early part of the 20th Century that the best way to stimulate an emotional response from a human being is through their senses in conjunction with their memories.
It is understood that we perceive the world through our senses. We see, we hear, we smell, we touch, we taste. This is what stimulates us as human beings. It is also understood that the memory of these senses can affect us. For example, we have all felt hungry, thought of our favourite food and started to salivate, or heard a song that has reminded us of a relationship we once had. Our memories are strongly linked to our senses.
In The Method, the acting training shows the actor how to use their personal memories through their senses to produce particular and real emotional responses. For example, if two characters in a scene are going through a break up, the actors involved may work on some sort of experience of loss in their own lives. This could be the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job or the loss of an experience they enjoy.
Through carefully structured acting classes and courses, Method Actors train themselves to fuse the real emotion that is produced with the event and character they are portraying.
Christopher Walken and Affective Memory
Christopher Walken trained at a very famous acting school called The Actors Studio in New York. He took acting courses and acting lessons with Lee Strasberg.
Christopher was asked what he was thinking about when he shot the scene at the end of The Deer Hunter where he plays Russian roulette and kills himself.
He said that when he was younger, his parents made him go to summer camp – he hated going – and the experience filled him with a sense of abandonment, loss and anger. He said that he felt his character was experiencing similar feelings, so he thought about that event during the scene. Christopher Walken understands that events from his own experience can expose the experiences of the character on a much deeper level. This type of work is advanced Method Acting and requires years of acting training to accomplish.
The animal exercise helps to recreate an external physicality separate from the actor‘s own.
This exercise has been embraced by many Acting Schools and Drama Schools all over the world, including Drama Schools in
London. It is an important aspect to acting training.
The actor picks an animal that they think reflects the character they are playing. It must be a wild animal, not a domestic pet and not a reptile. The reason reptiles are not allowed is because they are cold blooded and we are warm blooded. The use of birds is also limited.
Once an animal is picked, the actor studies it at the zoo in intricate detail. They research the psychology of the animal, as it provides a great insight into its behaviour and thought processes. For example, Rhinos get a reputation for being an aggressive animal. But the reason Rhinos attack is because they are short sighted and cannot clearly see what is approaching, so they charge to protect themselves. This could be an interesting trait in a character.
The actor then recreates the animal‘s physicality in detail. They get down on all fours or adopt whatever position necessary, and recreate how the animal moves, eats and sleeps. Once they have a strong sense of the animal‘s physicality, the actor then stands up, starts to humanise the animal and says the character‘s lines – incorporating the new physicality.
This exercise is used to great effect by Method Actors such as Marlon Brando, who played an ape in A Streetcar Named Desire, and a bulldog in The Godfather. It‘s worth looking at these performances to see how the animal is manifested into human form.
Method improvisation techniques differ from the norm. Method Actors will use affective memory improvisation. This is when they change the affective memory they are thinking about and explore other memories to produce a different experience within the character.
They also use the ‘Where Am I Right Now?‘ approach, which is where the actor tries to accurately understand how they are really feeling in the moment during a scene, and use it as a force within the scene.
For example, Dennis Hopper explains that if he becomes aware of external happenings during a scene, he incorporates them. He recounts a time when shooting a scene for a film, that he became aware that the continuity person was watching the length of his cigarette intently. The reason for this was that if the Director shouted ‘Cut‘, the continuity person would have to make sure Dennis‘ next cigarette was exactly the same length as the one in the previous scene. Hopper found this funny, and started to laugh in the scene, incorporating the external happening into his work.
These are just some of the techniques used by the world‘s leading Method Actors. Many Method Actors continue their acting training by taking acting courses and acting classes with leading Method Acting teachers. These exercises build unbelievable concentration and really stimulate real emotion, ultimately leading to emotionally charged and moving performances.
There is more to acting than is commonly realised, and the human body (the actor‘s instrument) is capable of very much more than the conventional reality.
The UK‘s Leading Method Acting Expert